Before I ever visited Ireland, I had an idea that it was a deeply religious, very Christian nation. I have to assume many Americans would share this assumption, even though Ireland ranks among the highest in the world for convinced atheism. In this country, conversations about the Gospel can often be met with open hostility, anger, and/or hurt. Never had this been more visible to me than in a room overlooking the Irish Sea one spring day.
There were two or three Americans on a short-term ministry trip, a handful of Irish people, and me. We were there to teach a music class, but the topic had swung around to the Gospel, as one of the American team members shared her testimony of faith. Her story of how God had worked in her life through terrible circumstances was quite moving. Still, the class was not enthusiastic. One of them, we’ll call him Sean, politely thanked her for sharing, but said in no uncertain terms that he wanted no part of this Jesus she spoke of. He had seen terrible things come out of people claiming to represent Him. His own experience had been dotted with tragedy and loss, addiction and emptiness. He was quite respectful, happy that she had found something that worked for her, but it would be better to get back to the music.
I’ll never forget his response. His sense of disillusionment. His firm yet courteous termination of the topic. But I kept an eye on him the rest of that day. The ministry team was helping to host a retreat, and Sean found himself in the middle of a group of Christians doing simple things like teach music, help lead games, and share stories. He watched the Americans choke down Irish comfort foods while the Irish people looked suspiciously at a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Gradually, the two groups got to know each other better. And in the background, before we knew it, God was at work. Through moments of sharing honest stories from each other’s lives, the groups began to bond. There was laughter in abundance. The occasional tear. But Sean, and several others like him, found himself increasingly curious. The second day, instead of going to the music class, people were fighting to get into the Bible discussion. Just who was this Good Shepherd? Who could that lost sheep be?
By the end of the retreat, the unthinkable happened. The fence-sitters were convinced. The unsure were interested. The most hardened skeptics, Sean included, were curious. To paraphrase one of the other participants, “If you were meaning to introduce us to God, I’d say He turned up.” The change was staggering after just a few days together. I’d love to say it was great planning, a great event, a great program. But really, it was a simple retreat with regular people doing ordinary things: a cooking class, lunch together, a chat here, a testimony there.
In the midst of the ordinary, God did something extraordinary, far beyond our wildest expectations. Thanks be to God for letting us see His work in such dramatic ways that week.
Ben Linn is an American serving in Dublin, Ireland with his wife, Dorine, and their four kids. He is involved in relational outreach and discipleship in a handful of different contexts. Learn more at www.amoveoireland.com.