A Second Journey: Last Sunday-Tuesday, The Awesome and the Unexpected

We spent Sunday with the Edinburgh congregation. It was fabulous fellowship, and I was so pleased to spend some more time with many of the people I had met in Edinburgh last year. I especially treasured the conversation/crash catch up session I was abled to have with Emma L after our evening service.
We went to bed as early as we could that night, as the next morning we were due to wake at 5 Am. We needed to be on our way to the train station by 7 Am so that we could arrive in Glasgow and start leaflet distributing by 8. I’m not sure if the giggling started that night or the next, but for about three nights in a row this week we in the girls room have been helpless with laughter. That may have had something to do with our new wake up time, but it’s an indicator, too, of how close we five have grown over the last couple of weeks. I am delighted to call them my sisters in Christ, and I am glad we can laugh so easily together.
It was a busy week, but a good one, with quite a few lessons to be learned. Monday, we distributed leaflets for the upcoming Q and A session at the Glasgow church Thursday night. Idid have one direct encounter with a man called Joseph, who seemed rather antagonistic toward Christianity. There were a few suggested questions on the leaflet — “What is the Bible?” “Who is Jesus?” — and he went down the list of questions, putting them to my team mate and I in a rather mocking tone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so much a conversation as a monologue on his part, as he interrupted our explanations with his own apparent wisdom on the matter.
We walked away from that exchange feeling rather discouraged. Although the conversation remained perfectly cordial, it was clear the man had some issues and had not heard a word we had said. Before continuing our distribution, we stopped to pray together, asking God to use our conversation for change in Joseph’s life, and for guidance in future similar situations.
On our way back to Airdrie around lunch time, we stopped at the Glasgow Cathedral for a few minutes. My friend and I found some fun things in the gift shop, then we re-boarded the train and soon arrived back in Airdrie. We devoted that afternoon to studying our team book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, and blog post writing for me.
Tuesday began with the usual private and team devotion time, followed by transportation to Caldervale Secondary School. Unlike our other school visits, we were neither giving testimonies nor performing a skit or psalm singing. We took part in three different religious education classes, sitting amongst the pupils and participating in the discussions they had.
The first class was focussed on Buddhism. The seven of us each joined different tables and assisted the students with their work, while also discussing the topics at hand. In my group, we explored the subject of salvation, whether it is something that can be attained through one’s own efforts, or something that must come from an external source, and the positives and negatives of each viewpoint. We also broached the subjects of the true meaning of self-acceptance and the human spirit. In all of these things, I attempted to include the Christian perspective. It was difficult, because the students were meant to be working on a specific task for the class, so we on the team had to find creative ways to bring Christianity into the conversation, without straying too much from the parameters of the assignment.
I think we all found the exercise pretty disheartening. It wasn’t exactly the kind of ministry opportunity we had been expecting. All attempts to discuss Christianity in a way that might actually have some spiritual value just deteriorated into academic comparisons between religions in general. Not that Christianity cannot be discussed academically (a faith with a book as long as the Bible and a longer history lends itself to academia), but I felt rather like I was trivializing it by lumping it together with a bunch of other man-made belief systems. Christianity and Buddhism are worlds apart when it comes to their teachings and world view, but God willing, the exchange got them thinking at least.
The second two classes, we discussed euthanasia. Here, it was slightly easier to include our faith in the conversation, and we were able to speak to the sanctity of life and God’s sovereignty, even in situations of great pain and suffering. When we got home, we reenergized with ice-cream and a delicious meal, and returned to Glasgow for an evening fellowship. It was a lovely time of food (pizza!) and catching up with friends.
We will finish up with the last few days (Wednesday-Saturday) in the next post.

A Second Journey: Reformation Tour Through Edinburgh, Part 2

Just outside of the courthouse is a parking lot, with a small plaque on one spot marking the grave of… can you believe it, John Knox. The burial place of one of Scotland’s most prominent character’s of its history, most notably church history, is now a parking space. There wasn’t even a plaque to mark the spot until quite recently! His original burial marker does survive in Saint Gile’s Cathedral, just around the corner. First established in the 12th century, Saint Giles was once a Catholic place of worship, but became a Presbyterian church during the Scottish reformation in the 1500s, and was under the pastoral care of John Knox.
Greyfriars Kirk Yard was our next destination. It is most famous for its ghost stories and Greyfriars Bobbie, a small dog who sat on his owners grave for years after his owner died and was buried there. It is highly significant for covenanter history. It was the location of the first signing of the National Covenant; we sat on the very grave where it was laid to be signed and took a picture together there. It was also the make-shift prison for 1200 protestant prisoners after the battle of Bothwell Bridge in 16 something. With no prison that could accommodate such a large number, the authorities placed the 1200 in a gated area within Greyfriars Kirk Yard. The prisoners stayed there, behind that gate, with no shelter and very little food for four months. By the time those months had passed, three quarters of them had died off due to exposure and starvation. The remaining quarter was sold to a merchant as slaves.
One of the more notable graves at Greyfriars Kirk is that of Alexander Henderson, who was another giant of the Scottish faith. Henderson was a protestant preacher who died of natural causes, before a king, who very much disliked him, was able to finish him off. Frustrated, said king ordered that soldiers go to his grave and destroy it as best they could. Evidently, the soldiers thought the task rather silly and gave only a half-hearted attempt at demolishing it, as it still stands, granted with quite a few scars from sword slashes and musket balls.
Lastly, we went to the Grass market, a center of trade in Edinburgh as well as the place of execution for many criminals, which included over a hundred covenanters. For some, their only crime was attending a church field meeting, or carrying a Bible. Their bodies are buried along with the other criminals of the time in a mass grave at Greyfriars.
It was heart wrenching and stunning to think of the trust these people had in God. The price of THEIR faith was something more than a few strange looks from coworkers or snide comments about one’s belief in traditional marriage. These covenanters were prepared to sacrifice their farms, family, physical comfort/well-being, and their very lives to glorify God by clinging to His promises. Merely possessing a Bible risked torture, imprisonment, and execution, and yet, they continued to carry and proclaim God’s word, considering it of much greater value even than the breath in their bodies. Now, their testimony stands firm and bright as a lighthouse, beaming through centuries and circumstance to shed light on Scotland’s spiritual situation today, and encourage saints all over the world to remain steadfast and stalwart in God’s word, no matter where or when.
I am certainly encouraged, and I hope you are too.

A Second Journey: Reformation Tour Through Edinburgh, Part 1

Note: This was meant to be posted last night, but I just got on my computer and realized that I fell asleep before I could hit the publish button, so here it is now.

Thursday afternoon, we took a bus into Edinburgh City Center and met Jimmy, our reformation tour guide, on the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a collection of streets and buildings in the very heart of Edinburgh, from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (which is where the queen stays when in Edinburgh).
We stopped first at the once home of John Knox. John Knox was a major figure in the Scottish reformation of the 1500s. He assisted in composing the Scottish Confession of Faith, and was part of the first general assembly that met in Edinburgh in December of 1560. He was also a champion of public education in Scotland. The corrupt Scottish branch of the Catholic church did not allow their congregations to read the Bible during this time; if the population knew what the Bible really said, they would be much less inclined to offer 50% of their income to priests and bishops who were deliberately distorting and defying God’s Word. Even if the church required each member to own a Bible though, it would have been of little use for those who could not read, or in some cases still, understand Latin. Education was essential, then, to enable the Scottish people to explore God’s written word on their own time. So John Knox, an important guy.
We passed through what would have been Edinburgh’s city gates. Two hundred years ago, these would have led into a completely separate area known as Canongate, with its own rules and tax system. We visited the tollbooth that existed to maintain these taxes and served as a courthouse and prison for the area. The 1591 building is imposing. Rough stone, with iron bars still across the windows. There was no escaping there, and it would certainly have encouraged one to pay one’s taxes on time.
From there we ventured into the church of England where Britain’s current queen still worships when in Edinburgh. From the comments of my friends, the interior was blue and red, and designed in such a way to draw the eye to the cross at the front. I thought that quite significant. It is a statement. No matter who or where we are, our eyes should always be on the cross. The queen’s seat was in one of the front pews, with a rope across it, preventing anyone from disturbing it. I did ignore the rope to touch the plush cushions placed at the queen’s seat, and the small statue of a crown that marked the back of the pew there.
Our next stop was one of my favorites both this and last year. It is a copy of Scotland’s National Covenant, a document drafted in the latter half of 1637, and originally signed by thousands in early 1638. Its aim was to reaffirm Scotland’s commitment to God, His Word, their confession of faith, and emphasized that while they were happy to accept the King as head of their country, and be loyal subjects to him, they refused to recognize him as head of the church, as only Christ could assume that role. Hundreds of copies of this document circulated throughout Scotland, and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people put their names to them. There is no real way to be sure, as the King later had most of them destroyed, but 7 or 8 still remain, and the copy we saw Thursday has over 3000 signatures if I remember correctly.
After seeing the document itself, we visited the place where it was composed, a building which now serves as Scotland’s highest court. We were quite honored to go in, as it is not normally available for entry to tourists. We did have to turn our personal belongings over to a guard for inspection, and pass through a metal detector before coming in. Thankfully, all went smoothly.
It is a grand building with high ceilings and a roof constructed purely of timber, no nails or screws involved. It hosts an extensive library (which most of my team were druling over, home schoolers and book worms that they are), and an echoey main hall, lined with 17th century wooden benches. It is tradition that lawyers pace the length of the hall discussing the cases they are working on with one another. We saw two of them doing that very thing as we listened to Jimmy recount the history. There was also a man, dressed in similar smart fashion, talking on a mobile phone and scribbling furiously all the while. Such a strange mixture of ancient and modern.
Well, I’m afraid you’ll be spending the night in the courthouse, as I’m decidedly sleepy. Tomorrow, we shall start with the parking lot outside of the courthouse.

A Second Journey: Thrumming Thursdays

Thursdays are always busy days.  I’m not sure why that is, but they have always been my craziest days in university, and the last two Thursdays here in Scotland have been no exception to this rule.

Yesterday’s mission night went well enough.  I think we had a few visitors from the community,and Peter’s first talk on the rebel son in Luke 15 was quite powerful.  We slept in Edinburgh last night, blessed with the hospitality from three households in the Edinburgh congregation.  I was so excited to get to know the couple we stayed with better than I was able to last year.  Plus, their daughter has grown so much since the last time I saw her and, at nearly two,  is talking up a storm!  She is so cute!  She was quite shy of us when she found us in her house this morning, but she did learn all of our names, and in the car on the way back to Emma and Peter’s house, she and I had a rousing game of hand tag which she found very entertaining!  Hahaha, so adorable!

Once reunited at Emma and Peter’s house, the team had group devotions, then gathered bundles of fliers to finish our last bout of leafletting.  In two hours, my group managed to finish our designated area, and Peter picked us all up to head toward lunch.  With strict instructions from Peter for “no faffing” (which urban dictionary defines as “The excessive use of time for nonsense activities”), all eight of us trooped into the Morisons (grocery store) to snag something for lunch.  We took it back to Emma and Peter’s to eat, and there was a distinct lack of faffing, especially once we started eating.

We had to hurry because we had to make the bus around 1 to get to our 1:30 Pm reformation tour through Edinburgh with Jimmy (from the Airdrie congregation).  Skilled as we clearly were at anti-faffing (which Peter says is the opposite of Faffing), we made it in time to get on our bus, and even had extra time to wait and pet a passing poodle, Brambles.  That made me very happy, as you might imagine.  She was very sweet, and her owner was adorable, letting us all pet Brambles for about 5 minutes straight, answering all our questions, and cheerfully chatting away about her and her other dogs.

I have a great deal more to recount, so I shall continue tomorrow, as I will have a free morning to write!  Hurray!  I shall detail the Edinburgh tour at that time.

A Second Journey: Edinburgh Distribution

Later this week, the Edinburgh church will be holding three evening services that very simply discuss some of the basic teachings of the Bible.  Last year, the services focussed on identity.  This year, they will center around the story of the Prodigal Son.

Today, we continued distributing leaflets to spread the word about these meetings in the area surrounding the school where the church gathers.  Peter, the wonderful pastor of the Edinburgh church, picked the team up at about 9:30 this morning, and we were out on the streets, leaflets in hand an hour or so later.

It has been a quite chilly late May and June so far, even for Scotland, and there was a buffeting wind all day that legitimately nearly knocked me over a couple of times.  Still, I did eventually have to take off my outer jacket, hot from walking and climbing sets of stairs in flats.  We did manage to get through quite a few leaflets, and it was a blessing to speak to several people personally who seemed to be interested in the meetings, and even said they may attend!  I know, exciting, and surprising, considering one of them I had just frightened half to death when she opened her door to find me stooping to slip a flier through it.  I had also been rather frightened when she opened the door, and we laughed for about a minute as we both recovered from the shock.  Funny moment… I hope to see her again at one of the meetings!

At 1:00 Pm, we took a lunch break, then continued our distribution until about 6:00 Pm.  We were pretty exhausted by then, and had a lovely dinner at an Edinburgh buffet.  Four different types of meat to choose from and unlimited sides.  Pretty tasty!

I fell asleep in the van on the way home, lulled by the food, conversation, and sunshine through the window.  I am beyond tired now and we have another day of distribution tomorrow, so I’d best get some rest.  Cheers!

A Second Journey: The Last Several Days

To bring you up to speed, this is a brief recap of the last several days.

Thursday:

1. Traveled independently through Glasgow airport, found Beth, caught up on the drive to Airdrie.  So surreal, probably partly due to jet lag, partly to Oleta’s absence, and partly just the joy of seeing Beth again, and the knowledge that I was really back in Scotland!

2. Walked into the church during my team’s worship session in the morning. Put down my things and joined in their discussion of Hebrews.

3. Discussed our drama for primary schools and testimonies for secondary school presentations.

4. Getting to know the team, personalities, voices, things to tease each of them about, etc.

5. Went to bed with my four lovely roommates and strangely had trouble sleeping.  If you can’t sleep with severe jet lag when can you sleep?

Friday:

1. Traveled to Edinburgh for leaflet distribution. I got to pet two fluffy puppies and it was almost more than I could handle! Also, there was thunder, which is super weird in Scotland! It’s happened multiple times over the last couple of days too, and is currently thundering outside now.  What even?!

2. Had dinner at a local Airdrie restaurant. They ran out of fish so we forgot fish and chips and went for the ribs. Delicious.

3. Spent that evening relaxing and staying up much too late.

Saturday (a day off):

1. Went to Stirling for a visit to Stirling castle and a walk through the town.

2. Lots of stone steps, echoey hallways, tapestries, and cobble stone.  Really beautiful and full of rich history.

3. Pasties and sausage rolls for lunch. Fantastic and only like a pound to eat! So cheap!

4. Trampoline park in the evening with the youth group. Super fun!

Sunday:

1. Sunday school, prayer meeting, and morning and evening service in Airdrie.  So wonderful to see so many people again and talk with them.

2. Incredible meal at Beth’s with the rest of the mission team and another visitor from London.

Today:

1. Gave testimonies in Edinburgh at secondary school (ages 11-18). Went quite well.  Lots of good questions.  Hoping to see them at the church meetings later this week.

2. Continued leaflet distribution in Edinburgh to spread the word about said meetings.

3. Awesome drive home from Edinburgh with one of their congregation, singing Irish tunes and listening to celtic music.

4. The most enjoyable evening yet spent at Beth’s laughing and teasing up a storm, plus ice cream, raspberries, and The Princess Bride.

We’ll be more detailed next time, but there you are for now.  So many blessings to be thankful for!

Scotland Trip: The First Week

If you think I fell off the face of the Earth, you would be right, because Scotland is out of this world!

Okay, so bad joke aside, it really is lovely here—I have met so, so many great people, and been some really beautiful and fascinating places.  Still, contrary to my assertion in my opening statement, Scotland is a REAL place, with REAL problems, especially spiritual ones.  When you’re tucked away in normal life in semi-rural America, it’s easy to think of foreign countries like Scotland as somehow separate from the everyday human experience, a far away land of music, legends and fairy tails: bagpipes, harps, fiddles, and selkies.  Of course, it isn’t.  The reality is that Scotland, like us in America, and like the rest of the world, is full of broken, God-Hating individuals that need reconciliation with their creator, which can only be found in Jesus Christ.  So, that said…

Our first Monday and Tuesday here were designated to our reformation tour through Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, getting to know the sights and history of the Scottish protestant reformation.  Until I can get all the details, suffice it to say that it was a dark and bloody time, and nearly all of the stories we heard involved imprisonment, torture, hanging, shooting, decapitating, disemboweling, burning at the stake, etc, on some level.  I liked both cities greatly, though they are very different.  Saint Andrews, with a population of only around 18,000, is really more of a town, especially when university students are on break for the summer.  It is known to many as the home of golf, and is famous for a movie, “Chariots of Fire”, that filmed a race on a stretch of it’s sandy seashore.  In classic touristy fashion, a couple members of our group ran the beech, singing the theme all the way.  In classic Shea fashion, I knew nothing about this movie, and so spent the time restraining Oleta from going after other dogs on the beech, or rolling in the sand, or dashing into the ocean and dragging me with her.  It was a delightful day to be on the beech.  Despite the chilly breeze that came off the water, the sun was bright and warm, and I didn’t exactly blame Oleta for wanting to go for a swim.

Edinburgh, on the other hand, is a thriving metropolis of nearly 500 thousand.  It feels much more like New York or Nashville, always bustling with plenty pedestrians and vehicles, full of shops and restaurants and tourist traps, and complete even with street performers, from drummers to fiddlers to bagpipers in kilts.  Edinburgh is actually built on and around several dormant volcanoes, which we were able to see quite clearly from the top of the Edinburgh castle, which I will detail in a later post. 

So, needless to say, those two days were awesome—a wonderful opportunity to get to know Scotland a bit better, and to get acquainted with our new family here in Airdrie.  We also got to taste two of Scotland’s most famous, or possibly infamous, foods: haggis and IRN – Bru.  The latter we tasted on the beech in Saint Andrews, curtesy of one of our newfound friends, who will remain nameless for curtesy’s sake.  Anyway, it is an orange, or so I am told, fizzy drink, soda rather, that to my American taste buds tastes just like bubble gum in liquid form, which is why I’m also convinced that it’s pink, not orange.  Either way, it’s basically pure sugar.  I think an entire bottle might kill me, but maybe I’ll try it before I leave.  What’s life without a little risk?

We tried haggis at a restaurant in Edinburgh Tuesday afternoon.  I wasn’t too sure I wanted to try it, but Patrick was already passing over a fork full before I could decline.  Much to my surprise, it was actually quite good, sort of like a sausage, but mushier.  I’m not sure if that made it sound appetizing, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Tuesday night we attended our first MET (mutual encouragement time), which is essentially a bible study.  They have been studying Esther, and were on the middle section where Haman is planning for Mordecai, and the Jews’, demise, and his plans are foiled when the King, seemingly by chance, recognizes that Mordecai once saved the King’s life, and deserves to be honored.  It was a fascinating discussion, and a true testament to the way God can use even the littlest things in our lives to carry out his plans.

We spent Wednesday mostly at the church, discussing the upcoming schedule, starting preparations for school presentations the following week, reading a book by Donald Whitney called, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, which has proved incredibly edifying, and attending a second MET.  Thursday and Friday followed in much the same fashion, with a third MET on Thursday.   Friday evening we participated in Kids club, ages 3-10.  The children played games, had a snack, and I read them a story about Jesus, and his interaction with children, the point being that Jesus desires a relationship with all of us, whether young or old, and that we are to depend on God like children depend on their parents.  We had a short discussion, then they cut out and colored paper dolls, that represented the children listening to Jesus.  The kids were rowdy, but adorable, and for the most part LOVED Oleta.  I think they may be asking their poor parents for a dog for weeks to come.  Last night, at one of the METs, someone from the congregation told me that a little boy said to her the other day, “Is the lady with the dog ever coming back to the church?”

“I don’t know.” she answered, “Why? Did you like her?  Do you want to see her again?”

“No.” he replied, “I just want to see the dog.”

The nature of being a guide dog user I’m afraid… constantly overlooked in favor of the dog.  Ah well… keeps me humble.  Haha.

Friday night we also attended the CY (covenant youth) meeting, where we gave our testimonies and hung out with the young people for a while.  Thankfully no one got injured this time, and by that I mean, no one threw mobile phones at my head. 🙂

Saturday began leaflet distribution in Edinburgh.  That is an entire adventure unto itself, so I will pick up there in the next post.  I am glad to have finally caught somewhat up with y’all!  There is still last week to recount, but here’s to more frequent updates in the future!