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A Personal Testimony - Tosin Akingbolagun

Hi Pastors Martin/ Sandy/ Liz/ Mark/ Sherise; Bukki and Titi

 I have been meaning to write this for a while, but finally put pen to paper.  It’s my personal testimony regarding the impact that God has had through yourselves and Rhema and is meant to be an encouragement and massive thank you to yourselves for continually doing God’s work. I hope it also provides an account of what serving God can do for everyone, but particularly the youth, and parents in church. 

My testimony starts from attending children’s’ church for the first time 17 years ago when, when I was about 4 years old. Here I built a foundation in the Lord, and strong relationship with Him myself, that would prove to be essential for the rest of my childhood and teenage years. I remember being uplifted in the spirit by Uncle Clem, Pastor Liz, Aunty Jackie, and Aunty Delores and many others, who imparted their knowledge and faith into, acting as a supplement for what my parents had already set in motion for me. It’s been such that, whenever I departed from the Lord, I knew where to return and renew myself. However, for the purpose of keeping this testimony short I will start from the summer before entering youth.

This time was a very hard time for my family, and being the youngest I found myself being the centre of everyone’s attention, as I felt like my wellbeing was seen as a measure of how bad/good things were at the time. As a sensitive child this made me grow up quicker, because I knew I had to be strong for my family, and my mother in particular. This was hard, but God was not only preparing my parents through these tribulations, but was setting into motion a path for me. Knowing our struggles, God provided me with an outlet. My passion had always been dancing, but was no more than a party trick at the time. I precisely remember the occasion when Bukki spied me dancing, and insisted I auditioned for “What’s Your Story”. I auditioned, and was successful, and working on the production during the summer provided me a distraction from home life. It also built my dependency on the Lord and aggrandised my sense of stewardship. During this period, my weekends consisted of rehearsing for the production and often working in children’s church on the Sunday. This was not easy because we live quite far away; and that time lived even further in Thamesmead. I remember having to get the bus home from rehearsals and to church early in the morning which took about 2 hours and a half each way. However, this instilled in me, discipline, and an understanding that the things of God may be a bit harder, which was a reality because everyone lived in or around Croydon. Being part of that production opened many doors in my life, and the culmination of it thus far has been beautiful. An important part was fellowshipping with people from church but also building my competency in dance. To my surprise after seeing me in “What’s your Story” my dad encouraged me to apply to the Brit School of performing Arts. This was something I always wanted to do but I did not think my Dad would have let me as an African parent, but God's hand was at work. In fact, one of my close friends at the time had asked me to audition with him, but I just told him my Dad would not let me. A year later, my dad called me into his room, and asked if I would like to audition for the Brits School. 

When the application form came, reality set in. I only had one piece of dance experience, and that was ‘What’s Your Story’. With faith I wrote my one piece of experience on the many lines available. By God's Grace I got an audition. It went awfully wrong. I remember seeing all these children who had been training their whole lives, and I was just there. It didn't help that I had just had a massive growth spurt and was struggling to fit in my clothes let alone body. I came out of the audition almost crying, and melodramatically told my dad that we should just go home. My dad of course, encouraged me to stay for my interview, which went much better. By God's Grace I secured a place. Another valuable lesson was learnt here, God is enough, by God my little experience had come, and by God a way was made, the standard that I had to live by was His and not the worlds. 

When I started the Brit school, I was honestly the worst in the class. I found it extremely embarrassing going to class with all the girls watching me, and everyone seeing how bad I was, especially because I was a very inflexible, and clumsy street dancer. However, God grew his seed in me, and I progressively got better. My teachers recommended me to apply for London Contemporary Dance School’s, Centre of Advanced training, and by God’s grace although out of my league once again, I was accepted. The scheme was called the CAT (Centre of Advanced Training) scheme, and it was bi-weekly, and comprised of Contemporary Dance, and Ballet. I was privileged to extend my dance portfolio; train at one of the best Contemporary Dance Universities in the world. Now training an average of 20 hours a week, while balancing my studies, my schedule was busier than ever, and still living in the land far far away I was constantly exhausted, and my time was scarce. However,  I knew I had to keep serving God. I worked on the following productions, youth camps, as a dancer and choreographer, and was able to apply the skills I learnt at my respective institutions to the works of God’s Kingdom. By the end of my second year at the Brit School, I was awarded the role of the leading dancer in our final production.

In retrospect, you can see where this all started. The next phase was a humbling one, because I had really improved as a dancer my teachers were adamant that I stay on for Sixth Form. My flesh wanted to stay also, but in my heart and spirit I knew I was meant to leave the Brit School. I fought the Spirit and stayed and started in year 12, that lasted 1 week, because I knew I had made the wrong decision, the decision I had made was one based on the fear of the unknown. I also thought that because things were going so well, and because He put me here, it must be right.

Instead, God had a different plan for me, he took me to Dartford Grammar School for Boys, to study the International Baccalaureate (N.B the IB is an alternative to the A level, which is the British system, whereas as the title implies, the IB is an international quqlification). I found my first year here extremely hard, as I was very different to my peers who had all known each other for the past 5 years. I was also used to the independence because my previous school treated me like a young adult, as you wore your own clothes, there were no detentions and no school bells, the onus was on you to pursue your dreams and understand what was necessary to achieve them. I was quite unhappy for a while, and fell into sin and the wrong friendship group, as you do at this age. However, I think the principal sin I committed was probably that of supplication (Wrong Word). I thought that because of the accolades I had accumulated compared to my peers that I was better than them. Consequently, I was blinded to the new opportunity God had put before me. I thank God that I have always been a high achiever, but during this period I didn't achieve much finishing the first term on 29 points, a very poor score. At first I never told my parents my grades, or when parents’ evenings were. I simply told them to trust me, and that they didn't want to see my current grades and I promised them that in the end I would make them proud. I finished year 12 with 34 points (ABB equivalent at A level), and was predicted 38 for my final grade (=to 5 A grades at A level), securing me a place at the University of Bath studying Politics with Economics. By God's Grace I scored 40 points in the end, which is hard to calculate as having an A level equivalence, but is worth 611 UCAS points. I thank God  because obviously going to The Brit School, while the grades I attained were good, they were not amazing, and based on my GCSE grades they originally thought I would achieve 31 points, but I got stuck in, let go and let God. I could partly see why God wanted me to switch lanes, He had other talents in me that he wanted to nurture. Additionally, a distinguishable aspect of the IB is that you are required to do 300 CAS hours over the two years. These extra- curricular activities, 100 hours creative; 100 active and 100 service. In the end I completed something like 600 because I was still working projects at church like A Toy for Christmas, and teaching dance at Summer Blitz, which fulfilled all three of the criteria simultaneously. Although I had achieved a lot academically and my past in dance was convenient for completing this aspect of the IB, I could not help but imagine how great a dancer I would have been or wonder about the grades I could have attained if I hadn’t gone to a vocational school. I was ungrateful, and lacked faith, short sighted and unaware of God's plan.

It wasn't until I came to university that I realised what God had been working in me. I came to the stark realisation that the peers were also extremely special, and diverse. It came to my realisation that the world we live in is no longer one of specialisation. Employers and institutions look for a diverse range of experience. I could see the Holy Spirit was aware of things I was not. God understood the world in which we operate, and I saw that he was developing my priors, to build my worldly credibility, but also build reliance on Him and dependence on His Word. I really saw the accumulation of God's Work when I was applying for my placement as part of my sandwich course.

For my secondary education and sixth form, I had been to 4 of the best schools in the country:

  • Dulwich College
  • Whitgift School 
  • The Brits School
  • And Dartford Grammar

I was a young black man that:

  • Spoke Japanese 
  • Trained in Ballet, Jazz and Street styles

Had served my community by:

  • Teaching dance at Reaching Higher since I was 13, working on many of the church's projects along the way, receiving the Jack Petchey Award
  • 600 CAS hours
  • Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for the Children’s Society, raising over £90,000 as a team.

Worked in numerous roles:

  • From working door to door, trying to get people to sign up to charities (extremely hard)
  • Was a Student ambassador for my University
  • Was a Teaching ambassador for my University
  • Was a Brand Ambassador for the Bank of England

We thank God that in the end I got my placement at Morgan Stanley, and I am just finishing up my role now as Spotify’s Student Brand Manager at my University. 

By no means am I perfect, and I know that it was all done through God and it’s amazing to see how far He has walked with me. As a teenager and young adult, my journey was very hard, as I was always leaving schools, and never had the time to spend with friends, but it has been extremely worth it.  I always found that I was different, especially as a young man, the concept of manhood is often inspired by the ways of the world. When I have gone back to the world I have been gratified but never happy, and when I come back to the Lord I always feel sorrowful because I imagine what He could have done through me during the time I was absent. I have tripped up many times and my knees are still newly sore, and expectant of another bashing, but I know I operate by faith in the realm of God's Grace. I thank God that I have been able to touch many people’s lives, on the way, and I am determined to continue, as my testimony goes on. I would like to THANK you massively, for doing what God has asked you to do, and let you know that you are not taken for granted at all. 

Lots of Love and Many Thanks,

Tosin Akingbolagun

 

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