I pushed my face up against the glass of the car window, feeling its cool surface against my skin as outside the speed of our passing whipped heat out and away from us into the cold October sky. I wasn't looking out the window. I was looking at my hands in my lap but I could see the world in my periphery as it shot past - hedgerows and cattle and lonely stone buildings set in their own grounds. We had turned off the M1 at junction 14 and seemingly into the pastoral world of yesteryear. Stuck in the backseat with my sister, very much epitomising my 16 years of age, I was less than thrilled. I had no desire to be spending a weekend in rural Northamptonshire at my church's national youth centre. Saturdays were very definitely for sleeping in and computer games, not bible studies and sing-a-longs.

I rolled my head away from the window as we entered the small village of Yardley Hastings and approached the converted village chapel where we would be staying. I resented being dragged across country away from my friends and my Playstation. It was, I decided, going to be a long weekend.

I was so very wrong.

Over the next few days, and over the subsequent years to come, I found a seemingly endless supply of inspiration, a boundless love and a life-defining optimism at that chapel in Yardley Hastings. I came back again and again for countless weekend retreats. I became part of a community. I met my best friend. I fell in love.

A lot.

I was challenged with new ideas, new theology, new ways of being a Christian. I had the deepest and most powerful experience of God's presence that I've ever known. It fundamentally changed me as a person. Eventually I even came to live and work in Yardley Hastings during my gap year.

My point is that you can never tell. Far from anything you know, in the unlikeliest of places, there you suddenly are...


Home is incredibly important to the work Christian Aid does. We've even toyed with the idea that the heart of everything we do, in all its complexity, comes down to the belief that everyone should have a safe place to call home.

Home as a place. And home as an ideal.

We want to rebuild homes for families who have seen theirs swept away by flood or typhoon. We want to make homes safer by empowering women and ending domestic violence.

But it's also not as simple as that. (When is it ever?)

The concept of home is obviously particularly important when we think about people who have been displaced either by conflict or disaster. If you're constantly focussed on returning to a place that might not even exist anymore, and certainly not in the way you remember it, then you're in danger of never moving forward, never coming to terms with the possibility that your new home might be taking root beneath your feet.

Home's tricky in a situation like that. Is it an anchor that holds us firm and safe by reminding us who we are? Or is it a millstone that drags our eyes inexorably to the past and keeps us there?

Trick question - it's both and it's neither. Or it can be.

The National Youth Centre at Yardley Hastings was shut down for good years ago. The building's still there but it's in private hands. I can't go back. Not really.

But I still remember walking through those chapel doors. I remember it with all my senses - old books and heavy green curtains and footsteps thundering overhead. I close my eyes and I'm there now. And in that moment of transportation I feel all the hope and expectation I felt every single time I crossed that threshold. It's intoxicating and it's wonderful and I can see how it could trap me.

My prayer is that we can all know the deep and abiding pleasure of having a place to call home. But that we never let that knowledge slow our momentum. That we are always striving for an ever-widening circle of community and compassion.

That we might take the next step.