My FOCUS Mission Trip to El Salvador

Just a couple of weeks ago for spring break I had the opportunity to help lead a FOCUS mission trip to El Salvador!

Group with Sarai

After Sunday mass at the San Miguel Cathedral, while we were still relatively clean 😉

It was such an amazing experience! I’ve had so many people ask me about the trip and everything in the past couple of weeks, but it’s so hard to put into words what I got to experience throughout that whole week. Here are some of my take away’s, as best as I can summarize them.

The trip was eye opening in so many ways. This was probably my biggest take away. I had never really left the comfortable American world until then: I’ve been blessed to be able to vacation in Mexico and Canada, but even in Mexico we didn’t need to speak Spanish because we stayed at resorts.

In El Salvador, I was immediately confronted by a different culture and way of life. Even in the Avianca section in Miami Airport, we were some of the only people who weren’t speaking in Spanish. I love learning Spanish and I hope to be fluent one day, but for now it was somewhat overwhelming when people spoke to me in Spanish expecting me to understand. I can pick up words and even understand phrases and simple sentences, but when they’re speaking so fast, I had to flag down our friendly Spanish speaking missionaries, Roxio and Mario!

A pic of our local neighborhood.

A pic of our local neighborhood.

 

I couldn’t help but notice the poverty right away. It wasn’t like there were hoards of homeless people (that I saw), but rather nearly all of the homes there made a small “lower class” home in the United States look very nice. They made those “bad” parts of Newark look normal. They did have electricity (the wealthier homes at least- oh and I did see a very modern transmission substation by a highway once) and water (kind of- we couldn’t drink it, and hot water wasn’t common).

It was such a joy to be able to talk and play with the kids! They were shy but they warmed up to us fast!

It was such a joy to be able to talk and play with the kids! They were shy but they warmed up to us fast!

A very interesting thing happened every night while we were there. Everyone got all antsy and said that they had to leave around 5:30 pm. Every single night. It was still bright out and everything, and it was early in the evening, so I was confused about why they needed to get back home so early. It turned out that the gangs have instituted an unofficial curfew over the entire country, especially where we were in San Miguel, at 6 pm. That’s when they come out and it isn’t safe to be outside of your homes. In fact, every home had bars over their windows, cement walls around their yards, and barbed wire on top of everything. There were security guards in most businesses holding guns. Gang violence is very real, and there is the legacy of the civil war that ended in 1993 as well. I was devastated to learn just how deadly the civil war was, with the government (supplied by the United States) sending death squads to local towns by the end of it. I guess that shouldn’t be too much of a shock that it came to that after the whole Archbishop Romero fiasco, which I’ll talk about later.

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This is just a random shot of some homes in El Salvador. If you look closely you’ll notice barbed wire on top, all the fences, and bars over all the windows.

 

The food was seriously out of this world. We had the most amazing deal: some of the women (mostly grandmas) in the parish cooked for us 3 meals a day, and they went all out for us, cooking seriously the most amazing food I’ve ever had (no offense to my mom and grandma!). A couple of the Americans’ stomachs didn’t mix well with the food, but I was surprised to find that my stomach was more bothered coming back to America and eating processed food. Whoops, America.

Typical Salvadorian comida: pupusas on the left, rice in the center, fried plantains on the right. Turns out that plantains go really good with ketchup!

Typical Salvadorian comida: pupusas on the left, rice in the center, fried plantains on the right. Turns out that plantains go really good with ketchup!

The faith of the people was so inspiring! Everyone loved to talk about Jesus, and sometimes it was hard to get them to stop… 😉 They loved putting Jesus stickers everywhere on their cars and every other person seemed to be wearing a rosary (public service announcement, you’re actually not supposed to wear them as a fashion symbol). One of the coolest things that we got to experience was stations of the cross with a local town (Chirilagua, I believe). After mass on that Friday evening, the whole town seemed to gather together outside of the church as we walked around the town carrying a doll/statue thing of Jesus to each station, set up right in front of houses and shops and things.

Carrying the cross for stations of the cross with the community!

Carrying the cross for stations of the cross with the community!

With the parish that we were helping rebuild their church, I was impressed with how tight knit the whole parish seemed to be, with dozens showing up to daily mass with us, many of the male parishioners helped with the construction, and many of the female parishioners helped with cooking for them all and other odds and ends jobs. Another impressive thing about this parish was how they go on house visits each week to families their local community. At each house visit, they see how each other is doing, read the Gospel for the next Sunday together, have a mini bible study, and then close in prayer. That’s an awesome way of outreach that we should try and apply back in the United States! Even more powerful than all of those experiences for me was when the community prayed for us all, with some of the leaders laying their hands on each of us and praying with such emotion for each of us.

Leaders of the parish praying over us... so beautiful!

Leaders of the parish praying over us… so beautiful!

An absolutely stunning story that the locals shared with us was the tradition of Reina de la Paz, patron saint of El Salvador. If you can read Spanish, the more in depth details are here. If not, here’s my basic summary: In 1787, San Miguel Volcano, which is not surprisingly right next to the city of San Miguel, was erupting and threatening to destroy the entire city. The entire city, or I guess town back then, being Catholic Christians, turned to God and the Virgin Mary in prayer. They had this image of Mary that they decided to bring up with them to the volcano, begging for the Virgin Mary’s intercession in saving them and their city. Miraculously, the lava actually stopped and went a different direction, saving them all! Praise God! To this day, that same image of Mary, who they call Reina de la Paz (Queen of Peace), is in the Cathedral of San Miguel, holding a palm branch from the event. Reina de la Paz is the patron saint of all of El Salvador. When we went to the Cathedral for Sunday mass, we got to see Reina de la Paz ourselves and even touch it! It was so beautiful and moving to be able to be so close to something so important to the hearts of the native people. Isn’t their faith so strong?!

The image of Reina de la Paz in the San Miguel Cathedral

The image of Reina de la Paz above the main altar in the San Miguel Cathedral

We didn’t get to personally meet Archbishop Romero, but it felt like we did after getting to know and love this holy man so much that week. Here’s a great article that summarizes why he is such a big deal in El Salvador, and admired throughout Latin America, the Church, and the world at large. Basically Monsignor Romero (as they call him, even though he was an Archbishop) spoke out against the corruption and evils of the Salvadorian government while he was Archbishop and the leader of the Church in that country from 1977-1980. By that time, the government had begun to use violence to try and keep protesters quiet, and for a while it seemed like a priest was killed every month. Months before Romero was actually assassinated, there was a different attempt on his life where there were large amounts of dynamite placed right in front of the Cathedral, which would have killed him and hundreds or thousands more. Thankfully that attempt was revealed, but it didn’t stop Romero from speaking boldly. Above all, Romero was a man of God who wished to share the Gospel and help the poor. He lived a very simple life and was for the most part a very quiet man. But he was placed in a very explosive situation and despite the fear he must have felt, he stayed true to his God and his people above all else. He was shot while saying mass by an assassin on March 24th, 1980. At his funeral mass, tens of thousands showed up, but the government didn’t want that to happen so they shot into the crowd, killing about 60-80 people according to our Salvadorian hosts. Of course, the violence by the government was only beginning at that point. While in El Salvador, we had the opportunity to visit Romero’s tomb, house where he lived, church where he was shot, and even the square where he will be beatified this May! It was inspiring to learn more about this man and he has quickly become one of my favorite saints. Archbishop Romero, pray for us!

A statue of Romero outside the Cathedral in San Salvador.

A statue of Romero outside the Cathedral in San Salvador.

Praying next to Romero's tomb. There were dozens of the faithful coming in to visit and pray by the tomb with us.

Praying next to Romero’s tomb. There were dozens of the faithful coming in to visit and pray by the tomb with us.

The vestments that Romero was wearing when he was shot.

The vestments that Romero was wearing when he was shot.

The most beautiful flowers were growing right outside the church where he was shot.

The most beautiful flowers were growing right outside the church where he was shot.

Archbishop Romero was saying mass at that altar when he was shot.

Archbishop Romero was saying mass at that altar when he was shot. Today schoolchildren come and visit daily.

As we were preparing to leave, we decided to leave our cooks, and through them the entire parish, a little sign of how much they meant to us by washing their feet. We prayed with them as we washed their feet and it was so moving to think about how much God had done through both parties. They had given up so much to serve us, and we definitely had given up some things in order to serve them as well. The sacrifices made by both parties for the sake of God and His Church was so beautiful.

Washing the feet of our amazing cooks!

Washing the feet and praying for our amazing cooks!

Though it might not seem like it, we actually did some work too! So the practical part of our mission trip was to help them build a new church, because the last one was destroyed in 2001 by an earthquake. It’s taken them this long to be able to build a new one because they don’t have the funds. Thanks to about 5 more FOCUS Mission trips to this parish, we’ll be able to significantly help them both with funds and free labor, so that they hope to have it completed in about a year. At the moment we were just working on the foundation, so most of what we did was shoveling dirt and carrying concrete by bucket. They had no back hoes, cement trucks, cranes, lifts, dump trucks, or anything that you’d expect in America. All of the labor was by hand. But it was a lot of fun! I enjoyed being able to work side by side with the locals, chatting it up with my fellow missionaries (both FOCUS and students), and enjoying that wonderful 100 degree dry heat. I swear there wasn’t a cloud in the sky all week.

Doing work!

Doing work!

Our mission trip team with the workers and Father Antonio.

Our mission trip team with the workers and Father Antonio.

One of the most important things that I’ll cherish from this trip is growing in friendship with my amazing teammates! Carly, Grace, Tess, Becca, Roxio, Elli, Sarah, Jonathan, Max, Mario, Michael, and Fr. Jeff. You guys are awesome! It was so beautiful to not really know anybody going into this week, and come out of it with 12 new amazing friends, with plenty of inside jokes to go with it. No espanol. Pwerp. Having a blast! Michael prancing away from the scorpion. Alfredo. Too blessed to be stressed! Liquiddddddd!!! Riding in the back of the pickup truck. God’s pharmacy. Shamar the rear! I saw God in you guys. Your service and selflessness is inspiring and I can’t wait to see where God leads you all! Huge shout outs to Sarah for being in charge of basically everything and being an amazing trip director and Fr. Jeff for joining us last minute and being such a great priest and role model!

Group PicIf you get the chance to go on a mission trip, you should go! It was amazing and transformative and fun! It has helped me grow in my faith, gain a more complete world view, and have some experiences that I’ll cherish the rest of my life. Check out FOCUS Missions!

“To change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us.” – Pope Francis

Here’s a video that Mario put together of us!

 

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What is Chastity and Why is it Important? An Interview with a Youth Chastity Speaker

The following is an interview with Perla, a youth chastity speaker. I have been so privileged to get to know her personally, and I hope that her story and words of wisdom on chastity inspire you as well!

Hi Perla! Thank you for taking the time to meet with me! Could you start by sharing a little about yourself? What was your childhood like?
Thanks Chris! Well, I come from a family of 5 and am the oldest sibling. I have a really close extended family where I grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico. Then my dad worked in the United States, while the rest of us were in Mexico, so we all moved to the United States when I was 10 in order to live together.

What impact did moving to the United States have on your life?
It played a huge impact on my life! It was a whole new world – I had to learn English, the culture was so different, my extended family was so far away, and we didn’t get close to many people outside of our family.

What careers and interests did you have growing up?
I always wanted to become a teacher, I love little kids. I think I even have a special charisma with kids, I loooove kids. And math. So I wanted to become a math teacher. Of course, that changed when I got to college, when my encounter with Christ happened.

What was your encounter with Christ?
I had all the big questions, like what is the meaning of life, what happens after death, etc., but I never looked to the Catholic Church for those answers. I changed my major 5 times, always searching for the answers to life. Psychology gave some answers, but not enough. For a while, I thought that maybe service was the answer, so I did a lot of service. Then next I thought that it was love, so I started dating this guy. But nothing was enough, and I was tired of looking for answers. Then one day one of my friends invited me to join a Catholic bible study. I only joined because I witnessed how much joy my Protestant friends had in their lives, and they did bible study too. So I was willing to give a Catholic one a try. The bible study was run by three middle-aged couples, who hooked my friends and I by offering us a home cooked dinner – it worked for us college kids! In their homes, we went over the scripture readings for the next Sunday mass on Monday nights. I began to learn so much! Once I encountered the truth of the Eucharist and from there the truth of the Catholic faith, I decided to look at Catholic universities to finish college. A son of one of the families that hosted bible study went to Ave Maria University and told me about it. It was the only college that I applied to at that point, and praise God, they ended up offering me a full ride to study there.

What degree did you end up graduating with? And what did you want to do when you graduated?
I majored in Theology with a minor in Philosophy. I had this deep desire to do the same thing for other college students that was done for me: maybe offering a bible study for other college students. Providentially, FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) came to Ave Maria and shared their mission with the students and I, and it lined up perfectly with what I wanted to do after graduation! I applied and got accepted!

You were a missionary with FOCUS for how long, and what was it like?
I was a missionary for three years. It was a great experience, I loved meeting students where they were at and challenging them to take their faith seriously. It was also a great adventure, especially with being open to be placed anywhere in the country. I always thought that it was very humbling to have students open up to me and give me their trust and friendship.

How did you come across your new job?
After my 3rd year with FOCUS, I felt a strong call to come back home and work within my home diocese, San Angelo in Texas. The diocese didn’t have any openings for evangelization or anything like FOCUS, so a close friend invited me to apply for a job as a prevention specialist.

What is a prevention specialist?
We work as a team of 8, most of us are between ages 23-26, and we go to elementary, middle, and high schools in Midland, Odessa, and surrounding cities. Our aim is to prevent them from falling into high-risk behaviors and be fulfilled in their good decisions. So we speak with the students about their self worth, the purpose of their bodies, the purpose of sex, sexual abstinence, the risks of the media, STDs, parenting, and how to build healthy relationships. In addition, we offer assistance for anyone who has suffered from abuse or addiction afterwards.

How long are you at a school?
We are there for three days, Tues-Thurs.

What does a day at a school consist of?
Our presentations last for 45 minutes, but our total pace can vary anywhere from 1 to 7 presentations a day. And we might travel to a few schools per week. So we are aiming to work with around 30,000 students by the end of the school year!

What is your main message to the students?
The thing that I really focus on for them is that they know who they are. We talk about how they have so many important sides to them: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and sexual. We talk about why we have certain yearnings in our hearts in the first place, so that they can see their natural good desires. A big emphasis is placed on showing what is necessary for sex: commitment, faithfulness, truly loving your spouse. Because the purpose of sex is to bond husband and wife together and for the procreation of children. Bottomline. From this understanding we can show them that sex truly belongs in marriage- fulfilling also the heart and mind because all 6 sides of the person would be truly satisfied.

Was there a moment in your life where you started getting interested in speaking about chastity?
Yes! There were major two instances. Growing up, I had the common girl dream of meeting that perfect guy, falling in love, and getting married. But what my friends were doing, what the world was offering, with hooking up and all that, it never satisfied my heart. It was never going to fulfill me at the end of the day. Even a good relationship in high school was not satisfying for me because we weren’t going to get married soon after. There were plenty of attractive guys in high school that I was attracted to, but dating and hooking up just didn’t click right even though I didn’t know why exactly. The other instance was as a missionary on the college campus, where I was seeing women fall under pressure to have sex before marriage and not live chastely. There seemed to be a missing link between their faith, the meaning of their body, and their yearning for true love. It seemed as if God had to be kicked out because all He offered where restrictions to their desires. So I spent a lot of time with some college women learning and reconciling all of these things with God’s desire for us! So we deeply understood that chastity in fact fulfills our desires. It is way more than just “don’t don’t don’t.”

We hear the world chastity a lot, but are less familiar with what it actually means. How do you define it?
I understand chastity as purity of body, mind (thoughts and imagination), and intentions. Purity meaning no stain of selfishness, lust, slavery to passions, but free to love, to choose the best for the other person with joyful selflessness.

As you grew up, did you ever dream that you’d become both a missionary and chastity speaker?
No, not at all. Haha.

What would you have thought?
I would have thought that I would have been going abroad, India or Africa. I would have never thought that I would do it here, home, with my generation. That would have seemed extremely radical.

How has it been now that you’re living it out?
It’s been a transformative experience: to see the goodness of God in how He cares for me. I’ve learned how to put others before me. I’m convicted of the truths that I’m saying as a chastity speaker, as well. It’s challenged me to live with integrity in all areas of my life and truly love everyone who is around me. I’m asking myself questions like “am I building healthy relationships myself?”

Is our culture to blame for these problems of chastity? Or would you attribute this to their youth or something else?
I think that there are many factors. Yes, I think that society plays a role, especially the media like movies, music, and TV. I think those things have a huge pull on young people. It’s also on the parents, if they are not convicted of the truth and share it. Their children need to see good examples from them so that the message will get to their hearts. A third factor is that boys and girls need to be challenged, challenged to do something better. Such as love requires you to wait, to build your character first. Many times they are told that they don’t have self-control because they are young, but they actually do. They can stand up with courage against the current. I don’t think that they hear that enough, or at all.

What is different for the youth growing up in 2015 from what it was like for you growing up?
The biggest difference is that for today’s children the internet is so available, especially on their phones. It offers them so many extra risks and distractions.

What advice would you give the parents of children nowadays?
I would affirm them that they have a big influence on their kids’ lives. They mold their kids. I would challenge them to look into the truth of all these things, to live them out, and pass them on to their kids through example. I’d also ask them to try to monitor their social media time, monitor their exposure to the internet. I’m thinking especially of the risk of pornography.

What sort of role do you think pornography plays in our culture’s battle with chastity?
It plays a huge role. It is so available, and really young people are exposed to it, even as young as 9 years old. Every heart longs for true love so there is a natural curiosity for what intimacy is, but pornography does not offer an answer it actually begins to warp people’s hearts and minds and scar them for life in a sense. It handicaps them for true love and true sacrifice.

As a college campus missionary, it’s common to hear about students “hooking up.” What would you say to someone who just wants to have some fun for one night?
If I could really talk to them, I would ask them, have you looked at the true desires of your heart? Your heart has a true yearning and desire to be loved. You won’t be satisfied until you are known and loved: hopefully by your family and your spouse in the future. That yearning is in everyone’s hearts. One night stands… there is no way to truly love a person through that or be loved. Then understand that the opposite of love is use. Sure, hooking up offers a thrill but at the end it will not be fulfilling and isn’t love. It is the use of each other- most likely girl using guy for emotional gratification and guy using girl for physical aspect. It’s seeing only the body of the person without revealing who they truly are. You in fact see less of them instead of more.

How can someone struggling with chastity start to change their habits?
If you’re Catholic, make sure go to confession. Confess it clearly, humbly, and sincerely. Ask God for healing, in your heart and mind. Go to the sacraments. Besides that, get an accountability partner/group. Most young people ARE struggling with this, in actuality or in understanding. Be honest, form a small accountability group, and set small goals to grow little by little.

Any final thoughts?
I want to stress this: know and believe that God is interested in your love life. God is not a boring God. Trust and believe that He has something beautiful planned for you, and He will not leave you disappointed.

Thank you Perla! Thank you for your very important work with the youth!

FOCUS New Staff Training, Take 2

Well I’ve definitely fallen behind on blogging ever since I’ve been back at FOCUS New Staff Training again this summer, so here are some quick updates and thoughts:

  • This is such an exciting place to be. Besides the seminaries, this is largely where the future of the Catholic Church in America is. 400+ missionaries zealous for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ on college campuses around the country. Every year there are more missionaries and campuses, it’s so cool to see God blessing this apostolate.
  • I already knew that I was returning to Montclair State University in New Jersey next year, but now I have some teammates! Here’s a pic of us (Mike, yours truly, Kristin, Anne, and Kerry), they’re awesome!
  • Team MSU 2014-2015
  • A few of the major topics that I’ve been learning over the past 3 weeks have been discernment of spirits, the Gospel of John (in depth), and Catholic Social Teaching. Each class has been really interesting, I’m a bit of nerd for stuff like that. But you’d probably assume that when you take into account that I blog in my free time about my faith 😀
  • This time in the summer is a great time to process all that happened over the school year so that I can learn from my experiences. I’ve been trying to talk with other veteran missionaries to learn best practices and those have been some fascinating conversations.
  • I’m off to a silent Ignatian retreat this weekend. I went on one last year as well, it was so cool to experience that silence. On the other hand, Ignatian prayer was tricky for me, so I’m hoping and praying that I’m more faithful to that this time around.
  • Easily one of my favorite things about training is sitting down at a table for a meal with all new people and getting to know them all and hearing how God’s worked in each of their lives to call them to the missionary life. Everyone is so unique and has such cool stories!
  • Reforming the Church and the world happens one person at a time. We have to be faithful to God first in our own life before we can focus our evangelization efforts on others.
  • The second half of the summer will be time for me to meet up with my mission partners who support me financially and spiritually. They truly are mission partners because I couldn’t get on campus and invest in the students without their help. Some give by going (missionaries), and others go by giving (mission partners). Both work together to bring forth the Kingdom of God, so thank you to all my mission partners out there!
  • God bless, hope you’re having a great summer!

Missionary Life: Year 1 Reflections

Wow. So crazy as it seems, I’ve already completed an entire school year as a FOCUS Missionary. Life just flies sometimes, doesn’t it? Here are some observations and thoughts about the year!

  • In college I learned that life moves even faster than normal. Those 4 years were a blur… At graduation it still seemed like I moved in as a freshman the day before. Well, as a missionary, time goes EVEN FASTER. Jeepers, I was booked and busy. Sometimes a bit too much haha.. but constantly meeting with different people and going to different events and having intentional conversations will do that sort of thing!
  • I can’t share Jesus when I don’t know Jesus or live like Him. I definitely do know Him and try to live for Him, but I still could still grow closer to Him. Becoming more Christlike gives me more credibility in sharing the Gospel, and also gives me an even greater zeal to share it! Prayer is the foundation of evangelization.
  • I am a doer, a fixer, a go-getter. And yet despite everything that I did, I still got rejected, and relatively often. It’s a struggle for all who try and evangelize… but I have to remember that ultimately only God can touch someone’s heart, no matter what I do. I began to rely more and more on prayer by the end of the year, praying for the people in my life, because I knew that personal conversion is a matter between that person and God, and my job is simply to introduce the two parties and foster that relationship 😉
  • There were so many fun crazy things that I got to do as a missionary: relive the college experience WITHOUT GOING TO CLASS, so many retreats and conferences, seeing nearly every single state in the Northeast, hiking trips, the March for Life was only 4 hrs away, trips to NYC, Catholic Underground, meeting so many religious orders, being in spiritual direction, building such great friendships with the students, speaking in front of groups about JESUS, and literally see lives change before my very eyes.
  • I really couldn’t have done any of that without the support of my mission partners, who donate to and pray for my mission. Their generosity has shown me a glimpse of the charity of God Himself.
  • I got a kick out of seeing probably more Chicago Bulls hats than any other hat on campus… and it’s in New Jersey! Go Bulls!
  • Numbers are great, individual souls are priceless, and faithfulness to God is most important. I’m reminded of the Mother Teresa quote, “God doesn’t ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful.” Praise God that we did have some success in terms of conversions of students either back to their Catholic faith, from a different denomination home to Catholicism, or from another/no faith to the Church.
  • I could have been an engineer this year. Looking back, if I did that, so many things would have been different, in my life as well as in others. It’s amazing how much God works when we go out of our way to follow Him, even in a single thing.
  • Young people’s apathy for religion is unbelievable. This isn’t necessarily their fault as much as it is the fault of previous generations who should have taught them its importance. But either way, if there are belief systems out there that say that their way is the only way to live life, wouldn’t you at least want to check them out to see if they are true? Relativism has largely crippled any desire of the youth to search for eternal truth.
  • The lack of religious convictions by the youth has also given way to incredible boldness and zeal by my peers. My fellow missionaries and student leaders are courageous souls determined to shine the light of Jesus everywhere they go, because they know just how desperately our peers need that light. The greater the darkness, the more bright the lights of heroes shine.
  • Looking forward to next year! Who knows what God will do next 🙂

End of year BBQ

14 Reasons Why You Should Become a FOCUS Missionary in 2014

focus

As some of the last interview weekends of the year are coming up, here are 14 reasons why you should join me in becoming a FOCUS missionary this year!

1. There is a desperate need. It’s a safe bet that most of your fellow students have not heard the Gospel. They do not understand who Jesus is and what Christianity is all about. Their best hope is other young people like you, their peers, to witness to the faith and share Jesus with them.

2. It is our calling as Christians to share the Gospel. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19. “Through Baptism, each of us becomes missionary disciples, called to bring the Gospel to the world. Each of the baptized, whatever their role in the Church or the educational level of their faith, is an active agent of evangelization.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

3. You will grow in virtue and holiness. You will be surrounded by support with your teammates, student leaders, the regional support teams, the chaplain, etc. Your daily holy hour and mass will challenge you to continue to strive closer to Jesus. It’s a great way to train yourself to become a saint!

4. You receive unparalleled formation for life. Leadership skills, people skills, managing small groups, support from teammates, and more. New Staff Training in the summer helps to train us with the very best resources that the Church has to offer for new evangelists. Oh and by the way, going to the March for Life doesn’t require you to “ask off,” you can do it as a part of your job!

5. You meet and work with awesome people. Your “co-workers” aren’t just there because they need to pay the bills. Your teammates are young zealous world changers willing to take risks to help make differences in others lives. In addition, you get to meet so many interesting students from all walks of life, and get introduced to other exciting people in the Church making a difference through overlapping ministries (like all the awesome priests, religious, and campus ministers!).

6. You make a lasting eternal impact on the lives of students. Even one soul that comes to know Jesus is priceless. These students will have changed lives in college, but it doesn’t stop there! They’ll also be influencing others for the rest of their lives! You just get to knock over the first few dominoes (by God’s grace!) and sit back as God does His thing. 🙂

7. It’s a blast! Come on, does it really sound like a boring job? Hanging out at college for a few extra years… No classes… No homework… No exams… All mission. Oh, and have you heard of these things called FOCUS Conferences?

SLS 14

Leaf Fight

Halloween

Fall Retreat

8. Be at the forefront of the New Evangelization, help to reclaim the culture for Jesus! John Paul II approved.

John Paul II hiking

9. Help to save people’s souls. I guess this should be #1, but this list isn’t in order anyways haha.

10. Acquire skills for lifelong mission. We will continue to live as missionary disciples even after being FOCUS missionaries in our homes, parishes, workplaces, etc. By being a missionary for a few years, we will acquire the skills that we need to make the biggest difference afterwards.

11. 2 years fly by and doesn’t set you back in your career. Really. Fundraising will actually help you out with networking a little, too. At my summer internship before senior year, the CEO (of a very large company) was a high school gym teacher for the first 8 years. Nuff said.

12. You will learn to appreciate your gifts and resources more. Fundraising is awesome! It’s taught me to appreciate other people’s generosity so much more. It’s also been a great way to teach me to tithe myself. This experience has taught me to be more generous to others and fiscally responsible in general.

13. You could meet your future spouse. There have been a pretty good amount of couples that met through FOCUS. One couple went to the Vatican and had their marriage blessed by Pope Francis this fall, actually.

14. It will help you to discern your vocation. The first year dating fast (if it applies) isn’t a big deal at all.. and I’m a first year. Clear your mind from this over-sexualized culture and let God speak to you in prayer. You will be most happy in the vocation that God has planned for you.

This was the post that I wrote a year ago when I made the decision, and the following is a video I just made today where I explained the basics:

Apply here: focus.org/apply

Upcoming Interview Weekends:
Chicago, Feb 7-9
Philadelphia, Feb 14-16
OKC, Feb 28-March 2
Denver March 7-9

Missionary Life

The whole crew for religious testimonies Sr Juliett and Br Vittorio

Hey Guys! It’s been a long time since I’ve had an opportunity to blog and I’ll have to keep this short but I wanted to share some thoughts from my first month as a missionary!

On days like today I feel like though I gave up stuff to become a missionary, I realize that God is rewarding me even more for my decision than what I gave up. It is such an honor to be able to occasionally be the vessel by which God reveals His love to others.

Prayer is so important! When we pray and ask God to allow us to meet someone we need to, it happens! Two quick examples from the past two days:

1. My teammate (TD! Hello?) Perla and I were walking around campus by the dorms before Sunday night mass telling students that there was mass and where it was (so many don’t know!) that night, and beforehand we said a prayer asking Him to direct us to whoever He wanted us to meet. We got to meet my new friend Carlos. He was walking with headphones in the opposite direction, and when I first said hi and tell him about mass, he didn’t even notice me. But Perla was even more persistent (and awkward haha) by coming right up to him so that he had to take his earbuds out. We told him and he was like, “ok, I’ll come with you.” So we headed over together. Turns out he grew up Catholic and was even an altar boy all through high school, but since he is a freshman he had no idea that there was mass on campus. I got to sit with him at mass and exchange contact numbers so that we can go lift and go hiking together. Praise God!

2. Just tonight I was on my way to my discussion group with students about the relationship between science and God when I was texting a friend asking for prayers that I can share the Gospel with many students on campus. It was a wonderful discussion group.. but what was so amazing that there was this woman sitting by who was close enough to hear what we were talking about who started talking with us and was so interested in God and faith. I got to share the Gospel with her and help her get connected with the Newman Center and my contact info so hopefully she will come to understand Christianity more (she believes in God but isn’t sure about stuff, grew up Jehovah’s Witness) soon!

The students at Montclair State University are awesome! It’s a much smaller community than I’m used to at the University of Illinois, but because of that I’m able to get to know them much better!

That daily holy hour and daily mass are so necessary.

Prayers that the rosary group I’m trying to start up will grow would be much appreciated!

Oh yea! I’m going to Nicaragua over spring break on a mission trip with FOCUS missions! Any college aged student is welcome to join! I can’t wait to go to serve the poor and share the Gospel (and live it!) with them!

Any prayers would be much appreciated! Thanks and God bless!

Tithing

As a missionary, I’ve encountered a certain part of the faith that most of the laity don’t get too familiar with: dependence on the generosity of others for financial support.

Yep, as a missionary, I have to fund raise everything that I live on. I’m pretty much done with the actual fund raising now, but all summer I was doing it all the time: mailing, calling, visiting, asking. It was a heck of a journey, but praise God I seem to be in the clear!

I learned just how generous people are financially.. people who I know had no business donating to me offered what they could, and people who could have easily given a smaller amount stepped it up and were super generous.

Well, being in a situation where I have to “beg” for money really helped me to realize that I have to be generous myself for others. Even though I have to fund raise, I actually tithe myself! For anyone who isn’t familiar, tithing is offering 10% of what you earn to God- to your church, local ministries, etc. (It’s biblical of course and the Church teaches it doesn’t have to be 10%, but whatever you think is appropriate)

IT IS SO MUCH FUN TO GIVE AWAY MONEY TO GOOD CAUSES!!! It gives me so much joy and now I’m actually looking forward to what causes I’ll donate to next month! Do you guys notice that too?? I guess I can resonate with those groups and people asking for money now.. and realize how much it means to them. So whether or not you’ve ever been in my situation, just try to think of it from their point of view and understand how much it means to them.

So tithing is awesome! Plus it helps keep us from becoming too addicted to our own money. The same way that it’s healthy to pray every day to keep us connected to God throughout the day, tithing helps remind us that our wealth is not actually ours! It’s all God’s and in His generosity He’s given us it. Is money your god or is God your god? That seems easy to answer at first, but think about it.. have there ever been times where you’ve put your financial standing first before God? If so, you might be in danger of committing idolatry of money as your God instead of our Lord. Hard words, but we all need to hear them.

I also can testify that God gives back with abundance what we give Him in donations. I wasn’t doing too hot with my fund raising at first, and was still well below my goal at the time that I first got paid. Well, a week later this was still the case and I was definitely worrying about whether I’d have enough to make it to campus! It was then that I finally got around to tithing that first payment.. and then all of a sudden within the next two or three days I had a few big donors join me and I was in the clear! It was crazy how clearly this stood out to me.. it seemed like I might not make it, and then all of a sudden I had some wiggle room! Praise God, He is generous to generous people!

Thank you so much to all my donors and all those generous people around the world. God is our god, not money 🙂