What is your favourite thing about Oxford?
I think my favourite thing about Oxford is that you can be right in the busyness of Cornmarket one minute, and then in the openness of Port Meadow the next. It is the perfect size to have that balance between quiet and busy.
What does faith mean to you?
What faith means to me is hope, hope of change. Change is a funny thing. I definitely grew up with a sense that change is always positive, that change is good, that the future is change. In 2008 Obama ran a successful election campaign with the slogan “change we believe in”. I think that this is something very human. We look at the world around us and see that it is not quite right, see the hurt, and the suffering. It connects with us and drives us to want to change it into for something better.
What’s your story?
Before coming to Oxford I took a year out, four months of which I spent living in Hong Kong with St Stephens Society, a charity that provides rehabilitation and a home for drug addicts. I lived in a house for of 20 or so brothers (what we called the ex-addicts) and a handful of helpers and leaders. Everyday life was hard, but quite simple. We would eat, clean, play sport, and worship God, all together, as a family. If I’m honest, when I first arrived, I really hated it. I felt very little compassion, and was just frustrated with having given up a lot of my western comforts.
I think a lot of us doubt that deep real change is actually possible, I certainly used to a lot. As we grow up we experience the same behavioural patterns and events all around us happening again and again. And that starts to lead us to think that we, people, don’t really change, that we just put different masks on. That we can change the surface but not the underneath. In the song Ten Feet Down, the rapper NF says “I know the feeling of feeling like everything you deal with will never change, that's part of being a human”. Duke, in the American TV series THIS IS US , “people go home thinking they are transformed, but deep down they’re still the same”. For long a time I believed this is of both the people around me and myself. As the socially awkward nerdy kid, I often felt like I really didn’t fit in, and as much as I could put on masks to blend in, that didn’t suddenly make me a different person.
In Hong Kong, brothers would come in and spend the first week or so being prayed for, coming off their drugs, often completely painlessly. And for a while I often saw this as the big miracle of change. As time went by, I learnt that addictions are very often rooted in past traumas that these guys had been through. Slowly, over weeks and months, I saw God transform and heal so many of the brothers into completely new people. I got to know a God, that met people wherever they were at, and loved them, freeing them to become the people he created them to be. He transformed lives, in a real way.
Strangely enough the place I saw a change most strongly was actually in myself. The more I struggled with life, the more I realised I needed God. As I asked Jesus for help, and finally let him into the darkest parts of my heart, I saw myself change profoundly. I went from someone who thought he had it all sorted (and to be honest, cared so little for the guys around me who had far tougher lives than I could even imagine), into someone who knew that he definitely didn’t have it all sorted, someone who still struggled, but who had a new heart. God gave me a heart of compassion for the downtrodden and the poor. I realised that with God I was coming in completely empty handed, and he loved me anyway. This freed me from the distraction of my own selfishness, and I began to see the amazing things that God was doing around me.
Going back to Hong Kong in the previous two summers of university, and seeing more and more lives changed for the better over years. It has given me an even stronger realisation of this slow transformation trickle that relationship with God offers. Change, often not in the way that we expect it, or even want it. But change that goes deep, and brings joy.
What faith means to me is hope. Hope that change is real. That no matter how dark a situation gets, that there is a God, who is close, who gets in the dirt with us, who can bring real and deep transformation. A God who brings us into new life and into a new way of being human.