How did you become a Christian?
Rachel, studied Maths at Durham
I think I've got a fairly normal background. My parents, who are both atheists really, brought me up to be polite and kind and so on, and our family is a happy one. I'm quite sciency and cynical, and so I dismissed Christianity as something that didn't make sense, something people clung to who didn't know any better. I've never spent much time thinking about the big questions or anything, and when I was younger I was more concerned going out drinking and messing around. A couple of friends I made at Durham were Christian, but I don't think I ever asked them about it or thought it should have anything to do with me.
However, in my second year, a friend asked me along to a course where the Christian message would be explained that the Christian Union were running. The course is just a chance to hear about Jesus (by looking at Mark's gospel, which is very clear and easy to read) and ask any question you might have. I wasn't really bothered about finding out, so I'm not too sure why I went along, but I did, and I think it was the first time that I'd heard the claims of Jesus explained really clearly. It took me quite a while to understand it at all, and there was a lot I didn't really like. Each week though the Christians who were there answered all my questions really clearly from the Bible, and I saw the difference it made in their lives, and I couldn't leave it alone. I started asking more and more questions about how these things could be true, and why it should make any difference to me, and started to discover that the questions I'd thought were really clever and would leave them stumped actually had pretty convincing answers. I began to suspect that it might actually be true.
I really didn't want any of it to be true though, because it meant admitting that the whole focus of my life to that point had been me, not God, and that I deserved to be punished in hell, and needed rescuing. It seemed like becoming a Christian would be admitting defeat, and would mean so many changes I couldn't even contemplate it.
I spent ages reading about it, and asking more questions and trying to find something that made it all collapse, or stopped it from applying to me so that I could ignore it, but that didn't really come to anything. I also tried reading some of the Bible, to see if this book, that everyone said told me everything I need, could actually apply to me or whether I could dismiss it as dead and useless. All this time deep down I think I knew I was just avoiding it because I didn't want to change, and I remember saying to a friend that I had the same awful feeling you have in the morning when you know your alarm's gone off and you need to get up, but all you want to do is ignore it and stay in bed. He said that actually it was more like a fire alarm, and I really couldn't avoid it or ignore it, and I think that stuck because I knew he was right. I couldn't carry on avoiding Jesus. I might die that day, or he might come back tomorrow while I was still his enemy. Although I didn't know everything, I definitely knew enough about him to know that he deserved to be in charge of my life, and so eventually I admitted that I needed rescuing through the cross, and accepted Jesus as my King and Saviour.
Since then everything has changed. Being a Christian is not just about going to church or not getting drunk, it's about realising that Jesus can and should affect every decision I make, and everything I do, like how I plan what I'm going do next year or what I do with my money. It's amazing, because I know that he loves me enough to die for me even though I basically spent 20 years ignoring him, and so I've got absolutely no doubt that the way he sets out for me to live, in the Bible, is the perfect way for me to live, and that knowing him is worth more than absolutely anything.
Ross, PGCE Primary, Edinburgh
For my elder sister and I childhood Sunday mornings consisted of going to church with mum and coming home to dad blaring rock music throughout the house. This divide meant that beyond Sunday school and the set of children's Bible stories I had, the idea of God wasn't something that crossed my mind too often. In fact it was somewhat of a hindrance. I thought I could be putting my Sunday mornings to much better use. So when my friends began to talk their way out of attending church, I too launched a campaign. My mum didn't want to force me and, like my sister, I turned my back on God in my pre-teens, never giving it a second thought.
Years later, my dad had left home, and both of my parents re-married. My mum had met a Christian man whose spouse had also left him, and about the same time as I'd began to question the world, my sister had become a Christian. However, despite now living in a fully Christian household, I'd continued to enjoy the same freedom of expression and belief I had done since winning back my Sunday mornings. Those around me would tell you the result of which has shaped the "good", happy person they know so well. In part I would've agreed, but the reality of the past few years is something quite different. Below the surface there had always been a longing for understanding. I'd spent countless hours trying to discover my place in world and didn't feel like I had any of the answers. My pursuit was hopeless, but I'd blinded myself to that truth by over-indulging in the sexual desires that had plagued me since the age of 13. It corrupted my mind and my nature, and I surprised myself by how much hurt and confusion I was capable of causing.
Eventually I caught on that this way of life wasn't getting me any closer to "finding myself". In fact, the opposite was happening. Sex had been a driving force behind the few relationships I'd had, and wasn't fulfilling any of my heart's longings. So, when my past girlfriend and I broke up, I immersed myself in a pursuit of self-understanding. Great! I re-read a Christian book and then read its sequel, but didn't finish it with the same enthusiasm as I had done its predecessor. I'd deliberately overlooked the key theme of the book: You needed God.
I turned to my journal and began to pour my thoughts onto paper. I doubted the entirety of the Christian faith I'd been raised in and that my step-dad, mum and sister so loved, but part of me did feel drawn to it. I knew my family's faith had been influential in making me the "good", moral person that everyone saw, and I had secretly used the Bible as a source of moral wisdom. I wanted to give it a chance. I wanted to pray. I wasn't sure how, but I tried: "if the Bible is true then I pray I will be guided on a journey to faith, Amen." Immediately a voice in the back of my head said "read the Bible". I opened it at a letter a Christian friend had written me two years earlier, and at the end she'd cited a verse she'd found whilst writing and thought was "cool": Ephesians 4:17-end, which tells us we must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking and indulgence in impurity. It was an incredible beginning. No words could've spoken more clearly to me.
I abandoned my efforts to find answers in myself and began searching for the truth in God. I prayed, read, questioned and joined a course where the Christian message would be explained. I was guided on a journey of discovery. He systematically responded to all of my questions, fears and doubts. He told me everything I needed to hear, and people offering exactly what I needed next were put in my path. He astounded me by how much better he knew me than I knew myself. I began to realise that it was ignorance and pride that had given me such a high opinion of myself. I began to understand that my ethical conscience, charitable donations, concern for the world and good deeds didn't make me any different from the dictators and oppressors I so passionately opposed. I didn't want to believe we were all the same, but I knew we were. We all fell short of pleasing God. Yet I still doubted that Jesus was his Son and the one I needed in order to be forgiven. It was a hurdle I spent a month praying about, and God eradicated any room there was for doubt. He brought me to the point I'd asked for and I had no choice but to address Jesus. One friend told me that it was black and white - the grey area I was hiding in didn't exist. I was either for him or against him. So that same night I took that reasonable leap of faith I'd heard so much about and asked Christ into my life.
As I write, I've never been happier. Of course, I still have the same strengths and weaknesses I've always had. I still doubt sometimes. I'm subject to the same temptations, but the difference is that no part of it appeals to me anymore. My mind feels free. Now I sit and fantasise about maturing in faith and helping young people who are searching like I was. I still long for understanding but it's of a different kind. Rather than frustration in my own failure, I flow with eagerness and excitement for what he has in store for me. I still don't fully appreciate Jesus' sacrifice for me and I'm not sure I ever can, but I pray that I will grow, even just a little more. All I want from today is to live for God, to get to know him better, and to trust him more. I cannot describe the joy I find in that. It's worth giving a chance.