When my little sister Martha began her senior year of college, she started talking a lot about FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. A philosophy major at Ave Maria University, Martha had a desire to help others encounter the truth of Christ in the Catholic Church. She decided to serve with FOCUS as a missionary and bring Christ to college campuses. She just finished her third year as a missionary at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln. This fall she’ll be leading a new team at the Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.
I asked Martha to share with me a bit about the mission of FOCUS and encountering Christ in college.
Why did you become a FOCUS missionary?
After struggling with an eating disorder for several years, I realized through God’s grace that my identity was as His beloved daughter, and I had to stop putting my self-worth and identity in starving myself. This was really freeing! When I got to college, I realized that most of my peers were still confused about their identity and how the Church was here to help us. This broke my heart. I knew I was being called to help my peers realize their dignity and worth as sons and daughters of God. Through prayer, God made it clear to me that FOCUS was where he was calling me to share this message.
When you told me you were going to be a missionary in Lincoln, Nebraska, I was surprised because I hadn’t thought of colleges as mission territory. How have you found college to be a mission?
Most of the students encountered on a college campus are literally starving, spiritually. I think the best example of this is going downtown near campus on a Friday night. Everywhere, students are trying to numb their pain and ignore their emptiness through binge drinking. Or, students trying to find love search for it in casual sex and hooking up. Students are trying to fill a void in their hearts that can only be filled by Christ.
So what does FOCUS do about all this? Stand on the corner with signs that say “repent and go to Mass, sinners”?
Uh, no. We go and meet them where they are—in bars, tailgating, at the gym. We try to be incarnational – to be Christ in the midst of their world. We find out what students enjoy and do it with them, as long as it’s not sinful. We get to know who they are, what they enjoy and what’s important to them. That way, we can relate to them and hopefully they recognize that our joy, the joy found from knowing Christ, is something they desire.
How can students get involved with FOCUS on their campus?
Just ask! Go to your Catholic Center or Newman Center and find the FOCUS missionaries there. Tell them you want to become a part of one of their Bible studies and that you want to go deeper in your faith. This is what we pray for, it’ll make our day!
(Not sure if FOCUS is on your campus? Visit www.focus.org and check.)
What if there aren’t FOCUS missionaries at my school?
If FOCUS isn’t on your campus, seek out Catholic friends. Continuing on your walk with Christ without a community is really hard. Find friends to walk with you! FOCUS also has a lot of their Bible studies and resources available online at www.focusequip.org – you can get a group together and start your own. There’s even a digital campus that has missionaries on staff to help students who visit the site. We will also be hosting SEEK- our national conference – in Nashville this January. SEEK is a great way to continue to be built up in your faith (just like retreats, camps and conferences may have helped you in high school.) To learn more, visit www.seek2015.com.
Any advice for freshman leaving for college this month?
Before you go to college, make a plan! What concrete steps will you take once you arrive on campus to continue to walk with Christ? Who will you contact? How do you want to emerge from college as a better disciple of Christ, and what will you do to accomplish this? Decide this now. If you know someone who will be at the same campus, talk to them and make plans to hold each other accountable.
Your faith isn’t your Mom and Dad’s thing anymore. If you have questions, search for the answers, I promise you they’re there! It’s up to you to respond to the invitation from Christ to draw nearer to Him. College can be one of the most spiritually transformative times in your life. If you give these next four years to Christ, He’s going to give you back more than you ever dreamed of receiving.
Lastly, and most importantly, PRAY! God wants you to talk to Him, and He has things He wants to tell you. Be confident that you’re taking this step with your best friend, but friends need to talk to each other. So talk to God, ask Him your questions, tell Him about your struggles and listen to His answers.
You can contact Martha at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @martha_griswold.