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Search for adventure led Toby to God

Father of four, Toby Stanwell-Smith, is a church youth worker who is devoted to telling youngsters about the one who made a constant play for his life and lifted him from reckless living.  Sandie Shirley reports.

TobyStanwellSmith450"I was as stubborn as a rock but God had to nudge me time and time again to get me to take notice but I thank him every day for it," says Toby, who was once a bored teenager who got his kicks from drugs, parties and the dance scene.
Toby organised the raves and was involved in the world of drugs but to quench his thirst for adventure he planned a trip to South Africa. He toured the country with his girlfriend in a refitted camper van on a six-month life-changing trip that began when Toby, at 19, used his earnings as a used car sales man and some inheritance money.
"I wasn't looking for anything; I was happy with life and had a place at my chosen university. Africa was a chance to explore but God chose to pursue me and show me that there was more to my life and what living life to the full really means," says Toby.

When the camper van continually broke down, he made contact with Christians who had found joy and purpose. They included ex-ravers; a heavily tattooed ex-pimp and a hit-man turned evangelist. Try as he might to ignore them, Toby no longer saw these meetings as coincidences. 
"We met a lot of Christians who had amazing stories to tell and I could see there was something they had that I didn't. It happened so many times, including when we needed to ask for directions at the first village we found for 200 miles and the van dumped its oil.  Another time we drove eight hours through the bush before coming to a halt just short of a camp site in Zimbabwe," says the member of Hope Community Church, Wymondham.
The camp site was a resting place for the next few weeks but when the van's alternator bearings exploded and were beyond Toby's repair the couple were forced to stay put for another few days.
The delay was timely. Toby and girlfriend Hannah, who had partially slipped away from her Christian faith, met an international speaker and evangelist who arrived at the camp the night before with a team of students.
TobyStanwellSmithVan420"We chatted and spent the next few days hanging out together. I could see they had a deep joy and peace. They talked openly about Jesus and several of them had turned from a life like mine and never looked back."
Toby was given a Bible. "I was asked to read a little and make a decision of my own rather than follow the crowd."  A month later, he and Hannah drove 6000km across dirt roads to the evangelist's training school in Cape Town just as the van that had taken them on their epic travels finally died. 
"I spent every night talking to guys about their faith. It took that long for me to ask all my questions but I finally realised that not only was it true but I needed to do something. Jesus had died for me and life is more than we see around us. There is life after death and only Jesus can be trusted with our eternity. I gave my heart and life to my Saviour and was baptised a week before flying home to England."
Toby returned to education but renounced his old ways. Instead he became involved with the Christian Union leadership and helped to lead a mission trip to Rwanda before marrying his friend and Christian  partner, Hannah.
"I am not perfect, I am still learning and there have been hard times since becoming a Christian but they are far outweighed by my faith," says Toby.
Pictured top is Toby Stanwell-Smith and, above, his African campervan adventure.

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