December 6, 2011

Stories from University of Wisconsin Madison

One afternoon early this week when I had some free time and decided to go out visit with anyone available out on the terrace. I stopped at the table of a young guy reading and asked if I could ask him some questions about faith and spirituality and he said that would be fine. I noticed he was reading and asked what his book was - it turned out he was reading for his philosophy class so we dove right into a philosophical discussion. He was raised in a Catholic home, but was never baptized and had spent time studying abroad in a Muslim country and was heavily influenced by the Sufi branch of Islam. I shared the Gospel with him and asked if he would be willing to pray with me. He said he wasn't ready to convert, but also used the word yet. I was encouraged after meeting with him and we are going to continue our discussions over a beer sometime!
~Jayson Miller, first year missionary at UW-Madison
Paul Wilburn and Jayson Miller

Who needs plans for God to work?
A failure to plan leads to an open morning.  An open morning leads to a coffee date with a recent graduate. No wallet means we share a large coffee.  Sharing means I drink it more slowly.  Thus slow drinking leads to left over coffee which leads to staying at the coffee shop to do work.  A sunny morning entices me to stay outside even though I should be on the computer working on a newsletter.   Sitting in the sun working at a coffee shop leads to a quick conversation about McDonald's with another girl.  Being generally friendly leads to the opportunity to approach her later that day at a completely different time and place to talk to her about faith. "Why do you think students lose their faith when they come to college?" leads to why she's an atheist.  Being afraid to go out alone had led to going out with Carrie which led to her being able to talk to the girl on a philosophical level. Philosophy leads to the question of hell.  Hell leads to the Gospel. The Gospel to the purpose of life.  The purpose of life to asking if she would want to be in a relationship with God if existed.  "Relationship, yes no?"  leads to her childhood view of God.....and eventually  "I don't know if I think of Him as a tyrant."  Whether or not she was aware that she addressed God in the present tense doesn't matter.  She did and I know it will lead to something great in the future.  
~Erin Simon, missionary at UW-Madison
Erin Simon and Crystal Buchanan

The student leads the way.
On Saturday I received a text from Sarah S. informing me to meet at St. Paul's at five for dinner, so I did. Together we went out to dinner with Adrienne, a Freshman raised as an atheist who is curious about Catholicism, and Meredith, a Junior who has explored different aspects of spirituality but has no particular faith herself.  We had a great time talking over dinner, getting to know each other, eating good food, and there were only a few awkward silences. Towards the end of dinner the conversation turned to Catholicism and joy. Our conversation continued all the way back to St. Paul's (Meredith walked away from her apartment to continue the conversation with us) and ended with "can we do this again next week"?  After Meredith and Adrienne headed home Sarah and I said a quick prayer together.  Aside from the obvious awesomeness of dinner with two non-christians, the best part of this whole "missionary moment" was that it was driven by Sarah and I just got to come along for the ride.
~Crystal Buchanan, Team Director at UW-Madison

Carrie at the Terrace!

To encounter God changes everything.
 I think that is why we are afraid to truly encounter Him sometimes.  Erin and I met Katrina the other day.  Katrina was raised Christian, but now considers herself an atheist.  We discussed several things over the course of that hour, but at the end of our conversation, I asked, “Katrina, if God did exist, would you want to be in a relationship with Him?”  After reflecting for a bit, she said, “Honestly, I don’t think so because I am happy with my life.  If God is real, then my life has to change.  It might be better, but it might be worse.  Either way, it will be different and that scares me.”  Her words, full of unintended gravity, have not left me since that conversation.  How true they are!  If God is real, then everything changes.  Life will be radically different.  So often the monotony of daily life can deaden us to that reality.  But, in reality, to be a Christian is to daily encounter God. And when you do this, everything must change.  Let Him transform you!
~Carrie Wagner, missionary at UW-Madison

You are so beautiful!
After bible study, Greeny (freshman soccer player) went to confession for the first time since 4th grade. After confession, she went up to the alter and prayed in front of the tabernacle. She sobbed for a bit during Father's beautiful homily and then called her Dad after candlelight Mass to share how amazing her night was. Then she asked me why I like her so much. So naturally I told her I have to it's my job, just kidding. But this girl has the most genuine, down to earth, purest soul I've encountered in a long time and I can't wait until she is able to see how beautiful she is inside and out!
~Taylor Bennett, first year missionary with Varsity Catholic at UW-Madison

November 12, 2011

Karen's Story


"As a CSU freshman in 2007, I thought I had all I could ever want in college - the boys, the parties, the endless "craziest night ever" stories, and still the good grades, the church attendence, and the good reputation to go with it. So why did I feel so empty? I was proud to be a chameleon that could blend seamlessly into any environment; I was master of the good-girl/ bad-girl game. It wasn't until I became involved in FOCUS that I realized the problem: I spent so much time acting that I wasn't even sure who I really was.
I joined a FOCUS Bible study because my sister had told me to. I had no idea how invested in me my Bible study leader, and later the FOCUS missionaries, were ready to become. These were not my party friends, who could care less about me when we weren't drinking or gossiping. These were people who wanted to know me, and who wanted me to know God. These were people who would call me out when they saw through my acting, because they knew I was only fooling myself. The community I found through FOCUS helped me to realize how much God really cared for me, and who He really intended for me to be.
Three years later as a senior, I actually have better grades and crazier stories. The men and women I trust are holy, and we don't just attend church - we live the Mass. I now lead a Bible study and two discipleships through FOCUS. Through these, it is always my hope to share the love that was shared with me, that the girls I now invest in may come to know their true identities as daughters of God."

Written by Alicia Bowen, Missionary at Colorado State University

Lindsey's Story

Lindsey is a freshman this year at the University of Mary.  After her older sister (who is a junior and a campus minister) introduced us, Lindsey and I became fast friends through Ultimate Frisbee and laughter.  I invited her to come to my Bible study, and she showed up with a roommate and a friend from high school in tow.  

At that first study, Lindsey expressed some fears in her expected experiences at home during the upcoming Labor Day weekend, but didn't go into much detail.  The following week, however, after we had talked about Peter's magnanimity during his stroll on the water in our second night of Bible study, Lindsey asked if I could stay after and talk with her.  She began pouring out her heart about her struggles with alcohol, with a history of harming herself through cutting, and with former temptations toward suicide.  Her first visit home had allowed her to confront these terrible trials of her past and powerfully contrast them to her experiences during college so far.  She spoke of longing to give her life to Christ, to continue to learn and understand Him and His Word, and to live up to the greatness He was calling her to; namely, to "get out of the boat" as St. Peter had done.

Turning to me, she asked "How can I do this?  How can I live a life that is good?"  I asked her when she had last received the Sacrament of Confession.  She answered in her vulnerable way "Oh, I'm not going to lie, it's been at least three years."  I invited her to recognize this as the next step on her walk toward Christ, and gave her the necessary resources and a commitment to go with her when she was ready.

Just under two weeks later, Lindsey returned to Confession and began the healing process she so desperately needed.  Her joy after receiving the sacrament was palpable. 

She has since committed to accountability in learning how to pray, and for two weeks has remained faithful to prayer every single day, desiring more and more each time I see her to grow in knowledge of the Lord so that she can share Him better.  In her words, "I feel like He's saved me, and I need to tell people."

~Marnee Peterson, Team Director at University of Mary, Bismarck

Finding Girls for Bible Study

I was on campus last week working on things and I overheard two freshmen girls talking and then they brought up "church" and I decided to eavesdrop a little bit.  I knew the second that they brought that up, I had to talk to them.  It took me about 15 minutes to work up the courage to stand up and go to their table.  By the time I got to them they were already on a different subject.  I told them that I didn't mean to overhear their conversation but I heard them talking about church and I told them that I was a Catholic missionary on campus.  They were very interested in what I had to say after that.  I invited them to go to Mass and told them where both the church and Catholic Campus Center was.  I almost walked away after that because they were packing up their stuff but then I asked them if they would be interested in Bible studies and they were very interested in that.  They gave me their numbers and I have been inviting them to things since then.  It hasn't bore fruit yet, but I have a good feeling about it!

~Kelly Huber, Missionary at University of Northern Colorado

September 21, 2011

Got Mass?

We had just finished freshman move-in and the first Sunday of the semester was only a few days away.  I began to think that if the new freshman didn't go to the first Sunday Mass, they would be more likely to fall into a habit of not going at all.  So I asked various students and missionaries to help chalk for our first Sunday Mass.  This meant that we went all over campus and wrote chalk messages on the sidewalks, tellings students about Mass.  This is what we wrote:   "Catholic? Student Mass, 6pm.  Meet by the UMC fountains at 5:40pm to walk together."  

When Sunday rolled around, I headed over to the UMC fountains to see if anyone showed up.  As I rounded the corner of the building my jaw dropped: there were around 40-50 students gathered together, all waiting to go to Mass!  I was so excited that I started talking to students left and right, and consequently lost track of time!  With 10 minutes to spare, we headed off to the church, and I felt like a mama duck leading all her little children to the best destination on earth!  We walked in right before Fr. Peter processed in, and his face was full of surprise and joy.  We cannot thank God enough for bringing all of those new students to Mass, and I hope that by chalking every weekend for the next few weeks we can continue to meet more students who are longing to be loved by Jesus Christ.   

~ Jessica Connelly, Missionary at University of Colorado in Boulder
     To join Jessica's support team, visit her support page link: Support Jessica

The workings of the Spirit!

Last week, my teammate Mary and I set out on the Winona State University campus during our weekly barehanded evangelization time (which basically means that we have intentional conversations with random students on campus about their opinions on faith, the Church, and Jesus Christ). Just inside the doors of the student union, we spotted a young woman sitting at a table, working on her laptop. We sensed the Holy Spirit calling us to talk to her, so we walked over to her, introduced ourselves, and struck up a conversation about college students and their struggles with Christianity. The student (Elizabeth) noted that she was a Christian and was determined to stay true to her faith even though there are many distractions in college, especially for a freshman, like herself.  We asked her if she was looking for ways to continue striving in her faith. She said she was, so I invited her to the women’s small group/Bible study that I was leading that night in one of the dorms.

(Mary and Emily)

At the beginning of my small group that night, not only did Elizabeth show up, but she brought her best friend with her, too!  Afterwards, Elizabeth’s friend (Brigid) approached me and asked if I could explain more about Catholicism. Both her and Elizabeth had been raised in Protestant churches and most of what they knew about Catholicism they weren’t sure was true. “What exactly do you guys believe?” Brigid asked me. Surprised by such a rich question, I began sharing the message of the Gospel with her. What followed was an hour-and-a-half conversation about the Catholic faith, completely driven by questions from both Elizabeth and Brigid.

It was going on 11:00 pm when Brigid and Elizabeth decided they should head back to their dorm. As we were walking out, Brigid turned to me and said, “Thank you for answering all of my questions. You’ve completely changed my view on the Catholic Church—in a good way!” Both Elizabeth and Brigid have committed to coming back to my women’s small group for at least the next four weeks so they can continue growing in their faith.  Praise God for the beautiful promptings and aid of the Holy Spirit!
~Emily Weber, Missionary at Winona State University
To join Emily's support team, visit this link: Support Emily

September 14, 2011

Go Greek!

My teammate Chris approached me at the beginning of our semester here at Minnesota State University about reaching out to the Greeks on campus.  He has had them on his heart for a long time and he invited me to reach out to sororities as he reached out to the fraternity brothers.  I agreed, but as the two week sprint of outreach continued, I started to feel overwhelmed.  My teammate Alison and I made it a point to check in with one another about the women that we had met or invited into our Bible studies and we started to grow anxious about whether or not we were going to be able to lead enough Bible studies to encompass all of the groups that we had a heart for.  I had run into many more upperclassmen women than freshmen at first, and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to have an upperclassmen study and a sorority study as Chris had suggested with the other studies that were already forming.  Last Tuesday, our regional directors, Mark Bartek and Paul Wilburn came into town to see how we were doing.  In the evening, Chris got a phone call from student leader of Greek life who he had met the week previous.  There was an all-Greek meeting on campus in 2 hours and if we wanted to say anything about our ministry we were invited to do so!  Chris was pumped….and I was nervous!  My experience with Greek systems was pretty limited in my own undergraduate experience and I had the pressure of creating too many studies in the back of my head. 

I arrived in Ostrander Auditorium to find hundreds of Greek-life students chanting different cheers for their house, laughing and running around to greet people they had not seen over the summer.   I scanned the crowd and immediately found, Amber, a girl that I had met during my first days on campus.  She was an upperclassman that I invited to Bible study.  She moved slightly to the side and behind her was, Christine, another junior that I had met the same way.  One by one, all of the women that I had met during outreach showed up in the same room!  I couldn’t believe it and I immediately got the butterflies about how cool this was!  I didn’t have to worry about trying to pull junior and senior women together with sorority sisters or be anxious about creating too many studies to serve them well because God had put them all together for me already!  Moral of the story?  God had a heart for Greek brothers and sisters on MSU’s campus WAY before Chris and I had a heart for them.      
~Samantha Davenport
FOCUS Missionary - Minnesota State University in Mankato
To Join Samantha's support, visit her link: Support Samantha

September 7, 2011

Fall Outreach Begins!

It is that time of year again, as missionaries head out onto campus to begin the school year reaching out to students. It is a critical time of year to help students to put God and the church into their very busy schedules for the rest of the semester. We will be sharing some of these amazing experiences as well as stories from the missionaries all across the region so that you can see the beautiful witness that FOCUS is to so many young people on our college campuses. Stay tuned for lots more to come!