Ireland has always been a bit like its weather... unpredictable. We had summer-like moments of warmth from a dazzling sun, followed minutes later by lashing rain or enough corn kernel size hail to cover the streets with an inch of white quickly followed by more sun. If you weather, Ireland's your place. There's lots of it.
Our 10 days in Ireland was like that in more ways than the weather. We felt intense moments of satisfaction sharing the Gospel with people in coffee houses, pubs, restaurants, cultural centers and church halls. There were also times of real disappointment as concerts we'd counted on were either cancelled or never truly confirmed. We went for 4 days with only three engagements to share, followed by 24 hours where we played in four different venues.
But through it all, we saw God working through us and the church partners that organized our events. Our team was made up of three songwriters (myself, George Vinson and Jason Howell) and the team manager (my daughter Laura.) We decided to do one joint program where George (an incredible session guitarist as well as song writer) would act as a sort of live DJ playing along with a couple of Jason's songs, then having us all do one together, followed by a few of my songs and so forth.
For Ireland, it was exactly what the people needed. For our secular audiences, it was relaxed and informal, but interesting and entertaining. For our church partners, it was their first real experience in doing outreach concerts in secular venues. Our goals for the concerts were to befriend the crowds while challenging them with music that described our physical and spiritual journeys and the hope of the Gospel. We wanted to give Christians and their seeker friends something significant to discuss around the tables. Each concert ended with Amazing Grace. We would explain that it was more than a famous folk song to us. It was our story. And as we'd sing, the crowd would join in. Only in Ireland...
We were able to accomplish some other significant things during our stay as well. We led two songwriter clinics, one in Newbridge and the other at the Irish Cultural Center in Dublin. And we were able to do some ministry training with musicians from the Open Arms Community Church, and with the Operation Mobilization Ireland team in Buncrana. We have invitations to partner with the Evangelical Association of Ireland, Open Arms CC, OM, the Irish Bible Institute and a new fellowship in Dublin called The Journey.
We will also be working with the city of Buncrana to help develop a festival next year celebrating the 200th anniversary of John Newton. This slave trader barely made it to shore there after a fierce storm at sea before a second storm came, convincing him that there is a God who answers prayer. His conversion there and the beginning of his penning of Amazing Grace will be the focus of new initiatives there.
I want to thank George Vinson for his partnership with me in the Gospel. His guitar playing is awesome, but his heart for ministry is what I cherish even more.
I also want to thank Jason Howell. Jason remained ever flexible, ever teachable, and amazed people by his maturity in the Lord as much as in his God-given ability to write songs from the heart and perform them like no 17 year old I've ever met.
I want to thank Laura as well, for her ceaseless service to us and to the Lord. The details were what we asked her to take care of. But her steadiness and dependence on the Lord kept us on track more time than she knows. I'll not forget the evening at the pub in Buncrana when we took the stage, you stuck yourself into the midst of a booth with a bunch of people you'd never met, introduced yourself and eventually us to people who with God's help will look back at that night as their first step toward heaven.
Finally, I want to personally thank all who prayed for our trip. There were times when the sun shown, and times where had to run for cover. But God provided out of his amazing grace.
Happy Easter. He is risen.
Well, its hard to believe it, but our Ireland trip is drawing to a close. Jason and I are at our lodging for the night in Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin...its around 11:30pm and call time in the morning is 6am!
Im not sure where to begin! We had a pretty early call this morning, as Mike Mullins drove us down from Buncrana to Derry in order to catch the bus to Dublin. I didnt realize it, but Derry is right across the border in Northern Ireland and was the sight of the Bloody Sunday massacre. Most of us think of this as just a U2 song, but Mike took us through town to the actual site where the Catholic protesters were marching. History tells us that a shot rang out, and then the British troops opened fire on the marchers. Derry reminded me of Belfast, with slogans and murals decorating the various buildings. Even the curbs are marked with colors denoting the different neighborhoods (and factions). While the peace is thankfully still in effect (even with the recent assassination of a former British agent in the IRA), there are reminders everywhere of the Troubles that have plagued this country for so long. Both Mike Mullins and my friend up in Belfast, Fr. Martin Curley agree that the only thing that will ever bring peace to this island is the love of Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you about our final gig here. We played in the Irish Cultural Center (I cannot even begin to spell the Irish name for it!); this is a beautiful building in a grand old neighborhood, and this facility is a treasure trove of Irish music. If you want to learn about the history of this incredible music (and learn how to play it), then this is the place! And boy...I got a crash course, too! At the end of the night, our host, Cormac Shaw and a friend (also named Cormac) invited me to play along with them on a couple of traditional Irish melodies (these guys play the fiddle and the flute). I got thrown to the wolves! The two Cormacs are great players and I was struggling to keep up...I had never heard these jigs before, but it was a blast to play. What an incredible honor!
Tonight was another of our songwriting seminars. After playing a few opening songs, we launched into our session, with some great interaction with the participants. We played a few more of our tunes and then we turned the evening into an open mic night. There is a friend of Laura Robinsons (Durands 17 year old daughter who is on the tour with us)...a girl named Lisa who played and sang one of her songs...wow! This place is teeming with incredible talent. We took a quick break to talk to the folks in the crowd, who were so very gracious to us. When we came back, we played a few more tunes, and ended (as always) with Amazing Grace. I had the opportunity to introduce the song, where I shared with the crowd (a mix of believers and non-believers alike) how the grace of this hymn/folk song has been so very real and important in my own life. It was a small seed we planted, but a seed nonetheless that our contacts here will cultivate.
And that is pretty much our mission; to use our music to help the local church reach into their communities and cultivate friendships with seekers. And while this was really a scouting trip for a future tour with the whole band, it was far more successful in that ministries in Newbridge, Buncrana, and Dublin were able to meet new friends and to minister to people who would never come to just another church service.
Jason is fast asleep as I type this, and Im trying not to weep aloud as I think about the people just this week weve met and ministered to; Sinead at the restaurant in Newbridge, and the wedding party at the pub...Seamus and Mary at the Drift Inn at Buncrana...some lads who chatted with us on the street in Buncrana after our first pub date up north (I gave them a CD)...and the many faces of the people I talked to tonight. The names are running together, but God knows each and every one of them and I pray that our friends here will be able to be Christ to them in the days and months ahead.
I just cant believe that God would use me and this music in such a way, but I am so thankful He has. Thank you for making this trip possible and especially for all your prayers. You are all special people in my life and Im glad to be in this journey with you.
Ok...to bed and then to the airport! Until our next trip, keep praying!
God bless you all...
Buncrana (part 2)
Ok...where did I leave off? What a great day (so far). This morning, Durand and I helped lead worship at the church here. I gave an oh-so-brief version of my testimony. After the music, we shared communion and Durand challenged us to find new ways for the church to be good neighbors to the community.
After a great Irish lunch of fish and chips, we played at the Drift Inn. Another beautiful pub/restaurant (it was the old train station). Arsenal was playing Manchester, so as
to not offend the fans, we played with the telly left on (but the sound down). Manchester did win, but we had a great time. Jason's song "Love Song For The Curse" went down very well.
The bartender (Paul) loved us and wants to know when we'll be back. There was a great couple
(Seamus and Mary) that I had a wonderful conversation with. Seems that Seamus is a bit of a guitarist himself and he bought my CD (as did Paul); they both asked me to sign their copies. Very sweet folks; It's difficult not to fall in love with these people and this island.
Ok...this update will be in three parts, as it's time for a traditional dinner of spaghetti (traditional at the Vinson home anyway...lol). Tonight we have a concert and we hope that
many of the folks we've met at the two pubs will be there.
Love you gang!!
Well, the first half of our journey is over and now we get busy! Yesterday we said our tearful farewells to our new friends in Newbridge and headed into Dublin. Our contact up north, Mike Mullin, was in town for a meeting so we larked about town until he finished.
There is an old saying in Ireland...if you dont like the weather, just wait a few moments. And this couldnt have been closer to the truth! We were hanging in the really cool Temple Bar area and after a great lunch, we continued our sightseeing. It was a bit cold, but very sunny. While we were eating, a hard rain blew in and out as fast as that. Durand and I were visiting the Irish Film Institute when out of nowhere, hail starting falling hard and fast; yes, hail! After about 10 minutes, they came Fat Old Sun acting as if nothing had happened. Way cool!
We had a grand journey traveling up to Buncrana. If you ever get the chance to come to this beautiful island, you simply must! I dont have the vocabulary to describe the glory of it...Ill just say its grand!
Mike Mullen heads a ministry up here called Operation Mobilization (OM), and he lined up another pub for us to play. And if I thought the Newbridge pub was cool, then Roddens was incredible! Its the kind of place where you stepped back in time...very quaint. I fully expected to see Frodo and Sam at a table, and Strider lurking in the corner...lol!
The three of us played about 2 hours to a packed room. They were great! Today we lead worship at Mikes church, this afternoon we play a restaurant, with a full concert at a local venue tonight. I think they were going easy on us down south, as we are slamming up here!
Well, Ill have to finish this update later, as we have to head to the service. By the way, wish Carol a happy birthday...yes, today is her birthday!!
Later, my friends!!
We literally just finished our final concert in Newbridge just moments before. As I type, a crowd of about 60 folks are ‘milling about’ in the main room of the Open Arms Community Church. It was a different night than we had planned, as Tony had to unexpectedly fly home this morning. And while we missed him greatly (Tony has won many fans here...no surprise there!), Durand, Jason, and I turned the night into more of a group effort. I had the wonderful privilege of playing on songs by both guys...and what great songs! Jason has one called “Porcelain” that talks about how breakable we all are. And Durand ended the night with a song of his called “Only Plea” which runs from one chorus that says ‘...we’re guilty’, to the final chorus that declares that we’re ‘...forgiven’.
And that sums up our lives...we are born guilty, but thanks to Christ’s sacrifice, we can be forgiven. I had the chance to play one of my favorite hymns called ‘The Fountain’, which talk about His sacrifice and how we can be washed clean.
All in all, a great end to a great week! Tomorrow we travel up to Buncrana. Keep praying and you’ll hear from us again (and soon!).
Love you guys!
Today was a strange day, I must admit...but 'it's sorted' as they say over here (meaning it all worked out). We were beginning our first songs during lunch at a local restaurant (very 'posh' or fancy) when the owner of the building (not the restaurant owner that had invited us, who wasn't there) kept saying it was too loud (which it wasn't). Not wanting to burn any bridges for our friends at the Open Arms Church, we decided to punt the music, but to wait until lunch was over before we packed up (so we wouldn't look like we ran off in a huff).
But here's the part that God 'sorted' for us; 2 different ladies came up and asked if we going to play some more. When we explained what happened, they were both very disappointed. So we had young Jason grab his guitar and sing a couple of his songs (he really is gifted). I couldn't resist the fun, so I grabbed my guitar and joined in (we had a blast...a very quiet one, but a blast none the less). So we gave a private concert right there for these 2 ladies. Come to find out, Open Arms has been trying to connect with both of them for a few months, and they just happened to be there! One of them has a degree in Divinity and teaches theology at a local university...wow!
One of the missions groups I work with, Global Mission Project, has a great motto: 'Semper Gumby'...I think it's Latin for 'always flexible'. I am so thankful that we stayed around and allowed God a chance to show off for us!
Tonight we went into town and checked out some local venues. We are doing a workshop at the church tomorrow night, but we're gonna go 'busking' afterwards. Tony and I popped into one joint tonight and as a result, we're going back tomorrow after the workshop and play for these folks.
It just goes to show that it never goes as it's all planned, but thankfully the Father is never surprised!
Love you...continue to pray!!
Our first evening at the church was beautiful. The home groups of the church called Open Arms Community Church came together for an evening of several sets of music with time to chat and enjoy "tea and biscuits" (that's hot tea and cookies for the American southerners reading this!)
Jason Howell did a great job opening the evening. That was a "God thing" since Friday Jason could literally not speak a word because of laryngitis. Of course Tony and George had never heard Jason in person. As he was finishing his set, Tony leaned over to me and said, "well, I'm glad I'm not the one that has to follow his performance." That job was mine.
It was really fun to sing to an Irish audience again. I was able to use songs I'd written while living here to get close to the audience. They were a great bunch and even joined in on a couple of them.
Then George and Tony ended the evening by taking their breath away. Tony's huge voice moved the walls back a few inches as they started the night with an unbelievable rendition of Love Came to Town and ended with Amazing Grace.
The folks were great, and it was obvious that by the end of the night, there'd really been something for everyone there. I believe we'll have some folks from last night inviting guests these next couple of days for the big event on Friday night.
Keep us in your prayers as we play at a music restaurant this afternoon for the general public. We can only say so much but we're helping the church become a visible "good neighbor" in the community, dispelling the rumors here that the church was some kind of cult or sect simply because it wasn't mainline Catholic or Anglican.
More to come.