One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad through Veritas was because the program had a Christian based emphasis on missions. As I talked about in The Obligatory About-Me Post last September, I wanted God to be the focus of my time abroad. Coming off a fantastic year of campus ministry and wonderful summer working at camp, I was pumped up and determined to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Europe.
Well… things didn’t exactly go as I expected. As He usually does, God did something totally and completely different. That’s what this post is going to be about–my spiritual development over the past few months and what studying abroad did for my relationship with God.
When I arrived in London, I was extremely determined to find community and get involved. Upon meeting and getting to know my wonderful mentor, Shannon, I started attending meetings for a group called Connect UK at a neighboring university. The group is aimed at providing a welcoming environment for international students and creating a global community. It’s main event is a free lunch once a week, but also puts on quiz nights and promotes a student church. Although the group is not expressly Christian, it was founded by a pair of missionaries with the hope of using it to establish relationships and share the gospel with people from all over the world. The free lunches were the things I attended. At them, they had a list of question at every table. We would go around and answer the questions, sharing about our different cultures. As the questions went on, they got deeper. For outreach, there were purposely Christians placed at every table. The deeper questions gave us a chance to share our faith and see what doors the Spirit was opening.
The first few weeks of Connect UK were great! But then the founding missionaries had to return to the United States, leaving more of the student leadership in charge and other helpers to assemble the lunch. Unfortunately, the missionaries didn’t train in the new leaders fully. Thus, once they were gone, the people now in charge of the ministry had to figure things out for themselves. Lunches got more disorganized, fewer people showed up to meetings, and questions at tables were forgotten all together. From my point of view, the group became more of a hang-out time than intentional ministry. I still enjoyed the meetings–the people were really fun, I learned a lot about other cultures, and made some good friends. But, before my eyes, I watched the ministry go from an intentional ministry to a social club. It was kind of sad.
I tried a couple other things–attending on campus Christian Union meetings and talking about Bible studies with some of my Biola friends–but nothing really came of any of it. I had hoped that I would find community and growth with fellow Veritas students, but that was not the case.
As a result, my time abroad was spent in spiritual isolation. At least, that’s what it felt like. Although I had Christians in my life, I didn’t really have anyone to grow with aside from my mentor. With my busy schedule, I wasn’t able to attend church for months at a time. When I finally did have time, it was too late to settle into the community because it was almost time for me to leave.
My main source of spiritual growth and encouragement was my personal time with God. Every morning, I rolled out of bed, grabbed my Bible, and spent the first hour of my day reading the Word and spending time in prayer. Sometimes, I’d flip Spotify open on my computer and have independent worship time via a playlist. It was all very simple–just me and God, one on one.
It was hard being so alone. But despite how frustrated and empty I sometimes felt, God never once left me. I learned so much about His immense provision. Despite everything, God never stopped speaking very clearly and personally to me. He never stopped giving me encouragement or whispering promises for a bright future. No mater where I travelled and what tour group I was with, there were always other Christians present. Even if we weren’t growing together, it was such a comfort to know they were there.
One of the biggest lessons God taught me had to do with spiritual warfare–something not often talked about, but very real in our world. My part in the body of Christ is that of spiritual intercession, so I knew that warfare was a real thing and have definitely experienced it before. But I had never experienced it to this degree. It’s one thing to know about the spiritual battle raging around you in your head and something completely different to feel its implications in your spirit. Over and over and over throughout the past few months, I have seen the lines between light and dark clearly drawn and defined.
I watched as the otherworldly powers struggled over people I knew. I saw one girl in my program experience one brutal spiritual attack after another, causing her to go from a genuinely curious seeker to someone completely closed off to God. The other girl in my program, at the beginning, was given the challenge to choose to go deeper in her faith or to walk away. She chose not to choose, and as a result, I watched as her live became consumed by the patterns of the world. Everything about her changed, from her manner of dress to her language to her academic work.
I experienced lightness and darkness in places that I travelled. My trip to Austria had me surrounded by beloved spiritual family, which was refreshing beyond words for my beaten down spirit. We spent time delighting in God–worshipping and praying in the streets of Innsbruck. But then, not even a week later, I found myself in the crypts of Edinburgh, Scotland on a haunted ghost tour. In the vaults under the city, I found myself face to face with the demonic. Never in my life have I been in a place so dark. I could sense the evil spirits in my heart, feel their barbed spirits reaching out towards me. Although I knew the whole time they could not harm me, that’s an experience I never want to repeat.
The spiritual darkness was everywhere. London is such a lost place, and I could feel the brokenness hanging on my spirit. Some days, I was extremely depressed–something completely uncharacteristic for me. The heaviness of the darkness was such a burden. It was so hard to bear it some days, but it gave me insight into the world. As Christians, we are called to live in the world, but not among it. Well… I certainly got a taste of what it’s like to live in the world in a way I had never experienced before. Having lived under the darkness, I have so much compassion for those whose entire existence is spent beneath its sway. How do they carry the burden every day? How do they live without hope?
I’ve got this notebook that I use during my one on one time with God. When I feel Him speaking to me, I grab a pen and write. The words that come from my hand aren’t my own. God’s been communicating to me like this for over a year now. Here’s something He said one morning on the subject, copied from my notebook:
Amelia, the lessons I am teaching you are different than the ones you expected. I am showing you what it’s like to be estranged, giving you an outside glimpse at the war taking place. From Austria to Edinburgh, from the girls in your program, you have seen very clearly the spiritual battle. You have seen the enemy’s work; you understand the brokenness of the world. Your soul has touched it. You’re like a scout who goes to enemy lines to get a feel for what they’re up to. Now you can return home bearing news so, together, you can come up with proper battle tactics.
On another note, I mentioned before that I wasn’t able to attend church regularly. When I did, it was too late to find a home. So, near the end of the semester, I decided to take my free Sundays and experiment. In London, I had the chance to experience all sorts of different kinds of services and ways of worship, and I took advantage of that. I attended Anglican services at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. One time, I went to a super traditional Baptist church where they sit in hard wooden pews and sing only hymns. Another time, I went with friends to Hillsong London–a massive service that meets in one of the big West End theaters. I attended a fairly evangelical community church. I also went to a charismatic church, which I actually really enjoyed. Going to all these places, I was able to meet all sorts of brothers and sisters in Christ. Just about everywhere I went, people were warm, friendly, and welcoming. It was strange meeting spiritual family members, knowing that I would never see them again, but definitely a cool experience.
There are times when I wonder if I did things wrong. Should I have tried harder to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Should I have made more of an effort to get into a Bible study with my Biola friends? I don’t know. Regarding sharing my faith, I certainly learned to be more open and bold about my beliefs, but I didn’t feel God opening doors.
Spiritually, the past few months have been incredibly challenging. What I just wrote out are the lessons I’m aware of, but I’m sure that God did more. I’m not sure exactly what He did, or what learning these lessons means for the rest of my life. I don’t know why God gave me the experiences He did. Ultimately, though, I know that the experiences I had were the ones God wanted me to have all along. He needed to teach me these lessons and has a plan and purpose for them. He had to push me to be faithful to Him, even when I was completely alone and even when I didn’t feel it. He had to let my heart experience the almost physical weight of the darkness. He had to show me what it feels like to be in a broken world. I’m not sure why He had to do all these things, but He did.
God’s been making some pretty big promises for my future. I’m not exactly sure what position He’ll put me in or where He’ll take me next. I could list an infinite amount of things I don’t know, but since that takes a lot of time, I’ll tell you something I DO know: God has a plan and a purpose for my life. The lessons He’s taught me have prepared me for what is next. No matter what that is, it’s already in His hands and I don’t have to worry about a thing. I just have to keep following, seeking, delighting, and abiding in Him, and He will handle the rest.
So… that’s what God did during my time in Europe. I’m excited to see what’s next!