"For a long time, I felt like I didn’t belong because I was so different from everyone else,” Silbano, a Campus Staff Minister at California State University, Bakersfield, said.
He’d brought 18 of his students to Urbana 22, hoping they could experience the kind of transformation he has — the kind that reminds us that no one is ever too lost, too different, or too broken to be redeemed by a gracious and loving God.
Desperate for a Reset
“I grew up around poverty, drug use, gang violence, homelessness …” Silbano reflected.
For as long as he could remember, Silbano’s family sold and grew drugs. By the time he got to high school, he decided to drop out, choosing to use and sell drugs as well.
A few years into this, Silbano was arrested for the first time. He was incarcerated repeatedly in his early 20s, but his lowest point came while on parole and working at a fast-food restaurant in Bakersfield. He began feeling depressed and lost, wondering if anything could help him end this cycle.
“I started thinking, Am I really going to keep living this way? Am I gonna die? Am I gonna be incarcerated for life?”
This uncertainty led him to research religions online. He discovered a world of meditations, gods, and theologies. In the mountain of options, one story stood out — God came down to earth as a human and died for him.
“Jesus died for all that I’ve done in the past. I could actually have a reset. And that’s what I needed,” he said. Desperate for that reset, Silbano came home one night and began apologizing to God for the things he’d done and the people he’d hurt throughout his life.
“When I look back, I see that I was repenting for my sins. I didn’t know I was doing that at the time. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do in order to come to Christ.”
Not long after that, he walked into a church. He had no religious background, no family members who practiced any faith. It was a completely unfamiliar world. But that day, he made his way to the altar and surrendered everything.
Different this Time
A few days later, Silbano’s home was raided and he was incarcerated for the last time. Instead of feeling hopeless, he sensed that this time in prison would be different, so he began reading the Bible.
“This is how illiterate I was in the Bible,” Silbano laughed, “I didn’t even know there was an Old and New Testament.”
His study of Scripture felt overwhelming and confusing at times, but he pushed through, hungry to know Jesus more every day. When he wasn’t reading the Bible, he took advantage of all the programs offered in prison. One allowed him to get his GED and take college courses. When he was released, he transitioned to Bakersfield College.
Belonging on Campus
At Bakersfield College, Silbano met InterVarsity. By that time, he’d read the Bible cover to cover three times. But InterVarsity, he said, was his discipleship.
“They’re the ones that taught me everything I know, everything I was hungry for; InterVarsity gave it to me.”
Through inductive Bible studies, Mark Camp, Proxes, and leadership training, InterVarsity helped Silbano gain an understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. He’d found his reset and, upon graduating, was asked to come on staff to help others find theirs.
“At first, I didn’t know the scope of InterVarsity,” Silbano said. He didn’t know that there were ministries on campuses all over the country. He just knew that when his Area Director, Paul Benthin, talked about making disciples and developing world changers, he was sold.
Despite his transformation, Silbano sometimes felt that because of his experiences, he couldn’t relate to many others on campus. But through it all, he received support from InterVarsity mentors and friends. He also began doing Immanuel prayer, letting God heal his sense of identity and realize the gift of his story.
An Overlooked Corner
Now Silbano uses his story and experiences to reach often overlooked corners of campus, including other formerly incarcerated students. And he’s seen God move powerfully among them, noting that as his students start to see the Bible from a different perspective, they become open to Jesus and his redemptive power in their lives.
“They never thought there could be a chance for spiritual formation in college. They see how God has given them a second chance and they’re thinking, there has to be a purpose for my life,” Silbano says.
Off campus, Silbano uses the skills he learned through InterVarsity to minister to high school students he leads in his church and to his family. His brother and sister recently decided to follow Jesus too!
Silbano knows firsthand that even in the most unlikely situations, God can reveal himself, redeeming us of our deepest sins and using us to reach those who long to experience his grace.
Click here to support Silbano's ministry in Bakersfield.
Emily Baez is a writer on InterVarsity’s Editorial Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys long hikes, watching movies, and overly competitive game nights with friends. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#22836.
This is such an inspiring
Add new comment