Tuesday 10th October was World Mental Health Day 2017. Across the globe communities were called to recognise the sheer scale of the effects of mental illness on the population. In the UK alone, around 22 percent of people encounter some kind of battle with their mental health. That number doubles for university students. Doubles. When we talk about ‘mission on campus’ and the ‘transformation of society’ this is one of the most critical areas we are called to engage with. Which is why we were delighted to be involved in one university’s efforts this year. It also brought up some important questions…

Through relationship that we have built in Manchester, we were invited to come and have a stand at the Student Union’s Wellbeing Fair. It was a real privilege to be asked to participate and immediately our thoughts turned to how best to serve the event and the students that would pass through.

I stand at a point of tension when it comes to talking about mental health in a helpful way. I absolutely, 100%, believe that Jesus purchased an inheritance for us at the cross that sees every sickness and every disease come under his authority. I believe that our mandate as Christians is to usher in the kingdom of heaven on earth – here and now – and, among many other things, that includes the healing and breakthrough of all kinds of ill-health: spiritual, emotional, physical and mental. The abundance that Jesus promised us in John 10:10 doesn’t have a glass ceiling, it is for life in all its fulness. Which is why on our stand we offered a “menu” of opportunities which included healing prayer (along with spiritual insight (i.e. prophetic words), a meditation station, and even feet-washing (no one took us up on this… unsurprisingly)). I will never not believe that prayer cannot bring change into any situation – it is the most powerful force in the universe.

Yet I’m also so aware of when that above paragraph can be demoralising, discouraging and even damaging. When the offer of a simple, ‘other-wordly’ solution in the midst of a battle with mental health, whether with yourself or someone close to you, can seem trite and even insulting. For those outside the church it could be seen as another, “here come the ignorant Christians trying to “fix” us all again”. And for those who profess faith, the potential agony of “why doesn’t this work for me?”. In our excitement about the opportunity to see supernatural breakthrough, to be visible ambassadors for Jesus, I want to remain aware of the reality of the experience of anyone I encounter. I want to stay human.

Back to the stand on Tuesday. We wanted to serve the students, and have a positive impact, and so decided to focus our main activity around identity. Namely, what we see when we see ourselves. We set up a grid called ‘The Exchange’ and asked people to pose for a polaroid photograph. They then took the photo and wrote on the border what they could see, before swapping it with a piece of card that we had already clipped to the grid:

These cards had bible verses written on them and our goal was to encourage students that when it came to defining themselves, to saying what they see when they look in the mirror, that it is a great thing to consider the possibility of a voice higher than our own; of one outside of our own thoughts and experiences. A voice from a Creator who lovingly formed every one of us and who walks alongside us all in good times and in bad.

So many things will try and define us. There are so many labels that we can find for ourselves, so many classifications that we can choose to identify with. Many are positive, yet many are born out of struggle, anguish and pain. Especially those battles behind our eyes that are often invisible to the outside world. Jesus doesn’t erase these experiences, he doesn’t deny the rawness and reality of them. But I believe that he does redeem them, and he shows me that I actually don’t get the final word on deciding who I am. Or on who anyone, or anything, is for that matter.

One of my great desires in life is to call everything by its right name – by how it is seen in heaven – and we thought that if we could help students to learn more about the names that God gives them, then that would be an afternoon very well spent.

Conversations were had. Prayers were prayed. Peace, Hope, Joy and Love were communicated. It was a brilliant opportunity to represent Jesus and I hope that we did it well. My hope and prayer is that this account encourages you to do likewise and, more importantly, to go to Him first whenever you are asked the question, ‘What do you see?’