I AM BACK! It’s been a while but I have been bursting at the seems to share my trip to Antrim, Northern Ireland with a group of swell friends from school.
I do not like flying. I don’t have a fear, I just don’t like sitting and being all cramped and it’s just annoying. But we made it to Dublin from JFK Airport with no issues.
We made it through all security and stepped out into the lovely misty Dublin weather. John Ashe, the pastor of Journey and Phil picked us up at the air port, loaded us up and took us on a mini tour of Dublin before heading up North.
Due to how much our team was able to raise, we were able to stay in a hotel for the duration of our stay instead of one of the local universities. The coolest part about this was the fact that the National 20U NI football team was staying there as well. They didn’t talk to us, but hey, it’s still pretty cool. I roomed with Kelsey and Bethany. I am just now realizing we didn’t get a roomie picture before we left. UGH. Saturday, after settling in at the hotel, we went to the Caldwell’s for dinner. The view from their backyard is absolutely stunning. When you think of Ireland, you think of these kind of views.
Sunday morning we had church at Journey. One of the girls on our team, Mary, a girl from the Ohio team, Kayla and I all volunteered to do children’s church. I learned a few things. 1. They believe we all have southern accents. It’s hilarious. Apparently, I sound like what they think a stereotypical American accent is. 2. They LOVE Cake Boss. They watch American TV and they just think he is the bees knees. After church, different families from the church took pods of 2-4 of us too their homes for lunch. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into the home of the Grant’s. Mary and Ohio team Erin and I were welcomed by a beautiful home with the biggest marigold flowers I think I’d ever seen! Penny and Keith put on a huge, yummy spread and made us a part of their family instantly. Penny and Keith are both Elementary school teachers. Mary and I were in our element with them. They also have two daughters, Ashleigh and Becci. Becci was not at lunch with us, but friends Tori and Ashleigh K were there to join us. Ashleigh and her husband Mark are both hockey players so obviously I was one little happy camper.
Sunday evening we went to the local Starbucks for Cafe Church. There we worshiped and had a short message from John. The real beginning of the week started right there. The power and changes for everyone started in that little shop.
Monday morning was our first day of Vacation Bible School. We got there about 2 hours early to completely decorate the rooms and hallways we would be using at the local grammar school. Yes, we set up and decorated an entire week of VBS in just 2 hours. It was crazy but the kids LOVED it. This year our song was “Without You” by Toby Mac, quite the workout to do the dance we created to go along with it.
After VBS and lunch we toured Antrim Castle grounds and walked down the river trail to Lough Neagh. I will allow the following pictures to speak for themselves. However, I will mention, some Game of Thrones has been filmed around some of the grounds.
That evening was our first night of “in the community” work. The majority of our teams went into one of the neighborhoods to throw a block party. Myself and 3 other team members went to the sports camp we would be running all week with some local athletes. The first night was rugby. It may potentially be my new favorite sport. Before you think I was running into anybody, we played the equivalent of flag football. I still had a blast and have the feeling buying a rugby ball is in my future. We went back to 15D, where Journey meets for some games. Never have I have, Pink Spots and some other game with scissors.
Tuesday we had VBS in the morning. After lunch we were introduced to our afternoon work. We had groups cleaning up the gardens in the back of the building, painting 15E, the downstairs of the church, handing out fliers for VBS, the block parties and sports camp this week and treasure hunting. For 3 days everyone worked diligently to revitalize the back of the building along the river walk. The results were outstanding.
That evening was hockey night for sports camp. Ashleigh’s husband Mark ran the clinic. There were about 15 kids, plus all of the big kids who grabbed sticks to join in. I can not begin to express the absolute joy it was to play again. Here in the states, after high school, unless you go to a decent sized college that has a team or intramural team, hockey stops when you walk off of the field in high school. It’s hard to find somewhere to play. What was even more exciting was that being able to play and share that experience with everyone and the kids was part of the mission that week! The following are a few shots from that evening. WARNING. *There is a slightly gruesome pictures following.* I found myself with a stick between my legs and supermanned across the gravel playing field. WHO PLAYS ON GRAVEL!? Well apparently, in Northern Ireland, if astro turf isn’t available, they do.
Wednesday went much the same in the morning and afternoon. That evening began our 2 day football clinic. Not American football, real football, like the rest of the world calls it- soccer. The first night Cliff Ferguson, one of the biggest soccer scouts in Ireland, Glenn and Ian from Liverpool Academy came out to work with the kids. It was an amazing experience for them, and cool for me. 🙂
That evening church members Eddie and Gillian opened their stunning home to our group. Their home is older than the United States but you’d never know it. Food, exploration, worship and an ice cream truck were the highlights of that evening.
Thursday I was Mary Magdalene for VBS. Mikey and some local players ran the football clinic. I was the professional ball-getter when the kids shot wide and it went into the brush. Towards the end, they called me in. I have never played soccer a day in my life and it was a train wreck. The guys enjoyed laughing at me. I did attempt to head the ball, even if it did mean a lovely bruise on my forehead. It was great fun.
Friday was our last day of VBS. It had been an incredible week and it was so sad saying goodbye too so many of them. Almost 40 kids accepted Jesus into their hearts. How AWESOME is THAT!? After that we were driven to Belfast to Victoria Square for some SHOPPING! What girl wouldn’t LOVE shopping!? It was great fun going through Jack Willis and all of the other uniquely European stores. That evening we had a HUGE end of the week party at the castle grounds. It was like one of our block parties on steroids and anybody in the community was welcome. Face pairing, balloon animals, nail painting, bounce houses, rock climbing, food and football kept everyone busy. Even the sprinkling rain couldn’t keep everyone from having fun. At one point there was a FULL start to finish, whole rainbow. I had never seen anything like it, never seen a rainbow so vibrant and perfect. What a great reminder of God’s promise towards the end of our trip?
Saturday was tourist day. We were the cheesy Americans traveling the Antrim coast. It started with a trip where the Titanic was built in Belfast and C.S. Lewis’s house. The nerd in my was just a wee bit excited. It was on to Glenariff Forest where we saw the beautiful falls and shamrocks.
Our next stop was Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, a location that was commercial salmon fishing ground up until the early 2000’s. It was a beautiful location for more than one reason! Brooke, our fearless leader got engaged to the talented and awesome Tom!!! 😀 WOO HOO! Oh yeah, and by this point it was definitely raining. But it was time to move on.
We stopped at Ballintoy Harbour for lunch. Some of you may recognize the location as Pyke Harbour, featured in Game of Thrones. We literally ate lunch in one of the caves to protect us from the increasingly worse weather.
Giant’s Causeway came next. Up until this point I had been able to stay pretty dry. That was before the epic wind gusts destroyed my umbrella, the rain came down even harder and we had to walk over a mile to the Causeway. Needless to say, a team that sweats and gets wet together bonds relatively quickly. I wouldn’t have missed the scenery for anything. Even if it was a bit miserable.
We made a stop at Dunluce Castle. It is in ruins, but still beautiful and super cool. I was so wet and cold I only took a few pictures from the parking lot before finding shelter back in the van. I am using some pictures from those who were brave enough to weather the storm- literally. We were going to go to the Dark Hedges but we were all so wet, tired and cold they took us back to the hotel to shower, change and get warm. We found ourselves back at Eddie and Gillian’s for our authentic fish and chips dinner. We had a dance party, rousing game of Mau, and tons of fun. But then, that seemed to be a synonymous theme with that group.
Sunday we were once again at church. After service we drove back down to the Lough for baptisms. There is something just so awesome about people getting baptized on mission trips. I’m slightly biased, having been baptized on one myself. But I believe it is a true testament to the fact that, no matter how much of yourself you give and pour into who and what you are there to serve, you will ALWAYS receive just as much, if not more.
We went too lunch with everyone afterwards. I had lamb and potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Of course I can’t forget the delectable creme brûlée. We spent the afternoon at Junction One, our version of the outlets, before our last cafe church. Mikey helped me find a football jersey! I may or may not have felt like the coolest kid. 🙂 After listening to some of our team members share some of their experiences this week, it was back to 15D.
At 15D we took a bajillion pictures, ate pizza and said goodbye to the incredible people we had met that week, both Irish and American. Everyone went back to the hotel to pack and pull an all nighter. We had to be in the lobby to leave by 4am. And there we were loading back into the same buses that brought us to the little green corner of the world 10 short days earlier. The difference in the girl who stepped off the plane and the girl who came home is crazy.
I could not even begin to express how God worked through and in my life that week. It still amazes me how I go on mission trips to work and serve others and I somehow come back with a world that’s been completely changed. It was quite an adventure. I left for Ireland engaged and came home not. I left for Ireland so sure of who I was and where my path was leading me. I now have no idea, and for once I’m not freaking out. I learned that sometimes, it’s ok to let others help you and that relying on others isn’t a sign of weakness. That sometimes God doesn’t nudge you out of your comfort zone, he kicks you out of your nice warm bed into the world. Sometimes the plans and expectations you have for your life are nowhere near the amazing plans God has for you. I literally can not wait to get back to Antrim. God did extraordinary things in Antrim and my life this past week. I have no idea what is in store for my life, but I have Antrim and the people there to thank for turning it upside down for me.