Why are we encouraging local churches to partner with those overseas?
The flight on the tiny bombardier aircraft to the West of Ireland took less than an hour and a half, but church life in County Mayo is very different from that in Wiltshire. So what is the link?
The mission committee in Emmanuel Church Chippenham has been thinking about how to invest strategically in short and long term cross-cultural ministry. We don’t want to merely send individuals, but to forge a link as a church that will encourage ongoing prayer and interest in God’s work. So we were excited to hear that UFM had launched a new initiative to encourage churches to send teams.
Last Autumn, Stephen Childs, a UFM mission partner working in Castlebar, Co Mayo, shared at our World Mission Sunday and painted a vivid picture of the gospel needs that still exist in the Republic of Ireland. He challenged us by reminding us that Ireland is the least evangelised country in the English speaking world, with Biblical Christians making up less than 1% of the population, and 50 towns with no evangelical church.
Calvary Church in Castlebar is a young church, and although it has great premises right in the centre of the town, and regular contact with lots of children, it lacks the manpower to run a Holiday Bible Club. Emmanuel Church Chippenham has many able and willing people who are keen to serve. So we asked those who were interested to ‘sign up’ and very quickly we were oversubscribed! Our team covered a range of ages and gifts, all needed in Castlebar.
UFM took care of the administration, including applications, references, DBS checks, booking flights and travel insurance. Stephen provided some orientation so that we could be well prepared for some of the cultural differences between the British and the Irish! … And eight of us arrived in Castlebar on 17th August.
Short-term mission teams are a staple of Irish church life, streaming in from the USA and Northern Ireland to knock on doors, run beach missions, and hand out literature. However, I have been reluctant until recently to invite them to Castlebar.
They’re often hard work practically; cultural and theological differences can prevent outsiders from “getting” what we’re doing; team members who’ve never met before can be too diverse to work together; and very often you never see them again.
But I’ve recently learned to love teams. My experience with well-run church-based teams like Emmanuel Church Chippenham is that all these areas were addressed: UFM helped with practical details, their approach to ministry fitted with ours, and the team already knew each other and worked well together. On a couple of visits to Chippenham, their pastor Spencer went out of his way to take an interest, and I was encouraged by the potential for lasting partnership.
So this August, I was looking forward to welcoming them. And my expectations were exceeded. A very wet week meant constant changes of plan, but the team adapted. Morning devotions were a joy (such an encouragement to a tiny church). Team members threw themselves into the kids club, hamming it up as “Rob the Builder”, or taking our 2-year-old on their knee so we could focus on the club. I particularly valued the fact that the team included “normal” Christians in secular jobs yet serving in ministry – a great thing when most of the role models here are in full-time ministry.
My aim is to enable us to do more than we could on our own, to enthuse our church about service, and equip those visiting to serve in a different context. Working with UFM makes all that so much easier.
William Brown, Summer Team Leader, Emmanuel Church Chippenham
Stephen Childs, Calvary Church, Castlebar