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Irish say ‘yes!’ – to Jesus

After last week’s report on Impact World Tour in Holland’s Catholic south, comes more good news from “Catholic” Europe. This time from Ireland.

Historic as the Irish “yes!” vote was to allow European Union expansion to go ahead, another historic process was simultaneously under way in the Emerald Isle. Over a thousand churches, protestant and catholic, north and south, last month joined in a three-week high-profile campaign called Power to Change. Possibly this was the most comprehensive, cooperative and coordinated presentation of the gospel to the Irish since Patrick.

What was unique about this campaign was the broad cooperation of both Catholic and Protestant churches in such a purely evangelistic effort, the coordinated use of high profile media exposure, the use of the web, the internet and CD-roms to prepare churches and participants on both sides of the northern border, and the deployment of existing resources such as the “Jesus” film and the Alpha courses.

Billboards all over the country and large banners adorning churches asked, “Does Jesus matter today?”. Prime-time television spots brought celebraties like Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards and Ryder Cup golfer Bernard Langer into Irish homes, sharing their personal experience of the changing power of Jesus. National exposure created a climate of interest at the local level, supporting a kaleidoscope of activities including concerts, outreaches, film screenings, Alpha courses and community evenings.

Chaos
Rob Clarke, YWAM’s director in Ireland, told me that the campaign was originally planned for the spring, but was postponed to avoid the Abortion Referendum – only to land right in the middle of the EU Expansion Referendum!

Plans were again thrown into chaos when the television company contracted to run Power to Change advertisements for a month received legal advice not to run the series. Ironically, the resulting media controversy propelled the campaign into the headlines and chat shows. One popular show aired a surprisingly positive discussion with the amazing spectacle of an Ulster Unionist and a Sinn Féin representative both supporting the campaign. Some news programmes aired the ads as part of their reporting!

Despite such initial setbacks, the enthusiastic reports I have personally heard from Stephen Cave of the Northern Ireland committee, Joe Kelly of the Republic of Ireland committee, and Derek and Trich Dodd, of YWAM Ireland, indicate that the campaign truly hit home.

The excellent Power to Change websites (www.powertochange.ie and www.powertochange.co.uk) describe the campaign as “an All-Ireland media campaign that uses testimonies about people’s changed lives to increase awareness of Jesus Christ in the community”. In addition, “the campaign effectively equips ordinary church members through training workshops to become vibrant witnesses in their sphere of influence.”

One million hours
A well-planned preparation strategy involved introducing church members in all 32 Irish counties, north and south, to the resources on the websites months before the campaign dates in September and October. Local churches could tailor the event to their own purposes and resources, choosing what sort of activities they would sponsor. Parishioners were encouraged to help to raise one million hours of prayer for the campaign by signing special prayer cards. Workshops equipping ‘quiet’ believers to share their story were held in the spring and summer. By the launch of the event, the sense of ownership of Power to Change was truly nation-wide.

Power to Change began in 1999 when three businessmen from Northern Ireland went to Vancouver, Canada, and heard about over 600 churches working together in a similar campaign. More than half the churches in seven of Canada’s provinces have now worked together on Power to Change. They shared the concept back in Northern Ireland and then in the Republic of Ireland, with a view to making Power to Change an all-Ireland initiative.

The evangelization of Ireland in the fifth century inspired waves of missions across a pagan Europe. The Irish became known as “teachers of kings and disciplers of nations”. Could this example of the evangelization of the Irish in the 21st century inspire new waves of mission across our increasingly neo-pagan continent?

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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