I was born in London, not to a religious family at all. My dad is a non practising Muslim from Algeria and my mum’s an atheist. Religion was just never ever part of my upbringing in any way really. We had Christmas trees at Christmas but in no religious context whatsoever, there wasn't even a Bible in our house.
I have an older brother and a younger sister and our parents split up when I was about eight. Growing up if I was asked did I believe I’d probably say I believed in something but I couldn’t really give you any answers about God or Jesus.
I had a pretty happy childhood and after school went to university, then did the whole travelling thing. I suppose that opened my eyes; I met a lot of people from a lot of different religions. I just kind of thought that’s nice, that’s quite interesting for them, but it wasn’t interested for myself.
So I carried on like that really, until eight years ago my sister became a Christian out of the blue.
I thought that was a bit strange. I know I am biased and she’s my sister, but she’s just one of the nicest people, she always has been. But she kind of became more proactive with it once she became a Christian. She’s got a full time job but she still manages to do mentoring with young problem people. As well as that she does volunteering with the elderly, just to keep them company.
So she was the one that made me think about Christianity, but I still didn’t think it was for me.
In the meantime I got married and had two kids and got divorced as well. So that wasn’t great. Because of the divorce I moved back from Leeds to London with the children. My sister had previously asked me loads of times to go to church and I said no, but this time I was back living in London.
I was having a bit of a rough patch, a bit lonely, and I just thought I’ll give it a go. So I went along with her to St Luke’s, Kentish Town which had just opened.
I joined at a funny time as it wasn’t open to the public yet. We were worshipping at the vicar – Jon March’s house. I met some really nice people, but I just didn’t get it at all. Because it was in his house, I think there was the assumption that everyone there was a committed Christian.
Everyone was so friendly, I couldn’t have met nicer people, but I just thought I really don’t know what’s going on. So around the same time, that was the end of September I think, that I went to St Luke’s, it was also the start of the Alpha course. That was when I thought right, I like these people but I’ve got no idea what they’re about, I’ll do the Alpha.
I knew about Alpha because my sister had done it many, many years ago. She had talked about it but at the time I just thought oh no, that sounds really naff, I’m not gonna have anything about Jesus. But having met these people at St Luke’s I realised I didn’t know what it’s about and there seemed a way to find out. My sister couldn’t speak highly enough about Alpha. So I thought, all right, I’ll go, I did it in September 2011.
I was really apprehensive at first. I went there wanting to know a lot of answers and the talks were absolutely brilliant. But for the first few weeks I hated the next bit where you talk and discuss it. I thought ‘I wanted you to talk to me!’ I’m quite a shy person and I felt very uncomfortable. And also I felt because I’d just moved down from Leeds having separated from my husband, I didn’t really want to tell a bunch of strangers my circumstances.
I felt quite like embarrassed and ashamed. I thought I bet I’m the only person in this group that’s divorced; I don’t really want to tell you my life. I didn’t really speak up for the first few weeks, I was just too shy. But very quickly you do get to know people and become friends.
My group were brilliant actually. They were a really good group. Half of them were believers, half of them weren’t, and I was the one that kind of wanted to be but wasn’t sure. And at the end of it we were all really close as a group.
It just got easier and I don’t know why or how, but everything I was hearing with regards to the talks spoke to me.
I think I’d been going for a couple of weeks and I’d been trying to speed read the New Testament, which is really hard when you’ve got two young kids. I was reading it at night only and I was so tired in the morning.
My children are two and four, so I was getting them to sleep, doing all my chores and housework and then I was normally completely knackered and just want to fall asleep, but I was trying to speed read the Bible.
I got a lot out of it and it was just beginning to ring true. A lot of the people I’d met through St Luke’s were living it out, they just seemed really open minded, kind, with a lot of integrity, and they seemed happy as well. I just wanted a piece of it.
A few weeks into Alpha I prayed and invited Jesus in and thought that I can turn my back on all that’s bad. Obviously we’re all sinners but I was just thinking of the major stuff. I thought it should be quite easy to say this. But anyway I did say it and I did mean it.
I didn’t confess that I really wanted to believe to my group. I just offered very non-committal comments. But very quickly I just felt a sense of peace even though nothing in my circumstances had changed.
Free from worry and stress
When I was with my husband we had a really nice big house and enough money. Coming back to London obviously that all went and I felt a lot of anxiety and I was worried a lot. I’d lie in bed and worry about my kids and I’d worry about money and worried what everyone was thinking about me. After that prayer nothing changed in my circumstances but it just gave me perspective.
I thought the things I’m worrying about I don’t really think I need to be worrying about them; it’s quite trivial. A big wave of peace came over me and I thought I’m just going to park a lot of this worry and stress.
That was the main thing, just the peace and the relief really at first. But then as it went on I was alongside the Alpha, still going to St Luke’s. They said you’re supposed to tell someone, so I told my sister. But you know sometimes you doubt yourself, I wasn’t sure if I’d really committed. So on a Thursday night at St Luke’s it’s prayer night, I thought okay I’ll try and go along. I was really nervous and everyone was praying these really nice elaborate prayers. I wanted to say something just so I felt like I’d committed in front of people.
So everyone was saying these really lovely articulate prayers and I just almost in a whisper just offered a one line just to have a closer relationship with Jesus or something.
Then it was really nice because it was a small group that evening for whatever reason, there were only about eight of us. They all prayed for me that I’d know Jesus more and welcome him into my life. And I just left feeling really, really happy. Whenever I went to Alpha or church, I just felt that happiness and a bit of security really.
I don’t know why because it’s nothing financial, but its security that someone’s with me and it’s given me a lot more confidence. I don’t think that actually people were all looking at me and judging me for being divorced but I did feel like it. But I don’t feel that any more and I think if anyone is silly enough to think that, then it really doesn’t matter, you know
I am now a member of St Luke’s, Kentish Town. I’ve joined a mums and tots group, which is on Friday… there’s only about eight of us and we all pray for one another. It ‘s just that sense of community that people are looking out for you. I get a lot of comfort out of that.
Jesus is now my friend
Before Alpha I kind of knew Jesus was the Son of God but I couldn’t have elaborated any more than that. That was basically what I learnt at primary school and I hadn’t learnt anything additional to that since. But I certainly didn’t have any personal relationship with Him.
Now I do feel like Jesus is a friend really, someone that’s just got my back if you like, that’s just watching out for me. I really feel that, sometimes more than others but I do, that’s kind of what I cling onto.
I got baptised in January 2012 and I got to do tell everyone how Jesus had changed my life.
I did invite my friends to my baptism. It was really last minute so I didn’t really expect them to come. I invited about six or seven friends, they all came. Most in my Alpha group all came. And then I told a couple of people from St Luke’s and a good chunk of them came as well, because we just have the one morning service and I was being baptised, so they all came along to that.
So I was feeling the love that day. It was quite funny because I am a naturally shy person. The reason I wanted to be baptised at HTB I suppose was 99 percent because that was where I found Jesus. The naughty one percent was I thought I don’t have to have everyone I know looking at me.
If I did it at St Luke’s I would know everyone. But it was kind of funny because it backfired on me as everybody came and I had to do my testimony there as well. So not only did they come but I had to do my testimony. And off the back of that Jon and Sus March are my friends and they said “Will you do it at St Luke’s as well?”
Before Alpha I had never read the Bible. No one in our house owned a copy of the Bible. Years ago I think my sister bought me a copy of the New Testament. I never read it. I was quite miffed that she would give me such a present. It was like… really? Seriously?
It was just when I started to go into church first I downloaded it on my phone and then my Kindle, and then I thought I needed a paper copy too. So I’ve gone a bit Bible crazy. I pretty much speed read most of it and now I’m trying to read it a bit slower and get a bit more out of it - doing The Bible in One Year.
Before Alpha I would have prayed very, very rarely and sporadically. I did occasionally mainly just to give thanks for my children and ask for them to be kept safe. I didn’t believe but I wanted to cover my back.
Now I pray all the time, and not just to ask for stuff but just to give thanks. To be honest there’s still stuff I’m praying for that hasn’t been answered.
Peace and Joy
I’ve now got the peace and the joy, Jesus hasn’t changed my circumstances but he has given me the grace if you like to go on without feeling too stressed or too worried or unhappy or anything like that. I’ve just got the grace and strength to wait. And the other thing, as a parent you do like to give your kids the best of everything and sometimes that equates to material things. But now it’s really important for me that my children know Jesus as well and they come with me to St Luke’s and they do their little Sunday school bit. And they’ve got that sense of community as well. I didn’t have that and because I didn’t have it I wouldn’t say I missed it. It’s just if you don’t have it you don’t miss it, but now I’ve seen it I would like for my children to have that, growing up.
Becoming a Christian is one of those changes that’s inside. I am different now - I’m more open to people. I wasn’t unkind before. I’d see someone and think they need help, but now I might try and actually help them. If I saw a charity I wouldn’t just think, oh it’s good they’re doing that. I would want to help, even if it’s just giving some money. I think it just made me a little bit more proactive in trying to do the right thing. I just have a lot more confidence really.