FOCUS Missions, a division of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), equips FOCUS missionaries that work full-time on campuses to lead mission trips around the world. These mission trips, usually planned around the normal breaks in a college student’s schedule (e.g. Spring break), give students the chance to really serve Christ. Jeff Runyan, the Director of FOCUS Missions, spoke with SPES about the impact this has on the lives of students.
“Basically, when students are available during Spring break and Summer time vacations, they go out and truly live the Great Commission by spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth,” Jeff said. “It is a dual apostolate in that our students and staff step out to evangelize…in the mission field, and they in turn are evangelized themselves… If you want to see a student’s life radically changed, take them to encounter the poor in a radical way; take them to encounter Jesus Christ truly present in the poor.”
The core of this radical transformation can be found in the “yes” these students give to God which opens them up to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
“Students are taking a step out and saying, ‘Yes!’ to God in a new way…They are forced to trust God more than they have ever trusted Him in their entire lives,” Jeff explained. “As they go through that experience (which is saturated with the Sacraments and daily prayer), [they become] incredibly vulnerable to the Holy Spirit and have an unprecedented openness to what the Lord wants to do in their life.”
This also leads to another key piece, something Jeff calls “calibrating people’s perspectives with reality.”
“Most Americans have lived in an age of unprecedented comfort…Even our grandparents and great-grandparents did not live in as much comfort as we live now,” said Jeff. “So when you take a student and go to a place where there are some very great challenges just in physical living, survival, and all kind of things, they start to see the true need that is out there.”
Jeff also explained that these mission trips allow students to meet Jesus Christ truly present in the poor.
“Jesus came as a poor person; He came in very humble circumstances. When we encounter people who are living like that, and we’re also receiving unbelievable generosity from them…it allows us to encounter Christ very present in the poor.”
Each mission trip is different; it could be a weeklong trip working with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta or a five week trip building a chapel in El Salvador. In 2015, FOCUS Missions were in forty-two different countries.
“We have a great wide variety of what we do and we plug into apostolates around the world,” said Jeff. “Rather than us going out into an environment and indicating to a community ‘this is what you need,’ we actually go and support that which is already existing.”
Providing mission trips for students has been a very powerful piece of what FOCUS does within their apostolic work. Quite often, these mission trips move Catholic students from just participating in the faith to living as full-blown disciples of Christ.
“We challenge students on their return home to translate that experience back onto campus…As students stepped out and had these mountain top experiences — these experiences of stepping out of their comfort zone and serving in a way that they have never done in their whole life — we challenge them to say, ‘This mission wasn’t just for a set, one-week time…it has to be lived out.’” Jeff further explained, “They should go back to campus, look around and ask, ‘Where is the poverty on campus? How am I going to step out of my comfort zone and continue to truly live my life on mission?’…A huge amount come back to become FOCUS missionaries and find themselves in a radically new, vibrant faith that was fostered through the mission experience.”
And the fruits of these mission trips have long lasting effects, not only for the individuals, but for the Church and society as well.
“We’ve had years where a mass amount of [religious] vocations came from the trips…[some years] there was one vocation per mission trip,” explained Jeff. “We had a trip where 100% of the men involved…went to seminary after the trip.”
For those who want to get involved, Jeff said that number one thing is prayer.
“Pray that…the students may have their lives radically transformed,” Jeff requested. “That they may really answer the call to go on mission for Christ at home or abroad.”
In addition for praying for the continued evangelistic work of FOCUS Missions, another way that people can get involved is through financial support. To learn more about the work of FOCUS Missions, you can follow them online on Facebook.