Looking back on it now, I wish I could say that in Sixth Form my main reason for applying to university was to tell people about my faith and to take the three years to run towards Jesus with all I had. But really, it was the stories of what other people had said university was like that made me want to go. I was so ready for the freedom. Being able to choose what and who you invest your time in, the constant parties and the amazing social life, the independence of not having to tell your parents where you are all the time and most importantly the holidays. Sixth former me was so ready to live that life. Although I was brought up Catholic, I was someone who put God in a box, and I had no intention of exploring my faith or attending mass whilst at uni. I was ready to leave the whole ‘Catholic’ thing behind, but God had different plans.
During first year, I struggled a lot. There were some real low points, a combination of homesickness, not enjoying my course and a total lack of real friendships and conversations. This all led me to deciding to drop out of uni at Christmas and move back home. I had a real desire for community, for authentic friendships, to spend time on things that I felt were meaningful… and I just wasn't finding that at uni. However, over the holidays I felt convicted to go back, so instead of dropping out, I decided to persevere on and in my struggle, lean on God more and more.
Without realising I started turning to prayer, I would attend mass for myself without my parents forcing me and I found something special in the Catholic society. Whenever I lacked peace I would find it in the chapel, whenever I lacked a sense of community I would find it in the Sunday night social, whenever I felt homesick I would find my home in the chaplaincy. Suddenly the thing I had wanted to leave behind the most, was the thing that was carrying me, and slowly my faith started to become more and more prominent, I started to explore it more, it became something I chose. I found that my heart was most at home when I was sharing my faith, when I was talking about Jesus to my flat mates and friends. God was asking me to respond to a call to live a life of radical faith whilst at university, to be a missionary disciple, to simply love those he sent me.
During second year, I realised that being Catholic and being a student were not incompatible. Jesus would have be in the societies, Jesus would be at the pre- drinks talking to students. Jesus would give glory to the father by putting in effort in studying and therefore Jesus was not calling me to separate myself from students who didn’t know him, or to live in a Catholic bubble, but instead to invest in the students who didn’t know him and love them radically.
God sent me some beautiful girls in second year to live with, they pretty much carried me through and turned out to be my best friends. But they didn’t know Jesus, and they had preconceptions about what Catholicism was about. My heart really desired for them to know him and slowly God equipped me to talk about my faith with them and to simply serve them. I failed on many occasions, but I have some pretty incredible stories of seeing God move in them.
I remember one Valentine’s day I left them all a Valentine’s day card on the side of the kitchen counter. I simply wrote a message to them saying what I saw in them and prayed for a Bible verse for each of them and left an open invitation next to the cards to a Youth 2000 weekend, a few hours later all six of them had turned up to the retreat. God really started to move in them because of prayer, they would come to mass to seek the peace if gave me, they would ask for prayer, they would ask questions and be open to the answer. One came to Alpha, and one even put a picture of the pope in her room. I became known as the ‘fun, normal Catholic around campus’, and by the end of the year my flat mates feelings could be summed up in one simple comment, ‘This whole Jesus thing is alright you know El.’
Even in third year when I was ill most of term, unable to be the missionary I desired, God still powerfully moved. God sent me some more beautiful girls to live with and these girls served me in my sickness like no other; I saw Jesus in all of them. Even though these girls didn’t identify with a faith, they became the ones leading me back to Him, because they saw the peace and happiness He brought me. When I was angry, they would drive me to the chaplaincy, when I was in hospital they packed my rosary beads and Bible for me. I realised that Jesus could speak to me through anyone, that he could serve me through anyone and that being a missionary wasn’t all about my acts. It was simply about loving those around you, praying for them, and watching as God moves mountains and performs miracles.
God has a plan for your time at university. He has given you time to work out the identity he has given you, to discover things you didn’t realise you loved, to meet incredible people, to go on lots of adventures and to have fun! If God has called you to university, that is your vocation, to be a student and in that to give glory to him by loving those around you. Every university student is called to live a life of mission, to be modern day disciples to be leaders of this generation and to change your campuses for the better. You might not feel equipped, I certainly didn’t and dealt with a lot of fear, but it was all worth it. For the glimmers of hope, for those rare special conversations and for the times I was blessed to see God move. My university experience was a beautiful story of not only hardship and struggle, but of God forming me into the person he wanted me to be.
Will you let him do the same for you?