Report from the Road – Northern Ireland 2020

After months of very limited activities due to the lockdown, it was wonderful to be back on the road again in this autumn. Andy Bannister and Gavin Matthews from the Dundee office joined Gareth Black in Belfast for a series of meetings, some filming and networking events too.

Social distancing in church!

Evangelism Training was high on the agenda for our time in Ulster. Crown Jesus Ministries is a dynamic evangelistic mission in East Belfast, and Glenabbey Church is Gareth Black’s home fellowship. Both of these groups gave us a fantastic welcome and we ran similar events for them both. Gareth kicked proceedings off with some thoughts on “Spiritual Climate Change”, looking at the rapid secularisation of Northern Ireland and the ways in which that creates challenges and opportunities for gospel work. Andy Bannister then presented a version of his talk on the use of questions in evangelism, “How to talk about Jesus without looking like an idiot” – which is our introduction to conversational evangelism, and really the starting point for much of what we do. These events were not identical though, because the second half of the night, (after Gavin interviewed Andy about the work of Solas), was given over to Q&A – and the respective audiences took the conversation in quite different directions.

It was so refreshing to meet people in person, and not just via screens! We were careful to follow all the Covid-restrictions as we travelled – which wasn’t easy, because they are different in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In fact some of the regulations actually changed as we were queuing for the ferry and required some last-minute changes of plan! Some of the regulations have tightened again since we got back, so we were really very grateful to have been able to use this window of opportunity while it was there. It was also really good to catch up with Michael and Rebecca Ots who were over too as Michael was speaking for the CU at Queen’s University.

Being in Northern Ireland was also a great opportunity to speak to others engaged in Christian mission in the public square. We have good friends at Stranmillis EP church, who would like us to bring the Confident Christianity conference to Belfast. It was really good to meet them in a coffee shop and work out what we could do together in different unlocking scenarios. The gospel of Jesus does not change, but the context in which we are proclaiming and explaining it does! It was also good to speak to the team from the EA in Northern Ireland who are doing great work in the public square, and equipping the churches for their role as Christ’s ambassadors.

We also had the opportunity to meet with the guys from CBMC, who are sharing the love of Christ and the hope of his gospel in the business community. We are actively looking at ways we can work with them in evangelism and apologetics in the coming year. The also made this short film with Andy and Gareth at the end of our meeting.

Solas has made regular trips to Northern Ireland over many years, but now having Gareth there on the ground, means that we are equipped to serve the churches there far better than we ever could before. Andy, Gareth and Gavin do a lot of the speaking and writing for Solas, and yet rarely meet together as a team in person. It was also really good for us to be together and plan out some future ideas for the Solas website, plan the next series of Short Answers videos, and record four new episodes with local videographer Michael Bradshaw, which will be coming soon.

Although working within the health and hygiene regulations added significant costs and inconvenience to our trip, being allowed out again to engage in ministry was hugely encouraging.  There are opportunities for us to travel, and to do evangelism training events for churches and ministries – and to do coffee shop and restaurant style outreach events. We are ready to go, and excited to be able to get going with this important work to which we feel called. We will always work within the relevant guidelines (and will reek of hand-sanitiser!), but please do contact us if we can serve you in evangelism, outreach or evangelism training. We are keen to do as much as is practicable within the guidelines.