For many students, the fear of life after university prevails for much of their final year. It was no different for me until I realised in the February of my final year that I wanted to be a Relay worker, preferably in Bangor. This way, not only did I get to stay in Bangor, a place that I had come to love over the three years of my undergraduate degree, but I would get to work with the Christian Union for a year, helping them to share the Gospel with Bangor’s students and encouraging them in their faith. The Christian Union in Bangor had been fundamental to my growth as a Christian and to my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian, especially where evangelism was concerned, so the chance to help other Christians flourish in the same way that I had seemed like a great opportunity. Another key element of the Relay year was the study programme – 10 months studying the Bible and theology as well as leading Bible studies sounded ideal and like a great opportunity for me to grow in my faith and find out more about the God who created me, who loves me and who has a plan for my life (even though I wasn’t sure what it was). So it was decided, after many conversations with friends and lots of prayer that I would apply for Relay. After a fairly stressful interview process, I was successful, and as a side effect, the fear of the unknown was abated for a while whilst I got stuck into my studies and to helping the members of Bangor CU to live and speak for Jesus. I was loving Relay so much that the fact that it wasn’t forever almost caught me by surprise when I realised that I should probably find a job for September. The fear of the unknown was back and was haunting every spare moment I had. The more I thought about what I wanted to do, the more I realised that God already had it planned and that I needed to hand all my fears over to Him. As I look back, I can see that as I began to pray more and more for guidance, God began to show me where he wanted me.
I’d applied for a position as a trainee instructor with a Christian outdoor activities centre in North Wales and was offered an interview. In the lead up to the Interview. I spent lots of my time helping students with their events weeks (a week organised by the CU with the mission of sharing the Gospel with fellow students through a range of lunchtime and evening events covering a range of different topics). I began to doubt that outdoor education was what I wanted to do and I entered a period of uncertainty. But the interview came and went, as did a weekend back at Fellowship Afloat, where I did my gap year in 2010/2011, and I was reminded why I wanted to go into outdoor education. Despite the position in North Wales being perfect (it was near to my beloved Bangor, a place I thought I wasn’t ready to leave, it was a voluntary position so I’d gain qualifications in return for the work I was doing and the spiritual programme looked good) I was unsuccessful and soon enough, the fear was back.
Again I began to doubt myself and I battled with God as to what his plan was for me. Lots of time was spent praying in my quiet times, with my Relay supervisor and team-mates and with friends and I began to look at other options. I did some research and I found a couple of other options that I applied to. Amongst them was an outdoor instructor training course with another Christian outdoor centre based in Scotland. The course looked great, the only downside was the cost, and the fact that it was in Scotland. But encouraged by Matt, my boyfriend and one of the reasons I wanted to stay in North Wales as he had just returned from a year long exchange programme in the USA, I applied anyway. Little did I know that this was God working in my life. He was showing me his character, his power and reminding me of what he’d already done in my life. I could almost say the rest was history but that would cut this story short and leave the testimony to God’s power out. I applied one Sunday evening and by Monday lunchtime I’d been offered an interview a week later. So off to Scotland I headed, still unsure what I was letting myself in for.
My interview wasn’t much more than a chat over a cup of tea but during it I realised why God had taken me all the way to the middle of nowhere in the highlands of Scotland. He was about to show me just what he’d been doing in my life. As we chatted, I realised just how far I’d come since I became a Christian. I’d learnt how to trust God and his people, something that became evident to me as we discussed my depression. For years I was blind to the fact that something was wrong. As I found my faith and began to open up to friends about my struggles and fears, my eyes were opened to the fact that the desire to self harm, constant bad dreams, a repetitive cycle of hating myself and my life and occasional suicidal thoughts wasn’t normal. As I opened up to friends and prayed with them, I learned that I could trust people and they showed me that I could trust God. No one showed me more than the team I spent my gap year with as we grew closer together through good times and not so good ones. Eventually, one of my friends mentioned that they thought I might have depression, but it was a good few months before they could persuade me to go to a doctor, let alone admit that I was struggling with mental illness. But now, three years later, I’ve found that depression isn’t a mask to hide behind or a weakness to be ashamed of, but it’s something that has forced me to rely on God more, to trust people more and that’s shaped who I am today. As we chatted about my struggles over a cup of tea, I realised how far God has brought me. I can’t say that I’ve come through the other side, but I’m certainly a lot closer than I was. I might not ever be free of the grips of depression, but I can now say that I’m not ashamed of it and I’m beginning to see how God has, and will, use my depression to help others. So what’s the first thing God’s shown me? He’s shown me that He doesn’t abandon his people, that he answers prayers, that he continually gives good gifts in the form of people who care about me and he’s shown me some of what he’s been doing in my life.
The second thing I realised as we sat chatting through my application was how much my understanding of what it means to be a Christian has grown, especially during the 10 months I spent as a Relay worker. Despite this, I still wasn’t really sure why I was in Scotland. It wasn’t until I was offered a place on the course before I left the next day that I realised just why God had taken me all the way to Scotland. He had something to show me. He showed me that I didn’t need to be in Bangor to have a relationship with Him, that I didn’t need to be in Bangor to feel safe and supported and that I didn’t need to stay in Bangor because I was scared to leave. As I deliberated over whether to accept the position and all that came along with that (a hefty £9000 price tag, another year of being in a long distance relationship, settling in a new, very different church, and starting afresh with a new GP are just a few examples), God showed me how much I’d grown in my relationship with him over the last 8 or so months. I’d gone from a girl who was scared to leave Bangor and the support network I’d formed there to a girl who was seriously considering moving to Scotland. God was slowly showing me how he had been working in my life through Relay, He was showing me how to put what I’d been learning into practise and giving me an opportunity to really trust Him. I left it to the last minute, still weighing up my options. I’d applied to another centre in North Wales that same Sunday and had been offered an interview at some time in the future, but the deadline for Scotland had come. I knew deep down that God was leading me to Scotland but I didn’t want to admit it, part of me still wanted to stay in North Wales. I could see how God’s plan for me was playing out, after all he’d given me enough evidence! So after many prayers and much discussion, I accepted the position and to draw this story to a close, that’s how I ended up moving to Scotland in September.
I’d love to say that the transition between Relay worker and trainee outdoor instructor, between Wales and Scotland and between known and unknown has been easy. But it hasn’t. For the majority of the time that I’ve been a Christian I’ve been in Bangor where I’ve been well supported by Christian friends and a loving church, where I’ve been reminded to read my Bible and been prayed with when I’ve been struggling. But the reality of this transition is a few months at home, where I lack the church community, the Christian friends and the encouragement and prayer that they so lovingly provide. So it’s been a struggle. I’ve struggled to read my Bible, to go to church, to spend time in prayer and to reflect on all that I’ve learnt. But as a I prepare to move to Scotland, one thing is always at the back of my mind and that’s just how amazing God is. Even as I write this I’ve been encouraged, I’ve reminded myself that it isn’t what I do that means that God loves me, but that it’s what Jesus did that means that God loves me. I know that isn’t an excuse to not go to church, to not pray or read my Bible, but it’s certainly a reminder of God’s character. It’s reminded why Christian community is so important and I’ve realised that to ever think I could go it alone is a ridiculous thought, even if it is a thought that often accompanies a bought of depression. So despite the struggle of transition, I can continue to see that God is taking me on this journey to show me who I am, but more importantly to show me who He is.
The fear of the unknown still plagues many final year students but I can say that I’ve come through it (twice) and that if there’s one thing that I’ve realised it’s that the unknown isn’t really something to be fearful of. It’s something to be embraced, an opportunity to trust God, to allow him to lead you to where he wants to use you and something to be eagerly anticipated. God has shown me that the unknown isn’t to be feared, but he is someone who should be. So to all my recently graduated friends who don’t know what they’re doing next and to all my friends who are about to start their final year, embrace the unknown: you don’t know what journey God has planned for you, but it will be eye-opening.