12 Lessons Learned

It’s hard to believe that we are quickly coming up on one year in Ireland. At times, it seems like we have been here for years, and then other times it seems like we have only been here for weeks. Although it has only been a year, we can’t imagine being anywhere else. We wholeheartedly believe that we are where God wants us and are doing what He created us for.

So as we reflect back on the last 12 months, we want to share with you 12 things that we have learned. Although it is difficult to summarize a year of learning, experiences, and memories into 12 things, we will do our best. We will share some fun lessons, good lessons, and even a painful one or two. This is written from Luke’s point of view with helpful insights and input from Tiffanie.

1. Things happen slowly

We all want things to happen quickly. We would love for the church to be huge by now. We would love to be having multiple services every Sunday and for hundreds of new Christians to have come to Jesus. We would love for a revival to be happening in Ireland. These are all things that we have prayed and are still praying for. These are things that we dream of. However, the reality is, things happen slowly. One preacher said it this way, “Ireland is having a revival in slow motion.” Slow motion seems to be a good definition of work in Ireland. God is clearly doing things, but man it is slow.

We were very much aware that it would be slow before we moved, although we hoped that wouldn’t actually be the case. We hoped that people wouldn’t tell us no when we invited them to church or shared the gospel with them. However, people still tell us they don’t want to come to church or that they aren’t interested on a regular basis. Then there are people who say they are going to come and don’t show up. Although things happen slowly, don’t miss the “things happen” part of the lesson. God is working, and although it seems like pushing a boulder up a mountain at times, things are happening. Great victories are won and God is providing for us in small areas. We will continue to be faithful in those small areas, even when things are happening slowly. This year we have learned that things sometimes happen slowly.

2. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself

Although the people here still technically speak English, there are a number of different phrases and colloquialisms that they use to describe things. Tiffanie and I have tried really hard to make these the norm in our conversations, both with Irish people, and also just with each other. But as hard as we have tried, the 25+ years of American/Southern phrases don’t die easily. Just a few days ago, I had to explain what “holler at you if I need something” meant to a girl. After explaining it the best that I could, she still had no clue what I meant.

Sometimes all you can do is laugh. For example, most people in Ireland would refer to a telephone as a “mobile” and to the TV as the “tele.” Well, we had a kid who was late being picked up from an event, and we were trying to reach his grandma. So because I was attempting call things by their Irish name, I asked him “Do you know your Grandma’s tele number?” A blank stare covered his face, so obviously, I asked him again. Same response. I was then informed that I asked the 6 year-old boy if he know his grandma’s television number. (Which if he was a good grandson, he clearly would have had her TV serial number memorized, right?) There was really no redeeming myself at that point. All I could do is laugh embarrassingly at myself and then ask for her mobile number.

There are a ton of these we could share, more than I’d like to admit. Just be on the lookout for an “Irish(isms) Fails” blog sometime in the future. But this year, we have learned to laugh at ourselves.

3. The Holy Spirit is still very much active 

There are things that have happened in the hearts of people that the only possible explanation is the work of the Holy Spirit. One girl who had walked away from her childhood faith had walked by the church for months. Every time she walked by, she felt something pulling inside of her and that she really needed to check it out. She finally found the courage to message us, and then she meet with me and Stephen for coffee. Now, almost every single Sunday she and her boyfriend are there (in her beloved second row), and she is beginning to take her faith seriously and personally for the very first time. Tiffanie is doing a one-on-one Bible study with her each week. I couldn’t be proud and excited for her. Now they both have also become some of our closest friends. I thank God for them.

There is another girl who Tiffanie met on her way to paint night. She was standing in the doorway at the church waiting for her ride, attempting to hide from the rain as Tiffanie was heading into the church building. Tiffanie invited her into the church to wait for her ride. Fast forward a couple of months – she is coming to church, she is coming to Community Group, and she is studying the Bible with Tiffanie each week. She too had walked away from her faith and felt the desire to come back. She now is talking to Tiffanie about rededicating and getting baptized. We are so proud of her! She too has become a dear friend.

Just a little backstory, Tiffanie and I disagreed on the time that she should leave to set up for paint night. Normally, I am the one wanting to get places early, but this time it was Tiffanie. I suggested that she leave 15 minutes later, but Tiffanie insisted on leaving earlier. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she would have listened to me. This is one of the times I am VERY glad I was wrong and she was right. (There, I said it!) This year we have learned that the Holy Spirit is still very active.

4. God is the God of every tongue, tribe, and nation

Although our church is still very small, about 12-20 people on a Sunday morning, we are a very diverse group of people. On any given Sunday, we could have around 7 different native languages present – Irish, German, Chinese, Afrikaans, Russian, Malayalam, and Portuguese. Not to mention the different accents of English. People from Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas, Washington State, North Carolina, and Northern Ireland all talk and sound VERY different.

With all of the different native languages, at times there is a bit of a language barrier. However, for God there is no language barrier. Every single time I hear someone pray, sing, or read the Bible in a different language, I get goosebumps. Even though I can’t understand anything that is being said, God can. Not only can He understand, but He cares. God wants to redeem and rescue the people from those nations, and every single nation in the world. God sent His Son to die for every nation. I am humbled as I think about how big God is and how small I am. I am amazed by how loved all the nations are by our Father. This year we have learned that God is the God of every tongue, tribe, and nation.

5. Missionary puppies should be a thing

It is amazing to me how many relationships we now have or conversations that we have had with people that started because of Maddie and Allie. Having small, cute puppies gets you noticed by everyone. It really doesn’t matter where we go, people always want to pet our puppies. As they approach us, we then we have the opportunity to talk with them in a non-hostile and relaxed environment. If we could just teach Maddie and Allie to share the gospel and invite people to church, they would be some of the best missionaries ever. Mark my words, the day will come that churches are hiring puppy evangelists. Ok probably not, but still, this year we have learned that missionary puppies should be a thing.

6. Being so far away from family is tough

Let me first start by saying that our families have been so incredibly amazing. They have never once made us feel guilty or bad for being so far away. Our families have been nothing but encouraging and supportive the whole time. For that, we are beyond blessed.

With that being said, there are times that we still feel guilty and bad. Tiffanie and I both grew up in very family oriented families. We have always been close to our families, and our families get together often. So being away from them is hard. When we FaceTime them and everyone is there having a blast except us, it breaks our hearts. Seeing pictures of family events without us fills us with tears at times. Missing our nephews Liam and Grayson growing up so quickly and also missing their birthdays is hard. Not being there for my little brother’s sweet 16 birthday party absolutely broke my heart. (I’m tearing up as I write this, but I’m in a public coffee shop, so I am holding it in.) It hurts to not be able to run to the hospital to be there with them when one of our family members is very sick. If you have ever been separated from family, you understand. And that’s just my side of the family. Since Tiffanie is an only child, she experiences a whole different type of pain and emotion. While my parents still have plenty of kids around, Tiffanie’s parents don’t, and that is extremely hard for her at times. Our families are surely making massive sacrifices as well.

As tough as it is being away from our family for a year now, in light of eternity, it is only a short time. As great as our families are, the greatest thing about them is that they are all Christ-followers. Although we are separated now, we have the promise of being together for eternity in heaven. That is a great comfort. It’s not a comfort everyone has, so we will endure the pain of being apart from our families for the sake of the gospel. We will continue so that other people will hopefully be able to spend eternity in heaven with the ones that they love as well. This year we have learned that being away from family is tough.

7. Less Money… More Budgeting…

I hate budgeting. I am much bettering at spending money than saving money. Thanks be to God that I married a woman who is much wiser and conservative with money! Now that we live off of the generous and sacrificial support of individuals and churches, I find that we both are much more frugal than before. Our Christmas shopping spending limit decreased dramatically. As have eating out and new shoes or plaid shirts. I have to admit the lifestyle change hasn’t been easy.

For the majority of our lives, if we wanted something, within reason, we were able to go out and buy it, without thinking much about it. However, that isn’t the case anymore. There are things that we want, that we either have to save for or do without. Now, I’m not talking about buying groceries or something like that, but extra luxuries. There are certain things that we (mostly me) want that aren’t worth spending our money on. Although we have less things, what we have found is we are more content. Stuff really doesn’t equal happiness. As we have learned to live on less, the little things that we do get, like a new shirt or jacket, brings much more excitement than ever before. This year we have learned that less things and more budgeting isn’t too bad.

8. Slow down

One thing we love about Ireland is the emphasis on relationships. It is a relationship first culture. There were times in the summer that we would walk the loop in our neighborhood which is about 2 miles, and the walk would take us about 3 hours. Part of the reason is because Maddie and Allie have to stop and smell EVERYTHING, but that’s not the main reason. The main reason is because we see tons of people out and we just chat with them. Sometimes they invite us in for a cuppa, (cup of tea and the accompanying biscuits – aka: cookies) and other times we would just stand around and talk.

As much as I love this, it has been quite an adjustment. I am very much a task-oriented person. I like going from one task to another, to another. It seems like everything I do is in a hurry. Although I’m not really sure what I am rushing to or for. But living in a relationship first culture has forced me to slow down and quit rushing to everything and everywhere, and it has been really good. This year we have learned to slow down.

9. God > Methods 

Because we have no experience at church planting, I have attempted to learn as much as I can about church planting. I have read books, tons of blogs/articles, and listened to podcasts. The more I read, the more ideas I get, which is great. But honestly, the more confused I get as well. Nearly every article or book I have read and podcast I have listened to basically all say the same thing, “If you do this one thing, your church plant will be successful.” The problem is, that “one thing” you need to do to be successful is always different. Some of their advice is to have a cool space, or have cool videos and techie stuff, or have a great public speaker, or have chairs set up a certain way, or have good coffee (I added the last one), but you get the idea. Everyone wants to offer that one thing that will make things work, that one special silver bullet.

While I am absolutely thrilled that a certain method worked for someone, somewhere, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for church planting. What I have learned in my studying and through prayer, is that God is greater than any method. Here in Moycullen, and everywhere actually, if God isn’t the one behind it all, it will fail EVERY SINGLE TIME. Although I wholehearted believe that methods are good, important, and useful, a method is useless without the Master. Give me God, rather than manmade methods every day. This year we have learned that God is greater than methods.

10. Letters are awesome

I love technology. I love getting emails, Facebook messages, tweets, text messages, and other forms of social media messages from people. However, as much as I love those things, they don’t compare with handwritten letters and cards from people. I don’t think I ever realized just how special letters were until we moved and some people started sending us some. The fact that people take the time to sit down and write something to us, AND they pay to have it mailed here is such a special treat. Whenever we get a letter (insert song from Blues Clues here) in the post, we are always so excited to open it and read it. We have saved every single one. I don’t know how to describe it. As nice as it is hearing from people in any sort of way, this year we have learned that letters are awesome.

11. God is faithful and still answers prayers 

The last two years have been some of the most difficult and exciting times of our lives. Support raising is hard work. Being missionaries and church planting is hard work. Over the last couple of years, there has been an abundance of ups and downs, but through it all, God has been incredibly faithful. Despite the hard work and challenges, it has been the most rewarding and incredible time of our lives. We have not once found God to be unfaithful or unworthy of being trusted. In our most discouraging moments, He has been our comfort and has given us reasons to be encouraged. In our most trying moments, He has given us the strength to continue. In our most tiring moments, He has given us rest. When things have seemed hopeless, He has given us hope. Every single positive thing that has happened over the last year is because God is faithful and absolutely can be trusted.

For almost two years now, Tiffanie has been writing in a “One Line a Day – Five-Year Memory Book.” As she writes a memory from the day, we look at what happened the year before. An entry on the 18th of June, 2016 really caught my attention, and reminded me of our God’s faithfulness. We were in the middle of support raising, dying to get to Ireland as quick as we could, and it seemed like it was never going to happen. Here is what she wrote that day: “We went to Elements today to call a bunch of people about Ireland. We were met with a whole lot of ‘nos.’ It was quite discouraging.” As we read that on the 18th of June a year later, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of God’s faithfulness. One year we were so discouraged thinking we would never get here, and the next year we had been in Ireland for more than 4 months. Guys, He is faithful!

As many of you know, each month included with our newsletter is a prayer calendar. If you follow that calendar and pray for the prayer request each day, we can’t thank you enough. Those prayers are working. On the 5th of November, our request was that one of Tiffanie’s friends would come to church. On that very day, she came for the very first time. God rocks!

There have been times that we have prayed that we would be able to have a conversation about Jesus, church, or the Bible with someone specific, and when we met with them, they brought it up and wanted to talk about it. As I look back over our prayer calendars for the last year, God has answered prayers that I forgot that we even prayed and asked you to pray for. Here are a few of the prayers that God has answered:

  • On January 2, 2017 we asked you to pray for a place for us to live. Not only did we find somewhere the day we arrived in Ireland, but we have the most amazing landlords ever.
  • On January 8, 2017, we asked for prayer “That our current car would sell quickly.” Just a few weeks later it sold for our exact asking price, and we didn’t have to make another payment on it.
  • On February 22, 2017 the prayer request was for “no problems getting our visas.” On the 6th of February, we walked into immigration without all of our paperwork and still got our visas without any trouble. God answered the prayer before we even reached the day on the prayer calendar.
  • On April 28, 2017 the request was “that a neighbor would join us for tea or dinner.” Now there is hardly a week that goes by that we don’t have dinner or tea with a neighbor.
  • On July 18, 2017 the request was “An opportunity to start a one-on-one Bible study with a neighbor.” Tiffanie is at a coffee shop right now doing a one-on-one Bible study with one of our friends.
  • Many different times we have asked for prayer for Paint Night. Each paint night God continues to do cool things. Tiffanie met a couple of her closest friends at Paint Night.
  • Many times we have asked for prayer that we would say healthy, and throughout the year, we only spent a couple of days sick!

Glory to God! And praise the Lord, is all I can say. I seriously could go on and on about the prayers that God has answered and how He has proved Himself to be faithful and trustworthy. This has been my favorite lesson to write about. I love being reminded of how amazing God is. This year we have learned that God is faithful and still answers prayers.

12. We are so loved 

I’m sure you’re tired of reading now, but please finish reading; this is the last one and it’s about you. As I reflect back on the last year, I cannot help but be overwhelmed with a sense of how loved we are.

Every month when we look at our supporter report, we feel your love. We are so humbled and honoured that you trust in what God is doing here and that you are willing to give your hard earned money to support our work. Every time one of you checks in and asks about something we have posted on Facebook or in our newsletter, we feel your love. It means so much that you are keeping up to date with us and you care about what is going on. When you proudly wear your “Pray for Ireland” shirts, we feel loved and know that we are not alone. Whenever you comment on a post, reply to the newsletter, pray for the prayer requests, or encourage us, we feel your love.

From the bottom of our hearts, Tiffanie and I love you all! Without you, we would not be able to do what we are doing. Without you, Swains Serving Ireland would not be happening. As we dive into the second year of our work here, we do so with tons of lessons learned, memories made, and love in our hearts!

God bless you all!

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