“I HAVE freakishly early memories. I remember lying in my cot and seeing my cat looking at me. I’ve found out since then that I must have been only six months old.” One of the first things I find out about Hannah Bowring is her vivid recollections from childhood.
“Since then I’ve had a fear of cats coming at me from head-height. I only recently realised why!” She laughs, admitting that some of her friends find it weird.
Being different is not new for Hannah. During her time at the University of Birmingham, she was unafraid to talk openly about her Christian faith; not in an aggressive way but wanting her peers to know where she stood.
“People weren’t sure what they thought of me until they went through tough times,” says Hannah, “There was a girl whose boyfriend cheated on her back home and most of her happy clubbing friends didn’t want to sit with her when she cried, but I was there for her.”
“Everyone who turns up in Freshers’ week is completely insecure. If you go in knowing who you are, with a level of confidence, people accept you for that.”
At 31 years old, she now lives in Isleworth, South West London, with her husband Dan, who works as (of all things) a self-employed magician. Hannah admits she longs to travel more and often tries to plan holidays with her friends and family.
“We have a lot of people around for dinner and my husband cooks! I hate cooking,” says Hannah, “It’s all about life, relationships, friendships. I love films, so does my husband, so we have film nights and invite people to join us.”
She works for a Christian charity called Fusion, which works towards ‘connecting students to church, and church to students’.
Fusion has been going since 1997, when a group of church leaders from across the country came together with the same aim: for churches to be more involved with students.
It’s a movement that has grown over the 16 years since its inception to become one of the most widely recognised organisations for students within the Christian circle. The main goals are: to prepare students for the ups and downs of university life, to provide resources for churches who want to get to know students, and to support and train student youth workers.
“I was involved with Fusion right from the start. My brother was in his first year at Sheffield Uni’ and I helped him set up a small group for students. I was 16 at the time.”
After completing her A-Levels, Hannah took a gap year and decided to go in a different direction with her degree.
“I think I’d just spent too long studying physics equations,” says Hannah, “So the August before I was due to start uni’, I rung up and asked if I could change to psychology.”
>When asked to describe herself, one of the first adjectives Hannah uses is “passionate”. It’s easy to see this when she talks about Fusion, the charity she has been linked with for over ten years.
“The statistics are still bad,” she says, “73 per cent of Christian students don’t connect with a church at university.”
It’s clear that this is a phenomenon Hannah wants to see reversed. Her job title at Fusion is ‘student work developer’; she organises national training days, conferences and local, more informal gatherings for student workers in the UK. Student workers are young adults, some of them still in university themselves, some having graduated, who are employed by their church to engage with students and welcome them into churches. As young people fresh out of (or still in) university, they have a unique understanding of what makes students tick.
Hannah was a student worker herself, for a year after graduating from the University of Birmingham with her psychology degree. She then worked in London for Holy Trinity Brompton Church for about three years. In January 2008 Hannah started the job she currently holds, as Fusion’s student work developer. When she was a student worker in 2004, there were only 20 student workers registered, but Hannah informs me that now there are roughly 300 connected to Fusion.
“The crunch moment for me was when I was 22. My dad died.” says Hannah, “It was all quite sudden and horrific.”
“Prior to dad dying, my theology was fairly simplistic. Then this horrible thing happened and my theology was thrown up in the air.”
Hannah found herself asking lots of questions. How did this happen? Why did God let it happen? It was a journey of realising her fundamental beliefs needed to change.
“We need to walk with God through the ups and downs of life. Suffering gives us an ability to connect with people, it makes you live more thoughtfully and gently. It’s not about whether you fix things, it’s about who God is.”
For Hannah, it marked a significant shift for her in her life. She describes the moment when, a few months after her dad’s death, she sat in her bedroom and was painfully honest with God. She felt her trust had been shaken, but she asked God to prove Himself to her. And He did. Years later, Hannah looks back at that moment and is grateful that she didn’t walk away.
During her time at Fusion, Hannah and her colleagues have experienced both times of disappointment and of encouragement. She tells me about one young woman she has seen progress from an enthusiastic Christian student, sharing Jesus with her friends in university, to a student worker, to a member of the team with Fusion.
“That’s the kind of journey you see people going on,” she says, “Rough and ready students with a passion for Jesus. It’s so exciting to watch.”
Have there ever been moments when she’s felt like giving up?
“A few years ago we did a tour of different cities in the UK, called ‘loveyouruni’,” she recalls, “Some places we went to, only four people turned up!”
But even when their activities seemed pointless or frustrating, Hannah explains that it would only take a few good encounters to remind them why they were doing it.
Reflecting on her years at Fusion, Hannah is proud of how far they’ve come and excited about the change in attitudes she’s seen since its beginning.
“I think we have made an impact. Not just with students, either, but in aiding the transition, from school to university and then from university into the world of work.”
Faith in God has been a source of strength for Hannah through some of the most difficult times of her life and through her formative younger years. Her enthusiasm for her work at Fusion is obvious, as is the strength of her friendships with the students and youth workers she is involved with.
“Young people are interested in authenticity and reality.” says Hannah, “I don’t think people are less interested in God, but this generation needs to see faith in action.”