Empowerment Through Jesus

Kathryn Brill
February 17, 2014

It’s far too easy to be a compartmentalized Christian—someone whose faith is only apparent on Sunday mornings. But Jesus came to redeem every part of our lives. InterVarsity student and University of California-San Diego (UCSD) senior Iris Delgado knows this is true because she’s experienced the whole-life redemption Jesus offers. In this video, she shares about one part of this transformation—but God’s transformation in her life has gone even deeper.

Encountering Jesus

Iris first experienced Jesus’ transforming power in high school when a friend took her to church. Not a Christian at that time, Iris was initially very uncomfortable. When the pastor gave a call for anyone who hadn’t yet accepted Jesus to come to the altar, she moved forward, mostly out of a desire for the pastor to stop insistently asking. But then, when she began to repeat a prayer after the pastor, everything changed.

“God broke down every wall, every barrier I had put up,” Iris said. “I stood up and I was God’s pure, worthy, and loved little girl.” This encounter marked the beginning of an ongoing commitment to give God her whole life.

A Community of Faith

When Iris arrived at UCSD, she wasted no time in finding a place where she could grow in her faith. On her first day as a freshman, she came across some students running a table with information on InterVarsity and asked them if they had a Bible study for Latino students. At the time, UCSD did not. “I told the students, ‘Well, I’ll start one!’” said Iris. “I would later find out that UCSD staff had been praying to start a LaFe [Latino Fellowship] ministry for nine years.”

The LaFe Bible study that sprang from that conversation and from discussions with staff worker Julie Day has been a great source of support to Iris during her time at UCSD, helping her live out her faith on campus. “InterVarsity has completely transformed how I see and experience Jesus,” Iris said.

Faith and Activism Together

One of the areas where Iris was most eager to live out her faith was in the campus activist community. During her time at UCSD, Iris has been involved in many activist groups working on a variety of issues, from immigration rights to educational equity. But her roots in the activism world go deeper than her college career: “I became an activist the moment I was born to an undocumented woman and ran the risk of being separated from her merely because she was born on ‘the wrong side of the border.’” It was important to Iris to bring together these two parts of her identity—her faith and her work for social justice.

Iris got the opportunity to do that during the Students of Color Conference in 2012, a yearly gathering hosted by the University of California system around issues that minority students face. Students who participate in the conference can lead seminars on topics of interest to the conference participants—usually issues of inequality, reform, and identity.

Iris led a seminar titled “Empowerment Through Jesus.”

 The aim was to explore the ways that ethnic identity intersects with spiritual identity, and how Jesus uses our circumstances for his glory. “I talked about Moses and how God empowered him in all aspects of his identity to take action and free his people,” said Iris. The positive reaction she got was a far cry from the hostile one she expected. “I think that those in the workshop were mind-blown,” she said. “They had never been exposed to God or to the Bible through a social justice lens.”

Identity in Christ

The positive response to “Empowerment Through Jesus” inspired Iris to facilitate a workshop about spiritual identity at the 2013 Students of Color Conference. She hosted a dialogue, inviting others at the conference to talk about how they feel when sharing their faith in politically charged situations. “Many times, the only identities we talk about in these spaces are ethnic identity, sexual identity, and gender identity,” Iris said. “Spiritual identity is not validated, especially when that identity is Christianity, which is inevitably tied to privilege, patriarchy, colonialism—everything we are trying to dismantle.”

 By holding this dialogue, Iris was able to help conference participants understand that Christianity is more than its stereotypes, and that Jesus is greater than the misinformation spread about him and his followers. “Many people were open to hearing more about how Jesus is an advocate for us,” Iris said.

Seeking God’s Justice

Although Iris was surprised so many people attended her seminars, she isn’t surprised when activists are drawn to Jesus. “God exists in the person who won’t stand for injustices,” said Iris. “That’s a very Christ-like characteristic.” She sees an opportunity in this to bring people to Christ and show them the source of the justice they are searching for. “Without God’s love and compassion, the justice that activists seek is incomplete,” she said. “I want to see complete justice.”

It’s God’s heart for justice that drives Iris to pursue activism and advocacy as well as spread the gospel on campus. In fact, Iris encourages other Christian students to bring together their faith and social justice: “If we hope to be Christ-like, our heart has to align with God’s heart. And God’s heart is for the marginalized. Our margins are his center.”