By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (July 17, 2012) – Ever since the theme Five was announced for CHIC 2012, Covenanters have wondered what it referenced. Organizers have been cagey. Was it chosen because this is the fifth year CHIC has been held at the University of Tennessee campus? Was it because the event was five days long? Were those and other reasons all part of the theme?
As it turns out, Five also is the number of questions asked by God that students are being asked to consider throughout the week. A different question is introduced each night at Main Stage.
On Sunday night, speaker Harvey Carey drew upon the story of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Christ, who asks her, “Who are you looking for?”
On Monday night, Bianca Juarez posed the question that calls individuals to follow Jesus, as he asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
Juarez is a writer and speaker who spends most of her time as chief storyteller for the A21 Campaign, an organization committed to abolishing human trafficking. As she addressed the crowd, it was clear that deciding who Jesus is also the key to self-identity.
Juarez noted that in the version recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus initially asked the disciples, “Who do others say that I am?”
She exhorted students to follow Jesus’ example and not allow others to define them. A21’s chief storyteller told of how she had been enslaved to a false image of herself, wondering whether her life could ever get better.
Juarez of Puerto Rican descent is the daughter of a father who fought with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam. When he returned from overseas, he settled in the dangerous neighborhood of East Los Angeles, where he started a church.
The family – including her mother and four siblings – was poor. “You know you’re poor when your neighbors are giving you their government-issued peanut butter and cheese.”
Despite her poverty, she also was obese. Standing four feet, 10 inches, Juarez weighed 178 pounds. She also didn’t know how to read when she was 11 years old. “I vividly remember being a child stared at with shame and pity.”
But, she said, “My God is the god of the impossible.” As she gave her life to him, she realized her own value, and Juarez’s life changed.
“When we recognize who Jesus is, it changes who we are,” Juarez declared.
Referencing her current job and the opportunity to minister to victims of human trafficking, Juarez told the gathering, “He took this stupid, fat, poor girl to bring freedom to the oppressed.”
Juarez recalled the words of Paul, one of her biblical heroes, who wrote to the church at Galatia, which had started to forget that “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
It is tragic that so many people are being kept from living all that Jesus has called them to be, because they don’t understand that Jesus is the God who does the impossible and sets them free to serve others and change the world.
Prior to Juarez’s sermon, hip-hop artist Lecrae electrified the audience of more than 5,000 people in the Thompson-Boling Arena. Efrem Smith, superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference and CHIC pastor, said if he were to try such an athletic performance, he would have quickly been reduced to calling for medical assistance.