“I was surrounded by religion,” Jericho says, reminiscing about his younger years. He grew up in a family of five with a strong Christian foundation. Jericho’s family started attending Willow Creek when he was in preschool, and his parents enrolled him in Schaumburg Christian Academy. He learned about the Bible both at Promiseland and at school.
But Jericho only went to church at first because he was supposed to. “I didn’t have a deep, legit connection with God,” he says. “I knew some things knowledge-wise, but faith was like another school subject to me—kind of like math!”
In sixth grade, Jericho left Schaumburg Christian. “I felt like I was entering the real world,” he says. He began questioning his beliefs. He was still attending Willow, but his heart wasn’t completely in it. “I felt estranged,” he explains. “I asked the question: Why am I following Christianity if God’s doing all these terrible things in the world—if there are so many tragedies? I don’t know if I want to be associated with that.”
During his freshman year of high school, Jericho’s English teacher showed a documentary to his class about a slam poetry festival in Chicago. “I thought the documentary was cool,” he says. “But I thought, ‘there’s no way I can write as good as this.’” Then one night shortly after that experience, Jericho was doing the dishes, and an idea for a poem surfaced that he had to write down. “This might not actually be too bad,” he thought. And he was right. He performed the piece for his English class, and they loved it.
Jericho performed in front of an outside audience for the first time during his sophomore year. After that performance, a friend invited him to join the slam poetry team at school. “I wrote furiously, auditioned, and made the team,” Jericho says. He went on to represent Schaumburg High School in a city competition. “That whole season was a blast. It helped shape who I was and opened me up to other perspectives and ideas.”
But in his junior year of high school, fatigue set in. Writing became cumbersome, and Jericho felt empty inside. The few times he did write, he wrote to cope with emotions, fatigue, and stress.
That was around the same time he decided to walk away from his faith. Jericho stopped going to Student Impact, Willow’s high school ministry. And on the few days he would attend, he told his mom he was going but hung out in the lobby and listened from the fringes.
Then everything changed last fall, Jericho’s senior year in high school at Student Impact’s Fall Ball dodgeball tournament. “I went back to Impact for the first time and was scared,” he says. “I thought people would ask me questions I wouldn’t know how to answer about where I’d been, but I felt a strong prompting to go back.” His first encounter after returning was with a friend who waved to Jericho and told him they were glad to have him back. Jericho was greeted with warmth, got a huge bear hug from his house-group leader, Ashley Vargas, and felt right at home back in community. “Ashley helped me out a bunch in that season,” Jericho says of his dedicated leader.
Encouraged by the safety of this community, Jericho started writing regularly again. He was being recognized for his work. Over Christmas, Student Impact’s worship director, Delwin Eiland, reached out to Jericho and encouraged him to attend Blast, Student Impact’s winter camp, and perform his slam poetry. “Little did I know that Blast would be the best thing I could’ve experienced at that time,” Jericho says. “I wasn’t even really supposed to go!”
At Blast, Jericho bonded with other students in his house group. “I eventually opened up with the guys in my small group,” he says, “and they helped me cope a lot and take care of myself. And I experienced spiritual healing. I realized that it’s in the dark places where God starts to work.”
The Saturday night of camp, after having an intimate time of prayer and reflection with God earlier in the day, Jericho, despite feeling scared at first, performed his spoken-word piece. “I went out, and I gave it all to God. I’ve had people applaud me before, but that night it was different,” he says. “I realized that it was God who was making things work the way they did—or else I wouldn’t be here. From that point forward, I felt a sense of peace.”
Now, a few months removed from camp, Jericho recognizes the work God is doing in his life, how God was inviting him back into community at Student Impact and encouraging him through writing. “I get to reach out with the gifts God’s given me of words and writing to bring Him praise,” Jericho says with clarity.
To find out more about Student Impact click here.