Amazing as it seems to me, I’ve lived in Northern Ireland for 6½ years now – since returning from the United States in 2009. Many of you might remember that the first five years we ‘blighted’ by the scandalous fight (and immense waste of a lot money) with United States Customs and Immigration: only to discover that my ‘return’ from the States was due to the corruption of others, and nothing at all to do with me! BUT….’All things work together for good’ is one of God’s amazing promises (I heard that there are 6,300 promises in the Bible, all of them ‘yes and amen in Christ Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Oh, if only we believed them all! We might give lip service to many of them, but if the reality of needing to believe a whole stack of them confronts us, we’re not quite so convinced that they’re true!
…like ‘I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me’: or ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me WILL do what I have been doing, and greater things you will do because I’m going to the Father’. My testimony of coming to Northern Ireland is that God keeps his promises – though not always in the way I expect, or want!! But I have felt very at home in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that in those 6½ years I haven’t even begun to inherit the accent, though some words have invaded my vocabulary!
I’d always enjoyed preaching here prior to my coming to live here, though bizarrely, the churches I preached in pre-October 2009, I haven’t preached in since I’ve lived here! What has happened is that God has answered my prayer, and brought other churches into my ‘circle’: as well as doing something very ‘unlikely’ in my lifestyle – encouraging and teaching me how to rest…. very much a Biblical principle that I was distinctly unused to. It’s been a blessing: as rest has transformed so much including my sleep pattern. Sleep and I hadn’t been particular friends since I was 12, the day my dad died: 2-4 hours a night maximum, and that was with the help of an increasing number of things from bottles (like valerian, melatonin, and real pills from the doctor!!). Learning to rest has been hard, if I’m honest: but what I have noticed is that there’s been a noticeable increase in what God does now I’ve ‘eased back’ on my diary bookings.
Rather than do a blog about each month that there hasn’t been one, I thought I’d just mention places I’ve been – some more than once – in those months. There’s been a marked increase in invitations here in Northern Ireland, which is lovely, and I’m grateful to God for that. I’ve also had countless – literally – opportunities to visit people in their homes to pray for them, mostly for healing. There’s been some great ‘networking’ relationships formed, too, and some that were already existing, which have become, and are becoming important. As a non-Irish Northern Irelander, it ‘feels’ that there’s something happening here in Kingdom terms, and that there’s an air of ‘frustration’ that precedes a real move of God.
I wrote a blog a few days ago about my involvement with a brand new ‘church’, in Londonderry – Still Waters BT47, a ‘plant’ from Still Waters Elim Church, Coleraine. I won’t go over what happened there a few weekends back, as it’s in a blog: suffice to say, it was a great weekend, praying for most people in both meetings on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and in the evening meeting, it was the first time – in the United Kingdom – that 100% of people prayed for, who had presenting pain or disease they could feel identify at the time. That, for me – and maybe most of us – was a wonderful ‘first’: there was a time when I’d have been grateful for 10%…. and the next couple of days brought testimonies, either from the weekend, or from home visits to people, produced more stories of healings. It seems likely that I’ll be involved with this new church quite regularly, which I’m very happy with.
I’ve been involved with an amazing church near Lisburn, called ‘The Lighthouse’: they meet in a bungalow, and the people who go to the Lighthouse get key, so they can use the house as a place to drop in, cook, relax…. what’s fascinating is that the mix of people is very unlike traditional church. They include former and current paramilitaries, alcoholics, and drug addicts, who want to find the Jesus who changes lives, and at the Lighthouse, they do. I love being involved there: and Billy Moore, who leads it (it’s actually a ‘plant’ from Lisburn Cathedral (Church of Ireland), who have a lovely Canon, Sam Wright, who, after just a brief meeting with him, invited me to do a healing meeting in the Cathedral one Sunday afternoon. People are healed there trough the amazing ministry of Billy, and the Cathedral ministers, and it’s been an incredible privilege to be asked to speak, and then pray for people, on three occasions. People have been healed – miracled ,even – including dreadfully arthritic bodies (the hands ‘classic’ arthritic, bent distorted fingers, huge swollen knuckles – straightened in seconds) and so much more. Billy often asks me if I know who I’ve just prayed for: of course, I do by name, because I ask them, but he means what they are….. it’s probably a good job I’m English, as I have no real idea what a lot of the paramilitary groups ‘letters’ of their name mean (some, yes: but then I don’t know what they did, although words like Unionist and Republican give quite a good hint!
I’ve been involved for some time with a wonderful couple, Ronnie & Janéce Macreanor – two years in fact: and it as great to be asked to speak at one of their church’s regular healing meetings, in Carrickfergus. The church is about to change its name, but is still (I think!) Jordanstown Christian Fellowship, the meeting was in the Loughshore Hotel, Carrickfergus. There was a good number of people there, as always I have a good look round to see if I can identify any of the possible contenders for the ministry time afterwards! I’d asked a friend, David Yates, to come and share his story, feeling that an Irishman telling Irish people about a stunning miracle that God did for him would be good – it’s hard to argue with someone’s own personal story, and David’s is pretty special. Two years ago (almost to the day), I’d spoken at a men’s breakfast (you don’t turn down a free Ulster Fry!!) at Holywood Christian Fellowship Church.
A number of people wanted prayer for healing afterwards, they DIDN’T include David, who, by his own admission, was ‘sceptical’ – maybe worse! – about healing, but was ultimately persuaded to be prayed for by a friend. It turned out that David had a huge brain tumour, and was under a relatively short ‘death sentence’ from the doctors. His pain levels were immense, at the breakfast, too: he was on a substantial amount of morphine pills a day, including a couple first thing in the morning to bring the pain level down to about 15 out of 10 so that he could get up and begin his day. While praying for him, I had one of those disconcerting moments where I heard words coming out of my mouth that a) I hadn’t thought, and b) most certainly not processed or censored! ‘You’ll wake up tomorrow morning, David, with the pain levels massively reduced: you’ll know when you can stop taking the medication’. Well, that’s what happened, David testifies: little or no pain, and decided not to take his morphine. I’m told you don’t just stop morphine: you reduce it very slowly. David stopped. Thursday, with the oncologist, who told him that in the last months of his life (very few), the pain would increase, so an increase in the medication would be necessary. The oncologist almost blew a gasket when David told him he wasn’t taking it, as he’d been prayed for, the pain had gone, and the pressure in his head had gone (which suggested that the tumour had gone).
The doc arranged an MRI: no tumour. Completely healed, and his testimony in Carrickfergus was very powerful. Many people were prayed for: I was glad I’d got my great young mate, Peter McAvoy with me, to assist with praying. As usual, two sets of osteoarthritic knees were healed instantly: a lady with fibromyalgia healed: a pair of arthritic hands; a lady with a lot of pain from an ovarian cyst; and lots more, for Peter and for me.
A lovely weekend at Still Waters Elim Church, Coleraine, had a healing meeting on Saturday night, church Sunday morning… many prayed for, many healed….the Saturday meeting started at 7.30, and I think I left the church at 11.25pm! All the usual suspects got prayed for – yep, osteoarthritis in the knees, I’m so grateful to God that, since I’ve had that horrible affliction, he’s healed just about every (if not every) person who has come for prayer, instantly – I think I said in another blog that I stopped counting at 500 pairs of knees, and never did count the single knees…. many different illnesses went. The same story at the Sunday morning church service: it began at 10’30 am, and I left the church at around 3.30 pm – to be asked if I’d go and encourage and pray for the Polish church, who meet in the church in the afternoon: they were in the hall, probably because I’d commandeered the church! Another hour with them: sharing some words of encouragement, praying for a few of them – really, really lovely people. Finally left the church at 5 pm, so that made the morning meeting 6 1/2 hours long!
A really lovely evening in Lambeg, Lisburn, with the Christians Against Poverty Lisburn team: who wanted to hear some amazing testimonies, and how to apply healing to the many people that they counsel through debt problems. It really was a great evening, lots of stories, lots of questions, and a lovely opportunity to encourage the counsellors to step out in healing, as poverty – like addictions – can be an inescapable illness, too. I just love God’s sense of humour, in giving me this opportunity in a period of my life when, for the past 21 months, it’s been the toughest financial period of the 37 years that I’ve been in ministry, so to speak to poverty counsellors was a blessing in a time of my life when there have been days and days without food, and a frantic praying in of money to pay bills!
I’m a great believer in speaking the truth in the face of hardship, like Job, who, when everything had gone – money, possessions, home, family, friends, health, even his wife turned on him – yet he still stood, when his personal world couldn’t have been much darker, and declared –
- “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. “Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God;… (Job 19:25-26
There’s not a BETTER time, or more important time, to declare the glory of God, to speak truth in the face of adversity, than when you’re standing / living in the middle of adversity…. Six years ago, a good friend of mine sat in my living room, and asked me ‘what’s the difference between your story and Job’s?’. I was pretty sure I knew what he was going to come out with, but I wanted him to say it, which he did: and then he said ‘and I’ve been with you when you’ve preached that God is our provider, healer, salvation, strength, in the middle of what seems to be just the opposite situation for you’…. that was a blessing to hear….and I still declare the same in this current ‘place of constriction’, because whatever my – our – circumstances the truth never changes. And, of course, look what happened for Job at the end of the story…..
The story of ‘The Lighthouse’
Haunted by his past, Billy Moore feared that despite being a Christian he was not good enough to carry out a ministry.
But knowing God accepted him, Billy gave in and accepted himself. The result is a vibrant ministry to a community in one of Lisburn’s most deprived estates.
Billy is now a Commissioned Lay Minister. The 59-year-old left school without any qualifications, and worked as a cabinet maker. But he was also involved in more sinister activities. “I was in the paramilitaries in the early 70s during the Ulster Workers’ Strike. Most people were involved in the paramilitaries as they were protecting their communities,” he recalled.
Billy did not want to talk openly about his activities during this period of his life. “God knows everything that Billy Moore has done and I have to accept that,” he said. “When I became a Christian and people asked me to do prayer groups, I would be thinking ‘if these people really knew me how can I sit here and lead them in prayer?’ It was on one of these occasions I was hit by the sudden realisation ‘who’s telling you you are not good enough to be a Christian?’
“Lots of people carry guilt because of things they have done in this life, and that stops them from becoming a Christian because they think they have to stand up in front of a church and say ‘that’s how bad I was. This is how good I am now.’
“I remember lying in bed during a power strike looking out at the stars, knowing I was going on a job the next day, and thinking that I might not come back from this one. I was not thinking about God or theology. I was not a bad person but the circumstances enveloped me as they did thousands of people and still do to this day.”
Billy continued: “I still carry a lot of guilt. But that does not make me any less a Christian because God knows me 100 per cent and if he asks me to follow him that’s good enough for me.”
Billy now prays for others involved in paramilitary or criminal activity. “I pray that they come to know what I know. I pray that they will know what peace is, what contentment is and what wanting to serve God means.”
He left the paramilitaries after the workers’ strike. “We had really put ourselves on the line. What a witness Billy moore in the prayer room at the Lighthouse in Hillhall.
We were trying to keep Ulster British but we were facing down British soldiers which was a contradiction,” he said.
Disillusioned, he joined the Labour Party and was chairman of the Lisburn branch in the mid 1970s. He maintains an association with the Labour Party today.
Billy married Lynda in 1977 and they have one daughter. In 1982 he got a job as a woodwork instructor at a new social care centre in Belfast. “I took it because of the job security. I had no inkling of what mental health was. I just thought it was mad people, people with no control,” Billy admits.
The irony of this is that Billy himself had suffered anxiety and depression, a condition he now recognises as a mental health illness. “It came to the stage where I lost interest in everything and I had made up my mind to kill myself. There was no great thought put into it. I just wanted to escape this life,” Billy recalls.
But before acting on this impulse Billy started to feel better. Gradually he returned to ‘normal’ activities. “One thing that happens with a mental health illness is you lose your confidence and self esteem. It’s a black hole of depression, but having come out of it after 18 months, I would say it has made me a better, stronger person, and it gave me a lot more compassion and empathy with other people. It is strange how the Lord builds you up,” said Billy.
He remains at the social care centre as a deputy manager today.
It was through Canon John McCammon at Lisburn Cathedral that Billy was drawn to faith. He began to go to church. “One night I knelt by the bed and said ‘Lord, I don’t know what you are going to do with me but I am going to give you my life, I need a brother to walk with me.”
Billy was later asked to come to the Lighthouse Church on Lisburn’s Hillhall Estate to help out. On his drive to work he passed the local Co Down Arms pub, a place he frequented in his younger days. “I had a real feeling that I should be in there doing my Christian work,” Billy said. “I ran from that for two years.” Twice he called in but on both occasions he failed to speak to the owner.
Then tragedy struck when the owner died. Billy was asked to visit the family to offer comfort and when he spoke to the widowed landlady, Jennifer McNeice, he told his story. Jennifer invited him to come into the pub as a Christian. “Jennifer has become the backbone of this Church. What a witness that is,” said Billy.
Billy called into the pub a couple of times a week. Once every three weeks he held a formal service in the bar. He put up a banner, and people were invited to hang a prayer ribbon on it. The praise band from Lisburn Cathedral supported the services.
Services are now held only in the Lighthouse, where there are also fellowship meetings, teaching, meditation, prayer and quiet times. It is hoped that a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) project will also be housed in the Lighthouse in the near future, and two Church Army workers are helping families in the area.
“The people who come here, the alcoholics and the drug addicts, are all looking for ways to give their lives to the Lord,” Billy said.
Four years ago Billy was made a Commissioned Lay Minister. “I feel I have a whole new family and the acceptance of the church means so much to me,” he said.
Looking back on his past, Billy added: “The Lord accepts everybody who accepts him.”