Drexel To Denver: Finding God Amongst The Poor

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Christ In The City (CIC) is a non-profit organization stationed out in Denver, Colorado. Currently thirty full time missionaries are devoting one year of their life to serve the poor, one of these of whom is a former Drexel student, John Vargo. (Two Drexel students have become missionaries at CIC in the past!) After experiencing CIC in our Philadelphia chapter, John felt a stirring in his heart to take a leap of faith and made a decision that would change his life.

1. How did you come into college?

Moving from the middle of nowhere in South Dakota, I was excited to see a different culture. Coming to Drexel I wanted to be a successful engineer, and to get involved in all that Drexel had to offer. I came into college with a pretty immature, but a strong fire for the faith. I had just gone to World Youth Day in Brazil the year before, and I had a big conversion in the faith. I had been a leader in my parish, and Church was fun for me. Coming to Drexel, I knew that I wanted to find the Newman Center and campus ministry. I went to the retreats from the beginning, because I knew I needed a sanctuary from school.

2. What was your experience like arriving on campus?

I was the only practicing Catholic in my dorm, and pretty early I was put into a box by classmates, as the “Catholic kid”. I didn’t want that label, so I chose not to live it out in the public eye. I still participated a lot in the community at the beginning, but I didn’t want to tell other people. The guys in my dorm were very party-oriented and looking for unhealthy sexual relationships. I largely kept quiet though, because I didn’t want to make other people uncomfortable. It generated a separation between my spiritual life and my public life.

3. How did your faith life develop in college?

My first experience at the Newman Center was that it was a sanctuary for me to run to, a place where I could have fun, be myself and not have to worry about the separation of my life. However, at the end of my freshman year I was preparing to lead a small group and asked myself why I believed in Jesus and I didn’t have an answer. It generated a crisis for me in which I spent the next 5 months talking to Michael Gokie (the campus minister) and the other guys as I looked for answers.

That was when I discovered our “Christ in the City” homeless ministry. We did “street-walk”, in which we visited the homeless in Center City. I started going and fell in love with the poor. With all humility, I saw Christ in the poor, and began to experience a “poor-based” faith in Christ. I knew He was there and I knew that the poor were present in the Eucharist. That really marked the next two years for me at Drexel.

4. What lessons did you learn from that experience?

Upon seeing the poor and seeing the brokenness in Philadelphia, I really saw mirrored my own brokenness. Before, I had found a community at Newman of people that cared for me, but I was really afraid that if they knew X, Y and Z about me, they wouldn’t love me anymore. The encounter with poverty made collapse in front of my own brokenness, but to my surprise, in my vulnerability I found a community surrounding me to help me address those wounds. I was also moved to love the poor, and through that experience, I could hear God telling me that as much as I love them, He loves me even more.

5. What did Newman offer you through this experience?

The bottom line is that without the ministry, I’d be alone. The key term for me is ministry. The role of campus ministry is to minister, and that divine ministry takes the form of love for those who are broken. When I opened to be healed, I then became a minister of that same love. The role of the Newman

Center and the students is the same. When we are loved and when we let our cup be filled, God doesn’t stop loving us, but his love overflows. Even two years removed from Drexel, I am still pouring forth the love I received there.

6. How do you see your mission now that you are missionary at “Christ in the City”?

It would be a lie to say I figured it all out at Drexel. Life is a continual transformation, and here at “Christ in the City”, being immersed with the poor is what has allowed me to continue that process. We all have a part of us that we don’t want to give to Christ. Our mission is slowly chipping that away. For me, I’ve let the poor chip that away. Being vulnerable and allowing Christ to love me is what it means to be a saint. What the Newman Center did for me was prepare me to hear Christ when he calls, because I’ve heard that voice of love in the community already and I trust it. That’s ultimately my mission now, not to convince more people to come to Church, but rather to convince others of that love.

Carolyn Shields