Do you have that one friend your mind keeps flashing back to? Someone perhaps you weren’t that close to but still see as a friend? I do. His name is Raymoy and he was my neighbour back when I lived in the Caribbean in a hidden gem of an island called Anguilla. One of the memories that I keep coming back to is of us lying down in the middle of the road at night, just watching the stars. Raymoy had such big dreams of where he wanted to go in life. It is one of the few memories I have as a young man where there wasn’t any bravado or need to impress my friends; just two young lads in their teens, sharing their hopes and dreams.

This was over a decade ago. Sadly a few years ago, Raymoy took his life. I don’t know exactly what drove him to that point, what he must have gone through at that time. But the more I think about Raymoy, the more I remember something he had said more than once. He said, ‘Ardel, not many people believe in me.’

Belief. It is a powerful force. Belief in victory can change a fight and give people the strength to overcome odds. Belief in your kids and their hopes and dreams will raise a generation of new leaders who can change our world. Belief in others when tackling a task can help forge stronger relationships. And when no one else believes in you and you feel abandoned and isolated, when you realise nothing else can help you, belief in God can bring life.

My experience with my friend Raymoy while uncommon may yet have familiar connotations with many. As a teenager, I went through a period of depression. Not because people did not believe in me (though I had my doubters), not because I had a difficult childhood (though I had my challenging moments), not because I lacked confidence in myself (though I sometimes did). I was depressed because I felt alone. In the midst of a close knit island community, I felt I did not have anyone I could truly share myself with. I just could not find anyone who I thought accepted and loved me for who I was and not what they want me to be.

There were a few times in my life I attempted or did something that might have meant I wouldn’t be around today…..Thankfully I was never successful. I was as some might put it, ‘lucky’. My friend Raymoy unfortunately, wasn’t.

After coming to know Christ, I found that my depression quickly changed to joy and happiness. But there was (and is) always this temptation, this yearning to go back to that dark place, that place where I alone and whispers of ghost tell me I am not valued. And when those times come upon me and my mood changes, in my stillness and fight…..God speaks and the whispers are silent. God speaks through his word that I read and I hear of his love for me. God speaks through my friends, family and the community of believers that put a lie to the whispers and God speaks into my heart telling me I am his beloved son.

My wife and I moved to Southampton in 2010, and within a month found Portswood church. The first time we went, we were welcomed, we were loved, and we were supported. Over the years we have grown to know many of the people in the church, and would call many close friends and confidants. When we did not have a car, many people in the church would offer their services so we would not be left behind. When we did not have plans for lunch, many a folk would invite us to share in their home cook meals and look to learn more about us. Recently we became parents to a precious and at times challenging daughter called Anastasia. Left to care for a new life on our own was a scary thought. Yet we are never really alone.  From emergency trips to the hospital when my wife was sick to general checking up on us, we have a family of people who we know loves and believes in us when we are facing fears that make us doubt ourselves.

Through our tiredness, we had offers of support, from large DIY tasks in the house to simple everyday chores such as washing dishes. In our hectic life as new parents, almost every meal was provided by a member of the congregation for the first three weeks.

I cannot even count the amount of clothes / toys / helpful advice and tips / nappies that have been provided as well!

This wasn’t all because the church we belong to have nice people (although they are). I found being nice doesn’t always work in trying situations or trying to be nice but thinking awful thoughts. No, the reason why this community of sometimes weird and random people can have such an impact on me and those around them is because they recognise that there is someone who believes in them so much that He (God) sent his only Son to take away a punishment all of man could not pay. The evidence of that belief in us has the power to transform us and make us new people.

As I think of my friend Raymoy and others who are no longer alive, I cannot help but find myself thinking: what would their lives have been like if they had found the fellowship I had? Not just with people, but with God; the author and source of my strength. Would they have still walked that isolated path, alone and in the dark? Or, would they be somewhere laughing and smiling with friends. At night, relaxing with someone special or eating dinner with their family or even perhaps putting in those extra hours at work because they want to finish that project. And perhaps as they go for a walk to work off their evening excess or as they exit their work place to go home, they would look up at the sky and see it lit up with countless lights and reflect. Knowing they are not on their own but surrounded by a family of believers and a personal God who believed in them, all shinning like stars in their lives.