My experience of Christianity has been like a long staircase where each step has brought me closer and deeper into God. I kept redefining myself as a Christian every time I found out more and had spiritual experiences. It’s not like I believed again, there was just more to accept.
The first time I took personal responsibility over what I believed was at about age 9, in our church’s children’s work, when the leader asked us to pray a prayer in our heads if we wanted to ask Jesus to live in our hearts. On another occasion, when I was about 12, I was volunteering on our city-wide youth mission (Hope MK). It was the first time I had heard a speaker from outside of church, and what he said made me realise how accessible God could be. From then on I started interacting with God more. I continued to volunteer there year on year. One year I saw a video that showed me the relevance of themes in the Bible to contemporary life and it flipped my perspective on the world. Unconditional love, mercy and forgiveness are fundamental to life, and the lack of them is the result of evil. This truth has been the big thing that I have never been able to let go of even when I have been challenged or have had doubts.
The next step in my journey was the discovery of great Christian friendships in my youth group. Don’t get me wrong, I have amazing and fulfilling relationships with my non Christian friends, but having a shared faith is a bond of intimacy that you can’t find anywhere else. The first day I joined the youth group, I was welcomed very enthusiastically. Within a matter of weeks, I felt like I could talk to my youth leaders or new friends about anything that was going on in my life. When hard times hit they were always supportive. This led to my first year at Soul Survivor, aged 14, where I experienced raw worship amongst the largest group of people I’d ever been part of, let alone a group who all believed the same as me. The talks never failed to be relevant and life changing. This was the first time I’d experienced ‘ministry’. Every year that I’ve attended Soul Survivor, God has spoken to me increasingly in new and different ways, setting my life in the direction he wants me to go. More recently, I’ve been learning to listen, trust and be expectant, and I have a strong longing for others to come to know God’s peace.
I’ve always been keen to get involved with as many youth mission and volunteering opportunities as I can. I’ve participated in week long events such as Hope MK for 5 years, volunteering in projects across Milton Keynes, from painting churches to street evangelism. I helped out with our church’s free event for the community (Church on the Green), running the inflatables activity. When the church hosted some Romanian youth as part of an exchange, I was involved with them in a project to clear garden waste from the churchyard. I have been a regular young leader at our Saturday morning outreach and summer holiday clubs for primary school aged children (Dream Factory), where on one occasion I planned and led the morning’s activities, which included a magic show to convey a message about the wonder of God’s creation.
Outside of St Mary’s, I’ve been a part of many casual debates with my peers about the coexistence of God and science and also the reliability of the Bible, which I feel God has equipped me to speak about and be convincing. In fact, I’m learning new facts all the time and I have to say, after considering all the evidence currently available to us, it’s much harder to reject Jesus than accept him into our lives. The problem is, it’s not LOUD enough. Especially as we’re in the age of social media where people’s attention spans are shorter than the life of a mayfly. Throughout my life, I have also found that people open up to me easily without having to know me very well at all. This has enabled me to show them God’s love through compassion, empathy and listening. In my friendship group last year, my nickname was ‘Padre’ because I was considered the group counsellor and the moral compass. Now, my nickname is ‘Reindeer’ because apparently I look like this cartoon. Not my finest year…
My best (unchurched) friend, who has witnessed my growth in faith over 16 years, recently accepted Jesus into his life and has begun to attend church with my family. I have never seen him happier and he is sharing the good news with others.
Over the many years that I’ve attended the Soul Survivor festivals, I have seen and enquired about the Soul61 gap year programme. To begin with, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was for me. However, as I have grown in my faith, I have developed a deep desire to serve and learn more about God. I was considering either volunteering for Tearfund in a less developed country or developing my leadership skills and learning more about my faith on Soul61. Based on a word I was given at this year’s Soul Survivor (more about this below), Soul61 seemed to be the right direction (I suspect I will do something with Tearfund at some point in my life though as I’ve seen and love what they’re getting up to). Since applying to the programme, I have found out that a previous member of my church did Soul61 five years ago. I had a chat with him a few months ago and it enthused me about doing it even more.
Our youth group was taken to Soul Survivor 2018 by the church curate. Whilst I was there, he was given a word for me: “I am getting a strong sense that you are being called to leadership, but more than that – a leader of leaders – one who is going to build up others.” Upon hearing this, it resonated with me, but I immediately thought to myself how unprepared and inadequate I was to be that kind of person. I’ve chosen to do Soul61 because I will be around other people in the same position as me. I’ll get to learn more and go deeper into what I believe and I’ll get the chance to develop valuable leadership skills and do voluntary work. Having been to Soul Survivor I know that I like and admire the teaching and I have been inspired by Mike and Andy’s books (the Soul Survivor Church Pastors). I’m excited to find out what God has in store for me and I feel very supported by everyone I talk to, to do the programme.
I plan to post on this blog fortnightly with updates about what I’m doing and what I feel God is saying to me, however I may slow down for a while as I approach my exams. I may also post when an event happens and I am excited to share it – God’s timing often isn’t ours! I’ll try not to make them all this long!!
So! You’re all updated! My life to-date in a nutshell… I hope you enjoyed! God bless! P