Inner City

The Culture Shock That Changed One Student's Faith

Rachel Ferchak June 8, 2016

On her first day in Chicago, Gabby Stoll boarded the “L” railway system.

People streamed past, fixated on their next destination.

One group of people stood out from the crowd – the homeless. She watched as they pulled an array of coins out of their pockets, trying to scrounge enough money to buy a ticket.

“They had nothing, and all they were trying to do was get on a train to go somewhere,” said Gabby, a first year student at Cleveland State University. “That was heartbreaking to me.”

That day offered her a peek at the diverse experiences of people in Chicago.

Gabby was part of a weeklong experience called Chicago Urban Immersion, where college students serve with Cru’s campus and Inner City ministries. One of the goals is to help students understand the city and gain experience in cross-cultural ministry.

She worked with children at a S.A.Y. Yes! Center and at an elementary school. She heard the faith stories of those serving the vulnerable and impoverished. She saw people begging for money on the streets. Urban Immersion exposed Gabby to Chicago’s physical and spiritual needs.

But the week also shifted how she sees her own faith.

Gabby grew up in a nice home in small-town Ohio. Moving to Cleveland for college was a culture shock. “But going around Chicago and seeing the people and the struggle and the poverty and the hunger, that was an even bigger shock,” she said. “I realized that there’s such a great need for the love of God.”

She learned she could do so much more.

Growing up, she went to church every weekend and to youth group every week. She remembers talking about God at home. She volunteered. She loved helping people.

Gabby thought that doing good deeds made her a good Christian.

But it wasn’t until getting involved in Cru a year ago, that she says she learned about giving her life fully to God.

On orientation day at Cleveland State, Gabby walked past dozens of tables representing the student organizations. When she saw the Cru logo, she stopped and filled out a spiritual life survey. A student invited her to the weekly meeting, but she was nervous. She didn’t know whether Cru would be the right option for her.

“Being involved made me reevaluate everything,” she said. “I realized how God works in my life, that I don’t have to be afraid.”

Since getting involved a year ago, she’s been learning how to have a relationship with God. And Urban Immersion has been an important piece of her growth.

In Chicago, she had spiritual conversations for the first time without a campus leader with her.

“At first I was nervous,” she said. “That’s something I never did at home.” But her fear quickly disappeared.  

“The students realized that we were not professionals, we just wanted to have conversations with them,” she said. “I love doing it now.”

The week of Urban Immersion motivated Gabby to learn about how she can practically live out her faith and better serve those around her.

“And that’s the whole point of all of it, to share the love of God with others,” she said. “That’s what I want to do.”

As she witnessed volunteers and churches partner together to meet Chicago’s physical and spiritual needs, Gabby says she noticed how much people were drawn to God and doing His work. “Amongst all the poverty and violence and everything that goes on in Chicago, there were a lot of ways that you could see God working.”

Walking through Chicago’s Chinatown, she noticed a sign on one of the buildings. “You are beautiful,” it read in English, with Chinese characters underneath. She snapped a photo. The sign was a simple gesture to make people feel good. But to Gabby, this was a reminder that God is at work.

Gabby attended Urban Immersion to see the world from a different perspective.

She interacted with a variety of people – from college students to the homeless to elementary children – and sought to learn about their lives.

The week helped her to realize that people everywhere need the Gospel.

What are ways that you could learn from people who are different than you? And how can you incorporate the gospel?

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