Believing that God’s passion is for a dynamic student movement, Fusion aims to connect local churches and students so they can love their universities and colleges across the UK. We spoke to Miriam Swaffield, a student worker at Fusion, about what it’s like to be a young woman in the modern landscape of British universities.
60 seconds with …
Too many – I love Gladiator and Bridget Jones.
What makes you laugh most?
When people are hilarious without meaning to be ...
If you could have dinner with any one person in history, who would it be and what would you ask them?
My granddad. I never met him so I'd ask him to tell me his story.
Why is university such a key time for a young person?
When you first leave home you are suddenly presented with a freedom that you have never experienced before. Here is a chance for you to escape your background, your history, anybody who knows who you are and who you were, and anything that your parents have taught you. You are now out on your own, with the chance to be whoever you want to be.
In an atmosphere where people are soaking up new ideas and learning all the time, university is a great time to speak up and say, ‘Hey, have you ever considered that there is more to life than this? Have you ever really thought about why you are wired like that?’
What aspects of Jesus’ life and words do you think young people identify with most?
I know a lot of people in my generation want to live for a cause. We don’t know what we want to live for but we do want to live for something bigger than ourselves. We want to make poverty history, we want AIDS to be eliminated; we are interested in seeing the world changed, but we don’t always know how.
In his lifetime, Jesus did a lot of radical things that left everybody saying, ‘woah! That has just blown my mind and changed my understanding of what is possible.’ I believe there is a God who consistently sides with the poor and the broken and calls us to restore them to the fullness of life. That means more is possible with Jesus than we ever thought.
And, many of us don’t have dads anymore, so the story of the Prodigal Son is still really powerful because it talks about the God who runs like a father and meets you when you are still a long way off.
In one of your blog posts, you have written that ‘community is contagious’. Why do you think community and a sense of belonging are so important to people?
In terms of a church community, people are getting less interested in big gatherings where everything is just led from the front. That is not necessarily what this generation needs – we want to feel involved. We want to know how to cook for ourselves and feed each other, rather than go and get served a meal.
Alpha obviously presents a vehicle for that, particularly if you want to explore who Jesus is as a group. So at Fusion we are interested in how a little family community based on faith would work for students, led by students, for students, with students.
Who or what inspires you?
The key thing that has inspired me is the humility and the encouragement of the leaders I had around me growing up. For example, in my second year at university, at G2, the church that I now help lead, one of the leaders approached me and said, ‘Why don’t you do a 5 minute talk and see how you do?’ I had never spoken before, and I had never preached before. Now that’s my job. And it all started when somebody stopped and said, ‘I think you would be gifted at this, have you ever tried it?’ I really want to encourage future leaders in the same way.
What challenges have you encountered as a young leader and as a woman?
I didn’t realise that this was a ‘thing’ until I graduated. I started to go to a lot of meetings with other church leaders and most of the time it was like sitting with eight versions of your dad! There have been a couple of times when I have had to take a deep breath and say, ‘Miriam, you can either get intimidated because they are at least twenty-five years older than you, or you can walk in and do everything you can to encourage them’.
I refuse to get bitter or frustrated about it. I would rather just be myself and be the most passionate about Jesus that I can be. I am so excited by the fact that just by being a young leader I seem to enable other young leaders to have a go at it.
Can you tell me more about your idea to visit every university in the country in a camper van? What’s the aim of this?
Over the next two years, I’m doing a bit of a road trip. I’m going to visit every university location in the UK in this ‘Loveyouruni’ VW camper van.
I’ll be encouraging local churches to reach out to students and I fully hope to fill the van with student leaders as I hit the road. I just want to encourage as many people as possible that, first, God is doing something in the student generation and, second, that we are part of the bigger story.
I want to say, ‘This is so exciting, come and join the adventure’. I have impossible hope that we are going to see something massive during our lifetime.
Interested in running Alpha at your university?
Hear more from Miriam Swaffield @miriamswaff