Mourne Evangelical Trust
Alexander Austen, Newcastle, N. Ireland
Northfield Bible Week
‘Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this’, Eccl. 7. 10.
How easy it is to say such words as those above, as we listen to older believers recall the great meetings that were held in tents and in large town halls, etc., many years ago. How easy to let our hands hang down when we hear how God used men like Frank Knox to preach to thousands in Belfast in the 1930’s. Can it still be done?
It was in mid-July 1985 that Derick Bingham, during a visit to Newcastle, Co. Down, N. Ireland, to see how the open-air work on the Promenade was progressing, got into conversation with a brother from the local assembly. They recalled the former days when Jim Hutchinson and Charles McEwen had preached in the Palace Cinema on Sunday evenings to very large crowds, and how Hedley Murphy had preached to congregations of up to 500 in a marquee on the outskirts of the town. Perhaps it was the conversation about the large tent, pitched each year early in the 20th century in Wright’s demense at Ballywillwill that stirred up the local brother who owned a portion of land on Corrigs Road just outside the town boundary. The gospel had been preached on this farm some ninety years earlier by brethren Clarke and Meharg and his concern was that a tent could and should be erected again!
But there were problems. The entrance of the large field was a swamp. The Lord provided for that need through a contractor who tipped thousands of tons of stone into the swamp which was then levelled out. A heavy track digger was then used to dig out a little lake. The peat and till from this dig were mixed with sandy soil, kindly dumped by brother Mervyn Wishart while he was carrying out a contract in the town. When the bulldozers and diggers had finished the site was then sown out to grass. It now comprises space for the tent, a car park for over 500 cars and an area for caravans and camping.
So far the Lord had been so good; but where was the tent to come from? The God who is with you in six problems does not desert you in the seventh. The large marquee and seats which had been used for the Ahorey Conference were acquired at a very reasonable price. Things were now in place so it was with much prayer and fear that the first Northfield meeting was held on Sunday 19th July 1987. God had provided all things but because of the sin of unbelief we felt we needed more, i.e., tent sides to drape across and divide off a section of the large marquee. A couple of hundred people would look so few in a 1000-seater tent! All praise to God alone - those divisions were never needed, for on the opening night the tent was filled to capacity. John Spiers preached the gospel that night and for the rest of the week. Derick Bingham ministered the word each morning and Reg Fry looked after the children’s work. Northfield had begun. (‘Northfield’ is named after the great summer Bible Conference held on D. L. Moody’s farm for all who were interested in the study of God’s word, the development of their own Christian lives, and the conversion of souls.)
In 1989 a special day for the disabled was planned. It was decided that the existing toilet facilities were inadequate for this event, so a new toilet block was built, complete with showers, wash basins, etc. These have proved a great asset and facilitate those who now stay on the site in caravans and tents. Since then the meetings have continued regularly for two weeks each July and we have been blessed each year and very many souls saved over the years as various of the Lord’s servants have visited for gospel and ministry. We continue with ministry in the mornings, and gospel in the evenings preceded by a prayer meeting in a separate tent. The children’s meetings run morning and afternoon on two adjacent caravan parks and open-air meetings are held every evening at 10.00 p.m. on the very busy Newcastle Promenade. A team of young people commit themselves for one or two weeks to stay in the area and distribute tracts and invitations to locals and the thousands of holidaymakers who throng Newcastle at this time. There is a well stocked bookstall and all the sevices are taped by Joe Skelly from whom tapes are available from the past years of meetings (Tape Teaching, 200 Sicily Park, Belfast, N.I., BT10 0AQ).
The tent was expanded earlier this year to hold 1200 people and the speakers for 2005 were Peter Brandon for the gospel, Roy Hill for the ministry and Uel Findlay for the children’s meetings. The tent was often packed to its new capacity levels and on the final night many also had to listen from outside as the tent sides were let down to enable them to see and hear clearly. The weather during the two weeks in July was perfect and many local people and some from farther afield professed faith in Christ.
The committee responsible for the administration of the meetings is comprised of brethren from the Newcastle and Ballywillwill assemblies and is known as The Mourne Evangelical Trust. They are assisted by many willing helpers from all over N. Ireland. The 2006 meetings (DV) will be held for two weeks from 9th July to 23rd July inclusive and further information is available from, The Mourne Evangelical Trust, Fiddlers Green, 45 Ballyloughlin Road, Newcastle, N. Ireland, BT33 0QG. Visitors from all over the UK and farther afield now come at these times and in the Newcastle area accommodation is available in hotels, self-catering cottages and apartments, and in caravan and camp sites. The Mourne Mountains are close by and provide a wonderful holiday experience. Why not plan to join us for all or part of the time in 2006?