Jenni from Fusion Scotland heard about our 'redefining students' series and straight away thought of Stephen as an exceptional student worth celebrating. So here's the interview, we hope he inspires you as you work out how to make the most of being at uni right now too...
Where are you a student and what are you studying?
I'm a student at The Glasgow School of Art and I am studying my second year of BARCH Architecture.
How did you get your passion for mission and evangelism?
I guess my passion for evangelism and mission comes from two places. One is a recognition of how much my relationship with God has enhanced my life. Having struggled with my mental health - God has guided me through those dark seasons into places of great joy, inspiration and strength of character - I have learned (and am still learning) that complete trust in God is the way to peace and wisdom, not to mention salvation. So when I see friends and people close to me struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, grief and broken relationships, I see how a relationship with Jesus would bring peace and wisdom to those situations. I guess I know (although not as much as I should) the value of the gift I have in knowing Jesus and just want to share that with people.
My passion for mission honestly comes from the Spirit. I know that I am such a self-centred person by default, easily tempted by my own ambitions and visions of grandeur. Thankfully, God has been hard at work in this, developing in me a heart for compassion, generosity, social justice and most of all, a deep desire to see those who feel alienated from church discover the truth about who Jesus is. This may sound counter-intuitive, but because it feels so uncontrived, I know it can only come from God.
There are specific people whom God has brought into my life and given me an evangelistic heart for. For mission, in particular, one defining experience was the short-term mission trip I did last summer to Kandy, Sri Lanka. We worked with a charity called Child Action Lanka who provide care and education for the city's street children. Seeing the bleak and brutal societal oppression and stigma the children were under just broke my heart. It was a profoundly humbling experience as while we did make financial contributions to the organisation, I soon learned just how powerless I was to alleviate the children's poverty and how little my wealth and education qualified me to help them when their struggles were on such a level I couldn't even fully empathise with.
And yet simultaneously, I also felt the deepest joy in seeing just how powerfully God worked in the lives of both us and the children, just through the power of relationships and showing love. The compassion and community, inspired by the example of Jesus, was such a stark contrast to the prejudice and systematic abuse that surrounded us, and I know that as a result of experiencing that, I have developed a passion to see the love and compassion of Jesus brought to more people.
Can you tell me a story of Jesus making a difference in your life as a student?
Where to start! I'll go with something where God's been at work in my life recently. That is struggling with a great sense of inadequacy in my work, particularly in my degree. Long story short, I'm leading at a creative business venture that I strongly feel God has inspired me to pursue, and I also work part-time and am intent on actively serving in my church. This means I am often very stretched thin, and whilst I work very hard, there's simply not enough time to see the productivity I want in my architecture work. This is something I personally struggle with and there is a very strong temptation to overwork 24/7, and to be constantly comparing myself to others.
Through this God has been teaching me all sorts of wisdom. Namely, that there is real value in not being the smartest person in the room as that is an amazing way to learn rapidly. Also the value of rest, and actively resting as an act of trust that God is the one in charge of my future. But most of all, He is teaching me that I'm not at university to only get a degree, but to grow in the skills, wisdom and character that will equip me to become the man who fulfils the purposes God has for me - and dealing with these struggles and tensions has actually been an ideal way of bringing about that growth. I guess it keeps me from being bitter and forces me to trust Him more than I would I had it my way.
How are you using your summer this year?
This summer is a little in the air at the moment, and the only thing I have pegged down is to spend some time in Belgium visiting my girlfriend and her family. I also may be spending time in Budapest working as an architectural intern depending on how that works out. Besides that, I will be working with my band and developing the corresponding business endeavour that ties into that.
If a student is reading this who thinks being a student is limiting and that they can't get on with 'real life' yet, what would you tell them?
I would say that this idea that at some point in our lives we transition into 'the real world' is false and that there will always be a reason to put off or feel limited from or by reality, so there is really is no time like the present to start living intentionally in line with the person you want to become.
However, university does provide a unique set of challenges. You have an excess of choice and suddenly complete freedom in your time, finances and energy, and there's the struggle with the uncertainty of having to work extremely hard under pressure and for no pay (in fact, you're the one paying). Yet these very challenges can suddenly become a set of incredible and unique opportunities - all it takes is a shift in perspective.
That excess of choice can suddenly become an empty calendar, into which you can schedule a life built around the activities, rhythms and relationships that really matter to you. The uncertainty and pressures on your time, energy and finances can suddenly become profound growth opportunities as God can really teach you how to steward the resources he gives you. All in all, being a student is an opportune time to let uncertainty and stress provide an opportunity to practice and learn wisdom in a way that develops you into the person God designed you to be at an accelerated rate
To an extent, there is undeniable turbulence to undergraduate life, where a sense of what's real (or more accurately, what is normal) can easily be distorted. For that reason, my number one piece of advice would be to find a church with a strong sense of community as quickly as possible and then stick with it. Whilst I think it's fine to try out different churches to begin with, and there are legitimate reasons for changing churches, I would say that 'church hopping' is dangerous as it takes time and often a bit of struggle before you can fully settle into a community.
If we want to know more about who you are, what you're up to and what you're involved in, where can we click next?
I'd be happy to be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scroll back on our blog to see more in the 'redefining students' series and be inspired.