Monday, August 20, 2012

Next Steps

Oh Belfast, what a wonderful experience.  Tonight Karl and I were presenting about our experiences in Belfast at Guernsey UPC, and I think it finally starting settling in that our time in Belfast has come to an end.  As Karl was taking his turn to speak it hit me that we are no longer there; we are no longer living on Skegoneill Ave, no longer enjoying conversations over cups of tea, no longer feeling rain on our faces each day, no longer going to Whitehouse Presbyterian and embracing members of the congregation, no longer living amongst the people of Belfast.  These realizations are probably going to continue hitting me as we transition into our next steps in life, but they will help me to form memories and reflect on what our time in Belfast meant.  These past three weeks have gone by in a blur and at times life doesn't even seem real.  But as Karl and I continue to transition into life in the States and continue to tell people about our experiences and articulate what the year meant to us and our faith, it will become more real.

Karl and I will be moving to Tucson in five days to start our next year with the YAV program in Tucson.  So, goodbye to Belfast Bulletin.  You have been a great means of sharing my thoughts about this past year, but it is time to move on to the next step.  That next step is Tucson, AZ and a new blog called Built Together In Him (  I have put up my first post at that address, so please continue to keep up with what Karl and I are doing by reading this new blog!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Journeying from Belfast

Reflections on this year and what it has meant will last a lifetime, but as Karl and I prepare to leave Belfast, I thought I would put up a post about leaving Belfast.  For those of you who were at Whitehouse Sunday morning, you have heard a lot of what is written in this post.  Most of it comes from the address I gave in church.

In Luke 9 Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and he told them to take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.  After what has been a tremendous year, it is time for Karl and me to set out on another journey – we will be leaving Belfast and going back “home” for four weeks (I am using the term home lightly here, let’s just call home a place where you gather with loved ones) and then will be moving to Tucson, AZ to serve another year with the Young Adult Volunteer program. 
In my time at Whitehouse, I was able to explore my spiritual gifts and received tremendous spiritual nourishment from the people and ministry of the church.  Whitehouse is a very special congregation, and I feel truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a part of it.  I was involved in so many aspects of the church’s life and was given the opportunity to work amongst a wide variety of people who had different gifts and personalities to learn from. 
So what will I be taking with me on my journey as I go back home?  One thing for sure is the practice of prayer.  Whitehouse is a body of believers rooted in prayer. 
On my first Sunday at Whitehouse, I walked through the doors and was immediately invited into the kitchen to have a cup of tea (Helen had already taken my order on Facebook the night before).  While Helen was pouring my cup of tea, I received hugs from everyone in the kitchen, the longest of which came from May. Before I could finish drinking my cup of tea, Francis invited me into the lounge to prayer over all of the aspects of the service that morning.  This was just the first of many prayers that I was part of at Whitehouse.  It is so important to keep God central to what the church is doing and to communicate with our Father in heaven, and Whitehouse has truly helped me to grow in my prayer life.
Another thing I will be taking on my journey is the principle of reconciliation.  There is conflict everywhere in this world and inside of us.  Northern Ireland is one place of many in this world that experiences division in everyday life, and living here helped me to learn different ways of reconciling conflict.  All conflict can be approached in a nonviolent manner to work towards peace, and this was evident in my time this year.
Every Thursday, I took part in the Friends and Neighbors Lunch Club.  A lot of people from the church attend this club in addition to four Catholic ladies from the neighborhood.  My favorite part about lunch club was the fellowship time before the meal.  Each week we enjoyed each other’s company while doing some fun activity Wallace or Colin had planned.  Whether we were playing boccia, doing a beetle drive, having a sing along, or just enjoying a cup of tea, the morning was filled with friendly conversation and laughter.  The people there were not concerned about differences they had with each other, but instead came together each week to join in fellowship and enjoy one another’s company.
When I journey from here, I will also be taking a sense of community with me.  This year, I experienced different forms of community through my time with the other YAVs and with Whitehouse.  What I want to take home from these experiences is the idea of loving and supporting one another through all times. Whether times are happy or sad, exciting or boring, scary or safe, comfortable or uncomfortable, easy or challenging, we must love and support one another. 
When I was away in Tremont for the youth mission trip, our group experienced what is was to be a community.  We shared a living space for an entire week, studied scripture and prayed together, and we lived with one another through times of joy, homesickness, frustration and goofiness.  My favorite part of the trip was our last devotional night when we gathered around a campfire to talk about the Holy Spirit.  That night helped our sense of community to grow even stronger.
Something that goes hand in hand with the love and support of Whitehouse is the act of hospitality, and that is another thing I want to take away with me on my journey.  From the moment I arrived at Whitehouse, I received tremendous hospitality.  During our first week in Belfast, our whole group of YAVs spent three days visiting each other’s churches in order to get an idea of what everyone would be doing during the year.  The day we visited Whitehouse, we were served a delicious chicken bake for lunch complete with apple tart and cheese and biscuits.  After the lunch was over, Betty told me that I better learn how to eat because I would be fed a lot of meals this year.  Well she wasn’t lying! 
Karl and I were welcomed into so many peoples’ homes and lives this year, and we are so thankful for the extra effort everyone made in helping us to feel welcome.  I did not experience too much homesickness this year, and I attribute that to the tremendous hospitality offered to Karl and me.  As Christ said, “What you have done for the least of these, you have done for me,” I want to take the act of hospitality I was offered from the people of Whitehouse and Belfast and extend it to all those I meet.
Lastly, I want to take what I learned about the body of Christ on my journey.  Effective ministry and the illumination of the Kingdom of God cannot be achieved alone or even by the hands of few.  Through my involvement in all of the various activities that go on in Whitehouse (GB and BB, Tots & Co., Tea and Coffee Morning, the Healing Service, Alpha and bible study, Luncheon Club and SWAT), I experienced the body of Christ working wonderfully.  There are so many people in the church who give of their time and talents, and that is what being part of the body of Christ is all about!  There are people gifted in pastoral care, youth activities, cooking, organizing social events for all ages of the church family, people gifted in conducting business matters of the church, welcoming, teaching, praying, nurturing, listening and much more.  When I go back to the States, I want to always remember being a part of this body and inspire other people to use their gifts to become part of the body of Christ.
So, when I journey from Belfast, I will be taking a number of things with me that are more important than a staff, a bag, bread or money.  I will be forever grateful for my time at Whitehouse and the innumerable moments which helped me to grow in my faith and love for God and His people.  I am very sad to be leaving the people I grew so close to over this year, but in the words of Dr. Seuss, I will not cry because it is over, but smile because of all that has happened.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Trip Down South and the 12th of July

Cork University Campus
Karl and I love traveling by train and had not yet ventured further south than Dublin.  So, we decided to take a trip to Cork and Killarney this past week.  We started our trip by taking the long journey down to Cork and stayed one night there.  We didn't do too much while in Cork, but made the most of our time - walked through the shops in the city centre, visited the English Market, saw an exhibition called the Sacred Modernist by Josef Albers at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, and walked around the Cork University campus. 

Cork University Campus
From Cork, we took the train to Killarney to spend the next four days.  We booked a room at a bed and breakfast directly outside of the national park, and spent our time in Killarney taking various walks, exploring the park.  I highly recommend visiting Killarney National Park - it is filled with beautiful scenery and plenty of attractions to keep you busy.  In our time at the park, I think we probably walked about 40 miles by the time we visited Muckross Abbey, Muckross House and Gardens, Torc Falls, Dinis Cottage, Meeting of the Waters and Ross Castle. 

Muckross House

View from Torc Mountain

Climbing Torc Mountain

Torc Falls
As all good trips come to end, we took the long train ride home on the 11th, and got home in time to drop our bags at our flat and head to Karl's minister's house for dinner.  She offered to have us over for a meal and then take us around to some bonfires being lit for the celebration of the remembrance of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  Over the past few weeks, we have been watching the construction of various bonfire sites all over Belfast.  Some of the bonfires are small and are meant for kids, while others are absolutely humongous, reaching heights of 150 feet.  The bonfires are actually quite impressive structurally, you might even say they are a work of art.  But these works of art are quickly tainted by the addition of Irish tricolor flags, images of the Pope and the Virgin Mary, and derogatory words against Republicans and Nationalists. These items and images are added to the bonfire structures and are scorched when the fires go off around midnight.  While some might say the bonfires are good craic, I was quite saddened by parts of the experience.  I stood watching the flames flare, as hundreds of people stood around me getting drunk and trashing the neighborhood in which they live.

Following the night of the bonfires, the 12th of July is a day in which many Unionists and Loyalists gather to watch the band parades of the Orange Order.  Karl and I went out with some friends from Whitehouse to watch the parades on the Lisburn Rd.  We had a fun time watching the bands, eating burgers and chips and getting ice cream.  Although, it was hard to completely enjoy myself when I kept thinking about the underlying issues behind the band parades.  They are a celebration of a deeply contentious date and are celebrated by only one side of the community in Northern Ireland.  Now, I understand the desire to remember momentous occasions in history with joyful celebrations - each year I celebrate Easter, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And maybe I am reading too much into the 12th of July as an outsider to this country.  But with each step of a marcher, beat of a drum, blow on a whistle and cheer of the crowd, it seems that lines of division between Protestants and Catholics are being highlighted. 

The efforts of those people working towards peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland are being setback each year as feelings of hatred, fear, hurt and sadness are stirred up during the bonfires and band parades.  As you read this, please say a prayer for the people of Northern Ireland, that peace may come and division may cease.

I took some photos at the bonfires and parades, but BBC did a better job in capturing the moments. In Pictures: Northern Ireland's 12 July

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Last Day of School

For the past five months, I have been spending most of my Tuesday mornings helping out in Room 7 of Whitehouse Primary School.  This is the classroom of a creative and thoughtful teacher, Mrs. McClurg, and 26 delightful P4 students.  Today was my last day helping out in the classroom, and it started out like most mornings.  I came into the class and did a few favors for Mrs. McClurg and then took some students into the hall to work on an art project until break time.  After break I took some other students out of the class to work on potion making - a great exercise for students to practice mixing colors and measuring volumes.  When we had made a complete mess of or work area and concocted some interesting looking potions it was time to clean up.  I sent the kids into the classroom ahead of me, while I finished cleaning the rest of the potions up.

I went back into the classroom, and the students got really quiet and looked as if they were going to burst with excitement.  Mrs. McClurg asked me to come up to the front of the class to receive a going away gift.  Two of the students came up and presented me with a book of Irish memories, made by the class, an Irish bodhran (drum) and a Celtic cross necklace.  Each student drew a picture of something for me to remember about Northern Ireland for the book of Irish memories.  There are pictures of the Giant's Causeway, Cavehill, an Ulster fry, fish and chips, the Belfast Marathon, Cadbury Dairy Milk, and more!  I couldn't believe the amount of hard work that they all put into the project, not to mention Mrs. McClurg's coordination of the project.  It was such a kind gesture to offer considering the small amount of time I actually spent in the class.  It goes to show that small things really do matter, and we should strive to make the most out of the opportunities we have to interact with new people. 

Pages from the book
I also prepared a small parting gift for the members of the class - it does not come close to measuring up to the gift they gave me!  I gave each student an envelope with my new address written on it, in hopes of getting some pen pals, and put some jelly beans and a note saying, "Thanks for 'bean' so kind and for welcoming me into the class!" into each envelope. 

I am so blessed to have gotten the chance to meet and work with Mrs. McClurg and her P4 class.  I might not have done anything real spectacular with the class, but I hope my interaction with them helped them to think about people and places outside of their own neighborhoods.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mission in the Car Park of the Church

As I am writing this post from my comfy living room, the rain is drizzling down outside, scones are baking in the oven, and the Euro 2012 Republic of Ireland v. Spain football match is playing on the television (Spain is up 1-0 in the 25th minute).  Just another enjoyable evening in Belfast!

Before settling into my flat for the night, I was down at Whitehouse taking part in the church's weekly car boot sale.  During the summer months of the year, a team of about 15 volunteers run a car boot sale every Thursday evening.  At about 3:30 P.M. cars start arriving at the church and are directed into a parking space.  People then open up their boots (trunks) and set up stalls to sell anything from baked goods, used books and dvd's, clothing, and toys to their used kitchen sink (that is not a figure of speech)!  If the weather is nice, there can be up to 90 cars in the car park, but we have averaged about 50 cars per week this year. 

I say that I take part in the car boot sale because I don't do a whole lot to help out at the sale.  I usually spend my time walking around talking to various people in the car park - members of Whitehouse who are working the sale, people selling bric-a-brac out of their car boots, and members of the community shopping at all of the different stalls.  If I am not doing this, I am sitting with Anne and Betty at the church's prayer stall.  At some time during the evening I get my dinner from the kitchen volunteers inside the church.  During the sale, the church doors are open for people to come in and buy burgers, hot dogs, chips, crisps, sweets and of course tea and coffee.

The car boot sale is a valuable mission for Whitehouse for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it is a way for the church to be engaged in the community. I was speaking with a friend of mine at Whitehouse last night about churches making a difference in their community. He said a great way to gauge the church's involvement in the community is to answer the question, "If the church closed tomorrow, would anyone in the community, not members of the church, notice?" I can recall two specific instances, once at the grocery store and once at the bus stop, where I was asked what I was doing in Belfast. I told the people that I was volunteering at Whitehouse Presbyterian, and they responded with, "Is that the church that does the car boot sale?" This is proof of the church being engaged with the community in which it resides.

Another valuable aspect of the car boot sale is the different perception it gives to the church. Between the hours of 4:00 and 8:00 P.M., there is a constant flow of people moving in and out of the doors of the church. For a wide range of reasons, church can be a frightening place for people to enter, but during the car boot sale Whitehouse is a nonthreatening place where people can gather around a bit of grub and conversation. The barriers which keep people away on a Sunday morning disappear behind friendly banter and delicious smells of burgers and sausages. I would venture a guess that more people enter the church on a typical car boot Thursday evening than on a Sunday morning.

Lastly, the car boot sale is a great fundraiser for the church and local charities. Money is collected for the burgers, sausages and chips, for the cars setting up stalls and in charity buckets at the entrance to the car park.

Well, the rain has stopped, Spain is now up 4-0, and I have sampled a scone fresh from the oven. I think I will call it a night!
Kitchen crew serving up burgers

Bucket collection

Two of the men behind the madness

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Belfast Tour Guide

It has been a little while since I have updated my blog...May was the month full of visitors in Belfast.  I wrote my last post the morning my parents left, and since then we have hosted three other sets of visitors: Laramie UPC, James, Marcy & Kelly (Karl's brother, sister-in-law & friend of theirs), and Rob & Jenn (friends of ours).  Karl and I feel abundantly blessed that we have had so many people come visit us here.  After this month, I can quite confidently say that I am a trained tour guide of Belfast!  I don't want to bore everyone with all of the things we did with our visitors, but I will do a quick recap of the past 3-1/2 weeks:

Laramie UPC Visit:
Sarah playing with the garage at Tots & Co.
The group from Laramie was in Belfast for five days.  Over that time, Karl and I showed them our churches and the 174 Trust and tried to give them a taste of what we do on a weekly basis.  I was particularly excited with the time they got to spend at Whitehouse Presbyterian and with the people of my church.  On the Sunday they were here, the whole group took part in leading the morning service at Whitehouse.  It was almost dreamlike having people from Laramie speaking at my church in Belfast.  On Monday a few members of Whitehouse volunteered to drive the whole group to the North Coast, and on Wednesday the group helped out at Tots & Co.  Karl kept a more detailed account of their visit here - you can read his posts at 

I am so, very thankful for our church family in Laramie and for the people of the church who came to visit us.  During their visit at Whitehouse Presbyterian, Rev. Liz talked to the group about how well I transitioned into the congregation of Whitehouse and the importance of my focus on building relationships.  She thanked the people from Laramie UPC for teaching me those values and for being a church which understands the importance of building relationships.  I would like to echo Liz in that - I am exceedingly fortunate to have been part of Laramie UPC, a church filled with people who care about me and about being in relation with all of God's people. 
Richard, Marcia & Elizabeth helping at the C'mon in Cafe
Patti at the 174 Trust Disabilities Club

James, Marcy & Kelly's Visit:
These guys were here for five days too, and they brought wonderful weather with them!  One day of their visit, they took a tour bus up the North Coast and came back with sunburns - not your typical Northern Ireland experience!  We had a great time taking in the typical tourist things in Belfast:  Belfast Castle, John Hewitt's for traditional music, Titanic Museum, Botanic Gardens, Ulster Museum, Victoria's Square, etc. 

Rob & Jenn's Visit:
Rob & Jenn at Whitehouse's Jubilee Tea Party
Rob & Jenn were here for a week, and we repeated a lot of the tourist attractions we went to the week before with James & Marcy.  One new thing we did with them though was going to Holywood to play 9 holes (Rob & Jenn played, Karl and I walked with them) at Holywood Golf Club, home of Rory McIlroy.  We took the train to Holywood and were planning on walking from the train station to the golf course.  We stopped at a local pub to ask for directions, and the pub owner thought we were crazy for wanting to walk there.  He told us to jump in his car, and he gave us a lift.  On the way to the course he drove us by Rory's old house and school.  Aside from the site seeing, we spent most of our time talking and playing cards with Rob & Jenn.  It was so good to see them and catch up on the things we have missed in Laramie this past year. 

Playing pinochle in our Dublin hotel

Posing in our golf attire
Jenn putting for eagle
We had a wonderful time having so many visitors in the month of May.  Not only was it nice to see family and friends after almost 10 months of being away, but it was energizing to see Belfast through newcomers eyes.  Many things that I have become accustomed to since being here were so different to our visitors.  They asked a lot of questions about the history and current political issues of Belfast and how the church and religion play a role.  This stretched me because I had to verbally articulate my thoughts and opinions, and it allowed me to reevaluate things I have learned over my time here. 

While it was wonderful to have visitors with us, I struggled to stay connected with my church and YAV family here in Belfast as much as I would have liked over the past month.  I have eight weeks left in Belfast and want to spend that time in the presence of those whom I will miss dearly when I return home.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Many Thanks

I just came home from taking my parents to the airport and have enough time to write a quick post before going to church this morning.  As I am sitting in my living room, enjoying a cup of coffee, I can't help but think about all of the things I have to be thankful for. 

Family - I have such a wonderful, loving family who supports Karl and me in anything we set out to do.  A great example of this is our parents and siblings who have come to visit (or who are coming to visit in the near future).  When our family have come to visit us, they have been willing to go around to all of the sights and church gatherings we want to show them, as well as take part in some of our simple living choices while staying at our flat.  A good example of this is when my mom was here.  She was having a tough time acclimating to the coldness and wetness of Belfast, but instead of boosting the heat every time she was cold, we filled two hot water bottles up for her to put on her lap and feet.  She was a trooper!  So thank you to our family for being interested in what we are doing and where we are living this year.

Friends - Karl and I are truly blessed when it comes to the friends we have.  We have so many friends back home who stay in touch with us daily/weekly, and we have met so many new friends over the course of this year in Belfast.  It is comforting to know that we are connected with so many people who we can be open and true with and who we can count on.  This past Monday when I was running the marathon, I experienced more support than I could ever imagine from all of my friends.  Thank you all so much for cheering me on and giving me the encouragment to complete that goal of mine.

Church Family - Karl and I are in such an exceptional situation in which we are part of three church families.  We are blanketed by the love and support of our home church in Laramie and have now been welcomed with open arms into the churches of Whitehouse Presbyterian and Woodvale Methodist.  All three of these churches are filled with folks who strive each day to live out the teachings of the gospel.  It is wonderful to be part of these churches, and what is even more wonderful is the fact that the folks of these three churches are intertwining this week!  Right now, 7 people from our home congregation in Laramie are visiting Belfast in order to see the work that Karl and I do and to meet the people of the churches we are a part of.  I am looking forward to the days ahead in which we can make more connections between our church in Laramie and our churches in Belfast.

The beautiful thing is that all of these three categories (Family, Friends & Church Family) run together into one, blended network of people that are connected by the love of our savior, Jesus Christ.

My parents and I before the race

Running along Merville - thanks John for taking this!

Posing for one more photo before the start - with the one who supports me the most!