Imagine you are given an assignment.
You have six years to complete a project that will impact the remainder of your life, but you aren’t allowed to get started until year five. Oh, and there is no guarantee that your work will be approved regardless of how excellently you prepare because the rules change at unpredictable intervals. Sound fun?
This is the ambiguous scenario for which John (’10) and Emily (’11) Slater signed up by accepting the call to missions in Ireland. This is what the technical side of missions can look like! In 2016 they moved to Ireland on a religious visa (good for six years) with the goal of applying for citizenship… which cannot be done until one has been living in Ireland for five consecutive years.
With five years to focus on ministry and no guarantee that they would be granted the opportunity to build a life there after that time, the Slaters jumped in feet-first.
They joined a church plant team in the city of Mallow, County Cork. At that time heir role focused primarily on the areas of leading music and working with teens at Mallow Bible Fellowship.
A lot of life, growth, and change happened in those first five years. From adapting to Irish culture and learning ministry to adding two children to the family and living the ordeal that was 2020-2021, there was no shortage of experiences!
Looking back, the Slaters realize that they were somewhat under prepared for the culture shock of moving to Ireland.
Culture goes deeper than language, weather, and cuisine. It encompasses the spiritual undercurrents and influences that are seldom fully understood until one is deeply invested in the culture and community.
“We had this perspective that ‘this is practically America!’… but Europe in general is a very spiritually dark place. Emily has been to the Ivory Coast and experienced places where they are truly worshipping false gods. But we also feel that darkness here in a different way. We weren’t really prepared for that.”
Emily shared one of the most important lessons she learned during the first couple of years in Ireland.
“One of the things that the Lord showed me is that I cannot view people as projects. Obviously, I want all of my friends to come to know Christ here, (most of my friends outside the church are atheist or agnostic) but if I am only befriending them with that as my goal, people will see through that. I must genuinely care about them. That first year was a shift… we worked for years to get here, and I just wanted to see everyone saved! You make friends and it’s easy to think ‘I’m a year into this and they’re still not receptive to the gospel – time to move on!’ I know that sounds terrible, but it’s true that you can have that mindset.”
She goes on to say that she has found that her role as a mother has been one of the best ways to get to know others in the community.
“A lot of our day-to-day ministry looks like living life. For me, that means being involved with moms in our community. Kids are an equalizer. All you have to say is, “I was up all night” and any barriers you had are gone – I’ve been able to have gospel conversations that started with our kids playing together and having typical mom conversations.”
As the five-year mark approached and the world came to a halt due to the pandemic, the matter of their citizenship application deadline loomed heavy on their minds.
However, even with various delays, the Slaters’ citizenship papers were approved in time. This past November the Slaters celebrated the completion of their Irish citizenship with a formal ceremony!
At its most basic terms, citizenship is simply the government’s stamp of approval to live in Ireland indefinitely. But it represents so much more.
Not only is their citizenship an answered prayer and the satisfactory culmination of years of work, but it has stirred a shift in perspective within the Mallow community.
“When we got here, we quickly realized that like anywhere else, people really don’t care unless they see that you care. A lot of our ministry is building trust and building relationships. And that takes a lot of time! Citizenship was a big hurdle. We wanted to plan for the future, but there was that question of will we be here in the future?”
John says that the shift of perspective that has taken place in the past six months has been remarkable. Before, they were seen as a temporary addition to the city; everyone expected them to move on. Now, the community is beginning to view them as a more permanent part of their lives, and this has great potential to change the way ministry is received.
“They keep talking about how we’re citizens now. They know what is going on in our lives and I think it has impressed them that we have pursued this. It’s a difficult thing to achieve and it shows them we are very serious about living here.
Additionally, the church is in the process of purchasing their own property and getting permanently established.
Together, these two things are helping to solidify in their minds that we are serious – we are going to be here for the long haul. It has become one of the easiest ways to share the gospel. Everyone wants to know why we want to live here. They think it doesn’t make any sense.”
Within the past year the Slaters have taken on new responsibilities in their ministry, shifting from working with teens to getting more intentionally involved with adults.
With this shift has come a renewed passion to see lives impacted by the gospel.
After two years of going in and out of lockdowns and operating under strict restrictions, the Slaters saw a deep need for believers to renew meaningful interaction and connection with one another. They have tapped into their creativity to explore ways to deepen the relationships among church members.
“Fellowship and a sense of connection has been hard to get back to after two years going in and out of lockdowns. We couldn’t travel from our house for more than 3 miles and then only for essential reasons. We had periods when the police were outside our neighborhood. If there was more than one person in your car, they would stop you and ask questions. It was months of that on end. Trying to get involved in each other’s lives again has been difficult.”
John and Emily decided to open up their home for a weekly family dinner and Bible study.
This would allow for adults to bring their families without having to rush through dinner or arrange childcare. Some weeks there are over 30 people in their home. They cheerfully squeeze in for a chance to spend quality time with one another and study the scriptures together.
“It has promoted so much unity within the church! People who likely wouldn’t talk to each other much on Sundays because they don’t know each other very well have developed a connection because every week they get to have conversations and they’re praying for each other.
We had a Christmas dinner at church and the ones who stayed around the longest were all from that core group that attend bible study at our home. They were all just enjoying each other’s company.”
The church in Mallow has experienced its own shift of sorts: a move from their rented space into a building they have recently signed to purchase!
This has been an answer to many years of prayer and waiting for the right place to be available at the right time. Even before the Slaters arrived in Ireland, the team had been searching for a building.
“Every space in Ireland tends to have smaller closed off rooms. There isn’t’ much of an open concept for family life. (It helps with heating and all that.) But it makes it hard to find spaces that enable large meetings of any kind. So, we have been looking forever!
A very fast lease-signing-to-occupancy turn around offset the long wait. The building is in pristine condition with new flooring, new paint, plumbing, etc. The church celebrated their first service in the building on February 5 of this year. They sent a joyful reminder for everyone to “bring your own chair”, as seating was the only feature not included in the building. The church is now in the process of raising additional support to fund the remaining balance to purchase the building.
“We have set a goal for the church to reach on their own, but we are also dependent upon our supporters to help us fund the entire building. We are hopeful that in the next 2 months we have will the building free and clear. The building itself was move-in ready so we are just getting chairs!”
Even while celebrating these major milestones accomplished, John and Emily are looking forward to what is ahead.
Together with the church at Mallow, they continue to cast a vision for the people to seek the Lord for direction.
Their biggest prayer request is that the Lord will provide for the church and continue to open doors in surrounding areas. Even though it is small by American standards, Mallow is a large town by Irish standards.
John says that between Mallow and the surrounding area (which includes several outlying towns) there are about 300k people. There is no other gospel preaching church in that area. The Slaters and their church team hope to plant churches in those towns as God leads in the future.
The Slaters live in Mallow, Ireland with their five children Abigail, Josiah, Micah, Noah, and Lydia.