Cultivating Relationships in Ireland

Name: Justin Gearing

Current Status: Alumni

Graduation Year: 2003

Justin Gearing (BA '03) felt a call to serve outside the United States during his post-HIU graduation backpacking trip in Europe, when he felt God showing him some of the struggles of the church in the region. It wasn’t until after he had met and married his wife, Laura, and served for eight years in ministry with Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, that a plan was revealed, when he met an Irishman named Dermot O’Mahony, from Limerick. They began to talk, and Gearing would become the lead pastor of a ministry in Ireland.

“People will often say of our church, ‘It’s run by a local Limerick lad,’” said Justin. “That means, ‘He gets what it’s like here – he’s one of us.’”

Justin and Laura thought that serving in an English-speaking country would make international ministry easier, but they found that it only gave them a false sense of security. They believed they knew what they were communicating to people, but began to realize that they didn’t really understand how people perceived their words in the Irish culture.

“There were new words to learn, of course, but much more difficult was learning how people think and approach life,” he explained. “What worked well in Phoenix, Arizona, was actually counterproductive in Ireland. I had to learn a completely new way of communicating and of rallying people toward a cause, and I am still learning.”

One of the challenges is the Irish definition of “church,” as being Catholic has traditionally been synonymous with being Irish, and, to the Irish, Protestantism has been synonymous with repression. Many Irish have been disillusioned by both Catholic and Protestant churches.

“Looking back into the history of Irish Christianity, I have no doubt that the Spirit of God was at work and there was a vibrant, Christ-centered faith,” said Justin. “Over time, some corruption and abuse have left people with a sour taste for religion. Still, there is also a huge separation between priests and laypersons, in the minds of the Irish - you can’t even buy a Bible to read in Limerick.”

The Gearings know that Americans associate productivity and fast results with success, but they have learned that the Irish view that perspective as dismissive of relationships and community, even as arrogant and uncaring. So, instead of promoting the church as an organization, they have focused on connecting people to “the source” – Christ and His Word. They get the Bible into people’s hands and encourage them to know that Jesus is living proof that God wants to speak into their lives.

Justin said that their difficult transition has been well worth it, because people have come to know Christ. After three years of work, the church is ready to move into a new building with about 60 regular attendees and small groups scattered around the city.

“Our vision from the beginning has been to plant a church full of people living out their faith in Christ in everyday life,” said Justin, “They can change the city through the way they serve and live.”

“Justin and Laura have cultivated a church in a beautiful place with a challenging atmosphere. They use unique methods to develop relationships with the Irish people. In a land where a lot of ‘spirits’ flow, they allow the Holy Spirit to flow through their lives.” said Dr. Joe Grana , Dean of Pacific Christian College at HIU, who recently visited the Gearings. “Their church is growing, and people living in Limerick are learning new limericks to live by because of the church’s efforts!”