WALES. Land of language, culture, beautiful countryside, sheep and…er…Tom Jones.
Almost exactly eleven months ago, I travelled to the southern end of this small Celtic British country, for what was the very first, (but I suspect not the last), time in my life.
Asked in January of 2012 if I would speak at a Christian camp for young people from the Northern Ireland town of Antrim, I said, “Yes,” and as a result ended up flying to Cardiff from Belfast on Sunday 29th July, 2012.
The entire week in this small country of just over 3 million people, was marked by a very tangible sense of God with me, and I look back now and have nothing but fond memories of the whole time. The only one negativity about the time was my own difficulty with some on-going health issues, resulting in extreme fatigue from after only the second day.
Despite this very wearying obstacle to be overcome, I still perseveringly managed to thoroughly enjoy the week. It felt a privilege to be given the chance to speak to each of the 35 young people present each night, in our times of meeting together to talk about God and matters of a spiritual nature.
The theme I had decided to focus our nightly talks around after some prayer and fasting to consider this, came under the banner of “Walking with Giants,” and each night I spoke about a different topic relevant to the young people, together with accompanying bible story character related to this.
For example, the first night I spoke about the core theme of ‘Identity’ and considered the story of David and Goliath, found in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel 16 in the bible, considering how David was successful and won against all odds against Goliath only after he took off the King’s armour and went as himself, with just the 5 simple small stones and sling to defeat the epic giant whom others were terrified of.
King Saul tried to make David wear Saul’s armour – which of course seemed like a good thing to do – but it was only when David removed himself of the heavy armour of the King (which did not fit with his identity) that he went ahead and succeeded in defeating the massive enemy.
So too, with us, often we need to just stop trying to wear what does not belong to us and simply be ourselves – as mediocre, broken, unsophisticated and simple as this may feel. Perhaps only then can you or I proceed with God’s help to successfully defeat the ‘Giant’s’ in front of us deterring our pathway in life.
Each evening at the camp in Wales last summer, the group of 48 people (including leaders), listened very intently as I spoke out words of encouragement, amidst also speaking briefly on the issues of ‘Wisdom and making wise choices’, ‘Peer pressure’, ‘Sex and Sexuality’, and ‘Walking with Jesus’. This was both a privilege and a sincere responsibility I felt eagerly.
Each night the opportunity for prayer and ministry time at the end was given, and to my great encouragement many of the young people engaged in this by simply gathering together in their small groups amongst themselves to pray for one another and answer each other’s queries at the end of each evening.
It was also an immense joy to learn of at least one of the older teenagers in the group freshly finding his faith again and re-committing his life to follow Jesus, by asking him into his life, and asking God to help him follow Jesus on a daily basis now after turning away from his sins. An old-fashioned word we don’t like to hear of too much these days. Freedom is attainable and powerful when sin is renounced.
Aside from this, Wales snuck up on me and took me by surprise with its nonchalant beauty, stillness and inspiring countryside. Not a million miles from the Celtic beauty I have grown up with in the County Antrim countryside back in my native Northern Ireland.
Staying in the small village of Miskin, in Wales, which is between Cardiff and Bridgend, one could be forgiven for thinking we were miles away from any major urban town or city. The rural nature of the area appealed to my ‘country-girl’ status, as I felt more close to home than I had ever imagined I might prior to my visit.
The rich heritage of the area was evident most of all in our visit to the “Big Pit”, and our 300ft underground visit to the mines formerly used to extract coal for Welsh industrial and economic purposes. I especially liked meeting the tour guide – former coal miner David: a wealth of information and good humour, bringing the entire experience fully alive.
During the course of the week, the teenagers also persuaded me to engage in lots of action packed activities. One which stood out as especially fun, was the quad-biking I fully engaged in on our very first day. A sense of freedom and immense pleasure resulted. I unleashed my ‘inner child’ !
Towards the end of the week, we also visited the home of BBC’s “Gavin and Stacey” comedy programme, Barry Island. If honest, however, this now quite desolate town left a lot to be desired, and made me appreciate more keenly the now apparent strengths of my local sea-side town of Portrush back home in Northern Ireland. A somewhat ‘ropey’ amusement park and an old-fashioned seaside chip shop etched themselves as the most firm memories which remain of Barry Island, amidst a somewhat foreboding, and even eerie ‘ghost-town’ feel.
This first ever visit to Wales ended with a flight delay out of Cardiff airport back to Belfast on the final Saturday, but I didn’t mind very much, as it enabled me to catch the end of the winning British Olympic rower’s triumph in the London 2012 Olympics – my first live sighting of the many winners who were later to emerge as new national heroes that week and the next.
Wales was an unexpected delight, a Principality recommendable to all. I look forward to returning there again sometime, probably sometime in my 30s, where I am told, ‘Life begins.”