Meet Joelle a student in Leeds allowing us here an honest and humorous insight into her church experiences growing up and now.
Hi my name is Joelle Osei I’m 23, I’m a student at the University of Leeds studying German and IR and have been at Gateway since November of 2017. If you don’t know me or have never seen me don’t feel bad; I was so shy in the first year I barely introduced myself to anyone! Before we all got locked inside because of this very special virus I usually attended the Gateway afternoon gathering. Raised in a Ghanaian immigrant household, church has always been a big part of my life and by that I mean we attended every dedication, watchnight service and as children we were woken up early every Saturday to blaring gospel music before we were called downstairs to clean the house (all African children can attest.) For this reason I often associated my being black, being African, with being a Christian. I’ll explain my church history as follows, please feel free to laugh along because I’m laughing as I write. I remember sitting on the stairs one day watching my mum curl her wonderful 4c hair into a neat style when I asked “Mummy, why are only black people Christians?” She looked so startled and puzzled and began to explain as best as she could that white people and other races also loved Jesus and took their faith seriously too, but at that age, I didn’t really see that. My early church experience, I suppose, played a large role.
My first experience with church and more precisely the Holy Spirit was through attending our first childhood church in Peckham, which my two older sisters and I named the “falling down church,” a name we would often utter with pure trepidation, purely because we saw so many people… well.. fall down! Surrounded by fellow Ghanaians, Nigerians and a few Jamaicans I’m sure, I would find my head spinning from all the jumping and shouting, the unashamed praise of Africans, something that I so love and appreciate now, but at 4 I was terrified! I would watch as the pastor would lay hands on people and they would literally collapse. I had never been so scared in my life! This experience mellowed out as I attended church in Bromley, still surrounded by Africans, and a few white people. Despite the increased diversity, my sisters and I and other members of the youth would laugh at how most of the worship leaders were white and we would often witness segregation in the congregation. The white families would often sit by the door and we and our parents would be closer to the back. My experience of church later intensified again when we started to attend a Pentecostal church in Brixton and, well pretty much everyone was black again!
If I’m completely honest, attending Gateway has been one of the only times in my life when I have been at a church with so many non-black/ ethnic minorities but it has been beautiful. I’ve found myself feeling uncomfortable at times, when I, as POC often do, realise I’m the only black face in the room and then I settle back in when I hear someone scream Hallelujah, in the same wonderful shameless way I heard when I grew up. During the summer of 2020, the protests and conversations around race really opened up something in me which I had pushed aside and that is my experiences with racism and how God sees me. I started to realise more and more that despite the fact that some people won’t really see my humanity or my very real thoughts and feelings because of the colour of my skin, that even when I question my humanity because of the things I’ve internalised, God sees that and He’s the only one who truly knows and loves me fully and completely. When we step back as a church family and look at things that way, unity becomes so much easier. Having the knowledge and real belief that each of us is truly precious in God’s sight we want to learn, to connect and to understand. I’m very thankful for the time I’ve spent at Gateway and all the people I’ve met who have a different background to me. I really pray that we’ll continue to grow and change and I’m glad I came here, so that the next person who is different and comes along can feel an even warmer embrace than I already have.