For me, Durham has been a place of new things: new friendships, a new approach to academic learning, a new city, and yet after nearly four years of making a new life for myself here it seems surprisingly hard to sum up what it means to me. But if I was going to describe it using one word it would have to be ‘community’.
As many of my friends would testify, I am a people person. I don’t mean that simply in the sense that I love talking (although there is definitely an element of truth in that!) but in the sense that what I truly value in life is friendship and community. Living alongside others is what brings me joy and gives me energy.
I was brought up going to church but I spent a lot of my childhood not fully understanding how the God from the bible stories related to my life today. It wasn’t until my first year at university here in Durham that I saw people my age actively living out their faith. Whilst I had always loved being in the company of others, these people had a different kind of joy and energy that I knew came as a result of their relationship with Jesus. As someone who had often struggled with how God related to my ordinary life (I didn’t have big dramatic stories to tell like lots of other people seemed to have), it dawned on me that I found God at the heart of community. I learned about the character of God through the character of the people who loved God. I started to grasp that God was a relational God who, just like me, loves friendship. And Jesus is not just a character from an ancient story but is someone who wants to have a friendship with me today, to live life alongside me and who has been there with me in the ups and the downs of my ordinary life.
I love being a friend, being a part of my college community in Durham, listening to people’s stories and simply doing life with them – this is undoubtedly one of the most important things in my life. A friend recently asked me, “What difference does knowing Jesus make in your life as you wake up each morning?” If I didn’t know Jesus then I would be captive to the standards that the world prescribes, but instead, I wake up each morning knowing that I am loved and valued and there is nothing I can do that would change that. It’s amazing how liberating this is and this certainty of my own identity enriches my relationships enormously. One of the reasons that living in community and loving people is so important to me, is because I am continuously learning more about God through those who are different to myself – he is a God of diversity. And my greatest joy is helping others see themselves as the individual who God created them to be.