My name is Mark and I’m 20. I have lived most of my life in a place called Tiverton in Devon. My family have always been heavily involved in the church, so I grew up in a Christian family with my mum, Lynn, my dad, Peter, and my brother, Jack. I never grabbed faith for myself until I was 16, before then I was just going through the motions, and copying my family because I didn’t know what else I should do. I was baptised at 11, confirmed at 12, started leading worship at 14 and then I became a Christian at 16. This skewed order can be explained by how I grew up.
I often say that looking back, I can see that my past self lived three completely separate lives. The first life was my school life. Since being bullied at primary school, when I moved to secondary school, I was desperate to be the popular guy, and I did whatever it took to become that person, often being violent in order to make myself look bigger and tougher, and constantly rebelling in order to fit in with the other popular people. As I went through school it meant that I was involved in groups where drinking, drugs, and sleeping around was the norm. The second life was my family life. At home I was quite removed from family life, often preferring being by myself than with my family because I didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt very different to the rest of my family as they were all succeeding at everything they took on, whereas I felt as though I was constantly failing. My brother was phenomenally gifted academically, and so in a success orientated household, I found it very tough to be living under him. This just led me to rebel more at school. It also meant that Jack became my role model for everything because I saw that he was doing so well and wanted to be like that; which is why I was baptised, confirmed, and led worship before I became a Christian, I did it because that’s what Jack did. This meant that I had little to no identity at home, because I was half Jack, and half nobody. Then my third life was my church life. I knew how to make it look as though I had an actual faith, I just gave the right answers, said yes to helping at things, and took opportunities whenever they came. I faked my way through 16 years of church life, picking up knowledge about Christianity and what it stands for, without really believing or even liking the church. I just saw myself as an unsuccessful and unhappy teenager, and thought ‘What has God ever done for me? Why should I listen to what He says?’ and so I continued to lie and fake my way through Christianity.
All of this combined meant that I was a broken, lost, and hurting kid who felt as though he had nothing going for him. I was a real mess. So now we’re up to August 2012; I had just left secondary school and was about to start studying at Richard Huish in Taunton to start my A-Levels, and during the summer holidays in between the change, I went to Soul Survivor with the church youth group for the second time. On the second night of the camp, some very weird things happened, if you want to know more then ask me about them! It led to me not wanting to go to the main meeting, but the youth group and youth leader persuaded me to still go. When the worship started, I felt God speak to me for the first time, and He was talking to me about how I had separated my life to try and please everyone and in the end I wasn’t pleasing anyone, especially not God or myself. He pointed out so many things that I had done and reminded me of so many situations and it broke my heart when I realised how many people I was hurting and how broken I was, and then He reminded me of the verse that was read over me at my baptism; Isaiah 41: 9-10 which is “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” and it was then that I realised how much I needed mercy and grace from God. I felt God say “lower”, so I got on my knees, then again “lower”, so I lay down, and I couldn’t get up, there was an incredible weight on my back that didn’t let me move. I cried for what felt like days, but in reality what was only around half an hour, as I started to understand how broken I was and how much God loved me and wanted to put me back together.
So after two years of God correcting my foundations, identity issues, love issues, friend issues, and all sorts all through college, I came out of it with low grades but high on my faith and wanting to do something with it. I wanted to go to university to study music or failing that get a job somewhere. I had seen a few options that excited me, but God kept shutting the door one way or another, and eventually I went to my youth leader and said I need something to do for a while but I don’t think anything I want to do is the same as what God wants me to do. Turns out that just that morning the vicar had spoken to him about the possibility of starting an internship at the church, and if he could help him find a suitable person to do it. Isn’t God’s timing great? So I grabbed the opportunity and worked at my home church in Tiverton and was part of the youth team, kids team and worship team, and I had such a brilliant year, I grew up a lot! I lived with the youth leader at the church and his family, which was one of the best decisions I have made. Living with them really helped to push my faith even further as I saw just how much they depended on God for everything, and how God influenced the way they lived in every way He could. It was a very inspiring time for me. Throughout this year, I was involved with SWYM and met Joe on a number of occasions, and he would often mention Create to me. I was never 100% sure, as it was always a second choice for me, until Easter when all my plans fell apart in a really really tough way. It was at that moment where I fully offered my future to God, and He responded pretty quickly with Create. So I came to Yeovil to check it out and I fell in love and knew that it was where I was supposed to be. I haven’t looked back since!
For me, my story is all about transformation and submission. God stepped into my brokenness and bridged all the gaps with grace, love and wholeness; then all it took was for me to hand my problems, situations, and life over to God. Since that moment of revelation at Soul Survivor, my life hasn’t been the same. I have found my identity, both in Christ and in who I am. I am so excited for my faith, and growing more and more in love with God as I learn more about Him, His heart, and what He has done for me. God has helped me overcome so much, and now I have the privilege of being in the position where I can help young people experience the same grace, love, and wholeness.