The South American Mission Society Ireland (SAMS Ireland) 'Friday Night Live' event which took place on February 5 was so well attended that crowds were turned away.
Visitors from as far afield as Dublin were left outside when the Craigavon Civic Centre reached its maximum 500 seating capacity. The Church of Ireland mission society specialising in the areas of Latin America, Spain and Portugal has seen interest grow in recent years.
The audience included many young people, clergy and lay people, in addition to five serving bishops. Denis Johnston, the SAMS Ireland General Secretary, stated: "It's wonderful to see so many people taking an interest in the work in South America and the impact the vibrant church there is having on the Church in Ireland. We will have to evaluate the situation for next year.”
Bishop Ken Clarke, who hosted the evening, said: "Every year I wonder how Friday Night Live could get any better, but it does." He steered the evening through presentations of highlights of mission work from Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile. The evening featured mountaineers raising money by climbing the highest peak in South America and interviews with South American volunteers working in Ireland.
The audience were in roars of laughter at 12 young builders from Annaghmore Parish who, along with their Rector the Rev Dorothy McVeigh and SAMS representative Geoff Hamilton, spent part of the summer building churches in Argentina and Bolivia. They made quite an impression with wise cracks, stories and touching testimony.
Dorothy, the keynote speaker, encouraged everyone to learn from the Good Samaritan and to 'Get out there' and reach out to those in need.
Claire Holmes, a SAMS Ireland mission partner, has just returned after 13 years in Paraguay. She shared emotionally of the children's and youth work she had built up in the remote town of Concepcion and asked everyone to pray for the team of volunteers she had trained to carry on the work.
Esteban Alvarez from Chile, one of the Fusion volunteers, told everyone about his two years working in St Saviour's Parish in Craigavon. He shared that his experience in Northern Ireland has helped him decide to train for the ministry in the Anglican church when he returns to Chile.
Visiting the conference for the first time was Bishop Henry Scriven. He first served with SAMS GB in South America in the 1970s and now is Mission Director for South America in CMS (formerly SAMS GB). When asked about the evening he said: "I am incredibly impressed that you can get so many people to support SAMS Ireland."
Summarising the event, Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Rev Harold Miller, said: "My wife and I would not miss Friday Night Live. It's a significant missionary event. The reason for this is, you always get information on what's going on, it's great craic, and there is a sense of the power of God."