INTRODUCING is a blog series introducing you to some of the members of Redeemer. You will meet some of them through their fact file, their life story, or their faith journey.
My name’s Ben, I’m married to the wonderful Mikka, and we moved to Colchester at the end of August last year to join the church plant here, having studied, lived and been part of City church in Canterbury for the last few years. I grew up near Southend so can claim to be a genuine Essex boy.
We got married last summer, had no house for a couple of months (a couple of couples kindly let us stay at their places whilst they were on holiday), and spent the summer looking for jobs and a house in Colchester (most of our belongings were already in a garage in Colchester!). Nothing came up as planned, so we ended up moving without a job or house in place - until the evening before we finally left Canterbury, when I was offered the job I had wanted! In the space of a week following our move, Mikka got her job and we found a nice little house to rent right near the middle of town (and a 6 minute walk to the hockey club - huzzah!). At the time it felt a bit frantic and stressful, but it’s quite an exciting story to tell now, simply because it’s so clear that God provided and had everything planned (even if it wasn’t quite our plan!!). We’d put our faith in Him and seen obvious provision, which was quite a promising way to begin our involvement with Redeemer!
I grew up with church as a pretty normal part of life - since I was about 4 I’d been part of the Boys Brigade with my brothers, and we’d always attended church on Sundays. But it very much felt separate to daily life, and I remember my friendship group at school being a significant representation of this: a Mormon, a Muslim, a Jew, a couple of guys entirely indifferent to faith, and myself. I was at a grammar school and they were an intellectual bunch, but even given this interesting mix, the topic of faith didn’t come up too often, and my life certainly didn’t reflect knowing God. So I didn’t really have peers with whom I could discuss big questions about the bible, Jesus and abstract waffly philosophy. But as my teenage years went by, I somehow stayed quite immersed in church life - in hindsight I’m incredibly thankful for the people who led the youth group at the church, they were excellent role models, and a huge amount of fun. They, along with the few chums I had, were my main reason for being around - curries, games and events were what I looked forward to rather than Christ, growth, or evangelism.
A few events and trips stand out as having quite an effect on me, and where I saw the radical, loving response to knowing and following God. Going to weeks like Soul Survivor excited me - not simply because they were prime times to have deep discussions about faith whilst a river of mud ran through the tent (one year my friend Rob and I slept in a trailer instead…) but also because the idea of thousands and thousands of people worshipping together gave me a bigger picture of what God’s kingdom looks like. People from loads of different nationalities, from quite different cultural or church backgrounds, singing and praising in various languages, but to the same God. A trip abroad with a charity that runs an orphanage and hospice also highlighted to me how compassionate we are called to be when we see those who are unloved and hurting. Seeing people give up their time, comfort (plus any semblance of a normal life) to love and care for those where they would not otherwise see love and care, helped me realise that God has first done the same for us through Jesus!
University was the time when things changed most for me - I moved to Canterbury, stayed for five years and have some wonderful memories as a result. In my first year, whilst I was primarily excited about the quantity of hockey I’d be playing, finding a good church was something I was genuinely looking forward to, primarily in order to meet some fun people! However, I didn’t end up finding a church - probably because I was just too busy with hockeying! Most my friends were hockey pals, most my time was spent either playing hockey or socialising with hockey (which is apparently a huge part). I remember trying to read my bible and pray quite frequently, and I remember a flatmate commenting on the weird worship music I was listening to, but that was about it - the church I had been a part of before university was still a great support and I loved seeing people when I was back from university during holidays. However, right at the end of my slightly messy first year, I stumbled along to City Church - I knew a couple of guys there but think I initially went because I quite liked a girl who went! I missed the bus and ending up walking with some other students, and it was great - I had chosen a week to go when baptisms were taking place on the beach after the service. It was a Sunday in June so it could have been expected that the weather would be nice, but instead we seemed to have gale force winds (and I remember even Hugh getting bounced around by the gargantuan waves).
From then on, I just got stuck in at church. I was plonked into a student small group and surrounded by people who I got on with very well; I met guys who were genuinely cool and yet totally sold on living their lives to glorify God. I joined a couple of serving teams: our church met in a big school hall so each week everything had to be setup from scratch - I volunteered (was lovingly coerced) to get to church for 6:45am and help do all this. This would have been challenging enough alone, but at the same time I was working at the university nightclub, and often wouldn’t finish until after 4am. I certainly had some bleary-eyed, coffee-fuelled mornings during that time, but it helped me establish Christ and His church as priorities in my life; plus, lifting heavy boxes with people is one of the best ways to get to know them, as long as you don’t mind being slightly sweaty throughout. The other great thing was the real sense of community I experienced - genuine, loving mates who spent time together working out how to live out their faith, with wise advice and support from those who’d known God for a while longer.
I think discipleship has been huge in the last few years for me - in a more structured setting whilst I was a student, but even before that I had youth leaders who were effectively mentoring me, answering my questions, patiently encouraging me and helping to refine my character. When surrounded by friends who were on fire for God and with all of us having enough time and flexibility to talk, pray and debate well into the night, I experienced how iron sharpens iron. My faith definitely grew by having people about who could share burdens, who cared enough to challenge and encourage, and who are also a lot of fun!
After university, I decided to do Impact - the voluntary year working for the church with chunks of bible training throughout. It was rather challenging, and a bit of a slog at times (but training was absolutely brilliant) but I can see plenty of good fruit from it - bits of my character that needed refining; my understanding of God, of scripture, of living a holy life; and much more. Throughout my years at university, I had seen previous ‘Impacters’, and they were men and women I saw as role models - they were doing something quite unconventional in spending a year volunteering for the church, rather than going off on exotic travels or diving into a high flying career; so it was clear that serving God (and his church) was their priority, rather than seeking satisfaction and achievement elsewhere. It was definitely fun being involved with a big, lively church, but it was learning to serve obediently and wholeheartedly that stood out for me - in the cheerful, entertaining times, but also when it feels like being faithful means trudging along slowly.
Occasionally I think back through my story so far, mostly to remember how God has been faithful and provided abundantly, but it’s also interesting that certain elements stand out each time I consider it all. As I’ve been typing this, it’s felt quite obvious that I really value knowing people well and having real community and close friendship; but also meeting new people in different situations. Growing up, I was intrigued by who God is but my honest reasons for being at church were to socialise and simply because it’s what my family did. At university I knew plenty of people to hang out with, and still have some close hockey chums, but I was struck by how substantial and deep the friendships were between people in the church. These were people of real integrity who spent time together, not out of convenience but because they really loved each others company. That’s something I always want to see in the church - people who genuinely care for one another, when life is tough and when it’s fun, and where people who aren’t necessarily that similar at face value become close to one another because of being united in Christ.
It’s taken me a few weeks to get this written down and, since I started, we had a Redeemer Church men’s camping weekend. Sitting round a bonfire is the best time for contemplative, reflective thinking about life, and one of the things that struck me was of the men there, eating lightly incinerated sausages and marshmallows next to me - how few of them I knew even a year ago. Yet God has clearly forged relationships and started weaving people together - I’m getting to know their stories; how they have come to be here in Colchester, some of the joys and strains they have experienced, and the things that most excite them about knowing God. If I’m honest, I had just enough faith for Mikka and I to get here mostly unscathed - I hadn’t given much thought to how God would actually get started with our little church. So the fact that there now a good bunch of blokes in the church, people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and befriend, is really exciting and encouraging - an answer to a prayer I don’t think I prayed enough! Plus I don’t have to bellow quite so loud to make worship sound half-decent, which suits everyone involved. So it’s incredibly fun to look forward, to consider and pray for what God might do in the coming months and years - the people that we’ll get to know, the times of worship that leave our voices hoarse, the magnificent meals shared, and the activities and projects we can get involved with that will help people in Colchester come to know who God is.