What did you do over the Easter holidays. Some young people spent it at our Conference in Portrush. Here’s what Michael thought of it all:
After re-reading previous blogs on this website, I can finally sympathise with Mark Knox, who spoke of his millions of drafts when preparing his report! However, I’ not complaining; in compiling this summary of Easter Conference, I’ve been granted a valuable chance to truly reflect on what can only be described as an amazing few days. Life-changing in fact. But how can I summarise all that God did in those few days? It’s impossible. But I’ll give it a go.
Having conquered Teen Camp, New Year Camp and 1st Year of SOTW, I figured it was time to see what the fuss of Easter Conference was all about. I was slightly apprehensive; this would be the first CEF camp I’d been to, where I wouldn’t be enjoying Rosemary Law’s wonderful hospitality at Seaview (she told me to say that!) Apparently the format would be different, if not even slightly intense. As per usual, my worries were pointless, as I am currently looking back on an amazingly blessed number of days.
It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces again upon my arrival on Friday. A group of around 35 young people (I include Angie, Marcus and Chris in this group, so that I can be invited back next year!) stayed in the youth hostel in Bushmills, a group which enjoyed great fellowship throughout the Conference. Friendships were both made and strengthened, and it was a privilege to be part of the group. After a rather relaxed Friday evening together, we eagerly anticipated plunging into the Conference itself.
Saturday and Monday were similar in structure. Both days began with a voluntary prayer meeting, followed by breakfast. It soon became evident that certain individuals had not experienced this time of day for quite a while! Lead by Marcus, the prayer meetings were the perfect way to start each day, with a short devotional swiftly followed by meaningful, sincere prayers. A brush of the teeth and grab of the coat, and it was onto the bus, travelling to Portrush Presbyterian Church for the Conference itself. The Bible study, terrifically lead by Roger Carswell, was swiftly followed by a short coffee break, before we moved back into the main church for the morning seminar. Each afternoon, the young people were ‘unleashed’ into the likes of Portrush and Coleraine to spend some free time together – many good times were shared, and extraordinary beach volleyball talents were unveiled on Monday! Before we knew it, it was back to the church for tea, before the evening service kicked off. A very full and busy day away from the youth hostel finished with a brand-spanking new event called ‘Meltdown’, a more relaxed meeting for the young people, led by Angie, Chris and Marcus where we heard from various missionaries, and found ourselves being incredibly challenged. One sleepy bus ride later and we were back in Bushmills – the wise option would have been to grab a cup of tea and go straight to bed, however it was hard to resist the lure of group games such as ‘Signs’ and ‘Empires’! A couple of hours later, and it was finally time to crawl into bed. Sunday followed the same basic outline, apart from the morning, when we were able to attend a church of our own choice.
As someone who had no clue what to expect during the few days, I spent most of my first moments at the Conference with my mouth wide open – all the people I’ve ever met within CEF, all under the same roof! The names which so frequently occurred in prayer letters finally had faces!
If asked to describe the Bible studies in one word, it would be ‘refreshing’. It was universally agreed that our speaker, Roger Carswell, had been given a gift, and he was definitely using it to glorify God. He managed to connect with people of all ages within the Conference, leaving us all with a lot to ponder and causing key truths to re-emerge in our individual walks.
The seminars really stood out for me as the highlight of the few days. On Saturday morning, we discovered more about “The Past, The Present and The Future” of CEF in Ireland, from Sam Doherty, Henry Berry and Philip Annett respectively. I found this hugely informative, especially “The Past”. Whenever I’m asked to give a short presentation at church, on the volunteer work I do with CEF over the summer, I’ve always thought that it’d be more useful to include a little context. Now I feel it’s a necessity. It is astounding to hear of how CEF grew and flourished from its humble beginnings, to what it is today, under the Lord’s help and guidance. Our God is great! “I’m down! How do I get up?” by Valerie Murphy, definitely caught the eye when scanning down the programme, and it most certainly did not disappoint. Combining examples from the Bible with practical advice, God was most definitely present and speaking through Valerie that Monday morning. Evening meetings were just as mind-blowing, with the report on CEF Ireland encouraging all those present, yet making us even more determined to help continue its development. Sunday night saw a very interesting report from Pavle Kostadinov of Macedonia and finally the retiring CEF European directors, Roy and Ruth Harrison. Shortly after their presentation, and being ‘interrogated’ in a interview by Chris and Angie later in ‘Meltdown’, I can confirm that all of the young people who had never before met Roy and Ruth instantly fell in love with them, with quite a few females being quoted in saying “I want to get married, grow older, and be just like that”!!
Another personal highlight was the Saturday night meeting, which was mostly a worship session, with the highly anticipated debut of a small band made up of CEF workers. Once again, goosebumps were forming on my arms as it was very clear that we were in God’s presence that night. Finally, a huge thanks to those who spoke at Meltdown meetings; Harry and Wendy Robinson, Pavle, Stan Beamish, Roy and Ruth, Chris, Marcus and Angie. Suddenly, questions were triggered within my head: Why remain comfortable in good ol’ Northern Ireland? What is God calling me to do? Let’s serve this extraordinary God. Marcus, Chris and Angie had admitted that ‘Meltdown’ was on its trial run, and that they weren’t sure how it would turn out, or what reaction it would receive. I’ll take this opportunity to say that I thought it was the perfect way to end a day at the Easter Conference.
In finishing, I want to mention the big thing that God taught me during the course of the few days. The easiest way to explain is to take some of the lyrics from a song we sang on Friday night, during a short worship time;
“Ordinary people are the people God will choose.
Ordinary people are the people God will use.
People who are changed inside, whose hearts have been made new,
Are people who can change the world, that change begins with you,
That change begins with you.”
Time and time again, this theme of ‘ordinary people’ arose. Henry Berry often coined the expression, ‘We are simply ordinary people, serving an extraordinary God.’ Valerie Murphy’s seminar presented examples of how the people in the Bible were not massively different than us, and they suffered the same setbacks as we often do. Suddenly it hit me. Those who work for, or volunteer in organisations like CEF are not in some ‘exclusive club’. They are by no means unlike any other Christian. However, where the difference lies, is in the fact that they are fully committed to serving an amazing God. And consequently, they have been blessed. Even though we always see them up on a stage in front of lots of people, or leading a camp, amongst other things, they are simply ‘ordinary people serving an extraordinary God’.
On looking back upon the Easter Conference, I’m well aware that now God has made this clear to me, there’s no excuse. It’s time to truly commit to serving Him. Only then, as the song reveals, will God use me. It’s safe to say that the Easter Conference changes lives, and it’s definitely something I’d recommend to anyone with a desire to hear God speaking to them.