5 // 2014

It was not at all how I’d imagined it.

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It was not at all how I’d imagined it.

I’d always pictured my gap year to be more along the lines of exploring the jungles of Borneo, inter railing around central Europe or digging wells in Guatemala.

As I sat alone on the 9hr Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Osaka, with just a rucksack and a CD player, having just said a tearful goodbye to my dad at the departure gates at Heathrow. It began to dawn on me that in essence my gap year had become nothing short of an escape plan. I was on my way half way around the world, flying somewhere over Russia, completely alone and desperate to be somewhere where no one knew me, where I could start again.

I’d just completed my 1st year of an embroidery degree at Nottingham Trent Uni (yes I have a degree in sewing..jest away!). When I arrived the previous September, I was 3yrs engaged, optimistic and loved being at uni. 9 months later it felt as if the bottom had fallen out of my world. I was single for the first time in years, hugely in dept, had dropped out of uni, was working as a barmaid in a real ale pub, living with bikers, heartbroken, empty and alone. The opportunity came for me to go travelling to Japan for 6months and I grasped it with both hands and left everything behind.

To cut a very long story short, after 5 months of trying (and failing) to piece my life back together, a vast quantity of karaoke, a crash course in teaching English to Japanese two year olds and hours of wandering alone around temples searching for meaning to my life, I gave my life to God in an empty bathtub, in a bedsit, somewhere in the back streets of Osaka- my life has never been the same since.

As I write this, the tragedy in Japan seems to be unfolding in more heartbreaking ways each day. The country that means so much to me, is suffering, dangerously on the brink of a nuclear disaster, fighting for basic supplies. So many people are missing, and thousands are still desperately searching for family members and loved ones, amid the rubble of villages destroyed in the Tsunami, I cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through

I wish so much I could help, jump on an aeroplane, go and make some sort of a difference.

However I’m sure that like many of you reading this, I’m praying, lifting each story I hear to God and asking for Him to help. Because so often even when we feel like shouting ‘why, God why??’ we know He cares, is in control and working His purposes out in every situation. So often His ways are not our ways, He chooses to do things that to us make no sense, but faith is all about trusting that the God who is so much bigger and wiser than us, knows what He’s doing and holds everything in his hands.

There’s been times recently, where on a far lesser scale than what’s happening in Japan, I’ve looked at some of my young people, and again found myself asking the question ‘why?’. It seems like the journey they are taking makes no sense. Their decisions seem so wrong and thoughtless; their relationship with God is falling apart, where it once used to be so strong- it makes no sense why God is allowing this to happen.

My gap year taught me that amongst the rubble of what seems a hopeless situation there is somehow always hope. It sounds like a bit of a cliché I know, but so often isn’t it the hardest path that leads us to Surrender?

I was having a conversation with someone recently who asked if I had become a Christian through a journey or a crisis. As it turned out the entire group I was with had all been crisis conversions. It reminded me that so often God takes us down the road of crisis, where we feel we have nothing left, before we finally reach some sort of clarity of who He is and how much we need him.

My prayer for Japan is that something good will somehow come out of this tragedy, that many will come to know the God who loves them, will find hope, rebuild their lives and somehow start over again.

My prayer for our young people is that as we continue to lift them up to God, He will be at work behind the scenes. Even when all we can see is the fall out of their lifestyle and pain created by bad decisions, I pray that He will bring them to a place where all their experiences both good and bad can be turned around for good. And where ultimately they will find themselves in a place where their faith becomes authentic and so much stronger.

Laura Haddow is an advertising exec for Youthwork magazine, a qualified youth worker, self confessed diet coke addict, singer/songwriter and lover of the colour grey. You can follow Laura now @laurahaddow