Lifelong learning

Rebecca McConnell

18.11.2023 | Mission in Ireland, Farming & Rural Life

In her blog, Rebecca McConnell reflects on a recent Young Farmers’ competition that she was asked to judge. The competition was for public speaking and it was also a good way to encourage and harness the creativity that younger voices can bring to the table. Rebecca quotes from Proverbs, reminding us that our speech should be gracious and how, just like the Young Farmers' competition, we should encourage lifelong learning, especially as followers of Jesus, we too should endeavour to keep learning and growing in our faith and knowledge of the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Last month, I was asked to judge the County Antrim heat of the best competition Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster has to offer - in my opinion - public speaking. Members had to speak on a topic of their choice for at least three minutes. It is a competition that promotes and makes good, confident communicators.

Using your words, you can be articulate, informative and even entertaining in such a short space of time. It all depends on how well you prepare and research your chosen topic, as well as your delivery and platform manner on the day.

High standard

I was impressed with the high standard of speeches. Many of the 12 and 13-year-olds – farming’s next generation - had not entered the competition before, but it was clear they had been trained and helped to prepare by older members and mentors. Getting alongside our young people is important, as those with more experience can share their knowledge, but I believe we also have so much to learn from them too.

As the agri-food industry faces many challenges, it is important to harness the creativity that younger voices can bring to the table - especially in an era of social media and influencer marketing to help people understand where their food comes from. During the speeches, some unusual but innovative problem-solving ideas were mentioned regarding climate change, four-day school weeks and the future of farming.

Christians, people who profess to follow Jesus, commit to lifelong learning from the Good Shepherd. We have His Word, the Bible, to read and we can talk to Him directly through prayer, thanking Him for his blessings and about the different struggles that we face.

In the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, which contains verses that offer much practical advice, is this nugget of wisdom, “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend” (Proverbs 22:11).

Gracious and pure in heart

Regardless of whether we stand on a big stage, or we are catching up with our neighbour, God desires for our speech to be gracious - this is one of the many character traits that He wants His believers to have. Being pure in heart is not something we can do in our own strength; we need to know Jesus more and more so we can align our heart to His.

Jesus lived a perfect life and died for our sins, even though he didn’t do anything wrong. He loved his neighbours and prayed for His enemies. He was caring and compassionate - that is the kind of heart He has and these are the characteristics He desires to see in the life and witness of His followers. Confessing our sins to Jesus is the first step in having a relationship with Him. From there, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we endeavour to keep learning and growing in our faith and knowledge of the Lord.

We started thinking about nurturing and supporting our young people. Jesus values them too - and age is no barrier to having Him, the King of Kings, as your friend. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14). What a marvellous promise that is open to us all, no matter what our age. Have you claimed this promise yet?

Rebecca McConnell was raised on a mixed farm in Rathfriland, County Down and is a freelance PR and social media consultant, running her own company, Purple Rain, since 2011. She is a member of First Rathfriland Presbyterian Church and is an officer in their Girls’ Brigade Company.

Her blog appeared in a fortnightly column entitled ‘Good News For the Countryside’ in today’s Farming Life, where people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life.

You can look at other blogs in this series here.

If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain at or call him on 07938 488 372.

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