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  • Writer's pictureXpression Portadown

My Xpression - Andrew Irwin


To be involved with someone for twelve years feels like a lifetime, especially when you start at fifteen years old.  Yet, when I look back over the summer to reflect on XP2017 the first thing that hits me is the sheer longevity of it. The fact that is still going from strength to strength.  That it has been going for over a decade and has impacted thousands of lives:  not just the lives of the people that Xpression seeks to serve in different communities, but, the lives of those serving as well. This is something, I think, we do not value enough and something to give thanks to God for - that a vision nearly fifteen years ago is still thriving. For me personally, I do not know where I would be in terms of my own walk with Christ and discipleship, God has used Xpression every year to challenge me, at times when I needed challenged. From it I have formed friendships that have been with me a life-time.  I owe Xpression a lot.

When I look back over the years of Xpression, it is only now I have come to realise the opportunities that it provides for young Christians, opportunities that can often be lacking in the Church:  to grow and develop as a disciple, to take responsibility and develop their leadership potential.  From eighteen years old, I was given the opportunity to help lead a team, it was responsibility that I had never been given before, so to be asked to step up and lead a group of people in service and then lead the small group devotions.  It was like jumping into the deep end of the pool when you don’t know how to swim and don’t have armbands! Yet somehow, it went okay, and it was from moments like this that God started to work in my life.  In later year I had the privilege to serve in different roles that God used to stretch me and make me more dependent on him. Looking back I can also see that God was planting seeds that would grow later and in different ways.  Now that I am in training for ministry with in the Church of Ireland I realise that it is because of those opportunities that I am doing what I do today.  It is only now that I can look back and give thanks to God for Xpression and the people in it who took risks and allowed me to make mistake as I sought to learn and lead. It is now in my third year of training that I can say with confident that the call then is the same call now, a call to service and worship.

A Rising Generation

 What excites me now as I look back at this summer is that I see the same risks being taken and opportunities being provided to a new generation of people of all ages.  As a Committee member I know we cannot take it for granted that people will give up a week of their summer to serve and slog across a town. It’s not a glorious week, yet people always turn up. We also cannot take it for granted that people will take on responsibility for leading a team, yet God always provides, and people are always so willing to step up either for the first time or the umpteenth time. One of the most encouraging aspects of the Xpression process for me personally is watching people grow in capability and confidence as they start to take on responsibility.  Whether it is the person who first did Xpression three years ago, was shy and quiet, and this year was willing to lead a team – albeit reluctantly – yet, with a confidence that only Christ can provide, or sometimes simply watching someone else step into leading at an event or in team devotions.  Xpression provided me with opportunities that nowhere else would, and I am thankful that it still does that for a new and rising generation.  What I loved about #XP2017 is how it modelled 1 Timothy:

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
- 1 Timothy 4:12

The Same Old like New

One of the issues that you can face from being involved with something for an extended period of time, is staleness. I have been a Christian for many years and have come to realise that we have to fight to keep things fresh, so that they are beneficial to our discipleship.  I’ve learned that what uses to challenge me and make me dependent on God, can soon become safe. I’ve learned that we can lose sight of the reason why we do what we do: God, and his Glory. 

At times over the last few years Xpression had become just that, I looked forward to it in some way, enjoyed it and then moved on from it. I could glide through the whole week with very little effort, even though at the end of every year I was exhausted.  This year was completely different. The build up to Xpression was manic, there were a lot of late nights, but, also for the first time for me personally there was a real sense that God was with us. For the first time in a long time I felt excited by the opportunity and potential of the week.  XP 2017 felt the same, yet, different. Old and new, as we went back to basics, going back up to five days of service, and seeking to work in areas where we hadn’t been able to reach in the last few years. 

Change is good

Last year, I changed roles: I joined the media team even though I was reluctant.  While I enjoy a good Instagram with plenty of hashtags I was not sure if I could get anywhere near the standard of the previous years, especially by myself. However, even with my reluctance I could see that God was in it. Change was exactly what I needed, it brought freshness and a new perspective as I travelled around the town watching people serve.  This year was even better, because I had a team to work with, they were fantastic, not only was I able to travel about, but take time in different areas with some of the teams and see them work.   One of the most powerful things for me was the diversity throughout every Xpression team in age, background and maturity in faith, nonetheless, and almost in spite of it, everywhere I went I was overcome with pride and joy at seeing different teams united in one purpose, to show the love of God in a practical way. It was amazing to see the body of Christ right before your eyes, seeking to live out their Christian faith they sought to live out the Christian faith.  One of the most challenging and rewarding things for me this year was the boldness and confident of some of the younger members of teams to do things like going up to a door, knock and share what Xpression was all about.

One Gospel for All

When you have been doing something for thirteen years you gather a lot of memories, they are the shadows of moments that have shaped and defined me as I have moved through them and forward from them. However, their vividness, depth and colour fade as that moment has passed and we experience new things. I can recall so many good times from Xpression but don’t ask me the year, people or place.  There are some times in life when events are momentarily significant, and then almost unforgettable. Moments that become imprinted in your mind because of their significance, can be both positive and negative, even though we move on from them, their impact remains with us.  On the Wednesday of XP2017 I was privileged to see a couple of different events that will forever stand out among the memories acquired over my time doing Xpression.  It was towards the end of a day of driving about and taking pictures across the town, just after tea that I set out for one last session. There were two BBQ’s that night that were my focus - get to one, take as many pictures in as a short a space of time and drive across the town to the other one before it rained or the sun set.  However, as is often the case there are our plans and then there are Gods plans.  After a few wrong turns I arrived at the Brownstown BBQ, happy with the photos I had taken and decided to head over to St Patrick’s, Killicomaine for the BBQ there.  I was driving along Garvaghy Road and realised that I was in good time.  I thought I will try and get some photos of whatever was going on there; after communicating with some of the team leaders, I arrived down at the  MUGA privileged to witness something that will remain with me always. 

For a bit of context, I had served in and around the Garvaghy Road for most of my time in Xpression so it is a place I love and know. I had seen people lead kids club Bible talks for the first time, others do door-to-door, so to arrive down to see one Xpressioner standing in the middle of the MUGA with a crowd of people listening intently as she shared the Gospel with boldness using the four points was special and significant to me.  I left that moment challenged about what was important as a Christian and the need for me to be more personally bold in my faith; refreshed and reminded about what was important and how simple it was, and thankful that God had put it on my heart to stop. I rushed up the road (within the speed limit!) racing against the on-coming rain and setting sun; blown away by what I had seen.

To arrive then, at Killicomaine towards the end of the night as another Xpressioner stood at the front-steps of St Patricks, with a similar sized crowd preaching the same Gospel, overwhelmed me. To witness it once was special, to witness it twice in two very different areas leaves me struggling to find the words. For me personally, it was like God was speaking to me and reminding me about what was important just two weeks before my own Ordination: I was aware and had been reflecting over those few weeks about the dangers of “going full-time” for God, so I took all that I had witnessed as a specific challenge to me.  A reminder from God of what it actually meant to be a deacon: service, worship, and proclamation: all things that are an extension of His purpose and most importantly, His Glory.  It was a reminder to me as I approached a new chapter not to get lost in the busyness of ‘church.’ To keep it simple and never lose sight of what truly matters: relationship with Christ and seeking to bring others to that.  Finally I was overwhelmed because in one night I had seen Biblical passages that have been so important to me, come to life right in front of my eyes. The two verses were:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:28

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
- Colossians 3:11

I am very aware of the two different meta-narratives at work in Portadown. Narratives that people define themselves through, so to be in two different places and see the one Gospel of Christ proclaimed was beautiful.

Finishing up

Last year, at the end of the week we were hit by bad weather forecasts (that never actually came) that meant we ended up having nothing on the Friday night.  This year, we (the Committee) felt led by God to do something a bit different, so we thought why not!  Instead of our usual ‘Friday Fun Night’ we have a more intimate Celebration and Party for Xpressioners. I wasn’t overly sure how it would work, but any worry was unfounded as the Friday evening turned out to be one of the highlights of an amazing week. It was a fantastic way to both end and celebrate the last few days.  What I loved was the simplicity that ran throughout the evening: in the worship, the testimonies (which were so powerful and encouraging) and the talk. Again it just came together.

I love seeing the local church unified.  As Xpression we do not take it for granted that different churches support us throughout the year in prayer and encourage their members to get stuck in.  It was really special then to come together in worship on the Sunday night where our chairman David McComb, challenged us to keep shining outside of Xpression and in every area of our life. Like those ads at Christmas: “A dog is for life not just for Christmas,” we were reminded that service is not for a week in the summer but the essence of what we do.  It was a really special way to end a week, the body of Christ together in one place hearing from God’s word and worshipping him.

At the end of every Xpression, normally, I am so glad to have taken part but exhausted and drained and wonder if I can do it all again.  This year, I was tired but not drained and cannot wait until XP2018, so if you have never done Xpression before or if you have been away for a few years, it’s time to get back on board and serve your local community so that others can know how much Jesus loves them.  We would love you to join us!  The dates for Xpression 2018 are 20th to 24th August, which means people have plenty of time to make arrangements and prepare.  If you are working and feel you could not commit to the whole week, that is fine – we will take whatever you feel called to give!

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