Zoe Miles went to the last ever Soul Survivor this summer, and it is no exaggeration to say that it changed her life…

There are moments in one’s life which – if you want – you can put down as a ‘coincidence’. And there are other moments which seem too amazing to be merely that.

“It all started,” says Zoe, “when I saw on Instagram, this girl had put something up saying: ‘If anyone wants me to pray for them, I can?’ I messaged her saying: ‘Wow! That was really brave!’ I can’t believe you just did that!’

We then just got talking, and we said maybe we should go to a church together. She actually goes to Beauchamp College [with me] but we never crossed paths at school.”

At church, even though they didn’t really know each other, this girl (whose name also just happened to be Zoe!) said she was going to Soul Survivor, and then she said: “you should come too”.

“I got in the car and told my Mum I was going to Soul Survivor, with my new friend Zoe. And my Mum smiled and said: ‘I prayed that she would ask you to Soul Survivor before you went to this church’. And I was like ‘What?!’ It was just so random, and couldn’t have been anything else but Jesus.”

Zoe felt even more sure that the Lord was busy at work once she arrived at the festival, because the group she went with were all so friendly; and she went back and ate dinner with them, and made some really amazing friends.

“Yeah and I needed it so much,” says Zoe, “because I like, have Christian friends but not people who encourage me loads. I just needed it so much; and then through the week we became such good friends, it was just amazing. And then we came back to school, and I struggle with Psychology the most, and then she got put in my Psychology class! Completely randomly! No one else, in any other class moved! She just turned up in my Psychology class one day. It was truly amazing!”

These two friends know that having experienced a massively important moment in their lives together, they will continue to encourage each other. And, during Soul Survivor, Zoe says that she felt a lot closer to God, and had a lot of conversations with Him. “It didn’t just feel like one-way praying anymore.” She says she is now much more aware if the Lord is telling her something. And sometimes it’s just like a peace descends, and she knows she is in safe hands.

“I just learnt so much. And not even necessarily in terms of the Bible. It was more just how to be a Christian. I know I got a lot of confidence in my faith, because I’ve never really been around that many Christians before, and it makes you realise that actually you’re not mad or weird. You learn that there’s nothing wrong with making it obvious you are a Christian. I’ve never had that confidence before. I just found that I actually really loved talking about my faith. I just felt so different!”

Zoe’s new-found confidence gave her an inner strength. She was especially struck by one of the speakers called Laura Hancock. This lady arrived on stage really dressed up, with a big outfit, and loads of make-up. Then, throughout her talk, she slowly began to take off all the accessories. She took off her heels. And then wiped off her make-up.

“It really challenged me,” says Zoe. “I suddenly realised during her talk: ‘I do that! I’m not very good at just being completely myself. I hold onto things, or I wear clothes to make a statement, and I act a certain way when I’m around my non-Christian friends. And that’s the hardest thing for me, to just be exactly me!”

Zoe’s new-found freedom has made her proud of her faith. She went to Soul Survivor thinking she didn’t really want to tell anyone where she was; and had planned to be a bit “vague” if they asked. But then, halfway through the week something changed. She sent her friends long messages about what fun it all was. And  returned home wearing a ‘Something More’ jumper, explaining to anyone who asked, where she got it.

“I now feel I’m much more open about my faith; not so shy. And because I’m not embarrassed, then other people are actually more interested! They’re like ‘Ooooh! That sounds fun!’. And they think ‘I’d like a bit of that.’ Before, if people asked me [about my faith] I would kind of change the subject. But people are missing out! They might still be making fun of me, but they don’t realise how much of a good time they’re missing out on!’”

Zoe learnt a lot from watching other Christians share their faith. There was a lady giving out ‘Something More’ jumpers, and she had a long chat with her about how they could explain their faith better. Watching her talk in such a normal way about faith (with seemingly no care in the world about what other people think) really gave Zoe confidence. And, after a while, she found the courage to stand up, and pray for other people. And the moment she did that, she felt this amazing warmth and closeness to those people, even though she had never met them before!

“There was one girl I was praying for, and I just felt like I knew about her, and I didn’t really need to pray out loud. I just knew. It was really easy to pray for her, not awkward at all, even though I didn’t know her. We were in the moment together, and we were both with Jesus!”

“What’s amazing is that you can be praying and dancing with people you’ve never met before, and yet they feel so like family!” says Zoe, with a smile the size of the Big Tent. “I just loved the worship. Ahhhh! I just feel myself bursting with joy. I love Rend Collective. Of course, there are some slow, more serious songs, when it’s great just to stand and reflect, and think about what you’re singing about. And pray while you’re worshipping. But, I can’t explain the joy I get from like dancing up and down, and worshipping Jesus, with no… [inhibitions]. At that moment, I have no cares in the world. It is pure joy.”

Zoe says she has begun to realise that ‘joy’ is very different from ‘happiness’. Happiness comes and goes, but with joy there’s a constant; so even if you are feeling down, or stressed, there is this deeper feeling that everything is going to be OK.

“You know that He’s there both when you’re sad, and when you’re happy. I never really got that concept before. I had heard people talk about ‘joy’ but had assumed – because I wasn’t always happy – I didn’t have it! Now I realise it’s actually not that. It’s an inner strength.”

There is no doubt that Soul Survivor 2019 has changed Zoe’s life for good.

“I don’t have many Christian friends at school. And, in the past, so often I kind of felt like I was being silly, like why is everyone doing the complete opposite to what I’m doing. And you think: ‘What am I doing?’ And then you go to a festival like that, dancing and praying with so many other people that you don’t really know next to you, and it hits you that you’re not alone! It’s just a little taste of heaven…”