Bloomin’ mission!

Bloomin’ mission!

Old mission partners never really retire, says David Sharland, who served for decades in east Africa… and now by the Irish Sea.

Photo: An improvised stable points people to Jesus in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, in the run-up to Christmas 2023 (David Sharland)

After returning from serving as mission partners in Uganda for decades, David and Heather Sharland are following their missional instincts in a small town in Northern Ireland.

by David Sharland

Love of the land, plants and animals has led me to many strange projects over my 40 years in mission with CMS and Jesus: in Tanzania, Zaire, Congo, South Sudan and Uganda.

Flying pedigree dairy goats to Tanzania, and giving them to an isolated, malnourished but keen community in the mountains, not only led to a transformed community, but renewed the local church to see its mission to the whole person.

Purchasing wild donkeys from a Karamajong community in north east Uganda, hiring a lorry and lining it with grass so the donkeys wouldn’t hurt themselves, unloading them in Arua for health inspection, where no one had ever seen a donkey, let alone handled them. Then finally hauling them on foot into Zaire, where I trained the donkeys and took them to a women’s group to help transport sugar cane up a treacherous path to the market, where their offspring still work today.

wooden cross with planted flower tubs next to sea wall
David and fellow church members transformed a corner of the church car park into a community space

Flying a tank full of small fish in a tiny Cessna aircraft to a game park, where apprehended poachers were being trained to keep fish as a more lucrative alternative to killing elephants and rhino.

Mission can be a funny old game! Love, service and gospel passion can lead you in directions you had never imagined.

And old missionaries never really retire! After leaving Uganda and finishing service with CMS, Heather and I bought an old run-down farmhouse in Northern Ireland. It’s been fun bringing it back to life, and we find ourselves in a very mission-minded church in Donaghadee (which some of you might have come across as Hope Street, on BBC iPlayer).

Last spring, a few of us brainstormed an idea of making a garden centred round a large wooden cross in the church car park. We collected potted plants great and small, created shaol paths to and from the cross and placed two colourful garden seats in strategic positions. We were amazed at how many folk, who would never come into the church, sat and meditated, prayed or if they wanted, chatted at the foot of the cross.

And the judges of Britain in Bloom were impressed, too! Surely this wee missional initiative contributed to the result of our gold medal as the best small town in the whole of the UK. A bloomin’ surprise.

smiling couple in a lush garden
David and Heather are enjoying putting down roots in Northern Ireland

How could we point people to Jesus as Christmas approached? Old pallets painted with old engine oil and screwed together in the car park became a stable, and the figures were imaginatively painted on other pallets – and all survived the storms off the Irish Sea. A star above the stable, flowers and trees in pots to the side, and words from carols painted to carry thoughts towards Jesus, attracted many to step in and see and rest awhile. Many magazines were taken and many a conversation had, as folk thought about the Jesus of Bethlehem bringing us hope in Donaghadee in 2023.

When mission stretches the imagination, there are no limits to what God can do! Step out and let’s DO IT!

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