Seventeen-year-old Isabelle Sanders can’t remember a time when she didn’t believe in God. Her dad is a pastor and her mum a school chaplain, so Isabelle grew up in the church and has many “lifelong friends” in church circles.
But when it comes to school, it’s a different story. Now in Year 12 at Woodvale Secondary College (an independent public school in Perth, WA), Isabelle doesn’t have Christian friends her age at school and, in fact, doesn’t know any other Christians in her year.
“It’s definitely a bit difficult,” she admits, when asked if her faith sometimes makes her feel like a fish out of water.
“I’ve had people think that being a Christian is just following really, really strict rules and you’re not allowed to do anything … but they didn’t really understand what being a Christian is all about.”
Yet, as Isabelle has grown into her high-school years and her faith, she has become braver in taking opportunities to share her beliefs at school.
“When I first started high school I wasn’t really interested in expressing my faith, just because I was nervous about what people would think. But now that I’ve grown more in my faith, I’m not really scared of what other people think. I’m more than happy to talk to my friends about it and I’ve invited them along to church. I just love telling people, my friends especially, about what I believe in.”
She gives examples of how this growing confidence has played out in the classroom:
“Now that I’ve grown more in my faith, I’m not really scared of what other people think. I’m more than happy to talk to my friends about it and I’ve invited them along to church.” – Isabelle Sanders
“A couple of years ago in health class, my teacher got everyone to stand up and go to different sides of the room as to whether they thought gay marriage should be legalised or not … I stepped out and said I wasn’t going to do that because I was a bit scared to express how I was feeling.
“But, just recently, this year, I was more open in my media class. We were talking about evolution because I was writing an article on it … I was saying why I don’t think evolution is real because I believe that God made the world. I was more than happy to talk to my teacher about it because we had different views on it …
“Then when I got my news article back, [my teacher] said that I wrote it really well and I wasn’t being ‘preachy’ and that I almost convinced her, so that made me feel pretty good.”
As the end of Year 12 looms, Isabelle says her faith plays a key role in helping her survive the stress.
“I don’t need to stress as much because I know that I’m alright and that God has a plan for me and he knows what’s going to happen, whereas my friends don’t think that and they are stressing more and [feel they] have to get everything right.”
When asked if there’s anything that could have made school life easier for her as a Christian, she admits it would be helpful to have more information about the school’s Christian fellowship group, which she’s not sure even exists. While the school does have a chaplain, Isabelle hasn’t felt the need to engage with this service, although she does say it would have been helpful to have a friend at school who shared her beliefs.
“If I needed someone to talk to, if I was struggling, it would be nice to have someone that I know believed the same thing as me … so we could talk it out together.”