Story by Jan Schultz
(SNR) — What would make a recent college graduate bypass the chance to begin a good-paying job in their career choice for one in which they must raise their own funds for expenses, and work much more than a 40-hour work week?
A love of God.
Three young adults from the Lincoln Diocese are doing just that as FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries, serving on both coasts and in between. FOCUS is a growing ministry of the Church that meets college students “where they are” and challenges them to examine the meaning and purpose of their lives.
For the 2014-15 school year, FOCUS had missionary teams on 100 campuses in 35 states, a tremendous growth in 16 years since its 1998 launch by founders Curtis and Michaelann Martin, when four missionaries served one campus at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.
The FOCUS website states, “Through personal relationships and friendship, we offer college students the true peace and fulfillment they seek in the good news of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Catholic faith, inviting them to answer His calling in their lives.”
While there are many other young adults from the Lincoln Diocese working now with FOCUS or have in the past, this reporter caught up with three of them who grew up on opposite ends of the diocese—Laura Foley and John Wojtasek, both of Lincoln, and Darrin Schultz of Imperial.
Foley is completing her first year as a FOCUS missionary, and was part of a four-person team at Arizona State University. She will return to ASU next year as FOCUS team director. A 2010 graduate of Pius X High School in Lincoln, she earned a bachelor of nursing degree in 2014 from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Wojtasek, a 2008 graduate of Pius X, completed his second year at the University of California-Berkeley this month. He graduated from UNL in 2012 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in film and new media. He is moving to Denver this summer to work at the FOCUS Support Center as a full-time video producer on the marketing team.
Schultz is finishing his second year with FOCUS, this year as part of a five-person team at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. In 2013-14, he was on the four-person team at UC-Berkeley and was a teammate of Wojtasek’s. He graduated from Chase County High School in 2007. He holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from UNL. As he leaves FOCUS this year, he looks forward to pursuing a career in teaching and coaching at the secondary level.
The three young adults had different reasons in deciding to become FOCUS missionaries.
Foley said a quote from Pope Francis explains it for her, especially because of its tie to the nursing field.
Pope Francis said, “I see clearly, that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
“FOCUS is a lot like nursing,” Foley said. “My desire is to go out into the ‘field’ of my campus to bring love to the people who are spiritually very vulnerable, broken and wounded; spiritually half-dead. There are lots of souls out there who choose hell everyday, and when souls die, they die forever. As a missionary, I can’t cure them or bind up their wounds, but I can introduce them to the Divine Physician, Jesus.”
Schultz said, “In a world of social media—or better yet, anti-social media—there is a loneliness that pervades the lives of too many college students because of the lack of God in their lives. The desire to share the joy of Christ with my peers was too strong too ignore.”
For Wojtasek, it was a mission trip to Haiti, where he witnessed poverty as he’d never seen before. He recalled then a quote from Mother Teresa, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved and uncared for.” Wojtasek realized the spiritual poverty of many of his college peers was in some ways more severe than what he saw in Haiti. That made him want to do more. He also credited his parents and an environment of faith in which he was raised.
After a five-week training session, FOCUS sends teams to college campuses in order to reach students with the gospel. In partnership with the university parish or Newman Center at each campus, FOCUS missionaries host large group outreach events, weekly Bible studies and offer one-on-one mentoring with student leaders. Sometimes, it’s just “hanging out” with students, they say.
The three Nebraskans have all seen God’s hand in their day-to-day efforts as FOCUS missionaries.
Schultz, who is a Varsity Catholic missionary with a specific outreach and investment in varsity student-athletes at Mount St. Mary’s, said this year alone has seen seven student-athletes enter RCIA in order to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
“There is no greater joy than to see students you’ve worked with respond to God’s grace and enter into full communion with Jesus Christ and His Church,” he said.
This school year, there were about 60 male student-athletes attending Bible studies at Mount St. Mary’s (another Varsity Catholic team member works with female athletes). He regularly met one-on-one in discipleship with several young men from each varsity team during the year. He attended many of the practices and games or meets for the university’s six varsity men’s teams.
At ASU, a campus of 84,000 students, Foley said it’s a daunting task to be available to everyone with a team of just four missionaries. However, the number of student-led Bible studies doubled at ASU this year and she, too, invested heavily in those small-group Bible studies, and worked more closely with several young women in discipleship.
“I teach others how to teach,” she said.
Foley also spent one day a week serving the nursing students at ASU’s downtown campus.
At UC-Berkeley, Wojtasek said their team of five divided up roles in various “delegations” and each took ownership of three areas—his included men’s formation, California Mission Partner care and serving on the Student Ministry Team.
While there are many, Wojtasek’s most meaningful story from his work involves a student he met his first semester as a missionary at Cal-Berkeley. Out of curiosity, the student came to a Bible study hosted by one of his roommates. While his attendance was sketchy at first, he slowly came more and more often, Wojtasek said.
“He then attended the SEEK conference in January (an annual, national conference sponsored by FOCUS; 10,000 students attended in Nashville this year), and, in the student’s own words, told me, ‘I came back and plunged into the new semester as a different person. I brought back with me a powerful experience of God’s love and a burning desire to love Him back.’”
That same student helped start a new men’s group at Cal.
In addition to what the missionaries are doing on their campuses to aid students’ journeys to a closer relationship with God, they have also seen their own lives bettered.
“The decision to answer God’s call to serve as a FOCUS missionary has been the best decision I have made in my life,” Foley said.
She said if she gets back to working as a nurse after FOCUS she is excited to use the skills she’s learned to “live out a lifelong Catholic mission in my family, parish and workplace.”
Schultz said, “The human formation gained through mentoring other people is second to none. And the personal growth through prayer and sacrifice continues to change my life.”
Wojtasek said serving the mission of FOCUS at Cal-Berkeley the past two years is an experience he wouldn’t change for anything.
“If I have learned anything serving as a FOCUS missionary it is this: that I am most fully alive when I put to use the unique gifts and talents the Lord has blessed me with, specifically for his glory,” he said.
Each of the FOCUS missionaries stressed that Catholics don’t have to work for FOCUS to be a missionary.
“If you are baptized, you are a missionary. You don’t have to work for FOCUS to invite someone into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ,” Foley said.
“We are all missionaries from the moment of our Baptism, and heralds of God’s love and mercy. No matter where we live and work, the joy of the Gospel can reign in our hearts,” he said.