Prior to joining Premier, Oxford University graduate Ruth Jackson worked at the BBC and the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). She now edits Premier Youth and Children’s Work magazine and heads up Premier’s youth apologetics arm.
How did you become a Christian?
My dad was a vicar and my mum an RE teacher. I remember putting my hand up at Ishmael’s praise parties pretty much every year to become a Christian, just to double check I was ‘in’! I got confirmed when I was about 12. That was a big thing, standing up in front of my schoolfriends and saying, “I really believe in God and I believe this is true.” I also reaffirmed my baptism vows in my second year at uni.
Where did your passion for children and young people came from?
When I was younger I was always roped into whatever needed doing in church. I was often part of the worship band and helping with children’s stuff. I moved to London after university and got stuck into the youth work at Holy Trinity Brompton, the church where the Alpha course was launched from. I took a group of girls from 11 up to 18 years old, so I saw them through secondary school. It was heartbreaking at times when young people fell away from faith, but I also saw amazing things. Lots of them became really on fire for God and brought friends along who became Christians and joined the church.
There’s something incredibly inspiring about the way young people experience God. I remember doing a talk about the prodigal son and the fact that God gives us a second chance. This 12-year-old interrupted me and said, “God doesn’t give us a second chance.” I said, “Ummm, I think you’ll find he does.” And she said, “No, he gives us as many chances as we need.” I thought, “Oh my goodness, he totally does! You’ve got this in a way that I haven’t.”
How did you get into children’s TV?
I wanted to make good religious television for a secular audiece so during my first BBC job (at its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide), I chatted to lots of producers at BBC Religion, but there were loads of redundancies. There was a vacancy at Blue Peter, so a friend who was working there suggested that while I was waiting for BBC Religion, I apply for that job. I ended up loving it so much that BBC Religion took a bit of a back seat. It was so creative and interesting, and again reminded me how incredible children are.
Eventually, in my last eight weeks at the BBC, I ended up working for Songs of Praise!
What sparked your interest in apologetics?
The father of one of my friends committed suicide. I was studying theology and having an amazing experience of getting to know God better, but at the same time having this crippling doubt about how a good God would let this awful thing happen. I began to read every book I could about suffering.
Then I became friends with an Oxford mathematician. He used to ask, “How do you reconcile God and the Big Bang, and God and evolution?” My answer was, “I don’t really know, but I know God loves me.” After years of talking to him, I thought, “I do believe God loves me, and to a certain extent it doesn’t matter how I reconcile those things, but actually that’s not satisfying.” Again, I read a lot of books.
Later, I started working at OCCA and saw them do brilliant things with students and adults. Having done youth work for a long time, I thought, “Teenagers have way more questions, and in some ways theirs are even trickier.” So that’s when we started the youth apologetics strand.
For me, apologetics is almost a preevangelism thing, particularly for young people. In light of all the brokenness in the world, young people often need to clear some of these questions before they can believe in a God who loves them.
What brought you to Premier?
All the stuff I was doing at OCCA with youth was in my spare time, and I was struggling to fit it all in. Around that time, Phoebe [a former Premier editor] said, “Would you like to go for a coffee?” She told me she was leaving and asked if I’d consider working on the magazine. I felt it was from God, because I would never have thought about it myself and it coincided with me wanting to do more youth work.
How has the focus changed since Childrenswork and Youthwork magazines merged in 2016?
It’s challenging; how do you write about something like craft and at the same time write about porn? But actually we’ve seen a lot of 9 and 10-year-olds struggling with issues like porn, cyber bullying and mental health that ten years ago would only have been experienced by 14 or 15-year-olds. So we need to equip children’s workers in a way that we were equipping youth workers back in the day.
What do you do in your spare time?
I play bass in an all-girl rock ’n’ roll band called The Daisy Chains. Last summer we played at a chilli festival, which was really fun, and I brought home a chilli plant!
Premier Youth and Children’s Work magazine is a monthly magazine sold at good Christian bookshops and available by subscription from Premier. For a free sample copy, click here.