Evania’s earliest memories are of travelling the world. Struggling to find a place she could call home, and often experiencing life as a game of ‘pass the child’, alcohol became the main constant in her life. When she found herself living on the streets, an opportunity for a free meal offered more than she expected.
‘Today, my upbringing would be called dysfunctional, but as I grew up I wasn’t aware that anything was wrong.’
Moving between Argentina, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti and England with her parents, Evania’s early years were exciting but ‘confusing’. Boarding school did not bring the stability that was expected. ‘That was my first moment of total abandonment.’
Holidays spent with various family members began to have an impact on her behaviour. ‘I call it my career as a childhood alcoholic. There was always alcohol around and often my cousins, step-siblings and I would want to try what the adults were having, so we’d have a little bit of wine with some water in it.’
At school Evania experimented with other substances, sniffing glue and smoking marijuana. Although she was expelled several times, a love of horse-riding helped her complete her studies, allowing her to qualify as a British Horse Society instructor. She volunteered with racehorses and showjumpers before working as a performer in Australia, playing the guitar and Spanish dancing.
It was at this point, aged twenty-one, that she met the man she later married. ‘He worked as an entertainer too. He was a good person, a really good person, but unfortunately what I didn’t know was that he was also an addict. He used to get violent and it got worse and worse because he was getting more and more addicted to I don’t know what. We had to split up in the end.’
After her marriage broke down, Evania moved back in with her parents. ‘All of us were drinkers and in the entertainment world there are often a lot of exotic substances. I never thought I had a problem though, I just thought I was doing what everybody else did.’
Seeking new opportunities, Evania returned to England with her mother. Her mother’s remarriage placed a strain on their relationship, but they remained very close, and her death left Evania devastated. ‘All hell broke loose.’
During this difficult period, Evania depended on friends and family for a place to stay, using the money she had inherited from her mother to find homes for the pets they had owned together. For a while, she lived off the remainder of the inheritance. However, after some investments
fell through and the money ran out, she was left with nothing and didn’t know where to turn.
‘I was in Cambridge when I got talking to this homeless lad. I told him my situation and he said, “Why don’t you try going to London? I think you’d get some help there.”’
She decided to follow his advice. ‘I didn’t have 10p on me. It was a history of being on the streets, in and out of hostels.’ While in London, Evania met a group of fellow rough sleepers who became her close friends. ‘I have to admit, we did all beg for money in the daytime, for tobacco and other stuff. I know we were in a negative situation, but we were a comfort to one another.’
It was in London that a friend, Jim, invited her to Alpha. ‘I met him in 2006 and he had his Bible out and was going on about HTB and Alpha and I just didn’t want to know really.’
She describes her anger and resentment at the idea of God. ‘My mother was brought up as a Catholic and we were forced to go to church all the time at boarding school, but I totally turned against it. I’d see all these kids who had a dad and a proper family and even though I wasn’t conscious that anything was wrong, I wondered why other people had something I didn’t have.’
These feelings deepened as Evania experienced life on the streets. ‘I didn’t want people to talk to me about God. I thought, “You talk about God? My life’s a mess – where is God?”’
But, in 2009, Jim convinced her to give Alpha a try. ‘I thought I’d just come for the food. When I saw the queue I wanted to leave, but something made me stay.’
The atmosphere was the first thing that struck her. ‘I just felt welcome. Everybody was warm, friendly, caring. I liked that nobody was trying to force anything on you and that everyone showed a real interest in each person’s story. I think that’s very important because sometimes we just need to talk.’
As she continued to attend Alpha, she noticed her life begin to change. ‘I had walked with a limp from a horse-riding accident many years ago. One night, after the talk about why Jesus died for us, I started to feel this warmth. I thought there was a heater behind me, but there was nothing. A few days later, I was looking at my hair in a shop window and as I walked away, I noticed I was walking straight for the first time in years.’
Evania now believes it was the Holy Sprit who healed her. ‘The Holy Spirit was at work, though I wasn’t aware of it.’ She decided to attend Alpha a second and third time in order to understand faith more deeply. ‘Things really started to click the third time I did Alpha because I made amazing friends. It was like I had found my family.’
Since discovering a relationship with Jesus, Evania feels her life has gone ‘up and up’. ‘When you find yourself in the gutter, you can’t go any lower. It’s like you’re at sea without oars in a boat that’s full of water. Finding God is like suddenly being rescued. He empties the boat, puts a motor and sails on it, and you find that you’ve got to do something with it.’
To help break free from her addiction to alcohol, Evania went on to complete The Recovery Course. ‘When you surrender to Jesus, he will give you a high that is superior to any drug or alcohol frenzy. You find that the Holy Spirit feeds any craving you might have.’
Reflecting on her past difficulties, Evania now seeks to use her experience to encourage others. She was recently invited to volunteer with Union Rescue Mission and share her experience of Alpha with those living on the streets on the notorious Skid Row, Los Angeles.
‘It was an absolutely amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. When I spoke to people out there, I recognised the symptoms of what I’d been
through – the feeling of functioning as a number, existing with no self- worth, no hope – and I saw that what’s helped me can help them too.’
For Evania, life has been a complex journey. Still living in temporary accommodation, her faith and the close community she has found at church and the William Wilberforce Trust keep her going when things get difficult.
‘Even if we’re having a bad day, or feel like there’s a war going on around us, we can know that God is walking with us and that one day we will be rescued. Even if he takes his time, there’s a reason. I see the world as a beautiful place, with beautiful people. If we’re patient, he always reminds us of the blessings.’
Words by Yosola Olorunshola
Photography by Alex Douglas