by Sophia Martin & Rachel Kennedy
Rachel and Sophia have just completed their gap-year programme with FirstServe. They learned to serve both locally and globally, and have grown in their relationship with God.
We both have an interest in mission and wanted to see what mission looks like, in the UK and in another culture. In choosing the FirstServe gap-year programme, we got to spend time with mission workers and see how the gospel is shared in different cultures and countries. With Sophia being from Canada and Rachel being from Northern Ireland, we each had different experiences and perspectives we were able to share with each other.
Our experience with the FirstServe programme started at Tilsley Bible College at the GLO centre in Motherwell, Scotland. We joined the certificate year students in classes where we took a variety of interesting modules in biblical studies. Sophia enjoyed the Inter-generational Church module and Rachel enjoyed Old Testament Studies. Even though we were only there for a short time, we benefitted from the support of the lecturers in areas such as pastoral care and learning how to prepare and deliver a devotion. We both appreciated the close-knit community at Tilsley. We made life-long friends and found refreshment in studying the Bible with others. Our studies at Tilsley helped equip us for our UK and overseas placements, in that they developed our understanding of how to study the Bible and apply it to our daily lives.
Sophia served with Forest and Wye Community Church for her UK church placement. She enjoyed getting to know everyone there and being involved in all of the activities leading up to Christmas, such as carol singing and decorating the church. Even though it was a shorter placement than usual, Sophia learnt so much and treasured her time there. She learnt how to depend on God for everything she needed in a new environment.
Rachel served alongside the believers at Hebron Evangelical Church in Carlisle where she took part in the various ministries run by the church. Through involvement with the meal bank, youth work, senior ministry and a hamper project, she got to see ways that God can reach people from all walks of life. She was involved with a puppet ministry, going into local schools and delivering the nativity story in an engaging way. She was also able to spend time with the church leaders and observe the practicalities involved in a functioning church. Rachel was reminded of the importance of staying close to God and taking time to rest in Him, even with a busy schedule.
Before we embarked on our overseas placement, we travelled together to Peckham, London. There we took part in various evangelistic efforts with those at Heaton Road Church, such as door-to-door and market outreach, a prayer walk and attending prayer and Bible study meetings. We took the opportunity to help another local church with outreach, and clean a space at Heaton Road Church that has potential for future use. We experienced working among diverse communities and how the church goes about bringing the gospel to them.
After much prayer, consideration and a time of learning to wait well for the Lord, we went together to serve at a school in Lebanon for our overseas placement. At the school, we helped out in kindergarten and Individualised Education Plan (IEP) classrooms, assisted staff during field trips, led staff devotions and taught at student chapel times. We had a great time building relationships with the students and teachers at the school. Teaching chapel helped to establish a connection with the students, which enabled us to engage with them more on field trips and around the school. We had a lot of new experiences: volunteering in a school, learning a new language, meeting new people and being away from home for an extended amount of time.
Being in Lebanon for the first time, we had to adjust to a new culture, new food and new customs. We both had some cross-cultural experience but it was with our parents when we were much younger, so it was fairly different! We had to learn how to adapt to another culture as adults. We soon discovered the immense hospitality, generosity and welcoming attitude of the Lebanese people. We were often invited out to share in family meals and made to feel very welcome. Some of our favourite moments were spending time with people, sharing a meal, getting to know them and hearing their stories.
FirstServe provided a cultural orientation class before we went on placement, which informed us about culture shock and the importance of maintaining a daily quiet time with God. It was comforting to know that when many things around us were new and different, we could constantly come to an unchanging God.
We experienced working among diverse communities and how the church goes about bringing the gospel to them.
Although we could use our English in the school, quite often we had to try and communicate through a language barrier. It was frustrating at times, but a great reminder that God is not limited to one language – He can reach anyone, at any time, in any way He chooses. It helped us to depend on His strength rather than our own. As we trusted God with our communication, we also had to trust Him to show us different ways to be a light to the people around us.
We were very encouraged by the local believers we met, who are trying to spread light during the difficult economic situation that the country faces. They were hopeful, even when their own circumstances weren’t positive. They demonstrated how to truly depend on God for what we need.
We undertook a project to remake some posters from around the school, as the old ones were in quite bad condition. With prayer and planning, we selected relevant Bible verses and quotes to encourage and uplift the students and staff. We took on this project, from planning to framing, with prayer as neither of us are very artistic!
During school holidays and in our spare time, our hosts kindly showed us around Lebanon, taking us to historically and culturally significant sites. It was refreshing to see more of God’s beautiful creation and to have relaxing times of fellowship with our hosts. One source of encouragement for us was praising the Lord together in song and through playing musical instruments. ‘It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night’ (Ps. 92:1-2). We learnt to appreciate the small gifts from God like walks by the sea, visits with friends and funny and meaningful times. Overall, the overseas placement was a great learning experience for both of us.
FirstServe has been a worthwhile gap year for us. While on placement, God taught us so much, including how to serve others wholeheartedly. We learnt from others just by serving God in everyday tasks. God also reminded us that He is our comfort. When we fully surrender ourselves to God, He can use us in extraordinary and ordinary ways.
A theme running through the whole programme for both of us was a growing desire to know God more. FirstServe inspired us to apply what we learnt in our home context. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know that we want to continue in His service wherever He leads us in our journey with Him.
We were thankful to have met and experienced the love and prayerful support of God’s family everywhere we went. These two verses beautifully summarise our FirstServe journey, ‘Come and see what God has done, His awesome deeds for mankind! Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me’ (Ps. 66:5, 12).