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How I Navigate Being A ‘Good Christian’ At Uni In The UK

Illustrated by Jovilee Burton.
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What on earth have I done? A huge part of me felt light years away as I woke up, blurry-eyed, to see the figure of a muscular, curly-haired male laying next to me. My heart sank, and I was instantly filled with guilt and regret at the realisation that somewhere between pre-drinks and the smoking area at Pryzm Cardiff’s club night Quids In, I had thrown all my caution of being a ‘good Christian’– a concept that I had held so dear to me for most of my life – to the wind. 
It was freshers' week, and just two weeks prior, I had arrived in the UK to begin my undergraduate degree at Cardiff University. It was my first time living away from home, and the prospect of carving a new life out for myself and meeting new faces was exciting. On the eight-hour flight from Dubai, inbound to London, I had promised myself I would make the most out of student life. Most important of all, I promised myself I wouldn’t neglect my faith or stray from the Christian values that had been impressed upon me, growing up in a conservative African home.
And yet, not even a month in, in the rush of freshers' week, it dawned on me that I had somehow managed to commit a multitude of sins: starting not least from the skincare sin of sleeping in my makeup that night. Do not get drunk on wine. Sin. Lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes. Double sin. Do not have sex outside of marriage. Mega sin. Having sex before marriage in the glamorous fashion of a one-night stand, in particular, threw me into an internal crisis: upending the dynamic of future Christian dating and relationships that I had envisioned for my life, and with it, my perceived ‘value’ as a Christian woman – an identity of which I had been taught was so closely tied to my virginity
For many young Black, African, Christian women, household conversations around dating and relationships are often seen and treated as taboo. We are often taught to ‘date to marry’ and that sex before marriage is a sin: making dating in the space in between often very difficult to navigate. My teenage ‘relationships’ in high school always had a serious aura to them: we never slept in the same bed and never went past first base – all the protocols were firmly in place to ensure we didn’t toe the line of sexual ‘sin’. The quickness with which I had carelessly discarded this and took up a casual ‘worldly’ approach to dating bewildered me. Little did I know that reeling from the turmoil of losing my virginity – a concept that was so central to my faith and identity – would leave a vacuum that would redefine my approach to dating and relationships and lead me to really become a better Christian. 
There was something fun and liberating about the spontaneity of dating while letting go of the pressure of asking “is this the one?”. In my second year, a right swipe on Tinder led me to a coffee date with Sam*, a planning graduate turned Savills real estate agent, which spiralled into a trip to the Pen y Fan (a mountain in the Brecon Beacons) and ended in drinks at the pub. It was a spontaneous day that showed me I was missing out on fun life experiences whilst attempting to navigating life with religious blinkers on. The realisation that I, an imperfect Christian, would never have gone on that date in the first place had I dismissed him for not being ‘Christian enough’ revealed that my uptight and cautious approach to dating and relationships was festering an ugly self-righteous and judgemental character trait that Jesus himself preached against. 
By the third year, I had met and dated ardent atheists, where the dinner table always turned into a mini debate. And although these never materialised into relationships, these interesting experiences taught me how to make a case for my faith – pushing me to question what it meant to me outside the confines of religion. My faith has always been important to me – it gave me purpose, hope, and a sense of fulfilment and peace that nothing in this world could compare to. Yet, it was only in deep conversations in bed with men with completely polar opposite beliefs that I was able to identify that I was using the man-made actions of ‘religion’ to try and please God. It was here that I understood what the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu meant when he said ‘God is not a Christian’. The religious ‘Christian’ acts I had become accustomed to certainly wouldn't secure me a corner on God because that’s not how he sees things: his love is universal to everyone regardless of their beliefs, and he certainly doesn’t take our side because we are cosplaying ‘good Christians’ and following the rules and regulations. What matters most is reflecting his posture in our hearts and building a relationship with him. 
I started my university experience making what I then thought was the most disastrous mistake as a young Christian, which obliterated everything I knew about myself and left me feeling like I had ‘failed’ in my walk as a Christian before I had barely even started. But battling and navigating the internal conflict of wanting to maintain my faith at university while negotiating dating for the first time after losing my virginity – preservation of which had always characterised and defined so much of my approach to dating – forced me to reflect on everything I had ever known about my faith. 
Learning to let go of purity culture and the ‘dating to marry’ mindset, and giving myself space to embrace different relationships as they came, surprisingly had beneficial effects that reverberated across all facets of my life. One mistake at the beginning of freshers' week turned into three years of rediscovering myself and my faith outside the confines of religion that I had been taught to never cross my entire life. Each dating experience calmly – sometimes harshly – called me out on areas I was falling short and taught me that seriousness of my faith, pleasure, fun and enjoyment can, in fact, exist in the same space. It's in embracing life and relationships and dancing in the middle of that fine line between ‘worldly’ and ‘Godly’ where you find the balance that feels best for you. 
Are you at uni, in an apprenticeship or at a higher education college in the UK and have a story to tell? Find out more and submit your info here.

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