THE FIELD IS GREEN BUT IS IT OPEN?

The Field is Green but is it open.jpgThursday 19 December 2019 05:01

Ireland once seemed like a straight-forward option for missionary service: same language, same sense of humour. Though a hard and slow field for the gospel, it was one that allowed for Australians to enter and stay as long as they liked. Things have been changing. Sharon Hall (nee Wood) saw the start of these changes during her 17 years serving with ECM in the Republic of Ireland. She writes now of the recent and more significant changes.

In 1998, when I was preparing to live and work in Ireland, the only obstacles in my path were the occasional protests from people at churches where I was visiting to gather partners for that mission work.

On my first church visit, armed with my trusty overhead projector acetate sheets of photos of Ireland, I was shouted at from the congregation, before I’d even got my second sentence out. There was great offence and disbelief that a religious country like Ireland could be considered a mission field! I managed not to cry, changed my presentation on the spot to include a brief explanation of the gospel and what makes one a follower of Jesus, and then went on to later church visits, assuming offence or disbelief in those I was speaking to, addressing that before I got out those coloured acetate sheets! Thankfully, Christians in Australia are now increasingly aware of the immense needs of gospel witness in much of Europe.

For the first 7 years of my time in County Tipperary, arriving and staying was a simple matter of having Harry, the local Garda Superintendent, stamp my passport each year. As it turned out, when I moved to County Waterford, Harry hadn’t registered me properly...but the guy there said that Harry often ‘did his own thing’ and that he’d sort it out for me! Towards the end of my years in Ireland, restrictions came in only allowing missionaries to stay for 3 years. Some would then get another year or two after that, always asking for special prayer as they visited their local authority. Things are quite different now.

In a recent newsletter from an Aussie family serving with Pioneers in Ireland, Dave and Brooke Wilson describe the difference:

“There are now significant restrictions on the ‘Minister of Religion’ visa we came here on, which limit this visa to those working in an established congregation, i.e. a church with its own building, a large number of members, and the ability to pay a full wage. In other words, it prevents missionaries or church planters from coming from outside of the European Union. Please pray that God would help those missionaries already here to persevere and have the support we need. Pray that God would change the Immigration Department’s attitude to this issue. Most of all, ask that God would raise up Irish leaders to reach their own nation, and also the means to support them in church planting ministries.”

Here in the ECM Australia / NZ family, we’ve grieved with the Carmody family as they received the sad news that their missionary visa application had been rejected. While a huge change for them in their plans, it also brings home the significance of those recent changes. Where once it was a simple matter of raising a support team and buying the plane tickets, it now seems that sending missionaries from Australia
to the Republic of Ireland will only be possible if they have a European passport or can go as ‘tent-makers’ (assuming they can get sponsored employment in Ireland).
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Arriving and staying was a simple matter of stamping my passport each year.

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For those who have followed the work of the gospel in Europe over the past decades, it’s evident that in God’s sovereign control, access to different nations changes over time, opening and closing access for missionaries. We pray and trust that Ireland may soon be open again to missionaries serving there.

Naomi Reed, in her heart- warming book of stories from Interserve workers ‘The Plum Tree in the Desert’, concludes with these words:

“God is never harsh with us, he gently guides and leads, he knows what will happen when the visa is refused, and he puts us where he wants us. He loves his people and he has plans for us, even when the lights are dim and our strength is gone. Perhaps the more cracked we are, the more broken, and the more we weep, the more his light shines through us.” (p.136)

It’s no new thing for missionary endeavours to be restricted. The apostle Paul’s plans to visit places were sometimes thwarted. However, God’s plans and purposes are ultimately never thwarted.

Ireland has now become what is often referred to as a ‘creative access’ country. This invites creative thinking and fervent prayer. Is it possible that God might have in mind that some of the ‘grey nomads’ of wealthy Australia and New Zealand, particularly those with British or European citizenship from long ago, could move to Ireland for a year or two? There is much need for mature, godly, self- funded Christians to spend a year or two with small church plants, to get to know people in the local community and support missionary workers that are already serving there.

We certainly know it’s God’s plan for us to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. It can be tempting to despair and give up on Ireland as a mission field. However, God could change the hearts and policies of the Immigration Department. He could also spur others with passport access to go. He has already been raising up more and more Irish Christians to serve in local, gospel ministries. He could have in mind that we be part of supporting them financially.

Let’s pray for the people that inhabit those green fields. While the fields may be partially closed, we can still pray that hearts would be opened to the hope of life in Jesus, and that God would raise up workers in his way and time to bring the message of that hope to the Irish.


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PLEASE PRAY

Pray that God may still allow overseas gospel workers a pathway to ministry in Ireland.

Pray for creative approaches to continue resourcing ministry in areas in Ireland which now seem closed.

Pray for local Irish workers to remain strong in the gospel.

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