Bethany (Eastvold) Barnett first went as missionary to youth
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Bethany (Eastvold) Barnett was captivated with Ireland as a teenager, often gazing at a map of the country, fascinated by the beautiful names there. As a student at the University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM), she was part of a study abroad program which took her to Limerick, in the southeast corner of Ireland.
Barnett had moved to Little Falls with her family when she was three years old, growing up along the Mississippi River. She graduated from Little Falls Community High School in 1998 and then majored in English at UMM.
She tackled thyroid cancer in 2002, with surgery and radiation. “I’ve been good ever since,” she said.
While earning a master’s degree in linguistics from North Dakota State University, her interest in Ireland started building again.
“I was always involved in campus ministry,” she said. “Through that, I could sense that I would be going back to Ireland.”
When her master’s coursework was done, she contacted Neil and Ruth Thielke of Outfitters for Adventure. Although they weren’t sending any mission teams to Ireland, they had contacts there.
“I was sponsored to go to the heart of Dublin’s city center in 2004,” Barnett said. “Then I went to County Mayo for three years, working with youth.”
Barnett used Alpha course materials teaching interdenominational groups, something that was unheard of at the time. Ethnic and political divisions still run deep in Ireland.
In 2007, Barnett knew that her time in Mayo was coming to an end, but she didn’t know where God was leading her next.
“I went on a prayer retreat,” she said. “Before I returned to Mayo, I knew I would be serving women with addiction who were in prostitution. I thought to God, ‘I’ve never smoked a cigarette — I think you have the wrong gal. How am I going to do this?’”
Barnett went to work at a new Teen Challenge women’s rehabilitation center in Newbridge, in County Kildare.
“I was totally out of my depth,” she said.
She started out teaching art classes. She moved on to covering daily shifts, which involved facilitating each day’s activities, administering medication and teaching other classes, all Bible-based.
“The material was familiar — how it was applied was different,” said Barnett. “My manager taught me how to be direct. ‘Minnesota nice’ wasn’t working. Being loving and gentle were easier, but I needed to call people out who were lying or bullying.”
Barnett met her husband, Billy, at a Teen Challenge event. They married in April of 2011, and Barnett took a break from full-time ministry to focus on their marriage. Billy is a rehab integration worker at Teen Challenge. They live near Arklow in County Wicklow.
“When we get back to Ireland, I’ll be rejoining the ministry full-time through Outfitters,” said Barnett. “My main project this year will be divided between two things: putting together a book and developing a music ministry.”
The book will include 15-20 “real stories” of Irish men and women who encountered God and were transformed. Barnett plans to spend about four to five hours a day writing.
“The other 50 percent of my time I will be working with one other person and with youth to develop a native Irish Christian sound,” she said. “There has only recently been a pilot Christian radio station.”
Barnett describes the percentage of the Irish population attending church as dwindling. People are suffering through a rough recession.
“Hope is at a premium. It’s a time of opportunity,” she said. “Let’s forget about traditional ‘religion’ and ask ‘Who was Jesus?’ and “What did he teach?’”
Barnett and her husband are in a unique situation, being part of a Church of Ireland congregation whose membership is comprised of people who are 75 percent of Catholic background and 25 percent of Protestant background.
“It’s an evangelical Christian church — very unique,” she said. “We’ve discovered that people are really excited when they hear about Jesus — what he’s really like, how loving he is and what he can do in people’s lives.”
Barnett returns to Little Falls every year if she can, back to her home base.
“I had a really wonderful education that gave me a fantastic foundation to reach whatever goals I had,” she said. “Spiritually, I felt really supported. Grace Covenant has always prayerfully and financially supported what I do in Ireland. Jerry and Sandy Palo are my home base.”
“It was exciting watching Bethany grow up in church and seeing her vibrant love for Jesus,” said Sandy Palo. “She is fulfilling that commission to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ overseas.”
Barnett’s parents, Dan and Vicki Eastvold, now live in Washintgon, D.C. Her elder brother, Luke, lives near Moose Lake and her younger sister, Marit, lives in Fargo, N.D.
Maureen Miller, a Little Falls resident who was in Ireland in 2006, ministering with the church of St. Michael in Ballina, worked with Barnett there on some youth activities.
“Bethany has a real heart for Ireland and the Irish people. I think God placed that in her and has blessed ang fitted her in ways that can reach and touch them,” Miller said. “Through prayer and the support of people here, her giftings have really grown — her ability to touch people’s lives.”
One of the many things that Barnett loves about Ireland is the love people still have for community.
“They value community spirit — thinking of others, a spirit of hospitality and a really strong emphasis on family unity,” she said. “Spiritually, they have such a sense of hunger — people are ripe for harvest. They are looking for a relationship with God, the key that unlocks their destiny.”
For more information on Teen Challenge, call (218) 833-8777.