What is STORY?
What’s your Story? What would you like your Story to be?
Stories are one of the most valuable things about us. They are what make us human. Faith, no faith, or unsure; everyone has one.
STORY 2019 invites you to come and ask questions of life, faith and to hear the story of Jesus which has transformed the lives of hundreds of Durham students.
You are invited.
Meet Ben, Postgraduate, Theology, Hild Bede
It’s hard to remember a time in my life when ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ weren’t present in some way. My parents are both Christian, and created a happy home. It’s hard to see my childhood as anything else than a time of comfort and stability.
My journey to faith was hardly a dramatic one. No blinding lights, deafening noise, or existential crisis. Just a quiet, unexplainable sense that the Christian faith offered me something real, life changing, and something that, despite my shortcomings, made a positive difference to how I lived my life.
In my teenage years, and my time at university, this childhood faith was stretched, challenged and developed. The constant questions that I was asking (‘Is God real?’ ‘Is Jesus who he says he is?’ ‘What difference should this make to my life?’) led me on a journey of questioning, study and exploration that is still going on to this day. Becoming a Christian didn’t require me to shut off my brain. Instead it invited me to engage intellectually in new and deeper ways. My hunger to know whether Christianity is really true, whether Jesus really is everything that he says he is, led me to study theology. To this day my life and study is consumed with thinking about these questions. Again and again, despite my doubts and questions, the truth that Jesus existed, died, rose again from the dead, and changed the world forever is something that stands up as true.
It seems to me that every human being, whether they think of themselves as ‘religious’ or not, experiences a deep hunger to live a life filled with joy, adventure, wonder, community, purpose and belonging. We long for a guiding vision that not only intensifies the wonders and joys of life, but also sustains an strengthens us through the inevitable struggles and tragedies we encounter. Our hope is to live a life that matters, that makes a difference, that leaves a trace of goodness on the world around us. But most importantly we want something that’s real, that’s true, that we can trust; something that we can hold onto that isn’t mere fantasy or wish fulfilment.
This is what I continually find again and again in Jesus. In Jesus, I see the reality of a love unlike any other. In him I taste the beauty of a love that that would willingly die for us in order to remove everything that might separate us from receiving that love. In him I experience a God who dares become a human just like us, to share our struggles and bring us the greatest imaginable joy. In Jesus I see God creating a new world where justice, peace and mercy are the norm, and where love and goodness triumph over evil.
In Jesus, I encounter a God who came into the world, not to restrict us with rules, but to liberate us through his love; I see a God who comes not to bring boredom, but to lavish us with life. But Jesus doesn’t just provide us with the balm of the wounds of our struggles, nor just the comfort of a pleasing wish-fulfilment. He challenges us to be something better: to live in the way of love that he did, to stand against evil and injustice in the world, to care about the world that he made.
In Jesus I find something true, I find something real. I find someone that constantly calls me to be more than I am. My hope is that you might find that too.
Meet Sam, 1st Year, Engineering, Collingwood
I grew up in a family that knew and loved Jesus. I knew from an early age that there was a God, but never thought to take Him seriously. He was more of a safety net than a friend- someone to turn to when times got tough.
I spent a large part of my teenage years exploring what the world could offer me. I put myself in the driving seat, and conveniently sat Jesus in the passenger seat. I looked for my identity in what others thought of me, in relationships with girls, partying and drinking, yet every time I would come away feeling empty and dissatisfied.
From the age of 13 to 17 I found myself addicted to pornography- I knew it was an addiction because I simply couldn’t stop myself. I would forget all about God in the heat of the moment, craving instant satisfaction. It affected my view of women and the way I treated those who were close to me. I felt guilty and ashamed- acting like a ‘Christian’ on a Sunday whilst leading a completely different life the rest of the week.
I couldn’t ignore God though. I would see Him do incredible things in other people’s lives and deep down longed to see the same thing happen in my own life, yet at the same time I was unwilling to let go of everything else. I distinctly remember a moment where I said to myself ‘either this means everything to me, or it means nothing’. The gospel of Jesus doesn’t allow for us to be on the fence. Either he was the Son of God, or he was a liar who has deceived billions. I decided to stop running away. All this time I’d felt like I wasn’t good enough for God, wondering how he could ever forgive someone like me. Yet I was faced with the reality of a God who loved me- so much so that he came to Earth and died on a cross for me. A God who doesn’t want my religion, but simply wants my heart.
Overcoming my addiction to pornography was never something I could have done on my own. I needed a saviour, and I found him in Jesus. He took the years of guilt and shame and replaced them with freedom. In Him I have a hope and a future far greater than anything I could have ever planned for myself. I often feel like it all seems too good to be true, that there must be some sort of catch. But that’s the beauty of grace: we don’t deserve it, it’s simply a gift from the God who made us.
I’m not going to stand here and say that my life is perfect now, because it’s not. I’m far from perfect, and still struggle with many of the things I faced in the past. Yet the difference now is that I face them with a God who is so much bigger than my problems, a God who will fight my battles for me. My life is a testimony to the hope that Jesus brings to a broken and hurting world.
Starting university this year has been difficult at times, particularly with the attitude of perfectionism I had carried through from college, yet I find hope and assurance in the fact that my identity is not in anything I can achieve academically, but in Christ alone. I live in the reality of the risen Jesus, who called me out of my old way of life and into a life of freedom. It has cost me everything, and yet he is so worth it.
Meet Rose, 3rd Year, Anthropology and Archaeology, John’s
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Until I was 15 my only experience with Christianity was singing ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ in primary school assemblies or attending the occasional church service with my Girl Guide group. I had no idea who Jesus really was and why he could have any impact on my life.
As the fourth of five children, I think I idolised my siblings. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to do all the exciting things that they seemed to be doing. But as I got older and went to secondary school, I struggled with finding out that life didn’t live up to those expectations. I also struggled socially at school, feeling like no one wanted me and I didn’t belong in any friendship group.
Though there were some things I enjoyed about life, I couldn’t see the ultimate point to most of the things I did. There was an emptiness inside me that I tried to use my hobbies to distract myself from, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there wasn’t anything meaningful to live for. I started to dream about a future in which I was fulfilled, loved and fully belonged.
For reasons that I can’t entirely remember, when I was 15, I decided to read the New Testament over a summer holiday. I read a page of it each day, and I remember not understanding a lot of what I read. In the front page of the book there was a prayer that you could pray to ask God to help you to understand what you were reading. The book challenged you to pray even if you weren’t sure that God existed. I got into the habit of praying this prayer before I read a section each day. Then, somehow, I went from spending one Christmas’ carol concert thinking ‘I don’t believe in any of what I’m singing’, to recognising the following Christmas that God exists and that Jesus’ birth was not fiction, but a historical event.
Then I made the choice to become a Christian. I didn’t know any other Christians, and I didn’t tell anyone that I had decided to trust Jesus: I didn’t know how to explain it. Over the next few years I privately wrestled with what it meant to follow Jesus. There was so much that I didn’t understand, and I felt that I’d messed up too much for God to help me. My experience didn’t seem to be the same as the Christians I read about in the Bible, or modern-day Christians I heard about online. Christianity didn’t seem to be working for me in the way it was ‘supposed’ to work. Yet something that Jesus’ disciples say in the Bible stuck with me. When Jesus asks them if they will turn away from Him, they answer “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. I recognised that nothing else in the whole world could offer me what Jesus offers, even though I didn’t quite understand what that was, or how to receive it yet.
When I arrived in Durham, I still had this worry that I wasn’t good enough for God, and that I wasn’t a real Christian. I met some Christians on my corridor and they took me along to church with them the first Sunday morning. It was the first time I’d been to a church service as a Christian, and I cried through all the songs, overwhelmed by the feeling that everyone around me had this joy that I didn’t have. I was blessed to have Christians around me who encouraged me to keep going to church and ask questions, and gradually over my first term I learnt that following Jesus is not about me being good enough for God. It’s about Jesus knowing exactly who I am and loving me enough to go to the cross, to take the punishment for all my mess and mistakes so that I can belong to Him.
Now, I live each day knowing my Creator, and knowing His plan for this world. I still struggle with feeling anxious sometimes, and I still have a lot of questions, but I know I don’t have to worry about trying to fit in or belong because I am God’s loved child. This is the joy of knowing Jesus.
Meet Caso, 3rd Year, Economics, John’s
Growing up in a family without any religious background, I basically knew nothing about Christianity. To me, Christianity seemed to be more like an organization, or more specifically a charity. People around me didn't know about Christianity, and it didn't seem to have any effect on their lives. I enjoyed my life and tried to experience many fantastic things, but there was no connection between my life and Christianity, and I didn’t see how it could change my life.
Things have changed since I’ve been at Uni. At first I had a really hard time getting used to my new life at university, and I ended up spending a lot of time alone. Feeling this loneliness really made me start to think about and question the real meaning of life. What is the ultimate goal of life? Is it to be happy, rich or to complete a series of small goals? I felt like my life was incomplete, that there was something missing.
Once I asked one of my Christian friends if she ever felt lonely, and she said that she doesn’t, because she always talks to Jesus. I was amazed at her answer and decided to go to church with her to explore how and why she could connect to Jesus, a guy she has never seen. I was infected immediately by the atmosphere of the church, the people there were very friendly and they were happy and patient to answer my questions. I knew that Christians went to church, and prayed and had this relationship with Jesus, but I still didn’t have any sense that Jesus was a real person that I could talk to.
However, as I heard more things about Jesus through reading the bible, I found that my thinking about Jesus was wrong. I saw that since Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge, sin entered the world and humans began to have reject God. I saw how Jesus’ story changed the ordinary human greatly, and I recognized God’s holiness, mercy and power; I saw how Jesus came to the earth to die for my sins and I finally realized that I’d found that the meaning of life and the thing I felt was missing in my life could be found in the same thing, in having a relationship with God. I realized that I have no excuse not to turn to God, and so decided to live with God in my life. Honestly, I cannot pinpoint a moment where I know I became a Christian, but it was more like a process, as I read more of God’s word and knew more about God, I was closer to the point where I decided to turn to God and follow him with my whole life.
While now I’m writing my story of becoming a Christian, it is actually God who has already written my life story. Following God is not an easy path as many friends don’t understand me and I may lose some other things. However, the peace I feel, the faith I have, and the relationship between me and God is more than anything else. And if one of my friends ask me whether I feel lonely sometime or if I find life meaningful, I can answer them without hesitation. All of this is because of God, and his Son who came to die for us.
Meet Ashaleigh, 2nd Year, Anthropology, Hatfield
I grew up with three brothers in a family obsessed with debate, where proving you were right was everything. This search for truth dominated so much of family life and by the time I was eleven much of our conversation revolved around theology, who God really is and what the Bible really said. Everyone had opinions; from scripture, books, and often deeply rooted in their experience of the world around them. It seemed like everyone had a story, some intangible thing I couldn’t grasp that let them trust that this Jesus guy was for real.
My older brothers were full of eloquent explanations, were on track to achieve top results, had great social lives and seemed to feel genuinely loved by God, and my little brother was a baby that everyone seemed to adore. He was the fulfillment of a promise of 3 boys my parents had when they were first married. As I travelled through my teenage years, I felt more and more unseen, friendships went wrong, I couldn’t compare to my brothers and my parents seemed to never have time for me. I wasn’t the golden child, I didn’t ever have points to contribute to the debates and I didn’t have stories to show I was loved, I just had mess after mess that I was ashamed of and didn’t want others to see. I had this view that this God, if he was real, just loved some people and then others that were mistakes and disappointments just had to plod along which didn’t matter because they weren’t really seen anyway. I didn’t have any idea that every day I felt alone God saw me and was walking right alongside me, I just didn’t have eyes to see it yet.
By the time I was thirteen, I was alone, afraid, completely unseen, and certain that I was so deeply broken that there was nothing I could do to make anything better. I was so angry that I just couldn’t stop being the mistake I was and I needed to pay something of the price for all the things I kept doing wrong. I couldn’t take my hurt and frustration out on others because that required admitting quite how awful I was, it just seemed to make logical sense to hurt me instead. Over time, self-harm became the perfect relief, I could hurt myself and then let go of mistakes I made like I'd paid the sentence for the crime I’d committed. Without realising it, I became trapped in a prison of my own making and I couldn’t escape, if I’m being honest, I believed I deserved it; freedom, joy and hope didn’t feel like things I was worthy of having. Nobody seemed to see my pain and I eventually couldn’t see why continuing to plod along alone and unwanted was worth my getting up each morning.
Summer 2012, everything changed. In the midst of not talking to my parents and completely entrenched in desperation, Jesus found me. I was at a camp and somebody spoke about this guy Joseph. He’s pretty great, he’s got a colourful coat, and you might have heard of him? His story is really cool; it included being stuck in a prison unseen and unknown for 13 years before he was given major influence in Egypt. God said He was faithful and He was faithful to his promises to Joseph. 13 years was nothing compared to the story this God was weaving throughout all of history. That night in a few simple sentences, I discovered I was beloved and seen and have never walked alone. Nothing in my life seemed to change immediately, it took 18 months of hard fighting, gracious breakthroughs and painful conversations for my relationships with my family to be redeemed, for self-harm and hiding to stop being the default response to pain and sadness but He, with mercy, freed me from my prison walls. The deep of my heart knew I was unfalteringly known.
Jesus saw me without masks and facades, and when He came into my heart suddenly I was able to see Him too, present in every moment of my life, looking at me dead in the eyes when I felt most alone declaring ‘Ashaleigh, I see you, I know you, I will always love you’. He is kind, astounding, sufficient, and He traded my sorrow for a joy that nothing that’s happened in the last 6 years has been able to shake. Not failed exams, not illnesses, not bereavement, or anything else. He is a safe place and has given me freedom and satisfaction that nothing can compare to.
Meet Ben, 3rd Year, Theology, John’s
For many of us in Durham, life has been characterised by a lot of privilege. Life exteriorly seems quite easy and comfortable, and it is to an extent. But under the surface can be found much inner pain and struggle, which largely goes unnoticed by the world. This is certainly true for me. I grew up in a very loving family and have every reason to be very grateful! And I am, but oftentimes I have found that what other people see on the outside isn’t always what matched the reality on the inside.
Like any normal person, I remember from an early age feeling a great pressure to ‘fit in’. School was a lot of fun but much of it was marked by desperate attempts to be popular, cool, funny and an all-round legend. I’m an identical twin, which compounded these issues as a teenager. I often felt like I was compared unfavourably to him which was pretty crushing at times, despite him being my closest friend. When I was about 13, I remember someone saying that my best friend preferred my twin brother to me. This wrecked me at the time! So, I resigned myself to ‘trying harder…then people will love me.’ Although to an extent this brought me out of my shell, it was ultimately a flawed logic because a life of continual striving never gets what it wants. I realised Jesus has a lot to say about that stuff, but that came later.
Despite all of that inner junk, my faith in Jesus was growing. I went on a humanitarian trip to Uganda in my AS year of sixth form. Among many things, an experience I had propelled me into a deeper understanding of God and what he was like. Whilst at a hospital, my friend and I prayed for a lady who was crippled. She was carried onto a grassy area because she couldn’t use her legs at all to walk. My friend and I prayed for her twice, and immediately strength returned to her legs. She stood up, shook her legs about and began to run around crying. I’d never seen such an extraordinary miracle and I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. This totally demolished my primitive expectations of what God can do in people’s lives. No power we possessed healed her, but I came to a revelation that God is wanting to renew and make right the brokenness and mess in our lives. What God did physically for her, he wants to do with our whole lives. Every part of it.
Arriving at Durham as a fresher, I couldn’t predict what was about to happen. Despite meeting loads of great people and having the opportunity to do all sorts of fun stuff, my first year was a very difficult chapter of life. It was the first time in life when I felt completely out of control emotionally. I felt very anxious and a lot of my inner pain as a teenager had come back to bite me. Although I had a confident exterior, I was forever second guessing what I did and said. I felt like I couldn’t share the realities of my life with people because I was embarrassed and confused by it. I presumed, like many of us do, that when the worst of ourselves is exposed, we would get rejected. But God has taken me on a journey of vulnerability. I’ve come to realise that freedom comes when we are fully known and that to be fully loved means for your friends to see the very best and worst of you, and to affirm you all the same. There’s a verse in the Bible which gave me a lot of encouragement in this time, from Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I was discovering that Jesus’ love silences shame and self-worthlessness. The reality is that Jesus came to take your shame, your mess, your brokenness, and exchange it for his love, his forgiveness and his boundless mercy.
It would be a lie to say that life is perfect. But in Jesus, I’ve come to know a fullness of life, a purpose, a great rest to my striving, a renewed identity and a loving community! And what has become true for me is completely available for you.
Meet Natasha, 3rd Year, Geography, John’s
What was Christianity to me while growing up? A helping hand whenever I needed one. I grew up in a Christian family, hence Sunday morning church, praying before exams and even for every little thing like good weather so we could go to the zoo, was very much a part of my life then. At some point, I started to wonder if I’d done all that out of child-like faith or was it more of a routine, ingrained in me by my parents. It was not until coming to University that I was able to grasp whether I was a Christian – if I truly believed in it or if it was just part of my upbringing.
When I was seventeen, my family relocated from Singapore to Hong Kong, hence coming to Durham to study was not unfamiliar; I had experienced leaving behind what I was familiar with. Leaving behind friends; the amazing local cuisine, and the place I called home was hard but I saw it as an opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and meet people from different backgrounds. Choosing to come to the UK for university was therefore an experience I was really excited about, although the difference this time was that I wouldn’t have my family to rely on, or in the case of my faith, someone to wake me up for church every Sunday.
What started off as wanting something constant in my life, something that reminded me of all my homes, led to a commitment to myself that I would attend church every Sunday morning no matter what. Sticking to this commitment became increasingly difficult in second and third year where I struggled to manage my time between church, socials, dance and studies. The pressure of job applications alongside the desire to do well academically has, more often than I would like, led to me feeling burnt out. As someone who can usually separate work and play time, this feeling of guilt for not studying, even when I was dancing, was new to me. It was only when I heard a sermon on how anxiety is a sign of not trusting God that I realized my worries about worldly things meant my priorities shifted away from God, to being caught up amidst expectations from society. I was reminded to live in His strength and abundant grace, and to let the spirit work through me, instead of striving. In the Bible, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. If you know me, you’ll probably know that I really am not a morning person, so waking up every single Sunday and making it to church was surprising. Yet this seemingly simple act of commitment has been the best decision I’ve ever made, as it led to the start of my own spiritual journey with God and I am more aware of the role He plays in my every day.
Heading into the Christmas season, I began to miss home more, and the realization eventually dawned on me that this would be the first time I would spend Christmas without my family. Regardless, I was excited for my Christmas travel plans– I would be traveling to Andorra and Lisbon with friends, before heading back to Durham to work on my dissertation. Little did I know what was ahead of me. On the second day of skiing in Andorra, I had my very first fall and ended up in a full cast from the waist down on my right leg. The doctor advised that I get an MRI scan as soon as possible, and thus I flew back to HK. The MRI report came back with results indicating that I had ruptured my ACL and torn my MCL. That was when it finally sunk in that I wouldn’t be able to dance and, even worse, not be able to attend my Nepal field trip.
Why me? Why now? This is possibly the worst time to injure myself— it’s my last year in Durham, and now I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it to the fullest, both in terms of my activities and my degree course. Trying to change my mentality was difficult, but being back with my family and friends, and the reminder that God is in control, made it all much easier. Looking back now, I can now clearly see the instances where God was in control and by my side— (i) I was able to contact my friend who was coincidentally using the free wifi at the café (instead of skiing) at the exact time of the accident; (ii) for blessing me with such wonderful friends who cared for me in Andorra; (iii) I could walk without crutches just before my flight from HK back to the UK; (iv) what I thought would have been a dreadful third year without dance has turned out to be a great one so far with much more time spent hanging out with friends; and (v) I ended up being able to spend Christmas with my family after all – maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to spend it without them yet!
So where is home for me? Cliché as it might sound, home is wherever your heart is. For me, while Singapore, Hong Kong, and Durham will always be places I call home, my forever home, and the constant in my life that never changes wherever I go next, where my heart will always be, is in Jesus.
To sum it up, I’ve realized that even when my faith was failing, God has always been there for me. From adapting to new environments, to the stress of exams, and to unexpected incidents, I’m fortunate to always have Him to turn to for comfort and wisdom. As a final year student moving onto the next phase of my life, with the uncertainty of not knowing what career path to take nor the country I will work in, remembering God’s everlasting grace He has blessed me with thus far, is a constant reminder for me to trust Him, and let Him take the reins, as He always delivers—just as He has always done throughout my life. So, I’ll just do my best and let God do the rest.
Meet Georgie, 3rd Year, Geography and Anthropology, Hild Bede
I’m one of those Christians who usually throws a spanner in the works for people who assume that faith is something you are brought up with. Religion is often thought to be a generational or sentimental aspect of life which is fed to children who attend Sunday School when they are young. Christianity is perceived to only be relevant or important to those who have certain Christian influences in their life, whether that be from their family, their schooling, or perhaps their nationality. This belief often gives individuals who have never encountered Christianity the excuse to assume that it has no place in their life and thus is not worth investigating.
Well, despite the fact that I grew up assuming this same narrative, my perception has somewhat changed. I grew up in a non-Christian home, where going to Church wasn’t even an activity on Christmas day. God was a large bearded man who lived in the clouds and the Bible was merely his rule book, if it even was the word of God. For me, he seemed quite a limiting person, who I didn’t really want to have in my life if he was going to stop me from having fun. It was at secondary school where I learnt a bit more about this Jesus person after agreeing to go on what was branded as a Christian Holiday Camp. For me, the attraction of spending 10 days on the beach in Norfolk with lots of friends was far more exciting than the prospect of listening to short talks every evening. I came away from those 10 days thinking differently however; I was introduced to this person called ‘Jesus’ and heard about his compassion, his forgiveness and his permanence. This all sounded great to me, but why did I need it when life was already pretty good? I did relatively well in School, loved my friends and family and generally didn’t have many complaints. Why did the people around me then, who looked as though they had the same, make such a fuss about this Jesus person when they didn’t really need him? I didn't feel as though there was something missing for me, but their sheer love of life and their true dedication to their God hinted that there might be something more. Whatever this was, I wanted a slice of it. It was this curiosity which prompted me to return to this camp for another 4 years, learning more about this Jesus bloke and why everyone was making such a fuss about him.
Although I was very knowledgeable about Christianity, it wasn’t until I arrived at University that I really accepted him in my life. Things had become a bit harder in the Summer after I left school; my parents had decided to get divorced and on top of that I had failed to get the grades I needed to get into University. I felt pretty lost, having gone through a time of suffering to the extent of which I had never previously experienced. My friend encouraged me to go to Church when I arrived at Durham, and I agreed, knowing it would be another place where I could find friends and feel a sense of familiarity. I met a group of people there who loved life, were utterly compassionate and were great fun to be around. Their joy was so contagious and I knew that it was because they all had Jesus in their life. I tried to disprove the case for Jesus in my head because I was so worried about its implications for my life. After attending events like Story and other Christian meetings however, I soon realised that it wasn't possible to ignore this truth.
Despite my doubts, I have never looked back after fully accepting Jesus in my life. That's not to say that God can make all our suffering disappear, but he makes it so much easier to cope with. I began to realise that he died on the cross so that I could live a life free from sin, guilt and fear and it is this sacrifice which has taught me of his total and personal love. I live my life with a loving Father, who brings me the deepest peace and the greatest joy. I began to see who I originally thought was a limiting God, as a freeing God, who rids me of burdens of stress, anxiety and unhappiness. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect in the slightest, but my faith brings me a delight for life, knowing that I am fully known and fully loved.
Meet Andrew, 2nd Year, Law, Van Mildert.
Growing up my parents would make sure that my brother and I went to church with them every Sunday. I didn’t give much thought to it, but growing up I believed that there was a God.
Entering into my teenage years my stance on God began to shift slightly. I began to give more intellectual thought to the idea of there being a God, though I rarely delved into much thought regarding the idea. I never really doubted that God existed, however I was mostly apathetic towards this idea. I saw it as less important than a lot of other things in my life.
Somewhere in my mid-teens I began to adopt the mindset of ‘I’ll have my fun now and come back to God later in life’. In other words, I’d do the things that I want to do and live the way that I want to live, and I’d come back to God when I was older. I was really fortunate to go to the school that I went to, where I was able to form a lot of great friendships. However, like most teenagers, I began to have many more questions about who I was, about the type of person people saw me as and the kind of person I wanted to be. I soon found myself looking for the answers in the wrong places: in my achievements, in how popular I was, in my status at school.
Around the same time I began to face some new challenges. At home my family situation was becoming increasingly tenuous, and I felt a lot of anger during these years. I began to develop an unhealthy relationship with porn, and this led to me feeling a lot of shame and self-resentment. Furthermore, a lot of the things that I relied upon for my identity, my achievements, my relationships with other people, began to seem less and less fulfilling. I began to feel more and more like every day was a struggle, like every day I had to validate who I was, like I had to prove my worth. Rather than finding satisfaction, I began getting progressively more and more worked up, to the point where I began to struggle with anxiety quite considerably.
My journey back to God didn’t come as a sudden epiphany. I can’t remember a specific moment where everything just suddenly clicked for me and my faith came rushing back. However, I do remember noticing how a lot of the Christians my age in my home church acted. They didn’t necessarily have everything all worked out but they seemed to have a real sense of community, like they cared for each other and they seemed really happy with being with each other in church together. I remember thinking to myself that I wanted to experience that feeling of belonging, of being accepted for whoever it is I was.
I began going to the occasional bible study that was held at my school. It just so happened that a lot of my closest friends were Christians, so I began going to church with them. As I heard more and more about God I felt more and more drawn to what I was hearing. In the midst of my anxiety, in the midst of my fruitless attempts to achieve satisfaction by my own efforts, here was a God who loved me for all of me and wanted me to know the peace that he offers.
Since then, my life has been radically transformed by so many little things. Because of his grace and mercy, I’ve come to know a God who offers more than peace, he offers forgiveness for all the things I’m most ashamed of, he understands my deepest anxieties and he gives me strength in the face of adversity. Most of all, he created me and he loves me for me. I know a God who is so rich in love that he paid the price for my ‘sin’ - for all the times that I’ve chosen me over him. Since coming up to Durham, God has continued to grow me more and more through my church and the friendships he’s given me. Knowing that there’s a God who has such a relentless love for me has given me strength and peace through several stressful moments in my life.
Meet Katie, 2nd Year, Theology, Hatfield.
My story always seemed to be a simple one ... until about 6 months ago anyway! I was very lucky that I had a very happy childhood, growing up surrounded by a family that meant more than anything to me and a group of really close friends. I went from primary school to secondary school absolutely loving life, getting involved in everything I possibly could and always having a very optimistic, the sun is always shining, outlook on life. I grew up going to a Catholic primary and secondary school and attending mass every Sunday. However, at the age of 14 I had the classic teenage identity crisis; I wasn’t sure if I believed in God or anything supernatural. I was always a child who wanted to believe in magic, in a greater plan, an explanation for life and love and suffering … but I just didn’t know if there was an explanation. This left me confused and lost. I am a person who likes to look at things in black and white, right and wrong, being certain about absolutely everything, so I hated being in this void where I quite honestly didn’t know.
At this point I had so many questions about Christianity about God, about life and death, and I absolutely loved that one of my best friends at school seemed to have all the answers. To answer my questions, she used evidence from the Bible. Although the Bible was a book I had always been familiar with, I’d never thought of it as much more than a collection of stories. Now there was someone in front of me talking about them like they were a certain truth. Although I was baffled and slightly overwhelmed I decided to go to her youth group at Church. Everyone there was so friendly and I started to really enjoy going because I loved spending time with these new friends.
Very quickly, my questions were answered in Jesus. He had spent his life with the marginalized in society, teaching everyone to live a life of love; and then his death, which was unbearably painful and completely undeserved was all for the sins of humanity … What? It amazed me that God has made each and every one of us uniquely, how he is completely perfect and bigger than anything we can comprehend. Yet the fact that he has made each person individually made me think of my Mum and Dad, how as parents they are protectors and how they would do anything to save me. This is when it all suddenly made sense to me. God is our loving Father and he is completely perfect so of course he made the ultimate sacrifice of his son for the salvation of each and every one of us because God is the ultimate definition of love. It was then that I became a Christian. My life did change that day, as I was suddenly not living for myself anymore, but for Christ. However, I still remained confused about the details of this new faith that I now had. I was excited to come to Durham and to have the chance to really work out exactly what I believed, exactly who I was, and exactly who I wanted to become.
First year was amazing. I met my best friends, and I quickly got stuck into college life, getting a job on the bar, and signing up to swim for uni. I settled into a Church where I met some of the most inspiring and loving people who encouraged me to really understand what my faith meant and what it truly meant to live for Christ. Then second year came around and I fell ill. This led to that many tests that I began to just feel like an experiment but I will never forget the look in my doctor’s eye in that moment when he diagnosed me with M.E. In a single diagnosis my Durham life as I knew it was stripped from me. As I walked out of the doctor’s office I knew that I had a choice to make. I could rely on this God that I tell everyone has a plan for my life … or I could walk away angry at the injustice of life and fight for myself. However, I knew that I would not be able to survive my life being literally tipped upside down without the Lord’s strength. The last six months has taught me that life is a rollercoaster … cheesy saying I know … but it is full of things that we don’t see coming. There will be moments full of joy. There will also be moments of complete helplessness and there will be moments where I scream out to God and am convinced that I hear no reply, that I gain no greater understanding about what is going on. Yet, I can be sure of the truth that he has a plan. That God uses every situation, no matter how awful and horrific they seem, for good.
Therefore, I am learning to lean on God because he is the only stability in our lives. The hope I have because Jesus died for me does not change even though everything else around us does. That is why we should depend on him. I am nostalgic. I miss the life that I know and chose to have. I miss having nights out. I miss swimming and exercising. You know, I miss walking up the hill from market square to palace green without having to stop my conversation because I can’t breathe and my legs are burning. However, this pain is temporary, and as I learn to depend on God throughout my recovery, I can trust and place my hope in the knowledge that as I recover God will use my illness for his glory and that I can look forward to the exciting adventures I have waiting for me in the future.
Meet Peter, 2nd Year, Theology, Johns
Having grown up in a family heavily involved with church, I often enjoyed going to church on a Sunday, where I would sing the catchy songs and answer all the questions correctly in the children’s group. I would have called myself a Christian as I entered secondary school but would always be slightly confused when people would speak so passionately about the person of Jesus. As I began to grow older though and saw my friends playing football or rugby on a Sunday morning, I often began to ask whether this ‘Jesus guy’ was really worth it.
As I reached my mid-teens, I was beginning to find my identity in other things. By the time I was 16/17 church had become a part of my weekly calendar and it didn’t really carry through to the remaining 6 days of the week. I would go out on the Saturday night then struggle to stay awake in church, disengaged and often bored. Instead things like girls, popularity and other things were far more important to me than my faith. At this point although I would say I was a Christian, I began to lead two different lives, as I thought that that would be the easiest way to be a Christian. The people at my school would know I was a Christian, but whenever it came up in conversation, I would be quick to awkwardly laugh it off, rather than answer difficult questions. I had told myself that the things that the world offered me were far more fun than anything that Jesus could offer me.
When I reached the age of 18, and about to head into the unknown of a year and then university, I realised that I had to decide what I wanted to live for. I was living my life the way that I wanted to, but there was still something missing. Either Jesus was real; he came to Earth, died and came back to life, or he was not, and I should not live in between the two. I wanted to explore all of the evidence that there was, so began to read widely into the Christian faith and religion in general; I didn’t want to simply be a Christian because I came from a Christian family. I read books by atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and for all the points that I could sympathise with, there still appeared to be something missing from their arguments. For all the negatives they saw in religion, they could not explain the life of Jesus, the impact that he had on the world, or the outrageous claims that he made. If Jesus really did die on a cross, for me, and then come back to life, then it has to have a massive implication on my life.
Jesus has changed the way that I view the world, and I pray that He continually changes me too. I know that I still fall short of how He intended for me to live my life; one of the most important moments for me was when I realised that Christians don’t claim to be perfect, and to have all the answers, but instead claim that Jesus was perfect, and that one day, he will give them all of the answers. I still struggle in many areas of my life but because of what Jesus has done for me, I know that He is greater than anything I can face in this life. Being in a relationship with Jesus means that I can enjoy playing sport, I can enjoy going out with my friends, but I am now safe in the knowledge that He is with me every step of the way.
Meet Harry, 2nd Year, Economics, Aidan’s
I think it’s fair to say I had fairly stress-free childhood; my parents were very present, school was fun and I didn’t have many worries in life. My parents taught me about Jesus from a young age and I heard about what he came to do in various places. And I guess it made a bit of a difference. Because I called myself a Christian, I thought there were certain things I would and wouldn’t do. I’d go along to church with my parents, I would try reasonably hard to be a nice person and I would defend my belief in the existence of God in RS lessons.
But to be entirely honest I wasn’t really any different to anyone around me. I simply had an extra hobby which was church. I could answer questions correctly in Bible studies and was always pretty proud of that. Christianity was simply a segment of my life of which I had many others such as sport, music, drama, relationships, friendships, academics, family. Sure, Christianity was important but I lived for other things that far more captured my heart than Jesus. I lived for work and getting into a good uni, so I could get a big job in the city, to get money, have a nice family and go on the best holidays. And I lived for rugby, playing in the 1st team to have good mates, to be invited to the better parties and have a good reputation. I lived for other people's opinions, getting roles in plays, performing in orchestras so people would think that I was talented and be envious of what I could do. I was living for these things even though they weren’t paying off.
Two things happened growing up which showed me that Jesus and his death was more than I first thought.
Firstly, I saw real clarity in the importance of what Jesus did for me when one of the things I was living for, got stripped away. My ability to play all contact sport. I began to see that there would come a day when all other things would fade. I saw that only my relationship with Jesus wouldn't and I knew that it needed a necessary re-prioritising in how I valued it.
From when I was 13 to 18 I had four operations on my knees as I ruptured and re-ruptured my ACL ligaments in my knees. I was devastated, rugby was the one thing I thought I was good at and I was told I could never play again. I tried throwing myself into rowing but each year the ligaments ruptured and every time I got close to making a good boat I had to go back to surgery and start all over again. I had to reflect on what I'd lost and although it felt like everything, I realised that these truths about Jesus and how he died for me were greater as I could never lose them.
Secondly, as I came to learn more about Jesus I was struck by the evidence; He really was the Son of God. Born to die on a cross and to rise from the dead. I realised he did it for me; he did it so that I could have a relationship with him, despite what I’ve done. I was actually rejecting him and living my own way, rebelling against the God who made me. In a book called 1 John in the Bible it says ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…’. That is what I was doing, I was deceiving myself, claiming I had no problem. And I realised I was going to be answerable to the God of the universe, facing his judgement for my rebellion and rejection. But as the passage continues ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:8-9). He was still calling me back to him. He sacrificed his only son to save me from the death that I deserve. So, I decided to follow him with all my life, to live for him and not for anything I wanted. He would no longer be a segment of my life but the very thing that defines it. ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst’ (1 Timothy 1:15.) This sums it up. Following Jesus is not about rules, it’s not a psychological crutch, not my solution to a lack of purpose in life, but rather, about accepting Jesus’ death where he took God’s punishment in my place.
I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, everything to play for. But now I can clearly see that the only life worth living is the life following Jesus. Because of his sacrifice I try to live in a way that glorifies God. And when I get it wrong, which I regularly do, I know that whatever happens, Jesus has paid my debt in full. I’ve been forgiven and I’ll spend eternal life with him in Heaven.
I’ve come to see that the Bible leaves no middle ground; either Jesus is your King or you reject Him. The conclusion I’ve come to after looking at the evidence, is that it is overwhelmingly true.
Meet Amy, 3rd Year, Music, John's
Growing up in a Christian school and family, I knew I had some kind of faith, but I hadn’t fully worked out who Jesus really was and how that would affect everyday life. I always admired how my brother went about his faith at school: his faith was constant, steady and stable - just like his character. However, I am the complete opposite: a creative! I am emotional, impulsive and feel things very deeply. But I knew deep down what grounded me was God, who, although I didn’t realise it then, had his hand over my life.
I loved school, avoiding all possible work and spending all my time in one of four places: the sports field, the music department, the art department or the stage. I loved all the opportunities school gave me and couldn’t say no to anything! I was so busy but I loved making the most of every day. This is where I felt alive; this is where I felt I could express myself creatively! Most of the time, I felt I was doing ok on my own, and to be honest, I was kept so busy I didn’t really have time to think about much else. However, feeling things deeply and experiencing the extreme highs of those musicals or concerts would soon send me hurtling back down to reality when they were over, and the Post-Show Depression would seriously kick in. Ultimately, I knew deep down this wasn’t sustainable and I couldn’t rely on and live for these highs: they were temporary, unreliable and inconsistent. I knew I couldn’t place my identity in that, and it was Jesus who I would come back to: his constancy prevailed. Even though I didn’t fully understand why, I knew He would always be there.
The faith of those I admired - my brother and my cousin Becky -was very different from mine. I used to get frustrated with Becky for reading her bible at night and keeping me up. One night on a Cornwall holiday, I turned to her and flipped, “Why are you reading your bible right now? What are you even doing when you read it? Why does it interest you?” I remember her simply saying, “I have given my life to Jesus and I want to follow him, so I am learning from him and understanding his character better.” Through her words, Jesus spoke right into my heart. At that moment, I knew he was calling me into a relationship with him, he was not just this distant but reliable God who I could come back to when I needed Him, He was someone who wanted to do life with me. I remember just bursting into tears!
However, that did not mean that from then on I had everything sorted in my faith. Not at all – and I still don’t. I still struggle, I still have doubts, I still compare my worth and abilities with others. But that is not the Gospel: Jesus teaches that we are enough, exactly as we are. He loves us through our imperfections and our doubts – nothing can separate us from his love. It’s such an on-going journey of learning to let go and trust in Him more and rely on Him rather than doing life in my own strength. But I realise no matter how far I run, or how much I try to push Him away at times, His love for me never changes. He is patient and will always welcome me home with open arms.
It is when I’m doing life with him that I am most fulfilled, when I am most myself and who He intended me to be. Letting go of control and allowing Him into my life is the ultimate adventure and has utterly transformed my story.
He is my constant. No matter how impulsive and fluctuating I am, my identity is rooted in Him and I can be confident in my God who is secure, steady and unchanging, who could not love me any more or any less.
Meet Lou, 1st Year, Sociology, Grey.
I haven’t always been confident and bubbly. When I was much younger I was really shy and throughout school I had a hard time letting people see me as I really was.
I have always been very privileged to live in great comfort. I went to a great school, lived in a lovely house and spent most of my childhood in York, a beautiful historical City near Durham. I think this led me to think I was quite entitled, like I deserved the best because I had been quite spoilt as a child. I did not grow up in a Christian family, and in fact I knew very little about Christianity as there were no close Christian influences in my life. I went to a Church of England school, so it was not like I had never heard about God, but it was three time a week in a very traditional school chapel service, which was only interesting to teachers. My school was very academically pressured and my family were very driven and successful so I felt a real need to impress intellectually.
However, when I turned 8, my very sheltered upbringing became apparent. My school started to move towards all girls, so my brother and I moved to a different school. I moved with some of my friends, so thought that it wouldn’t be that bad. However, they all seemed to make friends very quickly, but as I was a goofy looking child, I was teased quite a lot and therefore found it difficult to make any long-lasting friendships. I eventually became best friends with a girl who was quite popular and pretty, and I felt special and chosen, because she could have been friends with anyone but she chose to be friends with me. This friendship turned bitter quickly as she started having difficulties and passed these onto me. It started off as comments here and there, until it became cyberbullying, where I would get home and find a stream of nasty messages coming through over msn or facebook messenger. I felt very isolated, but was unable to detach myself from her as I had been told that without her I wouldn’t have anything, and I believed it. Most of my friends did not want to be around it so I felt like I was on my own. My mental health went down the toilet and I couldn’t see a way out.
This carried on for five years. Then at an assembly one day, a woman came to speak from a summer camp called Glod, which is a Christian run camp for 9-18 year olds in the north. She spoke about an amazing holiday where you could participate in loads of cool activities and make loads of friends and learn a bit about the gospel. I wasn’t too fussed about the Christian aspect but the idea of getting away seemed ideal. I went along to this camp when I was 12, along with two of my oldest friends who I wasn’t really close to anymore but were also interested in going and also came from non-Christian backgrounds. We arrived at the junior camp and noticed firstly that there was loads of kids our age and that all the leaders were Christians but quite young and fun. We listened to a talk every day on the Bible but not in the way I had heard about it before, it was very clear and engaging. I was clearly told about sin, and learnt that it was an attitude problem, not just a list of things I was doing wrong. I realised that sin had led to this broken world and that meant we were all broken people too. It explained so much about why I was unhappy. The depiction of God as a loving father, ready and waiting to embrace me, provided great comfort. The best part was that I did not need to try harder in exams or be a better person or impress my parents or become rich and successful. I was free from all this pressure because of God’s unconditional love that he showed in sending Jesus to earth to die for our sins so that we could be free from the shackles of sin.
At the end of this camp I committed my life to God, and I went home and told my bully that I could no longer be friends with her. She told me I would be alone, but I knew I wouldn’t be for now I had great strength in knowing I was now in a loving relationship with God. The two friends I had attended camp with also committed their lives to God, and they now walk this journey with me 7 years later. Since I became a Christian my life has not become easier, in fact it has caused more tension as I am now distinctive in my family. However, my life is better. I have often been told that Christianity seems confining, like you are signing up to a list of rules, but this has not been my experience. I feel completely liberated to be whoever I want to be because I am loved for being myself. This is not to say that there haven’t been times where I have wanted to walk away. Last year on my gap year, I thought that I was done. The week of A level results my family changed, my dog died and the pressure of results day created a very anxious atmosphere, and I thought I couldn’t make it through. But committing to God means that he holds me through the bad and the good. He used these experiences to teach me and I am so glad he did because I came to university ready to embrace everything it had to offer, as 100% myself.
Monday - Friday | STORY Marquee | 10am - 4pm
At the STORY Café we serve high quality artisan coffee with a trained team of student baristas. Do come by to eat, drink, relax and share stories with one another. We look forward meeting you and hearing your story!
Saturday 16th February | 7:00pm - 9:00pm | St. Oswald’s Institute
TALK. INTERVIEWS. THREE COURSE MEAL.
On Saturday, 16th of February, Globe Café is hosting an evening especially for international students with a three-course meal, interviews with international students about their stories of faith, a game and a talk about Jesus.
Everyone is so welcome!
Tuesdays | 7:30pm - 9:00pm
TALKS. DISCUSSION. TASTY BAKING.
Enjoyed Story? Have more questions? Want to chat more?
The story continues at The Search. Join us for a series of evenings where you can continue to ask questions about life, faith and hear more about the story of Jesus.
You are invited!