Despite what the pictures may portray, our time back in Europe was not spent on holiday. Our main objective was to scout out a certain region of the UK for future longterm missions and international prayer- to, for a short time, become integrated into the community and live missionally with the people there.
The Butt of Lewis Lighthouse
To be completely honest, it was a humbling place to be in. We were not in a certain position where we saw the fruits of our labor instantly or received instant gratification in any way- that wasn’t our purpose there. We were not there to shout the gospel from the rooftops or even lead people to Christ. We were there to live and serve alongside these people, to learn more about their heritage and culture, and in the process, learn more about ourselves and the unending love that the Father has for all nations.
Below is a write-up I did while we were still in Ness about our time and encounters there:
If there is one thing that I have learned during my stay in Ness, it’s to not have expectations. When you plan to go out, it will rain. When you plan to stay in and edit pictures, the weather will suddenly turn favorable. And on the days when the weather is favorable and you decide to go out, it will start raining on your way back. Scratch that, if there is one thing that I have learned, it is that you absolutely cannot predict the weather in Ness.
The objective of our trip to the Outer Hebrides was to gather information (mainly in photographic form) on the culture, history, language and people of Ness, so that people internationally could intercede in prayer for the Celtic/Gaelic people of this area. Our trip has turned into so much more than this, and has completely shattered any expectations we had coming in.
To be completely honest, we hardly spoke any Gaelic. The harsh truth is that the people who we came in contact with the most spoke little or no Gaelic, and often made the comment that we spoke and knew more than they did. To the younger generation in Northern Lewis, the language and heritage (including religion) of their father’s and forefather’s has little or no relevance to them today. Western culture has convinced them that the ways of their ancestors is “not for them”. Several people told me that if there was not a resurgence of young people who had a passion for their home and a desire to continue the way of life here that the very heartbeat of who these people are would slowly die out. Ness’ biggest export is their people. Their young people.
Life in Ness has never been easy. The weather is harsh- being right on the Atlantic brings lots of rain and sometimes up to 200mph gales. The ground is tough, making any sort of farming a backbreaking effort. But the less than desirable living conditions have made the people strong and resilient. They know how to work and because of their love for their home and their heritage, they do work. Their spirit and enthusiasm have blown me away! You would think that living here would make them hard and closed off, but they are some of the most loving, inviting and giving people I have ever met. They not only opened up their homes to us two young American girls who had nothing to give them in return, but they treated us like family.
The relationships we forged not only presented us with ministry opportunities, but on a deeper level have presented us with the opportunity to live missionally with these people. We have spent an evening stacking peat in the peat marshes where there was a need. We have spent many afternoons at friends’ tables drinking tea and discussing life and history and faith. We have trudged through sheep pastures to go discover new baby lambs that had just been born, and in the process of witnessing new life, ourselves regained an appreciation for how masterfully the Lord orchestrates new beginnings.
However, the surplus of character, hospitality, community and passion do not make up for the lack and genuine need for revival. Religion here is just that: religion. Being so far removed from the mainland of Scotland and change in culture and times has made it so that the church in Ness has remained steeped in tradition and stagnant in spiritual growth. They are content in attending church twice a week and not pursuing anything deeper because that is what they have always known. That is what Christianity “is”. Their idea of God and faith is easily summed up in their names appearing on an attendance sheet twice a week, but as a whole they have no concept or grid work for a God who is jealous for their heart, affections and a personal relationship with them. Church and religion are things you do, not who you are. To the younger generation, God is strict. God is harsh. God, in a way, has nothing to offer them anymore. They rebel because it’s the only thing to do.
The things we have observed over the past three weeks have been both encouraging and disheartening. It has been encouraging to see that there are still people who take pride in their heritage and land and who revere the ways of old that have shaped their lives and character today. On the opposite side of that is a younger generation who find no meaning or fulfillment of life in Ness. They have not fully taken hold of what the land has to offer them, and because of that have not found a greater purpose in their life here. Because of the lack of passion and motivation, most of the younger people have an early on addiction to alcohol. As one young man in the pub said the other night, “If we didn’t have alcohol, we wouldn’t have any purpose in living.” It’s a harsh truth, but one that others should be aware of. There is a gaping void in this place that desperately needs to be filled by the genuine love of Christ and His people.
There is nothing but room for the Holy Spirit to move and dwell- the potential is overwhelming. There is such hope in Ness, but there is a need. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”