Dear international fresher,
I remember first coming to Durham in September 2012. It was my first time in the UK and I’d flown all the way from Tokyo as an international fresher to study English Literature. (I’m a Japan-raised Singaporean.) Excited and nervous at having to adapt to a new culture, I was also looking for a church to call my home for the next few years.
When I visited King’s Church Durham, I felt overwhelmed by the size of the congregation: a good 300+ people (compared to my church in Tokyo with 30!). It was also intimidating to be an ethnic minority. But I enjoyed the service, felt peace and decided to regularly attend.
Six years later, I’m still here! Kings has become such a dear family; I now call people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds my brothers and sisters in Christ. But it required a proactive choice on my part. I could have chosen to remain on the fringes without building deep, meaningful relationships… plugging in requires a first step of boldness into the unknown.
Maybe you’re an international fresher new to Durham and looking for a church. Maybe you’re also feeling daunted. Let me just say: it’s worth the risk!
I’ve interviewed three international students who were once in your shoes and are now part of Kings, asking about their experiences as well as advice for you. May their stories be inspiring, encouraging and empowering!
Andrea Kam (Hong Kong): 4th Year, Physics
Isheanesu Joshua Kwaramba (Zimbabwe): 2nd Year, Law
Leonie Klapper (Germany): 3rd Year, International Relations
1. What was your first impression of Kings?
Andrea Kam: Big and lively with a lot of energy in the worship. It was inspiring listening to the notices (about events/activities) which showed Kings took serving God and the community very seriously.
Isheanesu Joshua Kwaramba: Youthful and lively. It was similar to churches from back home, with a mix of adults and students (morning service).
Leonie Klapper: The people I saw on stage had a humble attitude in seeking to serve God. The people in the congregation had joy in worshipping God.
2. What was attractive / intimidating about Kings?
AK: I like how Jesus-centred Kings is. Worship songs and sermons always focus on Jesus. Even if the sermon is on an Old Testament book whose name I’ve never heard of, they show me where Jesus is in there (because indeed Jesus said the whole Bible is about him!). This really helps me to love Jesus more week by week!
I also love how Kings encourages us to ask questions and think deeply about what we believe. There’s no shying away from difficult passages or controversial doctrines. As a fresher and new believer, I would always ask theological questions I was struggling with. I was surprised no one ever undermined or dismissed my questions by saying ‘just have faith and believe’. They encouraged me to seek the truth and put my questions before God, walking alongside me during the difficult searching for answers.
IJK: What was attractive was the different age groups: some adults and some university students/young people, which is like my home church. Also, singing both older songs/hymns and newer worship songs.
LK: I really liked the Bible-based teachings, worship, and room for people to share Bible verses, prophetic words and encouragements—basically, I loved the service as a whole.
IJK: I was surprised by the practice of people sharing what the Lord had said to them or what they felt God wanted them to share.
LK: I was intimidated by the size of the church. My home church is a lot smaller and I was used to knowing everyone there. This and the fact that I don’t like small talk (Germans tend to be quite bad at it) meant it took me a while to get to know people because I didn’t particularly enjoy sticking around after the service to chat.
AK: I was intimidated by the mingling times. I wasn’t used to British small talk and found it difficult to judge how long each conversation was supposed to last. Sometimes I just wanted to stand quietly in the corner with my cup of tea! But soon I understood the unspoken rules of mingling, and learned to enjoy catching up with people in this way.
3. What made you decide to plug into Kings?
AK: When I went to Equip (Thursday Bible study) for the first time, a student worker asked if I’d like to make Kings my home church. Kings had been nice, so I spontaneously said yes and typed in my details on her iPad. I was a new Christian and didn’t think seriously about what I wanted in a church. Another main factor was that Kings was really close to where I was living.
IJK: I was keen to get plugged into a church that emphasised the work of the Holy Spirit. The mixture of adults and youth also attracted me because I felt it was important to have mature Christians, as well as younger Christians who I could relate to.
LK: I loved the service. I was also impressed that often people who I’d only briefly chatted to would remember me the next time I saw them. This made me feel welcome and part of a family even though I didn’t have any close friends in church yet.
4. What’s one piece of advice you would give an international fresher about church?
AK: If you feel ready, just get stuck in—build relationships with other church friends, and serve your new church family! However, if you are, like me, overwhelmed by the newness of everything, feeling like standing in the corner with a cup of tea, by all means do so. Everyone takes a different amount of time to settle into Durham and church, so don’t feel obliged to act like you have settled in when you haven’t—take all the time you need to pick a church!
IJK: It’s good to try a few churches and see which one you feel comfortable with. Try and get stuck into a church as early as possible.
LK: Try to get stuck into a small/cell group quickly! Meeting the same people every week and discussing the Bible with them is a great and easy way to naturally build relationships. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until second term that I joined a cell group—in hindsight I should have joined sooner because not only did it help me to settle into Kings, but also to feel more at home in Durham overall!
There you have it: words of advice and encouragement straight from the mouths of those who have gone before you. Although many things will be new, and even scary, the quicker you get involved, the quicker you’ll build strong relationships.
Come to church on Sunday! Get stuck into a midweek cell group! Serve in some way (e.g. worship, welcome, cooking, etc.)! Take that step of boldness. Let’s serve our Lord and His church together, as we worship and grow closer to Him.
P.S. If you’d like more in-depth advice, read ‘How to Choose a Church’ written by our senior leader Mark Bonnington.