I was christened as a baby in a Greek Orthodox church, as my family are from Cyprus. But we never went to church – my mum is agnostic and my dad is an adamant atheist.
My journey to faith began in 2013 when my friend who was only in his twenties nearly died. He was attacked and beaten very badly with a scaffolding pole, and we were told it was unlikely he would survive. So I looked up to the sky and said my first prayer, asking that God would allow him to live.
And he did! Though I didn’t actually see it as answered prayer at the time. I did, however, think it pretty rude of me not to acknowledge a God whom I seemed to hope was there for me when I was desperate. So I decided to look into it by reading the Jewish, Christian and Islamic texts to figure out what I believed.
I only got part-way through the Old Testament (far too many lists of names for me) and halfway through the Quran (though it became very clear to me that it wasn't the same god the Old and New Testaments talked about), but came to the conclusion that I liked Jesus who I thought was pretty cool. But that was it.
It wasn't until a few months later, when I experienced a particularly bad episode of depression, that I woke up one day and decided I wanted to go to church. I was living with my boyfriend at the time, who had grown up in a Catholic church, and so we went along to that church. We arrived too late for Mass, but I found myself sitting in front of a huge statue of the Virgin Mary sobbing – and it was at that point I knew I needed Jesus.
I started going to different churches to see what they were like and ended up at an Anglican church. I sat in the back row for the evening service so I could make a quick exit as soon as it ended. But a lovely lady called Catherine approached me. She could see I was overwhelmed and invited me for coffee the following week, when she explained the gospel to me and I said a prayer asking Jesus to come into my life (in the middle of a busy coffee shop)!
I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time, but I felt like I was ready, and as Catherine began to disciple me in the weeks that followed, the Lord helped me to understand in greater depth what that decision meant.
I also found out that Catherine and a small group from the church had been reaching out in the local area and had been led to pray particularly for my street, which they had visited and leafleted, prompting me to visit that particular church.
I honestly feel like a completely new creation. He has given me an amazing sense of hope that I'd never experienced before. I'd struggled with depression for many years, since I was 16, and the hope that Jesus gave me was like nothing I'd ever experienced before.
The Lord has been so kind and faithful. I felt him changing me in small ways like not wanting to tell ‘white lies’ or swear, and later he was so kind in breaking my addiction to nicotine. I had also smoked since I was 16.
The Lord then led me to a large, charismatic Anglican church, where they just loved and encouraged me the whole time. God has been so good and provided me with a community of believers who have been so hospitable and Christ-like in the way they have welcomed and encouraged me in my faith.
For the past two years, I have lived in Manchester where I am also part of another wonderful church, where I feel so at home. I'm currently working for a university as a Student Well-being Officer, where my role involves supporting disabled students and those struggling with their mental health. But I am seriously considering being a missionary, perhaps in South America, so I can share the beauty and wonder of the Lord Jesus who has made such a difference to my life. And he can do the same for you too!
Steph Petrou lives in north London. She was speaking to Charles Gardner