Hello, my name is Laura and I'm the founder and director of YouBelong. For now, all I'm gonna tell you is it was set up in a time of interruption, much like this but I'll tell you more about it later.
Do you feel like your life has been interrupted by the pandemic, and all the rules and restrictions that are in place right now? If not, maybe you felt like that in the past. We're not able to go to work, to go to school, university, college, or even see friends and family outside of our households, and it's really hard for lots of people.
In spring 2014, my life was really interrupted when I was diagnosed with a rare condition called achalasia, and it affects my oesophagus or food tube that connects my mouth to my stomach, and it meant that food wasn't going down. I had lots of tests and procedures and eventually an operation that made it possible for me to eat again, and it was great. I had a real passion for youth and so I decided to set off to uni and go and study youth ministry.
I really loved it, but by my second year, I realised things weren't quite right in my body again and I needed to think about what I needed to do next. My life had been interrupted again, this time by severe fatigue, 24/7 pain, and just feeling really bleugh. Thankfully, one of my tutors at uni helped me to find a way to get through, and I managed to complete my degree and graduate in January of 2019.
That was great, and I was really excited to have done my degree but what was I going to do now? My body requires lots of rest and sleep and lots of medication to control my pain, which makes me even more tired and need more sleep, which means that lots of physical jobs are just not possible anymore.
For months, I've wrestled with God about this. I felt God calling me to study to become a youth minister but my body wasn't up to the task. I felt very stuck. My heart was passionate about ministry but my body wasn't up to it. But then God showed me another way.
Whilst I was having a conversation with my tutor at uni about my future, he told me about online church. I know now a lot of us are familiar with online church but at the time, it was very new. I decided to go on social media and find out what it was all about, and I found lots of people like myself, Christians who wanted to be at church but were physically unable to.
So I set up YouBelong as a place for Christians with chronic illness and disability to gather online and together we find out more about God, we chat about life, we do Bible studies, we have craft days, we've even just started a book club, and it's really great, I love it.
Although interruptions don't feel good at the time (I know you're probably not feeling about this interruption right now like it's a great thing), but we should be open to them because God can use them and even be in them.
You might remember an event in the Bible when Jesus was interrupted. One day he was walking along and a woman grabbed his coat and he turned around and looked at her and told her she was healed. He was interrupted though because he wasn't just walking along. He was trying to find someone else to heal who had asked him to do that but he didn't get angry at the woman. She came to him and he wanted to acknowledge that, and he healed her.
If I hadn't been interrupted by chronic illness, I would not have even thought about online church and being involved in the YouBelong ministry instead. God didn't make me unwell, but he knew all along this was going to happen. I was the last one to find out. Chronic illness and the challenges that it brings are really hard, but without it, YouBelong would not exist, and honestly now, I can't think of anything I would enjoy doing more.
So yes, interruptions are hard and right now you might not be enjoying it, but sit tight because maybe there's something really big gonna come out of it, something good, something that God's involved in, and wouldn't that be amazing?