Focus couldn’t happen without you. Here are some amazing stories of lives you’ve impacted with your contribution to Focus.
‘It made me feel like maybe I am enough.’ – Emily’s story
Emily had a rough start in life. ‘I grew up in care, and I got kicked out school, my mum died – I had a tough time.’ She says, ‘I used to take a lot of drugs. I’ve tried a number of times to re-start my life, but I could never do it for long. I hadn’t dealt with the trauma of my childhood. I just felt I didn’t have the inner strength. Coming to church has allowed me to receive the emotions and process them, instead of just blocking everything out.’
This year was Emily’s first time at Focus. Because she’s in college, and not working at the moment, she was worried she wouldn’t be able to attend but was pleased to be offered a bursary.
‘I’ve really enjoyed Focus... When I was at church I could be quite shy... I had a wall up, like a blockage inside me, but at Focus I just felt I could really let go and worship and pray. I was going to church before, but I sort of felt like “I’m not good enough for these people”. Sarah Jakes-Roberts’ talk in the Big Top spoke to me – it made me feel like maybe I am enough. I feel like I’ve got so much more strength being in Christ. Everyone can see a difference in me. I want to do it for my children. I don’t want to let them down. Now I don’t’ think there’s any turning back for me. I can’t believe how my life has changed – I always wondered “why can’t I do it” but now I’ve got the power of the Holy Spirit.’
Qualified by the Spirit – Andy’s story
‘I wanted to come to Focus, but I knew I wouldn’t have the money because I wasn’t working,’ says Andy, a lorry driver who has been out of work for six months. ‘I thought “I’ll just forget about it and assume I won’t be going”, but then my vicar, Phil, encouraged me to come and said he could arrange for me to come for free. I felt in my heart I was meant to come.’
‘At first, I was just having fun – I loved the cèilidh dancing – I’m not a good dancer, but it was just such fun. But after Nicky Gumbel spoke in the Big Top, I was totally hit by the Holy Spirit – I felt drunk. Just waves of love and peace and joy. I couldn’t’ stop laughing. I’d never felt anything of that intensity before. It really changed me.’
After encountering the Holy Spirit the next morning, several people from Andy’s church came up to him saying they could see a difference in him, ‘like a weight lifted off my shoulders’ says Andy. ‘I have 3 GCSEs, but after this week, I don’t feel like that’s a barrier to me leading in the church. I feel qualified; I know Jesus has qualified me. Having a degree is intellectual, and I’m not saying that’s not important, but what’s really important is knowing Jesus is in you, he’s guiding you and flowing through you – I feel qualified in that sense, in a spiritual sense.’
Focus has also helped Andy deepen his relationships with the members of his church family. ‘Before coming to Focus I was coming to church, but I felt maybe I hadn’t really connected and committed, I wasn’t completely sure – I’m now at a point where I’m 100% in. I just love these people; it’s more than friendship. Now that I know the vision of the church, I’ve really connected with it. I feel I’m in the right place at the right time. It’s amazing to be a part of church that’s going somewhere.’
From ‘full-blown atheist’ to team member – Kamila & Prabhath’s story
Kamila and Prabhath came to Focus for the first time last year. When Kamila first asked Prabhath if he wanted to come to Focus, Prabhath wasn’t keen. ‘I was raised in Sri Lanka as a Buddhist, and I’d become a full-blown atheist. So I wasn’t interested in attending a religious festival... We were having a hard time in our marriage, almost on the brink of divorce, but we wanted to stay together for our son. Kamila had become a Christian and started to develop a relationship with Jesus and experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, and had taken a job as a Children’s Pastor at St John’s Hampton Wick. ‘Kamila was undergoing this transformation. I thought maybe she was going crazy, as she was praying and saying she was hearing the voice of God.’ When Kamila called him on his way to work one day to ask him to come to Focus, he replied there was no way he’d want to come, ‘but as soon as I hung up, I looked up and saw the word FOCUS right in my eyeline, as the car in front of me was a Ford Focus.’ says Prabhath. ‘Normally I would’ve thought “that’s just a coincidence”, but on that particular day it gave me goosebumps... I thought there was something there.’ When he got home, he asked Kamila to tell him more about it – she showed him a Focus video. Then I thought “Hmm this looks okay... if worse comes to worst I could always escape to a nearby pub.”
But when he got to Focus, he absolutely loved it. ‘So many people were just coming up to me and talking to me. They were so nice – that doesn’t happen in London. It completely changed my mindset about Christianity. I remember thinking “it seems like everyone in this place is experiencing something wonderful.”’
I felt something in the music – I didn’t know anything about the Bible, but I started to connect through the music. It changed my mind. I went home, and I knew I’d felt something.’
After Focus, Prabhath did Alpha at the suggestion of his vicar. ‘Then I decided to leave my job at McLaren and come to work for the church. When I told my manager I was leaving he said “Where are you going? Jaguar? Landrover? Mercedes?” I said “No! I’m going to work for the church.” He was shocked, but I knew it was the right thing. Now our marriage is better than ever, and we now have these amazing friendships and community at St John’s. We both work at the church, which is just a three minute cycle ride from our home. It was really important for me to attend Focus at that time. It changed my whole mindset, it’s changed our marriage and our lives.
From Muslim to evangelist – Deema’s story
This year was Deema and her two-year-old daughter's first year at Focus. Deema recently joined and was baptised at St John’s Hampton Wick after going through a hard time. ‘I was raised as a Muslim and grew up knowing Allah as God. I had no intention whatsoever to become a Christian’ says Deema, but after suffering a breakdown of her marriage and becoming a single mum, she was going through a rough time. ‘I’d hit rock bottom, I was flicking through Instagram and noticed an old friend of mine had posted a worship song. I was intrigued.
Something prompted me to message her and ask “How do you manage day-to-day?” and she answered “by the grace of God.” Deema’s friend prayed for her, sent her some YouTube talks, and suggested she join a church. She could tell right away that there was something special about St Johns. ‘By the time I walked into St John’s, I was desperate. I just wanted someone to tell me that it was all okay. I walked in – and it was just . . . I couldn’t describe it, now that I know about the Holy Spirit, I would describe it as being filled with the Holy Spirit. I was cynical at first, but the people really do love you, they’re not faking it.’
‘When I heard about Focus, I really wanted to come,’ says Deema ‘but there was no way I could afford it.’ I am so blessed that I was given a bursary to be able to come. I came here because I wanted to encounter God, and I did – I encountered him in worship in the Big Top. I’m not a public crier, and I found myself publically crying during the worship. After one of the talks, I responded to the altar call and burst into tears while waiting for someone to pray for me. Sarah Jakes-Roberts prayed for me in tongues, and June Sarpong and Nicky Gumbel prayed for me. In the evening session I came back into worship, and as I was praying on my own, I got the gift of tongues – then and there. I went back up to the front for prayer, and I saw June and Nicky and told them I’d gotten the gift of tongues. Focus has been amazing – it’s changed my life. Now the mountain doesn’t look as high to climb. I’ve always felt I was walking alone, but now I know I’m not alone, God is walking with me. It’s changed our lives – my daughter is normally very sensitive and cautious and not great with crowds. She has come here and loved every minute. She’s been in the Big Top, raising her hands and dancing in worship. We’ve forged some great friendships, and God has given us amazing ideas and opportunities. I know that I can reach out when I need help and say “Please can you pray for me”. I think I’m now an evangelist! I want to talk to people about Jesus, which I wouldn’t have done before. I want everyone to know what Jesus can do – how he can change your life. Even though I’m going through a hard time and I still experience sorrow, I want to praise the Lord, I want to jump up and down and say "Jesus has changed me!"'