I grew up in an inner-city neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. Both of my parents had negative experiences with the church and religion in general, so my parents decided to raise their children without any religious teachings, preferring to let us figure it out for ourselves when we got older. When I was about 11 years old, I was raped by the babysitter’s son and never told anyone about it. This event, though I didn’t realize it until much later, shaped my beliefs about God. I did believe in a god, but thought that this god didn’t know or care about the day-to-day activities that went on in the world. I thought I could safely ignore Him. During my time as a graduate student I started having more questions about God, and it’s fair to call my questioning “dabbling,” since I never seriously followed anything up.
One day in January 2002, I decided that I would get more serious with my questions and contacted a few of the Christian fellowships at Michigan State University. InterVarsity’s Graduate Student Chapter was the first to contact me by email and send someone to meet me in person to discuss what I was looking for. I was told about an upcoming InterVarsity Graduate Student conference and retreat that was designed for both believers and unbelievers. I decided I didn’t have much to lose by attending; at worst I’d be stuck for a weekend with a bunch of crazy “religious” people who’d merely look down on me for not having the same beliefs. I actually had a great time—there were many people for me to ask questions of. They answered my questions intelligently, didn’t seem the least bit crazy, and didn’t seem to judge me. Still, during that entire time the burdensome question circling in my head was, “If God cares, loves, has power and uses it, then why did He let me get raped?” It was a huge realization that the rape, which I thought was long buried and forgotten, still had such a huge affect on my attitudes and beliefs and could still cause so much pain.
After I got home, I had a lot of information and swirling emotions to contend with. I actually decided to really pray for the first time in my life, and ask God “If you’re real, if you listen, and if you really care you’d better show yourself. Otherwise, I’m closing this door.” During that prayer, God was there and answered my prayer. He let me know what I needed to do in order to truly be healed and freed from my past—tell my parents what had happened 15 years earlier. Obeying what God said to do was not easy. But after a couple months, I did it, and I was incredibly relieved by my parents loving and understanding reaction.
As I now had an example in my own life that God did listen, did care, and did act, I had to decide about Christianity. During this time, I was attending a InterVarsity small group Bible study. I can’t begin to tell you how much this weekly activity helped me grow spiritually, and the act of praying brought so much peace into my life. It was the time I spent with my small group Bible study that had the greatest influence on my decision about Christianity. I was able to ask all sorts of questions of my peers about Christian faith. In addition, my interactions with members from Grad IV positively changed my attitudes about Christians. After a while I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and in January 2003 I was baptized. Practically everyone from the InterVarsity graduate student small group I attended took time to come for my baptismal ceremony and for a fellowship lunch afterwards.
Stephanie’s story illustrates the affect that InterVarsity students can have in other students’ lives. Through the support and encouragement of InterVarsity students, Stephanie discovered the truth and healing of Christ in her life. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship offers students a community of love and acceptance to explore their beliefs and come to know God.