15 December 2017

The Anchorage Project… …a Hope-Shaped Mission!

How it all began…

Joe Donnelly is a fine strapping specimen of an Irishman from Dublin. Meeting Joe is an experience (as are his jokes). Joe cares a lot. He cares about people mostly. He has a heart for men, women, boys and girls… and God. But it wasn’t aways like that.

Little Joe grew up in true inner city Dubliner fashion. Despite being in a staunchly Catholic area Joe and his pals found a Protestant mission hall down one of the streets. Despite being warned fatefully not to go near the place because, “Protestants go there and you don’t want to associate with them”; the boys were curious and naughty. Being a mischievous type of lad, Joe spent his Saturday afternoons pelting the unfortunate building with stones. No doubt the members had a regular contract with the glass repairer.

Teenage years saw Joe and his mates at cider parties. The stone throwing had developed into full-blown vandalism. Before he knew it he was twenty-two years of age standing staring into the black murky waters of a canal in Amsterdam…contemplating suicide. Where had the years gone? How had life sunk so low?

“A voice was blasting in my ear, throw yourself in…life isn’t worth the struggle…go ahead it will all be over…Somehow I resisted. I walked away and felt worse walking away from that. Making a decision to end your life and not being able to carry it through, is actually worse as you feel such a failure. I came back to Dublin and for the first time in my life I listened to someone who wanted to share some good news with me about Jesus. Before that I never listened…I just used bad language, put on an ugly face and frightened people away. I was even proud of how I could frighten people. (It was then that I came to the end of myself. Sometimes I think God allows us to get to the point of extremity so that we might be prepared to listen to his voice.)

One day I came across a ‘fellah’ from Ballyfermot in Dublin from a similar type of background as myself. Having been brought up a devout Roman Catholic and as a teenager hoping to be a priest, this ‘fella’ was now bananas about Jesus. He didn’t seem to give a hoot about what people thought about him or what he said. I remember thinking when he was telling me about Jesus… whatever it is I hope it’s not contagious …imagine ending up like that poor idiot!”

The trouble was that what he had said somehow sort of stuck in Joe’s mind. He talked of Jesus being his best friend, Jesus in his heart and the love that he knew of God in his heart and how he could express that.

“It sort of irritated me and yet in desperation I wished it could be true. He gave me a copy of the New Testament, which I took home with me thinking, “I’ll put it at the end of my bed.” Because I lived in a devout catholic family you didn’t let anyone know that you had a Bible or read a Bible. That was only for the clergy …not the laity. So I hid it in my bedroom, as I didn’t want to cause any hassles. However, I did try to read it but all the time the voice I had heard in my mind in Amsterdam kept coming back to me… “Don’t read it…you will lose all your friends…you will go mad.”

There I was sitting in my bedroom; me, Joe Donnelly a punk rocker, reading the New Testament for the first time in my life. I just picked it up and started to read it. And ever since that time I have read some of it nearly every day of my life. Of course I knew some of the well-known Bible stories such as the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son and the bit about the loaves and fishes but they went into my head along with fictional stuff like, Wind in the Willows and Hans Christian Anderson. What was the difference?

As I was reading the New Testament about this person ‘Jesus’ it was as if an invisible magnetic force began to operate on me. My heart began to warm to this person Jesus. I felt He was amazing. I was prepared to think about becoming a fan of Jesus, not realising that He calls people to be His followers not His fans. I started to attend Christian meetings at the time. Believe it or not, I went back to the fella who was bananas about Jesus and said to him, “All this can’t be true!” My defences were up but he simply said we have been praying for you and will continue to do so.

On 8th January 1983 aged 23 at 9pm I gave my life to Jesus Being a typical bloke I had to analyse it and look at it from every angle. After making loads of excuses it was as if the Lord was saying to me, “You have to take a step of faith here. You don’t have all the answers and you don’t even have all the questions. Just take a step of faith.”

This is how I came to it. If this man Jesus is alive today, if He is the same person who healed the sick and raised the dead and He wants to come into my life as my friend and Saviour then ok by me. This Man turned the world upside down and He wants to turn my life right side up. So what else could /should I do? I was suicidal. I had found no reason to live. But Jesus said, “I have come so that you might have life in all its fullness.” That is the total opposite to being suicidal.”

Since Joe trusted Jesus Christ as His Lord and Saviour his world was totally turned round. His suicidal thoughts went. His desire to trash buildings and use bad language disappeared, as his aims are now to honour God and love His people. Joe is now married and has five children.

Joe began doing full time Christian work shortly after his conversion and over the past 10 years or so this has included renovating the old mission hall that he used to vandalise and developing it into a Christian outreach centre in the heart of the community.

This article was taken from the book, Real Lives, written by Dot Carswell.

The Anchorage Project

Ringsend Mission Hall is an old building in Dublin’s inner city docklands. This was the place that Joe Donnelly and his friends used to vandalise in their youth. In the late 1990’s Joe and his wife Sharon accepted an invitation to develop a longterm, Christian outreach project at the old mission hall, themed on ‘hope’. This ministry, which has been named, ‘The Anchorage Project’ consists of several key projects designed to serve the local community while being faithful to the gospel. Each project attempts to realise an income for various Christian projects in the developing world.

Over the years the work at the old mission hall has continued to develop. A long term door-to-door initiative was launched to personally present a gift edition of the New Testament to each home in the local community and over 4,000 New Testaments have been accepted so far. Through this work many amazing conversations took place with some people surrendering their lives to Christ and others asking for Bible studies to be started.

Project Overview

The ministry of the Anchorage Project is centred upon the challenge of presenting the timeless message of Christian Hope as expressed through the four key themes of: Beauty, Children, Community and Justice. These four themes have each been developed over the past 14 years, through both mission work at the coalface in inner city communities, and research within an applied theological MA programme.

Beauty – Volunteers help to grow flowers, and make up hanging baskets, window boxes and containers at the project to sell on to the local community. All of the proceeds of the plant sales each year go to a Christian charitable project in the developing world. Units have been constructed to house budgies, canaries and rabbits so that an inner city community can have a unique sense of God’s beauty on their own doorstep. An outdoor reflection area is being developed.

raChildren – A pre-school playgroup that caters for 30 local children operates each day at the project. The playgroup has been operating for over 12 years and employs 3 staff, 2 of whom are doing a part time BA degree programme in early childhood education. The playgroup has proven to be an incredible means of serving some of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our local community. All of the proceeds from the playgroup go to a Christian charitable project in the developing world.

For over 10 years children’s Bible clubs and camps have been a very important part of the ministry at the mission hall. Over the years the children’s work has been especially blessed and strengthened to have had volunteer helpers who count it a wonderful privilege to share the gospel with these children.

21st century Irish society is outraged by the on-going revelations of the suffering of thousands of children in Irish orphanages, borstals and reformatories over many generations. Ours is a response that remains passionately committed to providing resources and facilities where all of our children can prosper and thrive.

Community – A community café also operates at the project each day to provide a space where good food and coffee can be enjoyed in a hopeful environment. The café has 10 computers available on-line and several shelves of books and DVD’s available for customers as well as an outdoor terrace area for eating. Recently, several local events and special groups have been hosted at the café, ranging from a choir performance, Teddy Bear breakfasts and events for families in difficult circumstances. The café is staffed by volunteers and just like the garden and childcare projects, all of the proceeds from the café are used to help charitable projects in the developing world.

Justice – The ministry of the Anchorage Project is deliberately structured to serve and bless local communities while at the same time serving and blessing communities in the developing world. This means that there is a particular focus upon justice as an expression of Christian Hope and this has included taking work groups out to serve the overseas projects receiving our funding. Each year, since 2002, the proceeds of the income-generating projects have been sent to Christian charities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Ireland. Latterly, this giving has amounted to €20,000 per year.

Being faithful to the gospel while at the same time seeking to be relevant to the community that we are called by God to serve, is a goal that the Anchorage Project is always focused on. Each of the above projects; the playgroup, the café and the garden centre all operate at the old mission hall in Dublin’s inner city. The purpose is that this helps to present an integrated vision of what a Christian project can look like in a community that often feels overwhelmed by the erosion of Hope.

The team at the Anchorage Project is always very happy to welcome new volunteers to join them in this challenging and rewarding work. If you would like to find out more details about helping out at the Anchorage Project please feel free to contact us at jdonnely@indigo.ie or call in to the café; we would be delighted to meet you.

Joe graduated in 2010 with a special award for excellence with his MA thesis which has just been published in book form and was described as “an outstanding working out of Christian HOPE and its implications for Christian mission in contemporary Ireland” (Dr. P. Mitchel – Director of Studies at Irish Bible Institute).