FOCUS takes as inspiration in its evangelizing techniques the example of Christ and his apostles, and center their ministry on forming “small groups living in authentic friendship that want to pursue Christ radically,” as FOCUS founder Curtis Martin said in his keynote on the last night.
SLS “gives you the tools… to identify the people in your life that God is calling you to share your story with, and to help them encounter Jesus,” said Erin Shay, a senior at Temple University who has been accepted as a missionary for FOCUS in the 2018-19 academic year.
The first afternoon of the conference opened with Mass, followed by keynotes from Kelsey Skoch, a regional director for FOCUS, and Bishop Robert Barron, an Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles. Participants were then divided into the small groups with whom they would spend the conference learning and training.
Speakers throughout the conference included bishops, priests, and lay men and women. Among these was an appearance by Jim Caviezel, who played Christ in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
At training sessions throughout the week, members were instructed in a different skill each day. They then returned to their small groups to relay what they had learned, allowing them to teach what they had just been taught. Topics included leading Bible studies, providing effective personal testimonies, and inviting others to become missionary disciples.
The talks “gave us tools and insights, and then we got to be able to share it with the friends that we made, so that we could build those authentic friendships,” said Nicole Kotval, a senior at Spring Hill College.
In addition to keynotes and training sessions, a number of “Impact Sessions,” drew from a wide variety of topics, including philosophy, moral theology, speakers’ personal stories, application of Church teaching, and spirituality.
In addition to the approximately 5,000 college students who were in attendance, Martin told CNA, “our alumni are here, seminarians are here, and finally, parishioners are here, parish leaders are here.”
Among the alumni in attendance were Conner and Jennifer Wurth, missionaries assigned to Southeast Missouri State University. They are married and live there with their newborn daughter, Isabel.
Both Conner and Jennifer experienced reversions to the Catholic faith while undergrads at the University of Tulsa through the FOCUS missionaries there. The two told their stories to CNA.
Jennifer said that “I didn’t go to Mass going into college for most of my freshman year.” When she did return to Mass at the end of that year, “my heart wasn’t in it.”
In her next year, however, a FOCUS missionary at Tulsa invited her to a Bible study, through which she was able to receive the idea “that I was made to be in relationship with Jesus.”
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“I felt like they loved me back to Jesus,” Jennifer said of the missionaries at her campus, “and they were Jesus for me in a lot of ways, that they loved me enough to share the truth with me.” A key part of this was the consistent desire of missionaries to meet her where she was, a trait she says she strives to bring to her ministry.
Her husband, Conner, tells a similar story, saying his family stopped practicing the faith regularly while he was in grade school. This, he said, led to a decline in his moral and spiritual life.
However, “something in my upbringing told me church is at least somewhere you should go,” he said, and he began attending Mass at irregular intervals shortly before starting at Tulsa. It was after the first Mass of the school year at Tulsa’s Newman Center that he met an older student, Adam, who would eventually become his fraternity pledge father and was involved with FOCUS missions.
At this point for Conner, “I was still living the same exact life that I had been living.” However, after several invitations from Adam, he ended up attending FOCUS’ other large biennial conference, SEEK, in 2013.
It was at the SEEK conference that he took the opportunity to return to confession.
“It was that which brought the desire in me to go back to confession for the first time since my Confirmation five years prior,” he said. “During the night that I was going to confession, there was also adoration. That was the first time that I had experienced adoration, so I had never had the opportunity to see Jesus face-to-face like that before.”