And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.Acts 2:42
To all FOCUS missionaries, especially Becca, Emily, Jacob, Thomas, JD, Brian, Courtney, Maddi, Molly, and Peter, who served at SRU, and Shannon, my friend from SRU who said yes to FOCUS.
Moving in with FOCUS
It was the end of my freshman year at Slippery Rock University. I was at a meeting in the Newman Center where next year’s Rock Catholic leaders planned the upcoming fall semester. Our campus minister informed us that in the fall, SRU would get four FOCUS missionaries. We were excited to hear the news, but we didn’t quite know what FOCUS was and what they would do.
Fast forward to August, when the Rock Catholic leaders volunteered on freshman move-in day. We met four young adults in the same “Weekend of Welcome” volunteer shirts as we were wearing. Throughout the day, we got to know each other as we talked, ate lunch, and prayed. Becca, Jacob, Emily, and Thomas were the first FOCUS missionaries at Slippery Rock.
From my sophomore year to graduation, ten missionaries were assigned at SRU. Because we shared the Newman Center with them as our base of operations, I saw them often and I grew close with most of them. They all taught me something and touched my life in some way, and I’m so grateful for all of them.
What is FOCUS?
FOCUS stands for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. FOCUS missionaries play their part in the Great Commission by going to college campuses to share the Gospel with the students they encounter there. With the “win, build, send” model, they encounter students, invite them to deepen their faith and pursue a personal relationship with God, and equip them to become lifelong disciples. FOCUS missionaries meet students where they are and as they are. They embrace them in authentic friendship and show them who they are and whose they are. They reminds students that they are good and they are loved.
While FOCUS plans tons of events and get-togethers for students, like game nights or just having coffee or tea in their homes, a few cornerstones of their mission are Bible Studies and discipleship. As FOCUS invites students to participate in Bible Studies and forms them through discipleship, they prepare them to grow in their faith independently and even lead. Some students in Bible Studies eventually lead Studies of their own, and disciples eventually become disciple makers. I had the opportunity to lead a Bible Study for a year, and during my last semester, I was my friend Morghan’s formal discipler.
A Holy Sense of Adventure
A valuable lesson that I learned from FOCUS is that becoming holier is not a boring endeavor. The road to Sainthood and a stronger faith is an adventure. It didn’t take long for me to discover that FOCUS missionaries went on mission trips all around the world. During winter, spring, and summer breaks, FOCUS held mission trips in countries in Africa, Asia, Latin and South America, and Europe. When Becca told me about her spring mission trip to Nicaragua, I wanted to go, and through some discernment, I learned that God wanted me there.
Getting to Nicaragua wasn’t easy. The fundraising and preparing was a hassle to say the least, but I forgot all of the stress as soon as we arrived in Nicaragua. With a loving and fun mission team by my side, I spent a week playing with children in Mustard Seed Community compounds. I’ll never forget the smiles on their faces and the sound of their laughter. They still bring me joy as I look at pictures from the trip and reminisce on fond memories. I still keep them in my prayers and ask that God reminds them that they’re his beloved sons and daughters.
That mission trip during my sophomore year wasn’t my only travel opportunity with FOCUS. The conferences that they have every winter gave me new adventures. When I went to SEEK 2019, I got to encounter God in Indianapolis, and during SLS 2020, I learned that I was made for mission in Phoenix. With the lights, the crowds, the Catholic speakers, and the concerts, the energy at FOCUS conferences is contagious. My favorite memories involve the powerful moments that I spent in Adoration. I knelt there, feeling the True Presence of Jesus in front of me, and surrendered my life to him. Wrapped in his love, I knew that living for him was the greatest adventure I could ever take.
The Constant Call
The FOCUS missionaries that I knew for most of my time in college were always calling me and my friends to holiness. Nearly every day they invited us to go deeper in our faith. They led Bible Studies, they went to Mass with us, they met with us for discipleship, they held upper rooms, and they had the craziest events. If I can be honest, It was sometimes overwhelming knowing that something was always happening and they wanted us at everything, but the invitation was always intentional and well-meaning.
From the missionaries, I learned the importance of community and intentional invitations. They helped me understand that while I can improve my faith on my own, I can grow deeper when I find and foster a faith community. I began to see those around me for who they are, beloved sons and daughters of God. Understanding this identity made it easier and more authentic to make intentional invitations. Getting to know someone and desiring the good for their eternal soul became the why behind my invitations to coffee, movie nights, Bible Study, and Mass.
Click here to read 5 Intentional Ways to Create Community!
The constant calls and invitations also taught me that in everything I do, there’s always way to grow deeper. When you decide to live your life for God, he enters every aspect of your life. Consequently, I began recognizing God in every moment of my day and cherishing every moment as a way to grow closer to him. From the missionaries’ excitement when I told them the news, I learned that a great grade on a research paper is something to thank God about. From their patient example, I learned that inconveniences are ways to grow in humility. Because of the constant call to holiness, I consciously grew closer to God each day, which is something that I’ve carried with me out of college and I’ll keep forever.
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This blog about FOCUS and its impact on my earthly and eternal life wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my discipler, Courtney. My junior year was her first year as a missionary at SRU, and she approached me and my good friend Allie to invite us into discipleship. Without knowing much about it aside from that it sounded like a good thing, we said yes. For the next two school years, Courtney and I met one on one, sometimes for hours at a time, to talk about life, faith, and what it means to be a missionary disciple.
The path of discipleship isn’t always easy or even pleasant. If you think of Jesus’ disciples, they struggled, suffered, and sometimes failed. As Courtney led me in discipleship, I struggled a lot. It took me a long time to really realize my identity and worth lies in Jesus, not in what the world thinks I should be. It took me a long time to pray every day because I filled my schedule with things that were seemingly more important. It took me a long time to be formed and grow in the virtues that my soul needed.
I often thought of the vine and the branches from John 15. If I wanted to abide in Jesus and bear fruit, I had to be pruned. As the Father worked through Courtney and pruned me, there were times that it hurt. Sometimes I didn’t even want it. As defeated as I was, Courtney kept fighting for my soul, and I didn’t give up. I saw myself first and foremost as a daughter of the Lord, and nothing can sway me. My prayer life went from practically nonexistent to a Holy Hour every day. I grew in charity, chastity, detachment, humility, and more.
Now that I’m at the end of my formal discipleship with Courtney, I can see my growth from the past two years. As I leaned on her and looked to her for guidance, she formed me without making me dependent on her. While Courtney won’t always be right beside me, she’ll always be in my heart and I’ll see her in the Eucharist.
Formed by FOCUS
I probably could have grown in my faith just fine on my own, but FOCUS set the examples that I was looking for and gave me the guidance that I needed. Because of FOCUS, I grew closer to God than I ever thought possible. I learned that I could be holy, and through saying yes to God daily, I believed that holiness and Sainthood are possible for me.
If I had one word to describe myself after FOCUS touched my life, it would be formed. I desired to deepen my faith and live God’s will for my life, and he blessed me with missionaries who worked so beautifully in my life. The formation that I experienced through FOCUS will last me the rest of my life and will keep me on the path to eternal life. FOCUS, thank you for everything you taught me, gave me, and did for me. Because of your witness, I’m not afraid to say yes to God’s plan for my life and to be a lifelong missionary disciple.
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