I recently had the opportunity to go with an incredible team of high school students and adults to the beautiful island of Ireland. It truly is as beautiful as everyone talks about, and honestly looks about how I expected it to look thanks to the movies – stone hedges, rolling green hills adorned with sheep, and always either about to rain or about to stop raining. I couldn’t help but look around and hope to see Frodo or William Wallace walking through the countryside.
On one of our last days in Northern Ireland, our host, Richie, encouraged our team to think through how we would respond when someone asked us, “How was the trip?” knowing that we would get that question a lot. It’s a fair question, but sometimes it can be hard to answer succinctly, so I was grateful for his wisdom in preparing us for it. My answer? Beautiful in every sense of the word. The physical beauty of Northern Ireland is unmatched – Tollymore forest, the town of Castlewellan, the shining Irish Sea – to blink was a crime, because I didn’t want to miss a moment.
Even more, it was beautiful to see God’s work in a place so far from home yet so like home, too. We had the chance to visit two different churches as well as spend many moments learning about the history of religion, particularly Christianity, in Ireland. I encourage you to look up and learn about the story of St. Patrick, the man who is credited not only for bringing the gospel to Ireland but who some credit with saving Europe itself from the cultic religions of some of its more ancient people groups. Now to see that same spirit working in the lives of faithful Christians yearning to see religious and political walls torn down in their cities was a beautiful thing. We can learn so much from them.
Each morning our high school students had the chance to share parts of their stories with each other and then with the teens of the R.I.O.T. Youth Center in the evening. Without question, this was the most beautiful part. I am proud to be a high school pastor for many reasons and am proud of the students in our ministry for so many reasons. In those moments of honesty and bravery, however, I have never been more proud. High school can be a cut-throat world, so even considering being so vulnerable can be paralyzing. But these students, time after time, did not let fear win out. Seeing our students be so real with each other, and then seeing their peers respond with empathy and compassion like no other… beautiful. To see high school kids circle around each other and pray over each other and, because they get it, remind each other of what is true about who they are and what Jesus has done for them… glory.
For those that supported these students to be able to go on this trip, thank you. I hope you get to talk to them about it. Northern Ireland was beautiful. Just really beautiful.