Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart and tongue employ.
(Tate and Brady, 1696)
Can you tell us how you became a Christian?
I am thankful to have been raised in a Christian home and as part of a church family that meant I was exposed to the gospel from early childhood. Despite the many blessings of such an upbringing, as a young teenager I found myself detached from the truth of the Scriptures and without a relationship with God. After a long struggle with assurance and awareness of my need I was converted in the winter of 2015. I was baptised just over a year later and since then I have known God’s guidance and help throughout times of transition through school years and exams, and more recently into life at university.
Where and what are you studying?
I am in my first year, studying Engineering Design at the University of Bristol. So far, I’m enjoying the variety and focus on project work that the course brings. While we may have missed out on opportunities for practical experience in labs this year, the lecturers have worked hard to adjust to a new form of online learning, for which I and many other students are grateful.
How did you feel moving away from home?
After a long summer break I was looking forward to making the move to university, but like many students, I had some fear of the unknown ahead of me. Many thoughts were going through my mind in the weeks leading up to moving away. I thought a lot about the first few days in my hall of residence: What will my new flatmates be like? What will I say to them? How will I make new friends? Being able to find and speak to each other on social media helped, but there were still a lot of feelings of uncertainty. As a Christian student, there was also the issue of adjusting to student life and culture while trying to maintain a personal relationship with God and a gospel witness to others.
Although it was a strange feeling being alone for the first time in a new room, in a new city, with people around me whom I’d never met; those first few weeks in Bristol were a really enjoyable experience. There were opportunities to speak with people from vastly different backgrounds, some who share the same love for Jesus and others who don’t. There were times when questions about faith were raised, and often in the moment, I failed to respond with the most well-considered answers. But God, who ‘will meet all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:19) provided his help in those situations. By his grace, I had the encouragement of other believers I had met in local churches, in the Christian Union (CU) and even one other in my flat.
What was it like trying to find a new church and get involved in the Christian Union?
Settling into a new church has been an ongoing challenge for me. In October, I was attending church services in person, but as the second wave of the virus began to take hold along with the restrictions it brought, I found it increasingly difficult to get to know people. While the churches were doing their best to welcome new students during the pandemic, I did miss the in-person fellowship opportunities (and Sunday dinners!) that usually take place. Despite that, I have kept in touch with several people online and the time we have spent without services in person should make them an even greater blessing when they eventually do return.
In the meantime, small groups over Zoom with the CU and my home church continue to be valuable times for Bible study, prayer and mutual support. They are just the right size that awkward breakout rooms are not necessary and they provide an important time away from studies to focus together on our God, who doesn’t change with circumstances.
What advice would you give to any new students who will be heading off to university soon?
If your thoughts and fears are anything like mine were last October, be assured that there is nothing to be afraid of! Every other new student is thinking about how they are going to make friends and fit in at university, and everyone has their unique interests. Not every student likes drinking and partying all the time and if that is not your thing, you won’t have to do it; some of my favourite times have been spent in the kitchen with a hot chocolate talking or watching a film with my friends. There is much to look forward to and enjoy in the first weeks before things settle down and studying begins.
Meeting other Christians is very easy because you know where to find them on a Sunday! Find out about the CU and local churches through their websites and social media pages. With the CU, I filled out a contact form and was quickly put in touch with other new students in the same position and could arrange to go to different churches with them. Before I arrived, I had arranged to go to church with someone in the first week, and it was nice to have somebody there whom I could recognise. It’s worth finding other Christians and getting to know them early on. It can be a great help to have people around you who share your experiences or have been through them in the past, especially when there are temptations or struggles,
How do you feel that God has changed you and used you this year?
I’m still learning how to live as a Christian at university. I’m often making mistakes as I go. A common theme we have been discussing in our CU group has been how God often works using small things that gradually build up over time to achieve his purposes. New university students are in a position where they are regularly able to interact with many different kinds of people. I am learning to value those conversations even when I feel that I haven’t said exactly the right things, because I can trust that God is working to bring people into his heavenly kingdom.
This year has been difficult at times for many, not least for those of us who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. For me, the times of uncertainty, especially during lockdown away from home, have caused me to rely upon God more. I always need constant reminding that prayer is the antidote to feeling anxious, and as we bring our requests to God, he will ‘guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:16-17).