Anyone who’s ventured beyond Oxford stats with me in conversation will probably be aware of my love of exploring. The sheer enthusiasm I display for restless road-trips, ceaseless cycle-tours and heavenly-hikes is received with curiosity to say the least. But the relevance of this is more than just to inform. Rather, it serves to set the scene for this article’s motivation, originating from recent experiences in two captivating countries. One is a sandy island in the Caribbean; the other is an Asian manufacturing superpower. In one, I encountered people on the edge of existence, trapped by pernicious poverty. In the other, I met people whose freedoms of expression are constrained to inconceivable levels. Yet, in these parallel situations of despair, I encountered many who possessed one amazing thing: faith.
We had something in common. The background contrasts, however, could not feel more cavernous. My life, as it were, had been clothed in comfort. Born to Christian parents in a leafy London Suburb, I was introduced into the church through baptism mere-days after my birth. A couple of years later, I entered Sunday School, week by week encapsulated in a community defined by a deep desire for immersive worship and prayer. Attending Church of England schools exposed me further to biblical verses and religious ethics on a daily basis. I was, for all intents and purposes, surrounded by Christian culture. Those who I encountered on these trips however- they were different; risking much of their petty-income in church-collections, or even their jobs just to enter such a building.
Forward a few more years, and A-Levels arose. Suddenly, free-time fell under attack by copious amounts of homework and revision; this grew tenfold in my final year, when I committed both to applying to Oxford and also working part-time as a tennis coach. The main attraction of church suddenly became seeing school mates who I’d been through Sunday School with, to chat about university and other deep ‘life’ topics. My motivation to go to church grew inversely to their attendance, and I found myself as one of very few left in my age-group; before I myself eventually ceased the effort.
University could not have come soon enough. Along with the obvious opportunity to immerse myself in the subject of my dreams, it forced me to start-over; to reflect about who I wanted to be, and whether Christianity was in that picture. There I stood, a fresh-faced fresher on the luscious lawn of Hilda’s, weighing up whether to go to that first Christian Union breakfast; sensing the rational voice of my mum in my head, I went. From there, I was introduced to St Ebbes, the church that has since become a second home. The lunchtime congregation flipped the previous age dilemma on its head, the student-night granted me deeper friendships and awareness of the bible, further multiplied by invaluable 1-1s with older mentors. Going to Lausanne for a mission-trip swept these developments into motion; seminars and bible-talks with the students on a GBEU (Swiss UCCF-equivalent) camp initiated a love of evangelism that has washed away fears I held previously about outreach.
Let this appear as no claim to stability in faith- I still struggle with a range of issues. I attended the HUMAN seminar on suffering with doubts and questions, and afflicted by the abundance of evil injustice in our world; it probably doesn’t help that I chose a subject obsessed with the issues of excessive inequality, unmerciful natural disasters and extensive environmental destruction. ‘The Search’ (Monday Evenings @Costa) provided a perfect opportunity for me to take on these, and other, important issues in a very welcoming environment, without the worship and potential assumption of faith in Church services.
Getting involved with Just Love in my 2nd year has been equally valuable. The Society runs weekly events focused on issues of social justice, exploring the theological perspective in a wonderful group-discussion; they also run projects on local homelessness and human trafficking. I’m now responsible for managing our social-media, in the knowledge that I’ll leave with more than just immense skills in creative insta-stories; the theology has provided religious backing to my volunteering, spreading across IntoUniversity, Hilda’s E&E and Project-Soup. These are no longer merely feel-good things that have ripped away time from my studies (non-regrettably); they are achievements I felt empowered by God to deliver, such as mentoring a boy whose educational opportunities are incomparable to my own. Engaging in Just Love’s Campaign against Fashion-Trafficking went so far as to transform my personal career-ambitions, leading me to aspire as a human-rights barrister. Before I begin climbing the near-impossible mountain of the bar, I now intend to serve next year in a Christian context after graduation, something I’d have never considered before Oxford.
Faith is no longer the traditional weekly activity that carried through most of my adolescent-life; it drives me and all that I do. If you take anything away from this blog, know this; God created you with a purpose, and everything you do has a purpose in his eyes. You’ll likely have many doubts as I did throughout my young life, up until I immersed myself in opportunities to confront them; do the same! There are very few universities with as many events dedicated to exploring Christianity and all that comes with it. The headline act is of course Events Week in Hilary (aptly named ‘HUMAN’ for the last two years!), but don’t wait till then! The Search is on every single week of the academic year at Costa; Just Love run theological events almost as frequently; OICCU host fortnightly ‘Big Questions’ events to help people explore the hardest questions of Christianity, and Christian Union groups exist in every college to give people an opportunity to explore Christianity for themselves. Why not try one? The result of this effort? Worst case, you develop your intellectual knowledge of religion (and eat some free food/cake along the way). Best case: you find something that transforms your outlook on life. Not bad outcomes I’d say…