“Microbiology to Mountbellew” – from “Sorted” chapter 6

On the jobMicrobes

My first job was in the microbiology research department at University College Galway (later NUI Galway). We were dedicated to the manipulation of all kinds of microbes. I was working on blue-green algae to see if we could prevent them clogging up the navigation of the world’s rivers and get them to maybe grow in the sea instead to provide protein food for the future (as you may have noticed, it hasn’t worked, so far!). Others in the department worked on a wide range of similar issues – one of them was trying to get the best biological work out of lightning when it hits the ground and there are particular plants around. Although each of us had an independent project to pursue we were packed in the room like sardines, sharing quite a lot of the same equipment (queuing up for it, even!) drinking our morning coffee together and eating our lunch-time sandwiches, trying not to get them mixed up with the microbes.

I was well pleased to get this job. It gave me an opportunity to work at something I liked, to be supervised by a good researcher and to live in a part of the country where I wanted to be. And seeing your first pay cheque (or salary account transfer) makes you feel like an adult in a new way. One thing I didn’t mention at interview was my faith in Christ. It wasn’t one of the questions. I didn’t mention it once the work began either. I’ll bide my time, I told myself; I want to get on with these people, build friendships, show the quality of my life and integrity in my work and then the day will come when I can ask them, “Bet you’re wondering why I’m such a nice guy?” That day never came. But one morning did arrive months later, at coffee time, when Jimmy, the life and soul of the office said, “We’ve been talking about you. You’re different. We have no idea why and we intend to find out. We have therefore decided to invite ourselves over to your flat on Tuesday for a bit of a social evening so all can be revealed!” You might think I’d be pleased but part of me was mortified. How come they couldn’t identify my different-ness as having something to do with following Jesus? One simple reason: I hadn’t told them. They had no basic information to go on. Now I was scrambling to catch up with them, trying to explain on the one hand why Christ meant so much to me and on the other hand why it had taken me so long to get around to saying so. I can happily report that they were very generous and we got it straightened out. But right there on that evening I determined that the start of my next job was going to be different. Proverbs says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare”[1] and I had been well and truly caught in one.

Try again

After teaching part-time for a while I went for an interview for that next job, which was to teach science at the Holy Rosary College in Mountbellew, County Galway. This time I found a way to get my faith into the interview and indeed I couldn’t even offer to start on the day they wanted because I had an outstanding arrangement to help with a training conference in faith-sharing. I got the job and was introduced to that great vortex of the education system – the staff room. There I met 13 other staff and, remembering the microbe research staff horror, I took the occasions, as they presented themselves, to let my new friends know that I followed Christ, over the subsequent weeks. It was done in a low-key way, but if they saw any integrity in my work and quality in my life during my time in that school they now knew what to connect it to. Getting it clear at the beginning meant we could all relax. Opportunities for individual chats began to arise, sometimes initiated by them, sometimes by me, until each one had the chance to put together the pieces of the gospel story (we’re talking about many months here). At the head teacher’s encouragement I went on to talk with students about personal faith in Christ. The response of the teachers, students and the head teacher varied widely but they all got to understand the basics of coming to know God in a personal way. In the end it proved to be some of the students who chose to keep faith with Christ when they went on to UCG where their faith was tested and proved true. I always knew when a former Mountbellew student greeted me in Galway – they were the only people who called me “Mr. Wilson”!

[1] Proverbs 29:25

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