Last year, I had the opportunity to study in Cork, Ireland for the Spring semester.
I left the U.S. in January, not knowing that an intended five month visit would turn into eight months and me never wanting to leave that beautiful, green, temperate land.
The best part is, in the months leading up to my trip, I didn’t actually want to study abroad. I had no desire to go through the tedious process of filling out page after page of documents that would permit me to study in another country. However, as my departure date neared, the excitement started to build as I imagined all of the adventures that awaited me.
I never quite envisioned the extent to which my expectations would be exceeded.
Within the first few weeks of my arrival, homesickness struck me, bad. But thanks to Apple, that worked itself out with several daily phone calls home.
And then there was the matter of finding community. I studied history at UCC (University College Cork), which was great, but not at all the best way to meet new people. I also attended a few Christian Union meetings at the university, but I didn’t quite like the atmosphere.
My desire was to meet local Irish people and immerse myself in the culture. I wanted to truly experience Ireland, not just stay within the safety net of the American students in my program (though they were all friendly).
<I feel like I should interject here and add that before I left for Ireland, I’d spent hours researching churches in Cork. I mean, I couldn’t go away for such a long time and not seek growth, fellowship, worship, and basically every good thing you can get out of a church service. With my mother’s assistance, I was able to decide on a church. It wasn’t too big or too small, it seemed to have a thriving young adults group, and it was a multinational church, something I’d never experienced on such a large scale before.>
It took me a few weeks to actually attend the church we decided on. I was anxious, afraid, and reluctant. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how I would approach people. But after a while I realized that church life was super important to my faith and wasn’t something I could just opt out of. So one Sunday, I sucked it up and I went to Cork Church.
Let me tell you, that was one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far. Face your fears kids.
Before my trip I’d always considered myself a servant of Christ. I was part of the leadership team for my campus ministry back home, I frequently served at the local homeless shelter, and I was generally down for anything that would help people to know Jesus. In retrospect, I didn’t really learn what it truly meant to ‘serve’ until I attended Cork Church.
I joined the Homeless ministry there, where several members and myself went out onto the streets and served homeless people coffee, tea, sandwiches, engaged in conversation, and prayed with them if they wanted. This was the first of many life-changing experiences for me.
Prior to those moments on the beautiful streets of Cork city, I was always afraid to pray aloud. I knew it was time to conquer that fear when I realized how much joy, security and peace it gave people to know that the God and Creator of the universe loved, cared, and still had a plan for their lives.
There’s something about sitting on the ground next to someone who has made the streets their home, and conversing with and praying for them. Sometimes I’d see the eagerness in their eyes for conversation, company, and friendship. Most times, however, I saw the hopelessness behind their hungry, liquor-filled smiles.
They weren’t all alcoholics though. Some were drug addicts, and others were immigrants who had come over to Ireland in search of labor and a better lifestyle.
Now, I’m not trying to make it seem as though Cork is just flocking with homeless people. Actually, Cork doesn’t have nearly as many homeless people as I’d seen growing up in NYC. But the difference was that I’d never thought to stop and talk to them, much less pray for them. It was one thing to serve food to people in the confines of a homeless shelter, but to stop and talk to them on the street never actually crossed my mind.
It was vital to both my faith, and ministry.
It showed me that everyone has a story behind the ones we think we’re reading, or have been told. And most of all, that they too are seeking hope in this ugly, broken world.
I also partook in the young adults ministry, where I discovered the benefits of belonging to a community of believers in the same age group as myself. But, as is the case with most things in life, it was far from sunshine and daisies.
It was bittersweet.
Some days I enjoyed the opportunity to fellowship with my newfound friends. And others, I struggled on the inside, constantly wondering what was the point because I knew I’d have to leave someday.
Nevertheless, I continued to press into the community I found there and before I knew it, I was searching for ways to prolong my stay when the semester was over. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was meant to stay longer. As May got closer, I prayed and prayed for God to extend my stay if He wanted me to remain.
And He did.
I traveled to other parts of the UK (stay tuned for a post on my UK trip) for a bit before returning to Ireland, which also changed me forever. I’d dreamt about going to the UK for as long as I could remember, and God had finally (and unexpectedly) made that possible. Most importantly, it showed me that when God put a desire or instruction on my heart, He’d never leave me to fulfill it on my own.
I realized the latter in Edinburgh because I arrived there alone, not knowing where I was going, or if I’d even be able to go back to Ireland. For the first time, I saw God completely surpass my financial needs. I wasn’t working, so I was BROKE and relying on my parent’s generous, but reluctant (they REALLY wanted me to come back home, and I think it kind of broke their hearts that I wanted to stay so badly) financial support. Yet, my money never ran out, and when it seemed like it was about to, He replenished it.
After visiting the amazing UK, I went back to Ireland for a two month internship at the church, which commenced my third life-changing experience.
At the internship I learned that loving and serving the Lord requires selfless acts like cleaning and caring for his Church. This changed my idea of servant-hood the most because I went into the internship not knowing the extent to which I would have to rearrange chairs, clean windows, take out the trash, and mop floors. Not gonna lie, I was a bit annoyed at first but it eventually dawned on me that it was the Lord’s house and someone had to keep it clean and welcoming. Plus, it was only for a couple of weeks, most interns did it for an entire year. And besides, getting my hands a little dirty paled in comparison to all that God has done (and will ever do) for me.
I didn’t know it then but God was strengthening my faith, and making me into a wiser, more steadfast believer and servant. I think it’s safe to say that I left Ireland a completely different person than when I entered.
Shout out to the awesome, truly God-fearing leadership at Cork church for allowing Him to use them to be a part of that.
Apart from those awesome faith-building experiences, I also had the opportunity to become very much acquainted with the amazing phenomenon of garlic and cheese chips. I am not at all ashamed to say that I absolutely destroyed this dish like three or four times a week, maybe six.
If you thought American fries were good, take a trip to Ireland or anywhere else in the UK because they’ve truly mastered the art of finessing a good bowl of chips.
And I won’t even get started on Bailey’s.
Another favorite were the Irish names and words. I mean, you’ve got to appreciate the uniqueness of the Gaelic language. The majority of words are spelled one way but pronounced another.
There’s Carrigrohane, Niamh, Aoife, Soibhinn, Roisin, Darragh, Eimer, and Saoirse, just to list a few. And those aren’t even the hardest ones!
Honestly, I can go on and on forever about my favorites…. Irish step dancing in the local pubs, the generally pleasant and welcoming demeanor of the locals, Irish soda bread, the loving family I gained at Cork Church…. but I’ll save those stories for another time.
Words cannot express how I feel about Ireland, it’s people, and it’s culture. To put things into perspective for you, I came home in August 2017 and haven’t been able to fully encapsulate my experience until now, so you can imagine.
My heart’s desire is to live and serve there some day, but for now, I’ll wait patiently on God to bring my dream to fruition.
Thanks for reading Xxx
Stay tuned for more of my adventures in Ireland and the UK!