The carol service at Ulster University Belfast (UUB) was met with great anticipation. According to Emma, a student leader at UUBCU, hosting their carol service online wasn’t easy, but still provided a great the opportunity for outreach.
She says: “This year has looked more than significantly different for our and indeed all CUs across Ireland. With the tightening of restrictions our hopes of holding a Carol Service in a local Church or potentially outdoors where unfortunately shattered. But, we were blessed to host our Carol Service over Facebook Live. A platform, that admittedly not many of us had experience with, but a wonderful opportunity to reach students living at home or those who wouldn’t normally want to be seen at a CU event.
“We enjoyed our time together and were so encouraged by the willingness of our freshers to get involved in live readings. Whilst rejoicing in God with a time of ‘Live’ worship music from a range of God–gifted musicians and singers.”
For Sam at Ulster University Jordanstown (UUJ), similar challenges were met and tackled as they planned their carol service with the ever–changing tide of Covid–19 restrictions. He says: “From the beginning, our Committee was united in our vision for it. We wanted to seize the opportunity to gather together and celebrate the great news of Christmas; that Jesus was born unto us as a Saviour. We also wanted to proclaim this great news to all of our fellow students and friends at Jordanstown and beyond.
“Obviously, this year it was immensely challenging to actually pull this off. We wanted to honour Government restrictions and also ensure the safety of our CU family.
“Al our plans were in place before it was announced that churches had to close for two weeks, which would have forced us back online. We decided to postpone it, on the off–chance that churches reopened. We prayed that if it was in God’s will, we would be able to meet together in–person for only the second time since March; and if it wasn’t in God’s will, that He would make clear to us what to do next.
“This was uncertain right up to the day of the event, but we kept gathering together to pray. This was a real challenge; truly relying on God in practice and not just words. Finally, we got the all clear from our Student’s Union that we would be permitted to meet in a local church, having thoroughly risk assessed the Covid–19 dangers. What an answer to prayer! Even in the midst of a global pandemic, God made a way for us to meet face–to–face and celebrate the Gospel message together!
“We were able to have a small and socially distanced choir, traditional carols, a great Gospel proclamation, and a chance to pray together. We also had a chance to gather a bit of feedback via an online poll. It was great to hear of many students coming because they had seen it advertised, or a friend had invited them along; many of whom weren’t Christians or regular attendees at our events.”
For Emma, although having an online service wasn’t first preference, the ability to invite remote speakers to join them through Zoom is something they were particularly grateful for. She adds, “We are constantly grateful for the willingness of speakers to come along and share from God’s Word, despite the huge challenge and change it is to speak online. We are thankful to Johnathon Brown, who came along to share the real message of Christmas and we continue to pray that God has used his words to reach those who have watched the service.
“God is great! Great enough to calm the “Zoom shakes” for our tech and coordinating team. Great enough to ensure that streaming went smoothly, and great enough to provide us the opportunity to meet online in the first place.
“While at that time many of us were and still are disheartened that we cannot meet together safely and enjoy fellowship we are reminded there are no restrictions to Gods faithfulness.
“Frequently, we all struggle letting go with these types of events – events where we don’t directly interact with people, where we can’t see who is in attendance, or even if any non–Christians have heard and responded to the Gospel message. But we are reminded during these times to trust and rely on God and His work. We are called to ‘sow the seed’, but we cannot change hearts and minds, that is Gods work. This is particularly encouraging as February mission week approaches.
“We are thankful for Gods faithfulness and sovereignty throughout the year. The peace we have resting in his control compares to nothing else.”
Through both physical and online platforms, the gospel prevails, and God continues to work in the lives of students across Ireland, fuelled by the innovation and creativity of student leaders who refuse to be shaken by the rollercoaster of events and changes that Covid–19 has brought.
Sam adds, “We are passionate about reaching people with the same Gospel that has changed our lives, and it fills us with joy whenever God gives us the opportunity to share it!
“Maybe you are discouraged by the seemingly impossible mission field of the online space in which we are working, at the present time. But stories like these, from our CU and from others, have encouraged us and we hope they encourage you. When you trust in the LORD with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledging him, he will direct your paths! Whether our circumstances have us meeting online, in person, a mixture of both, or neither: trust Him and He will make his name known.”