Campus missionaries spreading the Word

St. Paul University Parish FOCUS missionaries evangelizing Wichita State University students

The four FOCUS missionaries evangelizing from St. Paul University Parish at Wichita State University embody the diocesan Pastoral Plan’s mission to Go Forth Faithfully to Preach the Gospel to all God’s Children and to Evangelize Today’s Culture.

Tyler Weber, the team leader for WSU’s Fellowship of Catholic University Students, quoted St. Augustine’s Confessions to explain his rationale and conviction about spreading the Gospel on campus: “O beauty ever ancient, O beauty ever new.”

“The gospel message has never changed,” Weber said, “but for it to really gain traction, we as Christians have to be in a constant wrestle with it and its impact on our own lives. In doing so, we make these ever ancient truths new for the culture around us. The newness of the Gospel is what attracts college students.”

Weber, who is in his eighth year of missionary work and his third at WSU, said FOCUS was just one of the many apostolates founded in the 1990s in the wake of World Youth Day 1993 in Denver. Today, 20 years after its founding, the apostolate serves over 150 colleges campuses and parishes in the United States, as well as in Europe.

“Our lifestyle as missionaries is modeled off of the early church,” he said. “FOCUS sends out missionaries in teams – anywhere from four to 10 – who go and seek to re-establish Christendom on college campuses by living discipleship in community and taking on personal responsibility for the salvation of souls for that campus.”

Their missionary work is highly relational, Weber said, similar to how the early church evangelized and eventually exploded to other parts of the world. One of their foundational scripture passages is 1 Thessalonians. 2:8: “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”

That passage reinforces, he said, what a priest once told him: “The Gospel will not advance from a stage. The Gospel will only advance through relationships.”

Tyler Weber didn’t need any caffeine from the Credo Coffee Shop to get excited about explaining how FOCUS missionaries share the Gospel at Wichita State University. (Catholic Advance video image grab)

Three-phase approach

FOCUS has a three-phase approach when it comes to disciple-making: win, build, and send. Their first move is to invite student groups on campus into Bible studies.

“For a lot of college students, this is the first time they have ever encountered scripture in a compelling way,” Weber said. “And from those Bible studies we’re looking for students who are wanting to take their own hearts seriously and to take Jesus’ heart seriously. As missionaries on campus, we actually sit down with each student in our Bible studies and explicitly share the Gospel message with them, asking them to surrender their entire lives to Jesus. According to St. John Paul II, ‘there is no true evangelization without explicit proclamation.’”

Sharing the Gospel is the fulcrum on which everything else unfolds, he said. After a “yes” to surrendering their lives to Jesus, FOCUS missionaries initiate “discipleship groups,” which, Weber said, lower the barrier of entry into this new life with Jesus. “Discipleship groups are not Bible studies. Discipleship groups are a level-up from Bible study and provide an orthodox, heart-of-the-church approach, to life with Jesus. This formation is rich in church tradition and is rooted in Acts 2:42.”

The core of FOCUS’ mission is forming students in their prayer and sacramental lives. “The big hemorrhage I see on campuses and in already-existing Christian communities is the lack of formation in prayer. Prayer is absolutely essential and high-stakes. I once heard that ‘prayer doesn’t help your relationship with God, prayer is your relationship with God.’ Depth of prayer across the board is so misunderstood and so lacking – we just don’t know how to pray,” Weber said. “This has to be a high priority in our Christian circles.”

A crossroad is eventually reached, Weber said. “‘The High Call’” is the next serious moment in the life of a Christian. When The High Call is shared, he said, the missionaries are inviting students to take on personal responsibility for their peers on campus and those who are in their sphere of influence, and asking them to repeat the path laid out for them to others. “The highest life of any Christian is not simply following Jesus in relationship, but it is following Jesus into relationship with others. This is the difference between being a disciple and a being missionary disciple.”

The FOCUS team’s emphasis this semester is inviting each Bible study member to surrender their lives to Jesus and to launch new discipleship groups. “We do this by sharing the Gospel message and our testimonies,” Weber said, “because they are asking students to go from Jesus being optional to Jesus being priority.”

It is an exciting time in the church, Weber said. “Numerous battles lay ahead of us, but I think we can take courage and march forward with grit and confidence. I think Fr. Kapaun’s homecoming was a wink from God and I think that this diocese really has the potential to leverage disciples into every arena of culture. Whoever is reading this, let’s go all-in with Christ!”

Austin Comito

Austin Comito, a second-year missionary, said he joined FOCUS because of a profound encounter with the Lord two and a half years ago.
“We’re challenged and expected to pray every day with our team, a holy hour and attend Mass regularly. For me personally, it has impacted my own walk with him, my own walk with knowing Jesus, and encountering him on a daily basis.”

His missionary work flows from that, Comito said.

“Getting to do that has transformed my life through sharing the Gospel through teaching others to pray,” he said. “Missionary life is not about getting to work for a nonprofit…but it really should be normal for everyone, which is part of why we’re here: To teach students that by the call of their baptism and confirmation they have that expectation to be missionary disciples, and that life is more abundant because of that.”

Fr. Drew Hoffman

Fr. Drew Hoffman, pastor of the WSU parish, said his life was changed in a FOCUS Bible study while a student at the University of Kansas. He also recognized the power of FOCUS as the assistant chaplain at Kansas State University.

“I believe it to be vital for the future of the Catholic Church, not just on campuses but in the wider Catholic community,” he wrote in an email.

“Our FOCUS missionaries meet students on campus, introduce them to life with Christ, and then send them back out to campus to draw more souls to the Lord. I love watching them invest in our students and equipping them to be people who invest in other students!”

He said the ministry’s evangelization methods replicate those seen in the scriptures and that the missionaries are transforming the campus of Wichita State and St. Paul.

Other members of the FOCUS team are Hannah Lacy, a fourth-year missionary, and Brooke Schulte, a third-year missionary.