Shining Through

In England, like many parts of Europe, the once rich Christian heritage that thrived for centuries is fading. “England is one of the most post-Christian places on the planet,” said Michael Hunter, Young Life area director in Hertford, England.

Yet there are signs of life — they are in the eyes of girls like Alfie and Zoe, two teenage girls from Hertford, England, who initially wandered a long way off before finding each other and a hope to hold on to.

Compelled by love

Alfie’s sweet demeanor was a good disguise for the rough life she lived. Barely a teenager, Alfie was already caught up in a fast lifestyle of alcohol, drugs and destructive relationships. It seemed she was getting swallowed up by England’s teen culture, in which drug abuse, broken homes and underage drinking are too commonplace. “Looking back I can see that my life was heading in a bumpy direction, but I was just so young that I don’t think I gave it a second thought,” Alfie said. “I didn’t have much motivation to try any better. I didn’t realize it then, but my heart really was crying out for an escape, for love.”

Luckily for Alfie, there were Young Life leaders who sensed her heart’s silent ache.

“They would come into me and my friends’ environment and just talk to us, love us and want to hang out with us no matter where we had been or what we were doing,” she said. “I didn’t really understand why they would want to do this. I’d never experienced anything like this before, but it was certainly attractive.”

It wasn’t long before Alfie and a friend were invited to come to WyldLife camp. She went, not knowing it would be a Christian camp. She learned a lot about Jesus that week, and when she and other campers were given the opportunity to respond to the love of Jesus Christ that had been explained to them, Alfie simply couldn’t refuse. “I didn’t hesitate,” she said. “I was so attracted to this love that I had to accept it.”

Forward, then back

When she came home from camp, Alfie continued to soak up as much of Christ as she could. She started attending a Young Life Bible study and a local church.

“I still didn’t quite understand everything about Jesus, God, the Bible and everything else that follows, but this didn’t put me off. The love I was experiencing was so addictive that I kept coming. For once in my life I had purpose. I had somewhere I belonged.” But her “honeymoon period,” as she calls it, began to fade. “Reality kicked in and I realized I still had the same problems prior to going to camp.”

It seemed that as Alfie took steps forward with Jesus Christ, she stumbled backward just as much. Yet, her Young Life leaders were there for her with every step.

She continued to go to Young Life and church, but she was also sinking deeper into a drug addiction, skipping school, becoming very depressed and feeling very lost. “I couldn’t even hold a conversation,” she said.

One night at church, she confided in a friend what she’d been experiencing. “I came to grips with the fact that Jesus actually died for all my sins and that God’s grace would remain despite my many mistakes.”

New beginnings

It turns out that Alfie had a friend who needed to know the same thing. She reached out to her younger friend, Zoe, who was stumbling down a similar rocky path of drinking, drugs and living a lonely life. “I knew God could love her in the same way He loved me,” Alfie said.

Alfie invited her to Young Life camp in 2005, which took place at Rasaay, an island off of Scotland. It was there that Zoe gave her life to Jesus Christ.

“We began to support and encourage each other in our own personal walk with Christ rather than pulling each other down,” Alfie said. The duo not only grew in their faith but also participated in a Christian-based drug counseling program called Future Hope. And they stood side by side at Zoe’s baptism, where about 150 of their non-Christian family and peers came to watch.

Not only would this day mark a public proclamation of Zoe’s faith, but it also marked the beginning of new life for three of Zoe’s family members, each of whom gave their lives to Jesus Christ. “To see my mum, stepdad and sister come to Christ was a sight I never thought possible,” Zoe said.

Alfie and Zoe continue to make strides in their faith and reach out to other young people. Alfie is serving at a church, volunteering for their children’s ministry. Zoe continues her involvement in Young Life in Hertford. She credits the relationships she has with friends like Alfie through Young Life, along with her church and Future Hope, with helping to change her life. And she’s quick to point to Jesus Christ for saving it.

“To me, God is more than someone who died 2,000 years ago or an old man who sits on fluffy clouds,” Zoe said. He’s my best friend, my counselor, my savior and much more. He’s someone who would rather die for me than be without me.”