Encouragements from Cork

Mission in Cork

This is the fifth or sixth year that University College Cork CU has run a Mission Week, and every year they are developing news skills and building on previous years. Last year was the first time they attempted having so many talks, both lunchtime and evening, and saw the benefit of being able to cover a wide variety of issues and topics within the week. This year, one of the changes was having just one or two speakers for the whole week. allowing them to build a connection with the crowd who were coming along. As the CU members confidence in the speaker grew they got bolder inviting friends, and people came back to hear the speaker again.

This year, obviously, being a Covid-year, brought a lot of challenges. One of those was how to get the first years, who have fully been participating in CU in an online format, to feel part of things and to be trained up in mission. Another was how to reach people well, in general, and how to engage with them on campus when we wouldn’t be able to invite students into a warm, welcoming, physical space.

Some Encouragements & Highlights

Firstly, the first years really did get engaged and have got a much better grasp on the idea that CU is a missional body.

It is encouraging that even in a year where things were a lot harder, the CU are still learning, growing, and building on what has gone before. The week certainly contributed to building the CU into a stronger mission team, and the effects of it will go on to impact evangelism in the next term and beyond.

A major highlight for me was the difference the week made with two particular non-Christian students. “J2 is a first year who just came along out of interest, as he wanted to get to know some more folks at UCC. He came to three out of the five events, and stayed afterwards to chat with CU folks. At the first one he came to, a lunchbar on Institutionalised Religion that Gareth was speaking at, and stayed for the whole length of the thing, even though it was the same talk repeated twice! He really got to know people, and that he is now connected into the community of the CU. He came along to the first mission week follow up event, an Uncover Mark study, and as he’s in the city some of us are planning to meet up with him in person for a walk and a chat.

The other encouraging story was “A” who has been coming along sporadically to CU meetings since Christmas, seeking community in these isolated times. I thought he wasn’t going to end up coming to any events over the two weeks, but he did come to the last one, about the cross! He was really engaged as we chatted in breakout rooms, and it’s so great to know that he has heard the gospel and the meaning of the cross explained so clearly. He also came along to one of the follow-up studies, and already knows one of the CU students who is keeping in touch with him.

– Contribution of Gareth:

As I’ve said, one of the main aims from my end for this week was that the CU students see that having a consistent speaker over the whole of the Missions Week(s) was very beneficial in terms of engagement and connection. I think having Gareth as one of the speakers really helped to solidify that notion, as he did such a great job in presenting the gospel clearly and answering the questions that were raised, both by the talk titles and in the Q&As. I think the CU students got to see a clear demonstration of how we can take peoples’ objections and question seriously, but also make sure that the gospel shines out, and that every talk points people to Jesus. In recording short videos for the CU to share over the week, Gareth also helped make the mission week clearly present on social media. That helped us a lot in terms of extending the reach of the weeks beyond the people who came along to the zoom events. Gareth’s experience of speaking into a student context was also really helpful, as the talks were pitched really well and, although he didn’t have the benefit of being a local, he took the time to engage well with the context into which he was speaking.

Solas’s Gareth Black said, “I haven’t done a CU events week in Cork before, so this was breaking new ground for me personally – and I loved it. The theme we developed with the students was “Love Is”. We really tried to build some confidence in the credibility of Christianity, especially around the issue of the character of God – which the students in Cork see as a critical element in their gospel witness. I did seven talks and four Q&A sessions over the fortnight, which was both quite intense and a brilliant opportunity! My talks included “Why isn’t God more obvious?”, “How can God be good when there is suffering?”, “Why did Jesus have to die?”, “Harm & Hypocrisy: Wouldn’t the world be a better place without Christianity?” The CU there were brilliant to work with, and it was great to in partnership with our friends at CUI again too.”

Student Feedback

“Throughout the Missions Week planning I have been learning that as long as God is in the centre, that is all that matters. He will come in power, unrestricted by Zoom” – Cian

 “I really enjoyed having an opportunity to delve into deeper issues in faith and confront them in a community that felt safe and open minded. It really blessed me to listen to speakers who were so sensitive and respectful, while also not shying away from the big questions!” – Sinéad

“For me it was a great week because I could hear about the topic of love in a more detailed context. It was also surprising to see how ‘love’ can be included in so many topics. I specifically enjoyed the talk about mental health and that God doesn’t think any less of us just because we may struggle with it. That really resonated with me.” – Laura

“The talks were delivered at a really good level for where students were actually at, and the questions they are genuinely asking. It felt like the speakers took the talk titles that were given to them and really made some great talks out of them. The talks were spot-on theologically, and also engaged with people well at an intellectual level. The big topics that we broached over the weeks were all dealt with sensitively and well. The local Cork context was also linked in well, and it didn’t feel isolating to people from a Catholic or non-religious background at all. The answers given at the question and answer sessions were great.”  –  The CU Planning Committee

Hannah Irwin is a Staff Worker with Christian Unions Ireland covering Cork and Tralee