Journey of Belief: Chapter Three: The story so far

A few years ago I joined a church in Yarm, after hearing about some of the people that went there and what was happening. I went for a sunday morning, not letting anyone know I was heading there, and what I found was a suprise. A lot of old friends that I’d lost contact with through the churches I’d been involved with in the past. I’d got on with one or two people while searching for a home church and went to many different churches. So many of them have ended up here, in one place at a vineyard based church named Yarm Vineyard Church and has since been renamed “The Vine – The Vineyard Church on Teesside” and this is now my home church when I go and now based at Stockton Riverside College.

The Vine - Teesside Vineyard Church

It seems to be a church in more of a sense of getting people involved and in a community of sorts rather than a place that you should always be going too. There is no feeling of guilt if you don’t go and you can always catch up online if you want too as they put their services online as podcasts. Its usually a short service of about 60 to 90 minutes, with a mixture of worship, chat, and sermon that doesn’t tend to last longer than 20 minutes with some sort of donuts or cake with drinks afterwards. If you want to be involved with things, you are encouraged too but if you say “not interested” – you do not get badgered into it as I’ve seen in a lot of places. I like it.

Harvest - Five day Christian Festival for young people

I have always been involved with harvest since about 1994, first as an attende and then as a steward as I got older, and then onto the ministry team and now in the background. Harvest is a five day Christian festival held in the North East of England, that exists to help young people engage with God, each other and to go home better equipped to live out their faith. I have wanted to help with the continuation of the event for a long time and in 2011, I’ve got my chance and now see that there is a lot happening in the background to organise and run the event.

In 2009, I started stewarding at spring harvest. It was very different to the stewarding at harvest – there was a lot more work, and much longer hours. A typical day started around 7am and finished around midnight and involved a lot of moving chairs, health and safety, and looking out for people and hazards.

When I attended spring harvest, I did not know anyone beforehand and that was a scary idea – to go somewhere in the country I didn’t know to work with no-one that I had worked with before. I had been to spring harvest once with the Christian Union and not really enjoyed it, I kept wanting to know what was happening in the background and couldn’t be involved – this was my chance and I went for it. I’ve now stewarded for about 4 years (2009 to 2012).

For the first two years I had no preference of where to go, but really enjoyed the venue for my second year and have helped run that venue since. It is the 11 to 14’s venue. There is a lot of sillyness that happens and is loud and fun. I think I like this venue as I was around their age when I first started to understand what being a Christian meant, and in myself believe that they too can comprehend what they are taking on. I work with a group that often come from the Youth for Christ North East Team so I know them quite well and have worked with them on events such as Harvest, IXth Hour and a few other things over time.

Spring Harvest stewarding is not an easy job, but it is not really a hard job either. It involves taking time out for others, and caring as well as a close eye on safety hazards. When doing a 11 to 14’s event – there are always lots of hazards such as water/sticky messy games, mixed with electrics (never a good combo), racing games with hundreds of people around, general cables everywhere (for the great visual/sound effects). Its a lot of fun though, even with the cleanup afterwards and masses of chair movements. I’ve made some awesome friends there, and keep in touch with many still.

We all come from around the country, and it doesn’t matter where we came from in life, or what church we came from or no church but that we all came to serve and help. For that one week, normal life is on standstill, there is no judgement of what you do in life just a positive attitude to help and be a part of the effective team is really wanted. If you are down, people are there to talk. Its a mini community for a week – we meet up as a whole team at least once a day and usually meet during the days too. I really enjoy the weeks and get the chance to listen to what is said and meet with God at the same time. I find it amazing and encourage others to get involved.

Spring Harvest Holidays

After my first spring harvest, I got in a pack some information about a holiday away at a Christian based site run by spring harvest. There is one week called the The French House Party (Now just The Houseparty) based at a resort named Le Pas Opton (LPO) in the Vende Region of France. For one week, the resort has no kids allowed on site and the general age range is mid 20’s upwards. I went for the week, it was not cheap but very enjoyable and made even more friends. Going on my own, again I think stepping out in faith that everything would be okay, I made friends that I still have now in 2012. I returned in 2010 for a second year but have not had the available time to go again but hope to make it for 2013. I still keep in contact with people via facebook

I’m not sure what the next chapter of this journey will be but I look forward to finding out.

Journey of belief: Chapter Two: Exploration of faiths

I have always been interested in what people believe and why it makes a difference in their lives and some friends were in a group that a Christian wouldn’t usually be involved with. I name it Tea & Biscuits but it came under several other names officially, most recently “Mind, Body & Spirit”. We meet up, drink tea/coffee, eat biscuits and chat about life and what we believe in. I’ve had many good discussions in it, and many arguments too. We also do meditation which is usually a story that you allow your mind to follow and relax too.

I’ve always as far as I can remember believed there to be an energy in everything, some call it nature, I like to believe it as the spirit of God as it is in everything. I wanted to know why people believed things, how and why and although it went almost against everything in Christianity, I wanted to speak to people about God from their stand point, to be able to relate my belief to their own so I started looking at the pagan, and wican roots of belief. I had many friends that believed that point of view and wanted to understand more.

I reguarly attended and still attend the T & B (Tea and Biscuits) group and talk about my beliefs as well as general life. I listened to how they followed their lifestyles and got involved a little. I went to their groups, and they seemed harmless enough to start with. They were just talking, some spoke of spells and rituals they would do. A common one was a circle of protection before they would attempt anything further which made sense in one way, but to know you needed protection for something you were about to do also made quite strong warning signs.

I mixed with people doing some things with energy, and my senses detected that something was wrong, but I couldn’t put a finger or a real description of what was happening more than a feeling inside me to say “no, don’t do this”. I ignored it, and it felt great at the time but very quickly afterwards, I felt quite depressed wanting back that feeling. I didn’t know what to do about it all, I was happy yet something inside me felt broken, an emptyness. I wanted to fix it but had no idea what to do about it and it just kept on going. I prayed about it, but still it didn’t seem to fix it. I ended up talking to people at church about it, and we prayed together and the feeling seemed to pass. I still can remember the pull, it was so easy to get that Good feeling but the downside was so strong, I don’t want to go through that again.

My friends seem to mix with wicca, witch craft, paganism and play with magics or mess with the spirit. A lot of the time it seems safe but I’ve seen the bad side, and really want no-one to go through that. I find it difficult to explain, as to express a feeling is quite difficult sometimes.

The best way I can say about looking at the life within paganism etc was that I was on a giant bungie. I dived strait into it, and at first could feel myself falling into things, I could see the dangers of what I was doing but believed that the only way I could relate was to live through it so I continued down. I would push through the storm clouds as I fell down through it so the point where it was enjoyable. It didn’t seem that bad and the more I did the better I felt, but could feel a battering every so often. I didn’t know what it was and just wanted away from it. I pushed on through to the point where I forgot I was falling, it was just life and then suddenly the rope ran out. I felt a tug, a word of “Enough!” and I looked back. I could see a long rope with a hand holding me there. I was pulled back, I can remember all that I’ve done and can relate a little to those that believe those things but at the same time was aware that I was a Christian, I believed in God and that He was my father in heaven. He was pulling me back to him fast and the comfort came, the calmness and peace that I used to know.

The travels in belief into this world lasted for over a year, and I did keep looking, and my reasoning to keep going was… I want to understand, and be able to relate. At one point, I forgot what my aim was and fell into the lifestyle – it was strange, as I never stopped believing in God but for a while, it felt that I wanted me time, rather than God time.

I will always remember one day in particular where we had met as a group to “practice” a spell of some sort. Someone wanted to connect with the spirit world. They began with a protection circle, and then something felt very wrong. Prior to this, they had tried things but it had never felt this wrong. It felt dangerous and the room was filled with an energy (I could remember the feeling as surrounded by the spirit) but it did not feel right. I spoke out, and said “You must stop, there is something wrong – you are not meant to touch this sort of energy”. It did not stop them from trying, they told me, “Its OK, this is what happens”. I said “No”, and I prayed. I don’t think I’d every prayed so feverently with my heart, I was truelly afraid. They stopped, and asked “WHAT did you do!” as the energy seemed to disappear from the room and they could not restart it. I said, “You should not be touching this energy, and I prayed against what you were doing.” – I believe God was there protecting me. He gave me the awareness of understanding and reading what was wrong there and gave me the option to ask for help of which I took. I got asked a lot of questions about my faith over the next few days. Some people were annoyed with me, but I’d always said from the beginning what I believed in.

Journey of Belief: The first Chapter

I became a Christian in 1988/89 – I was around 10 years old, and felt in my heart and soul it was the right thing to do – it just made sense even at 10 years of age. Since then I’ve re-dedicated my life to Christ multiple times.

When in youth sunday school at the tab church I often felt the power of God in my life, often when we went away and life was away from school, and home life – where I could be free to believe and know that those around me didn’t judge me. I would be a lot more faithful then.

In February 1992 I started to go to an event named “Crucible” where a lot of youth groups met together and worshipped God together. There was around 200 people there when I started and the event had to move to different locations as it had around 400 people going each month – always based in the Tees Valley.

In 1994 I went to a youth camp named Harvest – The theme was “Everybody needs somebody” and was using music from the Blues Brothers theme tune. I went with The Tab Youth group.

While at school I discovered that many schools had a Christian union, but mine did not – myself and a group of others tried to set one up and had a small group of students meeting together once a week. It didn’t really work out – we didn’t know what was to happen just that there should be one. So without a real plan we went out and tried. Now they have one thats going well at the school but that many years since.

In 1995 I stopped going to church, I didn’t see the point anymore.. The sermons seemed to be repeated and the information stale. I’d been told I had to go into the main church now and youth church was no longer an option. I found the services tedious and quite boring so stopped going. I continued going to the crucible events each month and Harvest but otherwise church was out.

In 1997 I started Teesside University and was determined that I would not let people dis me for my beliefs – I would not make friends for them to throw religion at me..

So I introduced myself with “Hello my name is J… and I am a Christian” – It totally terrified me of the response and was so glad to find the first person I asked replied with.. “Hello my name is T… and so am I” which was a relief. I was later to find that no-one else in the class felt the same way so wow, I think that was a good sign and is still a great friendship.

Teesside University Christian Union

We joined the Christian union of the University and were members throughout the time of University. At one point for a year I was involved in running part of the group which was an honour.

Uni was a suprise to me at how people seemed to look at people and the world, it was more of an accepting place of “oh, you believe that… thats nice” and not such ridicule for believing in God.

I found friends from all over the country and world that also believed as I did and were supportive and helping althou we were all doing totally different things in life, we are all following the same Christ.

It got me thinking as to why people from different denominations didn’t work together – always confused me – people asked me what my denomination was – I’d say “Christian” and they’d ask which type… I thought “There’s only one” and reply “Christian, Were all in this together”

In 1999 I joined a church named “Riverside” – I went after a friend bugged me continually about going for several weeks from the Christian Union [CU] – the services were quite long but enjoyable. They had a youth church on a friday night – around 20+ went which was nice. We would sing, and worship, games, pray and learn together support whatever any of us were going through.

In 2000, we heard about a mission event that was going to happen in Manchester at summer time – something that hadn’t happened before named “Message 2000” – two weeks of working in the area supporting the people there though running youth/children groups, clearing gardens and decorating homes and speaking to people about God. There was invitation to events on the night where bands would play in the areana and got around 14,000+ people turning up.

Message 2000

We went for week 2 of the project, where we camped out in groups in a park in manchester and worked on different teams in the area. I was working on a kids group team. Over the 2 weeks around 10,000 Christians joined together and helped out.

We also went out in small groups of 2 or 3 and spoke to people about out beliefs. This terrified me and on the first day when I tried to speak no sound came out – I was embarrased, and scared but nothing bad came from it… The next day, we went out again and spoke to people successfully.

Many people didn’t want to know and shrugged us off, but there were a lot of people willing to talk and convesations would go on and it was good. A lot of oposing ideas but people were listening and responding – something I was not expecting and felt blessed for it.

Around 2001 I went and got baptised – this isn’t the same as a Christening, this is showing people that I do believe in Christ and want God in my life – a public demonstration where I had many friends and family attend and see me leave one life and come into another.

I have continued to go to Harvest althou not as a patron any more, since around 2000, I helped with stewarding which helps keep the place running safely. In 2009 I tried a spot on the Ministry team which allowed me to pray with others – not that they couldn’t pray themselves – more as a faciliatator helping when stuck. In 2010 I am not doing stewarding – but intend to help with the ministry team as this is where I feel I am directed now.

In 2006 an event named NE1 was ran where several churches all from the North East of England met up in chester-le-street and spent a week going out helping people in the area. From Clearing gardens, and painting to spending time with people and running childrens groups.

NE1 reminded me of the Message 2000 event but was local to the North East where I am instead of another part of the country.

I helped with stewarding and anything else I could help with there. A fun time, great hot dry weather and wonderful friendships made aswell as seeing so many peoples lives changed through Christ.

In Late 2006 I moved back to the church I started at – The Tab where I attended and could get involved with things. They had a 20s to 30s group that met each week on a friday at Borders on Teesside Park at 7pm ish til closing. A time to chill out and be with other Christians not in a church setting – Not sure its still on since Borders closed but there are many coffee shops around there now.

Over the what been coming up 22 years since becoming a Christian, I’ve fell away from God and the Faith many times but always have came back. If I look at all the times when I’ve been truely happy there has always been A God aspect to it all so that where my focus should be.

I don’t know what to expect from life in the future, or even in the present really but think that its going to be an amazing adventure.

A few bible verses come to mind:

Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

– I had always read that passage and missed the point of future – I’ve always looked at what NOW, and not future but to know that there is going to be a future and I will be looked after – I like that.

Psalm 139:1-3: O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.You discern my going out and my lying down;you are familiar with all my ways.

– To know that God knows everything is amazing and scary at the same time, but to know that someone is in control is a great thing to realise. Especially when they know what you are able to do and give you the power to do it.

In mid 2008, and spread over 10 weeks there has been a local event named Just 10, I’ve wrote about it here but its been a truelly local opertunity to see around 5,000+ people coming together and worship God together.