| Saturday, August 8
When we arrived at the airport in Dublin, PJ, Liz, Claire, and Anthony were all at the gate waiting for us. It was so great seeing such friendly faces after ten hours in the air. Heather was also there with a trailer so she could transport our luggage to the hotel we were staying at. After we got our rental vans, we drove to Avoca Restaurant for lunch. After a tasty meal of seafood chowder, our group went to our hotel, The Osprey, to check in, go to our rooms, get settled, maybe shower and then leave so we could head out to the church. Once we arrived at the church, PJ Booth, who is the pastor over the church, gave our team some background information on Open Arms and Ireland itself. After that, we toured the church and saw what we would be painting and got a run down of how things work for them on the weekend. Our team at that point was exhausted from traveling and the loss of time so we were then able to go back to the hotel where everybody crashed and slept like logs for an early morning.
| Sunday, August 9
That morning, when we went to the church, our Executive Children’s Pastor, Ken Jackson, preached both services at Open Arms. For the first service, our team sat in the service and let me just say, Pastor Ken did an amazing job. As for the second service, our team had the option to either sit in the sermon again or volunteer in the children’s ministry. I served in Cresch, which ranges from children who are walking up to age three. In that area, the kids played for around an hour and a half until their parents came and picked them up. There were a few kiddos who I instantly connected and played with: Teagan, Omega, Jess, and David. I also had the opportunity to work with an older lady named Breda who had so much love and compassion for the kids in her room and Leona who was fifteen and brought an incredible amount of happiness into the children. It was all incredibly inspiring to see. After church, our team, along with PJ, Liz, Claire, Anthony, Alex, and Rosie, went to dinner at Fallon’s Restaurant where we had incredible food. That night, for whoever was hungry, went to the bar at our hotel for fish and chips and we sat around and enjoyed each other’s company and fellowship.
| Monday, August 10
This was the day that our projects began at OAC. The reason that our team was in Ireland was because we had children leaders from Gateway Church preparing to speak at the first international Amazing Kids Leadership Conference. At the hotel after breakfast, we gathered our team and had a morning prayer, preparing for the day ahead of us. Once we arrived at Open Arms, we immediately began working in the auditorium. Our project for that day was to begin painting the main auditorium and we started by sanding. Part of our team from Texas partnered up with the team from Ireland. This was the time that we were really able to meet everybody and start friendships. Another part of our team and a few from the church, began the project that was outside – constructing the playground. We were served lunch and then once we had finished, we began working again. After working for eight hours, we were done for the day and headed back to the hotel were we, once again, had dinner at the bar with our team and PJ, Liz, and Claire.
| Tuesday, August 11
This day consisted of our project work again, getting ready for the conference. We really began painting the auditorium and started on the main children’s area. We were once again able to work alongside people from Open Arms; painting, talking, laughing, and singing along to the music that played in the background. Because of the days we had with them in such close quarters working, we were able to become close and that it the reason I made all of the friends that I did. We broke for lunch a little bit after working and like the day before, once we were done eating, we went right back to work. Our goal was to finish painting the auditorium ahead of schedule so we could have the paint smell aired out before the conference. Dinner that night was at Lawlor’s in Naas where a small portion of our group (myself, Ellen, Mark, and Ryan), talked with Claire about all things Texas and what’s different in Ireland. That night we were able to really hang with Claire when she wasn’t working and prepping for the conference herself. That day also happened to be one of our team members, Terri’s, birthday. Once we finished eating, another member of our team, Tyler Bates, did his interpretation of an Irish jig outside the restaurant (and there is video to prove it). All of our stomachs hurt from laughing and our faces were sore from smiling so hard. It was a great end to a productive and successful day.
| Wednesday, August 12
After we finished breakfast, our team gathered together again in the hotel lobby for another prayer time and to share what the Lord had done in our life in just the few days we had been there. Just like the days before this, we worked on the auditorium and kids area, finishing up painting and we started on the check-in desks that were going to go in the lobby of the children’s room. Once we were all done for the day, we were able to go back to the hotel for a quick clean up and then went back to Open Arms for a kids camp reunion where we were able to meet a lot of people who volunteered in the children’s ministry there. We had pizza and chips (french fries), played intense games like Mafia (a card game), spoons, and fruit basket which is a VERY intense game of musical chairs and spoons combined. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun as I did that night. In the games of spoons and fruit basket, both times two people from our team, Ryan and Paul, one the games, making the Americans reigning champions over the Irish. 😉 After a long night, we went back to our hotel to get some much needed rest.
| Thursday, August 13
On this day, we only had to work half a day because we were able to get all of the project work done. The auditorium had been completely painted with a second coat added on to it, and the children’s area was painted with a second coat on it as well. One of the members from our team, Ellen, REALLY wanted to see sheep while we were in Ireland. So, after all of our work was done and we were relieved to go, one of our leaders, Mark, along with A.J. and Ché, took the small part of the team that wasn’t speaking at the conference to a place called the Curragh. The Curragh is a massive stretch of land were sheep roam free for miles upon miles. It was absolutely amazing. We saw thousands of sheep (Ellen squealed), and we also were able to see illegal Irish gypsies which made for a good story once we arrived back at the church. We hiked up an immensely steep hill where we saw the miles of green land. After we finished with the Curragh, we then went to the Wicklow Mountains. We saw old and abandoned castles, drank from a REAL Irish spring, saw were two lakes met into one, and watched the sun set over old castle ruins. Our legs were dead tired and our hearts were racing from all of the physical exertion but it was totally worth it. When we arrived back to the church, we went to Naas where we had dinner at GG’s Restaurant with our team and a few members from Open Arms. Myself, Ryan, Ellen, Tabitha, Kayla, A.J. and Ché all sat together where we told our life stories basically and we laughed and in that moment, I realized that these people weren’t just my friends anymore; they were my family.
| Friday, August 14
LET THE CONFERENCE BEGIN!! After breakfast we had a morning prayer, praying that the Lord let this conference be an amazing thing and people would get so much insight for their children’s ministry. When we arrived at OAC, everyone was running around trying to get the last bits of stuff finalized for the next two days. Ellen and myself were stationed at the front desk where we welcomed and check people in. We were able to meet so many people from all around Ireland and got them even more excited for the conference. The conference started on time and from the first speaker of the morning session to the last speaker of the evening session, things ran smoothly. I was excited because I was able to sit in on a lot of the conference and since I work in children’s ministry at Gateway, I was able to learn a lot that I now apply in the classrooms here at home.
| Saturday, August 15
Waking up at 5:30 in the morning to get ready and eat breakfast made us in not so happy moods but we put smiles on our faces and braced ourselves for another amazing day of the conference. While the conference was going on, the small portion of our team that wasn’t speaking got to hang out with the teens of Open Arms and got to know them even better. Because of the days we had with them previously, I was already really close with a lot of them. It was good to sit and talk while drinking tea getting to know about them, where they came from and their interests. We in turn were able to share about ourselves and it was a really grand time being able to become so close with people that we had met not even a week before. The conference ended that day and it was extremely powerful. So much information and insight was shared in just two days and people left feeling refreshed and encouraged. To say that I participated and witnessed the first international Amazing Kids Leadership Conference is something I will always be grateful for.
| Sunday, August 16
This was our last day at Open Arms. We attended service and dreadfully awaited the time we had to depart and say goodbye to everyone. After the service was over, we painfully started hugging the amazing people we had met and I was sort of okay until I hugged this one girl goodbye. Her name is Jenny and we met the first day we started our project. Her and I became very close and talked about anything and everything. As I hugged her, I started crying. I couldn’t leave. I didn’t want to leave. It was so hard to say goodbye to everybody that in the pictures we took, my face was red and swollen from crying so hard. I’ve never met so many amazing people in such a short amount of time. Each person that I met in Ireland has a very special place in my heart and will forever. Once we were dragged into the vans, we left for Dublin. We toured Trinity College and got a first-hand look at the Book of Kells (if you have no idea what that is, Google it and it’s history. It’s amazing.). We were then set free to explore Dublin and were given a time to meet back at the vans. Ryan, Brittany, Ellen, and myself got together and went at Dublin. We shopped, had lunch in a small bistro, got coffee from the Irish Starbucks, and saw street performers. It was great to be able to explore a town so rich in history and really experience Ireland like a tourist.
| Monday, August 14
This was another early morning. At 7:30 in the morning, we departed for the West of Ireland. Our first stop was at Bunratty Castle. We were set loose on the grounds and the castle where Ellen and myself explored. The castle is still active in which the have dinner parties like they did back when it was thriving. We saw all the rooms, walked through the old halls, and traveled up and down the small spiral stairs to the very top where we had a gorgeous view. After Bunratty, we all met for lunch at Durty Nelly’s (you have to say it with your best Irish accent so it’s authentic), and then departed for the . . . wait for it . . . CLIFFS. OF. MOHER. Talk about the most breathtaking view you will ever see in your entire life. If you have not been to Ireland, or have been and not seen these cliffs, it is a must on your bucket list. The cliffs stretch for a couple miles and drop a few hundred feet directly into the Atlantic Ocean. We went to a small castle and climbed to the top where you can see the ocean stretching out for miles upon miles upon miles, and saw the cliffs stretch out for miles itself. We then walked until we were standing directly on top of the cliffs themselves. I can’t begin to try and explain the excitement I had being there on the place my favorite movie was shot (if you’ve never seen The Princess Bride, you need to). Pictures were taken, I sat on the edge of the cliff, and I recorded a video of myself to my mom saying if I fell off, I loved her and my family very much. It was all exhilarating and most definitely something I will never forget. We were all upset that we had to leave but we had dinner on the coast at a pizza place and we sat on the sea wall overlooking the Atlantic. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we had to pack our bags because the next day was our departure date back to the states.
| Tuesday, August 18
After a small breakfast at the hotel, we gathered our luggage in the lobby and sad goodbye to Claire who brought departing presents for us all. Although I didn’t cry as hard as I thought I would, I had tears in my eye because the thought of leaving was heartbreaking. When we got to the airport in Dublin, we took a group picture and said goodbye to PJ and Liz. About an hour later, we boarded our flight and began the eight hours to Atlanta. I was so tired from staying up the night before I tried to fall asleep. I now know that I’m unable to fall asleep on an airplane. I was determined to get some kind of sleep so I watched Tangled and The Best of Me because I knew that both would make me cry. Even though I cried, hard, I wasn’t able to get any sleep. Upon arrival in Atlanta, we were given ten dollars for lunch and my first meal back home was the one and only, Chipotle. We had a three hour layover so at our gate, we ate and talked and waited to board. Our flight was delayed another hour because of bad weather so our team took over the gate with us and our luggage, and I was finally able to lay on the floor and sleep. We were then able to board the flight and before take off, I got another thirty minutes of sleep. At that point, I was tired, irritable, and jet lagged. I was ready to be home and sleep in my own bed. Upon arrival in DFW, we went to baggage claim where I saw my parents, sister, and niece and cried tears of immense joy to see them again. In the truck on the way home, and even when we got home, I managed somehow to put eleven days in a different country together in about thirty minutes.
From McKala —
I am so thankful, blessed, and grateful that I was given the opportunity to go to Ireland. As my first mission trip, I had no idea what to expect. But, the Lord put amazing people on my team to guide me along the way and I can’t begin to express my gratitude towards the people in Ireland. I knew from the very start that this trip was something God had planned but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. While in Ireland, I came to find that my calling was ministry, especially children’s. God knew where I needed to be and who I needed to be with. Claire Hearty (now Afolabi), is the children’s pastor over Open Arms. She has given me the once in a lifetime opportunity to intern under her next summer in Ireland. When that opportunity was brought up to me, I immediately took it with tears in my eyes. The internship was the reason that God put me on this trip. Although I miss Ireland and it’s people like crazy, I know that within the year I’ll be back to the place that feels like home. I wouldn’t have been able to go on this trip without the support I had from friends and family. I want to thank all of them. Another huge thank you goes to Reed Public Relations who gave me a scholarship to go on this trip. Without Lauren Reed and her company, this trip would definitely would not have happened. Thank you a million Lauren for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity to go and experience Ireland they way I did. This trip changed my life in so many ways and because of it, I know now exactly what God has planned for my life and the best ways to accomplish those plans. Ireland has a huge place in my heart and I cannot wait to be back. Thank you all for reading this.