"I was pretty much an atheist pretending to be a Christian..."

Jelaena, a student from Bristol, chose to get baptised during her first year at university. We asked her about her experience in her first year. Here's some of her story. 

What was your experience of faith like before university? 

"I can joke about it now but, at the time, I was pretty much an atheist pretending to be a Christian.

This was, in many ways, affected by my environment. Despite being raised in a Christian household, a lot of my friends and peers weren’t Christian. That really got to me growing up because my family had migrated to Singapore from the Philippines, thus there was already a cultural barrier I had to deal with on top of my religious difference.

I know it may sound slightly silly and dumb to bring this up but I had a lot of trouble making connections so I didn’t really have a lot of friends for most of my schooling years, which resulted in my obsession to fit in. Instead of being proud about my Christian identity, I shunned it because I felt that it alienated me from everyone else."

How would you say your faith has grown throughout your first year? 

"My first year was about falling in love with Jesus again."

To be completely frank, I had no plans about going to church when I started university. However, God catapulted me into a bunch of circumstances which led to me giving church another shot and I even ended up in Christian Union! For the first time, I was surrounded by amazing Christian friends. This gave me the opportunity to have thought-provoking conversations about faith.

Additionally, the beauty of studying far from home is that you’re forced to be independent. My mum and dad aren’t around to remind me to do daily devotion so I really had to discipline myself to set aside time for it — which can be really difficult for a university student! However, I am very happy to report that, as of the end of first year, the routines I used to do begrudgingly are now my daily highlights!"

What led you to want to get baptised? 

"Experiencing what Christ can do in us and through us was what set the bar in the motion for me.

None of my university friends ever believe me when I say this, but I was really awkward and introverted for most of my life and getting a fresh start across the ocean didn’t change that. When entering university, I was still weighed down by all the insecurities I had.

There’s undeniably a lot of pressure to be something, be it top student, best-looking person, most popular kid etc. The list goes on and on. Eventually, fear starts kicking in, fear that you won’t be that somebody whom everyone expects you to be. In my case, I feared failure, isolation and I had body image insecurities.

While returning to Christ didn’t completely “cure” me, it did help to alleviate a lot of my anxiety because it put everything into perspective. The standards and expectations of this world really don’t amount to anything when an all-knowing, all-powerful and eternal God loves us as His children. What made this positive change even more spectacular was that a lot of my friends from back home noticed it without having to see me in-person!

Having experienced first hand how life-altering a relationship with Christ can be, it felt natural to get baptised. Not only was it a way for me to thank God for all he’s done for me, it also served as a way to share my testimony with non-Christian friends and open up conversations about faith, because the Gospel is simply too good to keep to ourselves!"

What would your advice be to student workers who are welcoming Freshers in September?

"I guess my main piece of advice would be to meet people where they are.

Humans are amazing in that we’re all different and our experiences vary so much from person to person. This is especially true at university; suddenly, it seems that everyone who couldn’t possibly have crossed paths in another life/universe are, in fact, interacting within the same space. Basically, you can’t use the same formula on everyone and expect it to work. You also can’t expect people to understand things in the same way you do.

Of course, I’m not saying to mix it up every single time you meet someone new, that would be a little too mentally exhausting otherwise, BUT be ready to think of new ways to angle things once you get the signal that something’s not clicking with them. Don’t be afraid to ask them where the roadblock lies, either! As long as you’re not condescending about it, I promise nobody will mind at all. In fact, it might just open the door to more genuine and honest conversations with someone!"



Victoria Seithel

Communications Developer

Viki loves raising up new leaders and is committed to sharing the hope-filled story of student mission with the churches she serves.

Partner with Victoria