Church grows despite economy

By July 27, 2009

Ireland (MNN) — The global
economic downturn is hitting Ireland especially hard. According to Greater Europe Mission
missionary Jonathan Schuster, the fact that Ireland is an English-speaking
country attracted a lot of immigrants to work there, since many of them already
speak English.   

"But as the economy began to
drop, these people left," he explained. 
"And when they left, they left a huge black hole that Ireland is
scrambling to fill. But up to now, it has been unsuccessful.  So a huge, huge workforce left Ireland."

The downturn follows a period of
impressive economic growth for Ireland. 

 "In the last 20 years or so, Ireland gained
the name of the Celtic Tiger, because its economy had been booming," Schuster
said. "But in more recent days…I think
it might be more appropriate to call it the Celtic Catfish because at the moment,
the economy seems to have hit rock bottom."

Schuster believes that God is
using the financial hard times to soften the hearts of the Irish people to
receive the Good News. Normally,
ministry in Ireland is far from easy. 

"Ireland is really a tough place
to minister," he said. "It's very
difficult to reach people. Sometimes you
can be in the ministry for years before you see any fruit."

In recent months, however,
Schuster has seen more people responding to the Gospel. He and his wife, Becky, started a church plant
in North County Dublin in December. They
have seen two or three people come to Christ through that church plant, as well
as several more through other ministries. 
  

"I have to say, I really believe
the economy is playing a part of that," Schuster said. "People used to be very independent, very
secure in their economic prosperity in Ireland. But all that's been taken
away, and people are beginning to
realize that you can't put your hopes in the economy, you can't put your hopes
in government programs, or your 401(k) plans. And they're open to all kinds of things, and God's not playing
hide-and-seek."

God is also working through the
ministry of the Irish Bible Institute, where Schuster works in the Old
Testament department, as well as in a discipleship and mentoring program. Despite the poor economy, the Institute has
actually seen its enrollment double for the coming school year. 

"For the first time in the
history of the school, we've had to double the amount of days that we're going
to be offering classes," Schuster said. "And
this is due to the fact that in September, when we begin the new term, we have
nearly twice the amount of students that we had last year. So even though the economy is really bad,
clearly God is not daunted by it." 

Schuster also sees signs of
spiritual growth in the life of the Irish church. 

"In the past, Ireland has not been
very open to the concepts of discipleship and mentoring," he said. "And yet in the last few years, we've been
taking great strides toward that and trying to change the mentality in Irish
churches. And it seems to be working. Mentoring, discipleship–these are words now that you're going to hear
in a lot of evangelical churches." 

Graduates of the Irish Bible Students
play a role in developing the new focus. One, for instance, works in social services with the homeless and people
recovering from drug addictions. He
shares the Gospel with them and maintains mentoring and discipleship
relationships with those who receive it. 

Ireland is traditionally Catholic,
but the spiritual landscape is changing for the younger generation. Many of them are rejecting the religion of
their parents but are still interested in spiritual things. 

"It's a really hungry climate
right now," Schuster explained. "People
are…really not interested necessarily in what used to be the faith of the
parents; the Catholic connection tends to be stronger with the older people. Younger people are searching, they're really
looking for anything and everything." 

Schuster asked for prayer as
missionaries in Ireland respond to the new developments, especially with the Irish
Bible Institute. 

"We are perhaps the only existing
evangelical Bible college that serves the broader evangelical church, so it's
very strategic," he said. "With the
rapid growth that we're experiencing and the many changes that are required
because of that, we face many challenges this autumn and the years to come
ahead. And economically, [evangelicals] are a small minority group in Ireland. We're less than one half of one percent.  So…we
definitely need prayers that God will keep providing for us, for meeting our
expenses, so we can continue to serve  the Irish church."

Schuster also requested prayer as God
continues working in the church plant.    

"It's growing, and it's doing
well. And when things are happening, the enemy just doesn't sit around and
twiddle his thumbs.  So we would ask that
you would continue to pray for the work in North County Dublin and what is
happening there." 

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