Year long volunteering trip was ‘life changing’

A LISBURN girl has returned from a year long trip volunteering in San Antonio, Texas with the Pais Project - an international youth and schools ministry organisation.

As part of a team of five Holly Neill partnered with Oak Hills Church, where the renowned Christian author Max Lucado ministers.

Talking about her experiences Holly said: “Oak Hills is a mega church and therefore has a number of smaller satellite campuses. The team I was part of was placed at the North Central campus. Within the Church we acted as a fundamental part of the youth group; we would give students lifts, buy food, organise worship, prepare the talk and ensure that it was a comfotable and relaxed place where young people could feel welcome, wherever they are in their walk with Jesus.

“Each Pais team in San Antonio was partnered with a local school, in our case, MacArthur High School. Our team would go in between 3-4 times a week to sit with students during lunch, assist in classes and start to build relationships with the students and act as a mentor.

“Our mission statement is missionaries making missionaries. Legally, we were limited in how much we could say to students so a lot of our focus was finding Christians within the school and empowering them to reach out to their classmates, as well as integrated un-churched youth into North Central and organising ways in which they could serve the local community.

“One of my many highlights from the year was being able to baptise three MacArthur students that we meet this year, at our youth retreat.”

Holly continued: “My team, made up of two Germans, Micha and Colin, one Canadian, Nadege and another girl from Lisburn, Judith taught me so much. It was a blessing to be able to serve alongside them and I am so thankful for how they encouraged me, challenged me and shared real, honest conversations with me.”

Holly said it was a life changing experience. “I grew up so much this year. Obviously there were times I felt homesick, however I had such an amazing support network out there and your team becomes your family so they help you through it.

“Being away from Northern Ireland for a year has definitely made me appreciate our wee island so much more. I left feeling as though it was nothing special and completely baffled by why people would ever want to visit. Yet now I love it. Northern Ireland is great. You learn to appreciate such small, random details, like the ability to walk places, going to the corner shop for a pint of milk, not being able to walk down Bow Street without meeting someone you know, Cadbury’s chocolate, biscuits and even the rain.”