Wednesday, 26 November 2014

When The Lion Called: Eight Years On

Eight years ago, on 26 November 2006, I nervously clicked on the "register" button for the online forum of a website called The Lion's Call, little knowing that it would change my life. I was fairly new to the world of the internet, my family having only gotten a dial-up connection at home in the January of that year. This was before the days of Facebook (at least it hadn't yet become a "thing", although MySpace was popular with my friends) and I was highly suspicious of signing up to anything that required giving out email addresses and other details. But this website, which I had been browsing recently, seemed like a friendly and safe site and it made clear that it was a Christian site and there were strict rules about minors being allowed to join and what could and could not be posted. I decided to risk it. In retrospect, I was a bit like Lucy Pevensie, taking those first cautious steps through the wardrobe into a woodland of snow and a great adventure.

The Lion's Call website (TLC) was created by Kristi Simonson for fans of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series and, apart from the discussion forum (which was what I was signing up to join) it had other interesting features including a character builder, some simple games, and write-in threads like "you know you're addicted to Narnia when...". The forum in those days was small and mainly involved discussions relating directly to the Chronicles of Narnia books, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe film (which had been released just less than a year before) and speculations about the Prince Caspian film that would follow it. I think the first thing I ever posted on the forum was a comment on a discussion about what became of Susan Pevensie after the events of The Last Battle, something I had been thinking about a bit in the last year. The ideas I had had about that became the germ of my (still ongoing) fan fiction story about Susan, which one of the TLCers was to convince me to start four years later. After joining the forum, it became a regular ritual to visit the site when I got a chance and read and comment on the latest discussions.

In February of the following year, I started University and I would often visit TLC when I was dropped off early in the mornings before the library had opened and the computer LANs were not yet busy (few people had their own laptops in those days). As the years passed, the website grew, and the forum became larger and more active. We found that many members had more in common than just our interest in Narnia and we started discussions on other topics including other fantasy worlds (especially Tolkien and Middle Earth) and faith and religion. We also had many members who were budding writers of fiction or poetry and so forum threads started on discussing writing, and people would share whatever they were working on. The site developed well beyond Narnia and became a real community where people felt safe sharing even personal issues.

I had known from the start that the site also had a chat room, but I never went anywhere near that part of it. Chat rooms were dangerous and "evil"; my parents wouldn't approve and you weren't allowed visiting chat rooms on the university computers in any case.

But then in December 2010, four years after I joined, there were posts on the forum about a planned Day of Prayer to be held in the website's chat room. Enough things had changed by this point that I felt confident enough to venture into the chat room to join the prayer session: and by now I knew that I could trust the people on the site. Also, earlier that year we had finally upgraded to broadband internet at home and I now had my own netbook computer. I was also a whole lot older and (theoretically, at least) two degrees wiser.

Joining chat opened up a whole new chapter in my life. These people with whom I had only communicated remotely (by reading and responding to forum posts, often overnight, because of time differences) I could now "chat with" (using text) in real time. I also hadn't realised, but in the last year or so more and more of the discussions had moved over from the forum to the chat room (which would explain why the forum had become more quiet than it had been). More importantly, I got to know the other members on the site at a deeper level because we could ask and respond to more personal questions in a less formal and less public setting.

I joined TLC chat at a critical period of my life. I had been applying for scholarships to Oxford and the TLC community had played a large part in encouraging me through that process and praying for me (even before I joined chat). Being the shy, reserved person I am, this online community gave me a safe place to share my concerns and struggles (I had always been better at articulating my thoughts in writing than in speech).

In June 2011, I joined Facebook for the first time. By now, it had been confirmed that I was going to Oxford, and I wanted to be able to keep contact with my friends and family in South Africa. By this time, TLC, had developed something of a presence on Facebook as well and through that and private messages I became Facebook friends with some of the TLCers (cautiously, and only with those I trusted, because on TLC itself we were encouraged not to divulge private details). And for the first time the window was opened onto the "real lives" of many of my TLC friends - I got to learn their real names, see what they really looked like and learn a bit more about their lives outside of TLC.

Picture by Lily of Archenland
When I moved to Oxford, I was privileged to meet two TLCers in real life: a British girl, and an American lady, who was visiting the UK with her husband. I got to stay at the home of the British girl on a number of occasions and we have since become good friends.

It's impossible to describe all the things that have happened in these past eight years, but I wouldn't have missed them for the world. I am now a staff member on the website and editor for our news team. The social, spiritual and intellectual blessings gained from being part of the TLC community is something that can't be measured. I am eternally grateful that I clicked on that "register button" all those years ago.

1 comment:

Raeann Schoudt said...

Thanks for sharing this :) TLC really has had an imapct on so many, and it's awesome to hear the stories. Though some of us have come and gone, the friendships we made on TLC will always be speacial. Love you sweet hedgie <3