Umana with some of the members of the Adventist Christian Fellowship at University of Michigan. Photo credit: Rayno Victor
“The best four years of my life.” That’s what I was often told about college. Sure, the first week went great, and the second one as well but, by the third week, I sure was hoping this wouldn’t be the peak of my lifetime.
Maybe it was the excitement of leaving my house, or perhaps the hope for the amazing experiences to come, but I couldn’t wait to go to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Throughout my first day, I was wide-eyed at all the wealth and resources the University had to offer. I couldn’t believe that I actually had made it in, that I was about to embark on a journey to success at U of M. When I began speaking with students in my cohort, however, I was quickly met with a different reality. I was “different.”
Different isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s often quite beneficial. But as an 18-year-old (and even still as a 21-year-old), this is a difficult concept to grasp. You see, I spent my whole life waiting for this moment, always trying to be the best, working towards 100 percent and extra credit, doing the most I could to ensure my success. That was my “difference.” But the difference I was forced to recognize that particular evening was about things over which I had no control, particularly my background.
I am a child of immigrant parents, one of which was on disability and the other who was sustaining my siblings and me on a teacher’s salary. My family had experienced a substantial number of struggles, but I never considered that these truths might be impediments to my success. Yet in this world of privilege, such that I had never seen before, I suddenly believed I fell short in every aspect. People were sharing their unbelievably high SAT scores as if they were A–’s when they wanted A+’s. Internships with their parents’ friends, AP classes, summer programs. . . “How on earth did I make it here?” I thought. And this is where my struggle with impostor syndrome began.
“Impostor syndrome is . . . doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud” (Burey & Tulshyan, 2021). Boy, did I ever. The more time I spent with my friends, the more I saw how financially and emotionally protected they were by their parents, their families, their communities — and how I wasn’t. Then, things started getting difficult. Debilitating, even. My struggle with impostor syndrome, along with my struggle to afford class materials, began affecting my academics. To top it all off, my brain decided it was the perfect time to start processing childhood trauma.
This is where God stepped in. (Or, at least, this is when I noticed.)
I missed going to church, teaching Beginner’s Sabbath School, and enjoying the sermons at my church back home in Berrien Springs, so I decided to go to the Ann Arbor church for the first time. After a 40-minute bus ride and a lot of walking, I finally made it. I barely caught the “Amen,” but I was glad to be there. I was invited to the potluck (and what college student says “no” to free food?), so naturally, I went, but I noticed that we were waiting for something — or someone — to arrive.
“The students are coming! The students are coming!” Then BAM! A crowd of about fifteen students hustled through the entrance. I spent the rest of the day with them and was then informed that the University had not one, but two Adventist student organizations! Campus H.O.P.E. (a weekly, student-run, on-campus church service, and more) and Adventist Christian Fellowship, or A.C.F. (in charge of mid-week Bible studies and other evangelistic efforts). Needless to say, I was thrilled. I met presidents of both organizations and was promptly invited to Wednesday’s Bible study: “Let’s Taco ’bout Jesus.” And, yes, we ate tacos.
I started attending Bible studies each week, and my devotional life was sparked. For the first time, I understood what it meant to study my Bible, and my life and my perspective on everything changed completely. I was falling in love with God more and more each day and feeling closer to Him than ever. Despite this, however, everything else in my life continued to fall apart faster than I could try to put it back together. My academics were suffering and getting worse by the minute while my mental health took a sharp turn for the worse, and I eventually fell into a deep depression.
If you’ve experienced depression, you will understand that it makes you lose interest in what once brought you joy, and struggle to perform daily activities. As a result, I stopped going to class, stopped doing my schoolwork, and stopped taking care of myself. The only thing I did was go to Bible study and attend church every Sabbath. It was at this point that I started to question what I perceived to be God’s plan. Why did He bring me to U of M and leave me to fend for myself? Why did He promise me success only for me to fail? I started to get upset with Him, which sounds harsh, but it reminds me of a group of people from the Bible.
In Exodus Chapter 14, the Israelites found themselves between a sea and an army of Egyptians desiring their death. Although God had met all of their needs up to this point, they turned to Him and became angry, asking why He would deliver them from Egypt just to have them die in the desert. Sounds crazy, right? How could they?! How dare they doubt God! Yet in my weakness, God revealed to me that I wasn’t much different from them.
As I said, I continued to go to Bible studies and attended church every Sabbath. I never told anyone what was happening, but He knew. And with each study, sermon and newfound friendship, God revealed His character to me. He told me that He is a God of fulfilled promises, not empty ones; a God of mercy and love and, most importantly, faithfulness, even when I lacked in faithfulness myself. So in spite of my doubt and confusion, I praised Him. I praised Him for His character and His goodness towards me, even when I didn’t feel it.
Time passed. Little by little, He began to deliver me from my depression, from my helplessness, and from myself. He made a way where there was no way, as He always does, and somehow managed to rescue my grades. He sent me help from so many different directions, I didn’t know how to react. All I could do was praise Him more.
My friends, this is the God we serve. A God of deliverance. This was my experience from my first semester of college and, after that, things got significantly worse. Some days, I didn’t know how I was going to continue, much less succeed. But do you know what has become stronger? My faith. I have seen God deliver me and cannot deny His ability to do it for me again. Although everything in my life may be deteriorating, His protection and His covering over me remains steadfast. And even if His deliverance does not come when or how I want it to, I know that it will come. I encourage you to believe the same.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb. 11:13).
J. Burey, R. Tulshyan. (2021, March 31). Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome.
Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-
Gabrielle Umana is entering her fourth year at U of M, Ann Arbor, majoring in Psychology and hoping to obtain a Master's degree in Social Work. She’s looking forward to serving as the president of Adventist Christian Fellowship, the Adventist organization that propelled her involvement into public campus ministries.
If you know of a student about to attend or is already on a public university in the Lake Union, you may want to reach out to the conference representative for help in providing an anchor in the young person’s faith journey.