"Why Mission Year? Why go to America? Why go anywhere? Why give up a year?"
These are questions that have been asked of me and that I have asked myself. A long time was spent tossing and turning at night, anxiously going over the pros and cons of leaving everything I know. Well to answer these questions we need to go back a few years.
Summer Madness. A large Christian festival in Northern Ireland, the first time it was in Glenarm Castle. Though I can't much remember what happened or who spoke or what they spoke about, there was one guest speaker who really opened my eyes. This speaker was Shane Claiborne, a white guy with dreadlocks from Tennessee. After loving whatever he talked about that weekend I started watching videos of his sermons and interviews online and started learning about all the amazing work he was doing in Philadelphia. I picked up his book 'The Irresistible Revolution' and was floored by how radically he took Christianity. Radical. There's a word that isn't often used positively. What I learnt is that radical Christianity is Love. Love for God and love for others, even, and most often especially, at the cost of yourself. I was pointed to the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. I realised that I had gotten Christianity completely wrong. True Christianity isn't about just knowing and believing all the right stuff and going to heaven after we die, it's about giving of ourselves and putting others needs above our own, as St. James puts it in his epistle," Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for the orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." (James 1:27). Whilst had had always been not too bad at the latter part of that verse, I realised I hadn't done much of the former.
That weekend at Summer Madness was formative for another reason. That weekend I was introduced to mewithoutYou, a sorta-Christian-sorta-not post-hardcore/indie band from Philadelphia who would quickly become one of my favourite and most influential bands of all time. While at first I found frontman Aaron Weiss's yells unlistenable, I quickly looked (or in this case listened) beyond this strange vocal and musical style and fell in love with the most beautiful and heartfelt lyrics I've came across to this day. I discovered that Aaron was no ordinary vocalist, but went around wearing old clothes and eating from dumpsters so he could give the money to those in need. His band even toured around on a bus fuelled by vegetable oil. He also happened to be be friends with Shane Claiborne- he was another radical. Lines from his song January 1979 such as "After years with their crown on my head I've grown over fed, unconcerned and comfortably numb. Kept busy indulging in the pleasures of the wealthy, oh somebody make me afraid of what I've become," hit me like a brick.
For the next few years I spent a whole lot of time talking about doing something radical but not a whole lot of time actually doing anything. I was growing more and more disillusioned with the church and the Christianity I had seen represented on TV by hate mongers, bigots and televangelists. Whilst I was still believed I struggled with doubt. Kierkegaard has been a great comfort to me, as he argues that doubt is not the opposite of faith, rather without some element of doubt you cannot have faith, it would be knowledge. I remembered a saying that God can be experienced most intimately in the faces and lives of the poor. As Matt Theissen of Relient K puts it, "'cause I know to live you must give your life away." And whilst I wasn't sure whether I could give my life away (I'm still not), after 14 years of school and not having much of an idea of what I wanted to do afterwards I decided to give away a year and chose to take a year out. The only question was what I would actually do.
I came across Mission Year from The Simple Way website and instantly fell in love with what they were doing. However the hefty amount of fundraising put me off, but I still felt the urge to join in what they where up to. During my daily Bible readings I kept coming across a common theme, "Love God and love others." The tag line of Mission Year? "Love God. Love others. Nothing else matters." The Sunday before I had to make the decision of what I would do this year the projector screen in church had four words plastered across the front of them... "Love God, love others." Wether by chance or divine intervention I decided to apply for Mission Year and they accepted me onto the program and I am now moving to Chicago on the 6th of September for a year to live in Christian Community, volunteering for around 30 hours a week and will also be partnered with a church. It'll be like being a monk without having to wear those fashionable habits.
Whist this is an exciting opportunity, the prospect of moving away from Carrick to a city with a population bigger than my entire country (Northern Ireland), along with the ridiculously huge fundraising goal (about seven and a half thousand pounds, however my main is to try and get $3000 before I go in September), quite frankly scares the life out of me. This is where I need to trust God and "consider the sparrows" and all that. So, I ask you for your support. For most of you it will be prayer, but financial support is also needed. Donations can be made online by going to www.missionyear.org/donate and selecting my name from the drop down menu. Thank you if you have made it this far and if you have considered supporting me through prayer or giving. I am so thankful for everyone in my life that has brought me this far and am going to miss you all dearly when I am gone so I'll leave you with the words of the Sufi poet Rumi "Goodbyes are for those who love with their eyes. For those who love with heart and soul there is no separation."