“I REMEMBER getting on a train to London in the middle of the night; we sought help from the Hungarian Embassy, stayed a day or two here and there and then moved on; we spent one night in Victoria Train Station. I was freaked out…”
These gruelling memories of Vali’s first few weeks in England are still vividly etched upon her memory. A few months previously she had been on a school language exchange trip, staying with a family in Worthing who agreed that Vali and her mother could stay for a week once they had emigrated. This did not work out and Vali and her mother found themselves homeless soon after their arrival in the UK.
“I was born in Russia,” says Vali. “My mother is Hungarian and my father is Russian. They divorced when I was three and my mother, brother, sister and I returned to Hungary. For a time we used to go to a Baptist church called Faith Church; mum dragged us along and we got baptised as a family. I first remember praying when I was 12.
“Like many people from eastern European countries, we struggled financially as a family. When I was 15 we came to England; my mum had the ‘American Dream’ and came over with £200.”
Arriving in a foreign country, unable to speak much English, knowing no one and experiencing homelessness was a frightening experience for Vali: “I was freaked out, there seemed to be no future and everything was so uncertain. I prayed to God for Mum to get a job. Eventually she managed to get one in Northampton. When she found a job I thought – ‘that’s God answering my prayers!’
“One day, when I was 16, we were shopping in an eastern European shop in Northampton called Perestroyka and Andrea, a Hungarian lady, came over to us when she heard us speaking Hungarian. She introduced herself to us and invited us to Heart, the Jesus Fellowship Sunday evening service and, later, to a Jesus Fellowship community house.
“My mum only came twice to church but I kept going. I made friends with a Hungarian family, the Paps, who belonged to the church and I began exploring God. A few months later, I was really open to and ready for God and that weekend, I asked Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit. That night my hands were shaking, I spoke in tongues and I wanted to pray for everyone!
“Meanwhile, I had entered school in England in year 11, stayed on in sixth form and eventually went to the University of Central Lancashire to study Fine Art. Mum re-married while I was in college.
“The multiculturalism of the UK was a shock to me and I found English people reserved. I tried my best to integrate and worked hard on losing my accent!
“In the last year of sixth form I began drifting away from the church. I had to get on with life and I worked at Subway; the combination of studying and working at the weekends was the start of me going to church less and less as my priorities changed slowly and other things became more important than God. By the time I went to university, I’d already drifted away from God.
“Things at university, however, didn’t go according to plan and got messy. I blamed God and felt He was angry with me because I didn’t do the things He’d asked of me. I felt depressed, empty inside and didn’t want to live my life that way. I no longer just wanted to go through the motions of life.
“During this time I kept in touch with my friend Kath who I had met in Northampton. She came to see me at Preston.
“I didn’t want to move back to Northampton after university. However, while visiting Kath one time I decided to stay for a Saturday night meeting at the Jesus Fellowship community house where Kath lives; it was during this meeting that I felt God speak to me. I felt God was saying that I needed to come back to Northampton so I could be surrounded by friends from the church I knew who would build me up. I knew, in this way, I could go further in my walk with God than just on my own. I felt God saying that it was OK to let go of the past, my hurts and my mistakes. That night I gave my life to God again and decided to move back to Northampton.”
This time Vali’s experience was deeper: “Before I went to university, I had stuck around the church more for social reasons than for God. Now I’m around for Jesus, for God, not for the company.”
Vali testifies to the faithfulness of friends: “My friends, the Paps, played a big part in my story; they have been really supportive. I didn’t have to phone, I could just turn up at their house at any time. Kath has been really inspirational too; I look up to her and she nudges and pushes me on in a good way – she’s a good motivator!
“In my early Christian walk, my friend, Izzy, was always very supportive, available for a chat and took the time to listen. She helped me find out more about God as I explored Him; she also helped me feel accepted.
“I’ve got a lot to be thankful for in terms of my journey and finding my way to God. My friends in the church have enabled me to open up and build deep relationships.
“Life is not easy and I still worry a lot. I have to tell myself that God is in control and He is my Provider… I love Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27)