by Elizabeth Byrne and Breda Rose
“Developing the Individual” “Promoting the Kingdom” “Impacting the Community”
Hacketstown is a fairly small rural town with a population of about 2000 people. I believe that how a local church engages in the community depends on the size and location of the city, town or village, so therefore I think it is relevant to our situation that Hacketstown is a relatively small town in a rural setting, surrounded by other small communities.
I (Elizabeth) was born and reared in Hacketstown and remained there until I married Michael and moved to Kildare town in 1980. Six years later we returned to a small village on the outskirts of Hacketstown - to live near where Michael grew up – together with our four children.
I was saved in 1993 and in 1994 began group meetings in my home and also in the local Catholic Community Hall and Church of Ireland Meeting Hall. Fire, enthusiasm and passion for Jesus caused me to proclaim the Good News everywhere I went at this stage. This caused quite a stir, as I had always been a quiet person, who shied away from the limelight. Those locals, who had known me all of my life, saw and heard the evidence of the changes within and whether they liked it or not, they were aware that something amazing had happened in my life. So, in those early years, getting out there among the people was what we were about and many people began to come into the Kingdom.
But in a small community the walls have ears so it wasn’t long before the religious bodies heard a rumbling about this ‘new thing’ and eventually began to put subtle pressure on people to beware and stay away. So while some succumbed to that pressure others continued on steadfastly.
Before the end of 1999 and by the grace of God, we had built and moved into a place of our own in the centre of the town. The church members who were around at the time believe this happened by a miraculous gift of faith that God granted to me at the time as we did not have the provision of the flesh when we stepped out in faith.
Looking back, this was a major undertaking in a rural area at the time, almost putting us in competition/contention with the established churches. While it gave us independence, it caused another fall-away because many locals who felt comfortable as part of a non-denominational prayer-group were extremely uncomfortable to be seen as a church body who embraced all denominations!
So now, in our new environment, we spent a lot of time indoors, praying and interceding, as we felt cut off from the local community, who did not want to know us. This actually turned out to be a very comfortable and cosy time for us – but had the Holy Spirit done all we wanted and expected Him to do we might still be sitting behind closed doors! We were in safe and comfortable surroundings but we were not engaging with anyone…
Then little by little, and by the grace of God, the softening came, and the local community began to accept us. Small things, small signs, invitations, acknowledgement that we were a local body among other small bodies of people. For example, one of our members now does voluntary work on a part-time basis in the local Credit Union. Maybe God had been teaching us patience and perseverance and the underlying strength of putting prayer first, but eventually things began to change.
Now was our time to move out again.
One thing that worked really well for us was the distribution of fridge magnets.
At Easter we went door-to-door with those lovely little kitchen gadgets which had a scripture verse embossed on them. The reception was more than we could have expected – people were so amazed and appreciative of receiving a gift for free and indeed many of them wanted to pay for the gift! We followed up by handing out calendars and other gifts door-to-door at Christmas. I got the idea for this from a course I attended at Trinity Church in Dublin when part of the hands-on training was going door-to-door with an unexpected gift, which also gave the recipients a contact to the church if they wanted to follow up on it. We also distributed ‘Power to Change’ material door-to-door and were available to receive feed-back.
Another outreach which began small and grew rapidly was the sending of cards to people in the community. Margaret, who is a local church member and also works locally, is well-known in Hacketstown and has added to her strong evangelical gifting by the sending of greeting cards for various events. For ‘wedding-days’, ‘new arrivals’, ‘special birthdays’, and especially if someone is sick or to remind someone who has asked for prayer that she is still thinking of them – the cards are despatched. Who would have ever believed that a card could mean so much to people? The response has been tremendous as people have been so touched by receiving those cards. There is always a follow-on as people come back to say thanks and we have even seen people saved as a result of receiving such cards.
In 2005 I visited Ghana for the first time and was deeply moved by the situation there, so on my return I encouraged the church members and we decided to send some aid to the local pastor there. This project grew very quickly, resulting in the shipping of a 40’ hi-cube container. The transportation of this was very expensive so we decided to turn to the community for fund-raising and goods to send. Initially, we were wondering what sort of reception we would get, but to our amazement this project took off at lightning speed. We raised lots of money – far more than we could have expected – then the goods started to pour in. People began to call in to the Centre with bags of clothes, toys, bicycles, electrical goods, cots, bed-linen, medical supplies, tools, furniture, kitchen appliances and musical equipment, etc. It was really exciting. The phone was ringing constantly. But the best part of all was watching the people arrive in who had vowed that they would never cross the door-way of this building!
In January 2006 I returned to Ghana and purchased two plots of land on the outskirts of Accra with the funds which were surplus from the fundraising. A school/church will be built on this land and we also intend to bore a well there. A link has been firmly established and the general community back home are almost as interested in the developments there as we are.
In July, I paid my third visit to Accra, this time taking a team from the church with me, and we were thrilled to be able to see how much more work has been done. While all the progress is taking place in Ghana, we are finding that it is a wonderful tool to use in engaging with the local people here. We have been invited to speak on local radio about our church and the work in Ghana and articles have been published in the local newspapers. One paper almost filled its tabloid supplement with news and photographs from our trip in January. School children have pooled their pocket money to help the children in Ghana and some of our families and neighbours have supported financially by ‘adopting’ Ghanaian children from the Orphanage run by the pastor with whom we are incontact. The work is on-going and I have already booked a ticket for my next trip in January.
Other outreach events which were very successful and worthy of a quick mention were concerts performed by George Hamilton IV at Christmas 2002 and Easter 2005.
He went down a treat with the locals who were quick to pre-book their seats.
Another was an ‘Agape Feast’, a banquet served up to us by a Christian chef and his helpers in the Centre, while another from his church strummed guitar and sang while we ate. Many yet unsaved spouses came along and relished the food – some coming into the church for the very first time.
It has taken time and patience as we reach out to the people in this small and close-knit community. Times are changing and we are glad now that we are no longer seen as a threat to the traditional foundations of this society. Until recently, there was very little employment in this area so most young people moved away to bigger towns. Now, with employment on the increase, we are seeing people from other nations come to work and live in Hacketstown. A number of these are Christian and we have people arriving at the door to find out what we are about and get details of the services etc. Already the church has grown as people from South Africa and Brazil have joined us. This gives us encouragement and freshness and those people are also a good witness to the communities among whom they are living and working.
As we approach the 7th anniversary of our church being established in Hacketstown when the Centre first opened its doors, we are beginning to plan a celebration for that special night on 7thOctober. Presently we are seeking God’s will on how we can use this event to embrace and include the community as a whole.
Scripture for the day