“Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine, so that through you, others can see him.”
For anyone who knows me, even just a little, they will know that I have a bit of trouble sitting still and more often than not, if you are looking for me you need only look on social media to see that I'm in some place or another, doing what I do best, wandering around travelling. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Sophie, I’m 20 and I’m about to start my final year at university, which to be honest, is a bit scary! I am an overenthusiastic geography student (and yes, I have heard all the insults there are, just to clarify, “Colouring in” is not involved in my degree) I have an obsession with David Attenborough that frankly, is verging on the unhealthy side of things, with many photos of him up in my uni room. I have just about read every CS Lewis book there is, so if you ever need one, I'm your gal. I have been going to CE, just shy of a decade now and I can honestly say, by the grace of God, it’s been one of the most important things in my life and something I’ve been truly blessed by through the years, it's nothing short of amazing.
With my degree I was given the opportunity to travel abroad and study for a year, I have always had this weird built-in urge to travel, so this was not a difficult decision for me. I set out in August 2015, on my journey to Sweden. I studied at a university in a town in the south of Sweden called Lund. On the first day I travelled alone, buzzing for an adventure, however, I found myself standing in front of the university in a foreign land, wondering how the flip I’d actually got to this point in my life. To be perfectly honest looking back on the decision I did not involve God in it, at all. It was all about me, what I wanted, what I thought I needed and I was just going to do it regardless. My rebel heart is something I struggle with and all too often I make decisions without giving God a second thought. My selfish attitude and self-interest become more important than God and this is something I need to change in my own life.
As soon as I arrived I realised my distance from God needed to stop. I’ve never had to be so ‘independent’ in my faith before, I've always had CE and church as my go to, my weekly fuel. This was the biggest change for me. It was definitely something I really struggled with in the beginning for the first three to four weeks I felt totally alone, longing for God and his nearness. Something to know about Sweden, it is literally known as the ‘atheist capital of Europe’ I just didn't realise how true this was, until I arrived. There was no Swedish University CU, No Swedish CE, No Swedish Edenderry. I really was quite physically isolated from the church. This was definitely my biggest struggle when I was away, I’ve never ever experienced such an intense longing to be with God’s people and the church family before this time. I had a physical longing within my heart to find somewhere to worship my awesome God, without sounding melodramatic it was like someone had cut a limb off and something I felt continuously throughout my 5 months away. Looking back it’s defiantly taught me the sheer importance of church and of my family in Christ, something I will try my utmost, never to take for granted again. We know all to well the verse from James 4:8 “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” I longed for my Father and my prayers were answered, even though I wasn't getting to my weekly worship, I felt Gods presence, his peace and his comfort. This is a wonderful gift. Unfortunately, during my time away I didn't find a church I stuck at, all church over there are Lutheran and to be honest, a bit intense, definitely a regret. Towards the end of my time, I found a C3 church in Malmö that I attended, through the recommendation of a Canadian exchange student, and I enjoyed it greatly.
During my time away I was privileged to have a pastoral visit from Rosie, who as everyone knows, is an absolute Queen. This was one of the most special times during my five months. We enjoyed a weekend of fellowship and sightseeing around Copenhagen, it was just great. The support I received from church and CE whilst I was away was quite overwhelming. From phone calls of Gilly checking up on me, to letters, to parcels, to Facebook messages I felt incredibly supported. I didn't quite realise just how wonderful it is, to hear that you are being prayed for, it was very important to me, especially if I was having a bad day and something that definitely provided me with more confidence and conviction within my faith as I was away. We, as God’s family care deeply for another and this was so evident through CE and how they remain in touch with those of us who are away. CE was definitely something I missed hugely during my time away, it definitely left a hole in my Saturday night that couldn't quite be filled. I really was, so excited to get back, especially because my first night back would be the famous Christmas feast! Without a doubt, CE helped me a lot when I was away and it's something I am very grateful to God for. One of the most important things that I have been taught throughout my Christian life is, that Jesus Christ loves us dearly and isn't finished with any one of us yet. Above all God is good. Always.