The “main thing” FOCUS does is inviting college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. FOCUS, through its missionaries, aims to inspire and equip students for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship, and friendship in which they lead others to do the same.
FOCUS missionaries invite students into discipleship, offering them an opportunity to befriend, learn with and walk with the missionaries in an intentional, Christ-centered life. Here, the missionaries are not so much the teacher (or Rabbi, in the Old testament sense), because Jesus Christ is our Rabbi. Missionaries are friends, fellow travelers and mentors on the road to a life centered on sharing the gospel message and the Catholic Faith. Here are some innovative ways that the NYC FOCUS missionaries are reaching out to students in the Big Apple.
1. Host an Event to Encourage Mentorship
NYU missionaries Emily Martinez and Sonia Tompkins wanted to increase the number of young women in discipleship at NYU. In order to reach out to all of the freshman and sophomore girls they believed were ready for mentorship, they needed student leaders to reach out and lead.
Sonia and Emily met with the older girls, explained the situation, and asked them to consider mentoring the younger women. According to Emily, “It was a crazy bold moment, totally Holy Spirit driven…I kinda held my breath, praying they wouldn’t get upset. And praise God they didn’t! Quite the opposite, actually. They were so excited. They wanted to reach out, and all they needed was someone to tell them that they were ready, that they were needed in this mission.”
The older girls began planning a brunch to explain FOCUS and discipleship, taking charge of everything from the food to the program. Afterward, all 20 girls said they were interested in joining the mission through FOCUS discipleship. According to Emily, “After that evening, all of the older women had a younger woman to mentor! We are coming into the new year with 20 girls! It was a huge blessing!”
2. Bible Studies with a Twist
NYU FOCUS missionary Pat Dunford has two thriving bible studies: one aimed at athletes, and the other for young men 21+. According to Pat, “The five athletes who come regularly represent four different teams and some have started bringing their friends!”
Pat’s 21+ bible and a beer study have allowed him to bring together undergrads, grad students and friends, some of whom have faithfully attended study for over a year and a half. They’ve also started a bi-monthly men’s night at the missionary house where they “spend time in prayer and watch manly movies or bond over board games.”
NYU Missionary Emily Martinez’s Artist Bible Study taps into the school’s sizable population of artists. After studying John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists,” the group created “a performance, complete with music, dance, photography, and theatre, to explain, through beauty, why He is a part of their lives.” (This blog post has more information about the performance.)
3. New Tools for Spiritual Multiplication
As the new Team Director at Columbia, Niru De Silva believed the team could be more successful in getting students to start evangelizing. He knew that “spiritual multiplication” — the principle of equipping others to share the faith, rather than merely instilling the faith in them — is at the heart of how FOCUS evangelizes. However, he had also observed that students were reluctant to share their faith because they don’t know how to navigate those conversations and because they feared their peers would react negatively.
According to Niru, “FOCUS has done a great job of equipping students so that they are more confident in engaging the conversation. But faith requires us to slow down, be patient and sometimes sacrifice what we want. Life in New York is very fast—people have big dreams and they are driven.” He believes that the fast pace of NYC and the tendency of people who live there to be focused on what they can achieve personally makes it particularly difficult for FOCUS missionaries on NYC campuses.
Niru interviewed other Team Directors and worked with his team to create new tools that were helpful in getting students to take on discipleship. The Columbia team believed that students would be more successful if they had a wider range of resources and tools to use when trying to connect with peers. At the same time, they knew it was important to have a standard of expectation for every student in discipleship. To meet the needs for both structure and flexibility, they created the “Discipleship ToolBox,” which includes the “Starter Kit,” a seven-week program that teaches the basic tools and prayers, and the “ToolBox,” which includes a variety different tools and topics to support students who want to start evangelizing.
The results so far have been impressive. FOCUS missionaries invite many students into discipleship, but a measure of that fruitfulness is when a student “pays it forward” by bringing another student into discipleship. In previous years, it was rare that Columbia students would invite others into discipleship. In 2015, however, eight students have taken this important step.
Innovation Makes a Difference
Our culture isn’t exactly friendly to the concept of discipleship,1 and New York City poses different challenges for missionaries than they might face in other parts of the country. FOCUS missionaries in New York are bringing more students into discipleship because they are present on campus and they are creatively engaged in finding ways to connect with students who are willing, when asked, to step forward and lead.
1. http://www.focusequip.org/leader-resources/discipleship/how-to-disciple.html. May require login.