In the middle of Northern Ireland lies a lake called Lough Neagh. And just west of that lake sits a farmhouse where Jenny Bell lives. Jenny and Insight for Living have a long history, a strong relationship in a place where the truth of the Gospel has occasionally been muddled with political strife.
Curiously, I first met Jenny not in Northern Ireland but in Airdrie, Scotland, where I had been invited to speak at the church where Jenny’s fiancé Sandy worships. We talked over lunch and into the afternoon at Sandy’s house. Sometime later, when my family and I made a pastoral visit to Northern Ireland, Jenny was kind enough to serve as our tour guide for part of the trip. We had the pleasure of meeting her mum and sister on the family farm where they all live.
Jenny describes herself as an outdoors sort of girl who loves animals and grows her own potatoes. But don’t let the wild red hair and easy smile fool you: during the week Jenny (that’s Dr. Bell to her colleagues) researches ways to improve the diagnosis and treatment of meningitis in children.
Like many people in the United Kingdom, Jenny first stumbled across the work of Chuck Swindoll through his books. People that she had heard preaching and teaching often referred to Chuck’s writings, so she started reading them for herself, beginning with Come Before Winter and Share My Hope. Her other favourites are the David and Jesus volumes from Chuck’s Great Lives from God’s Word series. Jenny describes why:
Chuck has a great talent in the way he writes and in his way with words. He’s funny, he’s humorous, and yet very down-to-earth; he doesn’t talk around a subject; he goes straight to the point. He makes it so the Bible isn’t so much a distant thing from thousands of years ago; it’s everyday living, applied to myself.
After reading some of Chuck’s books, Jenny wanted to hear Chuck. But it wasn’t always easy to listen to the Insight for Living broadcast on shortwave radio—the only way it was available in her area in years past. When Insight for Living opened a regional ministry office in the United Kingdom, Jenny was delighted because it meant more access. Now she can hear Chuck’s preaching every day—even all day if she chooses:
Well, because I’m always seeming to rush about in the mornings and never have time to sit down, I take my laptop with me when I’m getting ready, access the Internet site, and listen to the daily broadcast. I really enjoy that. I also have an iPod, which means I can take the broadcasts with me and listen, perhaps while I’m working in the lab.
To keep her focused in difficult times, Jenny calls on the words of Job 19:25: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth” (NIV). And Jenny has seen some difficult times alright. Her dad died when she was 9 years old, leaving Mum to raise the girls and keep the farm together. Jenny remembers times when God sent someone to help her and her family at just the right moments—even if it was simply a neighbour who helped cut wood. (Up until just this year, a wood-and-coal stove provided all the heat and hot water for the farmhouse. Jenny notes that this stove was also the place where Mum made her famous coffee cake—a family favourite.)
The history of the country and the troubles between the Roman Catholic nationalist and the Protestant unionist communities impact the way of life in Northern Ireland. Several ministries are working to create safe places where the tough work of reconciliation and peacemaking can happen, but progress is slow. Generations of mistrust must be overcome.
Some say people have a tendency to keep to themselves in Northern Ireland, and even within church fellowship, making good friends can often be slow work. A sense of spiritual isolation can show itself in subtle but powerful ways. That’s what makes Insight for Living’s ministry in the United Kingdom so vital—having a ministry office where people can make individual, personal contact with a pastor and staff can sometimes help break down spiritual barriers.
When you ask Jenny how Insight for Living encourages her, she’ll tell you:
Insight for Living is very important to my Christian life; it not only provides sound Bible teaching I can access and share with others, but I have fellowship with Terry, Glenn, Scott and the others in the UK office—even from Northern Ireland. I hear what is going on with Insight for Living, get the newsletters, letters, and I even get to enjoy an occasional e-mail or a conversation. It’s great to be a part of Insight for Living under God’s sovereign hand.