I am delighted to introduce Murray Pura as a guest blogger today. I know you will be inspired by this story of his obedience and how God blessed him during a summer in Northern Ireland. Is God asking you to step out of your boat in relation to your writing career?
I didn’t see it coming – neither did the disciples, bent over their oars and plowing into the wind. I was rowing away in my own fashion at my college studies, at Hebrew and Greek and scads of other subjects, when I went to morning chapel and listened to a guest speaker from Northern Ireland. His words astonished me. Former Loyalist and IRA gunmen coming to faith in the real Jesus at the Maze Prison nine miles outside of Belfast. Praying together. Reading the Bible together. Wasn’t this the kind of reconciliation and transformation Jesus had died to give to the world? When he said he was looking for volunteers to come to Belfast that summer and work with his organization and various churches to bring Christ’s love to Ireland I put a leg over the side of my cozy North American college boat. I was ready to walk the walk.
But later when I delved deeper into what they wanted me to do in Northern Ireland, I balked – open air public speaking, public speaking in churches, open air drama and music, children and youth work, door-to-door ministry – no way did I want to do public speaking outdoors at market days or rallies and no way did I want to go door-to-door clutching leaflets in my hand. The wind was picking up, the waves were getting higher, I lost my nerve and quickly clambered back into the boat. I hardly got my feet wet.
God let it go. Or at least he appeared to. I went on with my studies and forgot about Ireland. I finished the term at Christmas, wrote my exams and drove home to be with my family over the holidays. I relaxed with a few books. In one of them a man talked about his experiences doing missions work all over the world, including the Middle East and Asia and Africa. Then I flipped a page and he was in Northern Ireland.
He talked about the Troubles, the shootings and bombings and hatred between Irish who wanted to remain connected to Britain and others who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland. He talked about things he had seen Christ do in response to the faith of a few people. I was inspired as I had been by the talk in chapel months before. But then I closed the book and that was that.
Before I got out of the chair the strangest sensation went right through me – I felt compelled to go to Ireland. I protested, “Lord, I can’t, the deadline has passed.” But then I felt an even stronger urging from his Spirit and in an instant all my objections were swept away. I was meant to go to Ireland. I was bewildered, delighted and challenged all at the same time.
So I began to get out of the boat and odd things happened. At Christmas dinner my mother said she didn’t mind if I went anywhere in the world as a minister as long as I never went to Northern Ireland. Back at school I felt some doubts about my book reading conversion and went into a prayer room to agonize over the whole matter. When I walked out of the door the student who was organizing the whole Irish mission – who happened to be Irish himself – was sitting there waiting to get into the prayer room.
I was astonished to see him. He said hello and I blurted, “I’ve got to go to Ireland!” He said my eyes were wide as soccer balls. “All right,” he responded, not sure what else to do, even though they weren’t taking any more applications.
The waves came up and the wind was against me. Some of the team members didn’t want me on the mission. While others had been gathering funds for months I had only a few weeks. I needed to tell my mother what I was intending to do – would she be able to handle it or could it plunge her into a state of anxiety and fear?
The money came in. The mission team bonded and we grew to love one another. My mother grew proud of what I had decided to do. That summer I was in Ireland and wound up talking to people on their doorsteps, preaching gospel messages to crowds on market days, writing and acting out stories and dramas for children and teens, playing soccer with 50 players to a side and cowpies always underfoot like patches of ice – it was one of the most astonishing summers of my life and it changed me completely as good summers often can. The children we spoke with and listened to, the youth, the adults, the lives we blessed and the lives that blessed us, there was never another summer like it. I was walking where I had never walked before and I kept walking, even in the wind and the waves.
For there were wind and waves, though not so much within the team as all around us: shootings, killings, kneecappings, teens being kicked to death by street gangs. When we spoke with the Irish we did not focus on Protestant and Catholic, Loyalist or Republican, choosing one side or another, it was all about Jesus and God’s love for everyone. Even when we drove back up from our few weeks at Carlow in the South and got tangled in the traffic and smoke and shattered bodies of South Down’s Warrenpoint Massacre, our Irish friends in Belfast frantic, worried we had been caught in the blasts, it still had to be Jesus and forgiveness or else there was no message to give to Ireland.
That was August 27th, 1979 – Lord Mountbatten blown to pieces on his boat Shadow V at Mullaghmore in County Sligo in the South, a place we had driven past a few hours after it happened, and eighteen British soldiers dead in two bombs at Warrenpoint, just as we came over the border, dark smoke and confusion and army helicopters roaring over our heads. The things you never forget when you climb out of the boat and walk where Jesus asks you to walk. Sometimes it is where the heartbreak and carnage is greatest. Northern Ireland has seen its civilians killed, its fathers and mothers and children, its police and its soldiers. And when you walk on those waters with Jesus he cares about all of them, it doesn’t matter which side they’re on.
Walking on water is not easy and it is not common. Sometimes we need to be in our boats and crossing our lakes, sometimes we’ve been out of our boats long enough and need to get back in them, sometimes there are things to do on shore. But sometimes Jesus invites us to walk on water that is torn by wind and storm and if we can find the faith to walk there with him it changes us and, a walk at a time, it changes the world we live in.
This is an excerpt from Streams by Murray Pura
Murray Pura was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. His first work of fiction was published in Teen Power when he was 16. Canadian publications include the novels Mizzly Fitch, Zo, and The White Birds of Morning as well as the short story collections Mister Good Morning and The Poets of Windhover Marsh. In the United States two books of popular theology have been published by Zondervan while works of fiction include The Wings of Morning and The Face of Heaven . Murray has been a finalist for The Dartmouth Book Award, The John Spencer Hill Literary Award, The Kobzar Literary Award, and The Paraclete Fiction Award. A Baptist pastor for over 28 years, Murray currently writes and pastors in New Mexico. Visit his Website