Why Missions? / Values / Our History
FOCUS Missions represent a key component of the overall ministry of FOCUS. In basic conformation to our Catholic Faith, if we truly wish to fulfill the Great Commission we are called to actually GO therefore and make disciples of all nations. With the call for the New Evangelization representing new method, new ardor, and new expression, we recognize that we now have unprecedented new means to reach the ends of the earth. There is no lack of clarity in the Gospel message that serving the poor is an essential component of following Christ. This being said, we not only seek to address the physical needs of the poor, but also recognize the desperate need for the message of hope in Jesus Christ that is desperately needed in every corner of the earth. We seek to accomplish every aspect of our missions in, for, and through, the truth of the Catholic Faith. In sum, FOCUS Missions is essential for us as a Catholic missionary organization to authentically pursue and share the fullness of our Faith around the world.
On another front, as we work to serve the poor and evangelize, there is a phenomenon of reciprocal evangelization that takes place. Consistently, the missionary experience brings new, life-changing wisdom and perspective to the students who serve on the mission. We see that two weeks on mission can represent a whole year worth of discipleship on campus. This newly enkindled wisdom, zeal, and perspective is then brought back to college campuses where it can be projected back into our own culture.
Considering that we average one student per trip mission trip entering the seminary or religious life and multitudes of students answering the call to become FOCUS Missionaries after their FOCUS Missions experience, Missions itself represents one of the most highly effective tools that we have to evangelize our own campuses, spread our Catholic Faith, and implement the New Evangelization around the world.
FOCUS Missions seeks to have a universally positive impact on both the communities that we serve and the student missionaries that participate in our missions. When establishing new mission sites we strive to gain a particular sense for the authentic needs of the community. Furthermore, we make every effort to make sure that our on-the-ground programs and projects are sustainable and not just a one-time “slash and burn” effort. The fist way we ensure these values is by plugging into existing Catholic ministries around the world. All of our programs and projects are established at the suggestion of local clergy or lay missionaries who have a keen, long-term familiarity with the on-the-ground reality and needs of a given community. The second way that we work to ensure these values is by returning year after year to the same locations. Overall, we also strive to conform all of our action to the social teachings and truths of our Catholic Faith.
Regarding specific themes that characterize the vision for our missions, especially as they impact students, consider the hallmarks of our mission program:
Encounter with Christ in the poor
It was no mistake that Jesus spent the majority of his life in Nazareth, a town analogous to so many of the places where our missions take place. It was no mistake that He was born into complete poverty and it is no coincidence that we can have a profound encounter with Him when we serve the poor. It could even be asserted that unless one has an experience of meeting Christ in the poor, you’re actually missing familiarity with a significant component of the true character of Christ.
When you experience the heroic generosity of peoples offering you food when they don’t have enough to eat themselves, or giving you their bed so as to sleep on the dirt floor, you encounter Christ. Missionaries consistently report students being notably different from whom they were before the trip… and this is logical because any true encounter with Christ always transforms lives!
Imparting Charity in Truth
“Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.” -Benedict XVI
As these words from the encyclical Caritas in Veritate state, without truth, love ceases to exist – love is “degenerated into sentimentality.” This theme is particularly impactful in our culture as our entire worldview has been groomed for the obedience of sentiment. Our larger spiritual reality recognizes that not all of our sentiments come from the Holy Spirit, and if the sentiments are driving our actions, even with good intentions, are not coming from the Holy Spirit “’love’ is abused and distorted to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.”
With the goal of authentic love, our missions seek to represent charity in truth in all we do. Moreover, we challenge students to apply this theme to their life so that, through discerning, knowing, and acting upon God’s truth, they may love authentically.
In an age of unprecedented transfer of information, not all understanding of reality is perceived accurately. In the first world, the concept of world reality tends to blend with our ceaseless intake of entertainment. It becomes far too easy to divorce ourselves from reality by simply changing a channel. This is a very dangerous circumstance when our society frequently sets the policy and cultural trends of world. In terms of perceived reality in other parts of the world, our society is exporting so called “MTV” culture at an unprecedented rate. The result of this in foreign lands is either an embracing of this false path to “happiness” or a ferocious rejection of this path along with the whole society that produced it. When the imported culture is embraced it often times takes off unchecked by reality and corrupts very vulnerable and innocent peoples. When ferociously rejected, results can be as extreme as war and terrorism. What is truly needed on both sides is a perception of the world that is calibrated with reality. It is very difficult to hate an immigrant when you can put a name, face, and circumstance with their plight. Likewise it becomes very difficult for a brother or sister in a foreign land to hate a whole society when they have had a true and loving experience coming from that very culture. Recognizing a Universal Church, a universal Catholic worldview is essential especially in an age of globalization. FOCUS Missions naturally works to instill this in students and peoples throughout the world through first hand international experiences.
Vulnerability to the Holy Spirit
Answering God’s call to proclaim the Gospel to ALL the nations comes with risk: there is an inherent vulnerability and leap of faith to go on mission. Students are taken out of their comfort zone. Subsequently two things have happened. First they have opened their heart even just a crack to take this step in Faith. Second, they are forced to trust God like they have never trusted Him before. The Holy Spirit takes full advantage of this openness and vulnerability and radically changes their lives. This vulnerability cannot be produced on a retreat or in an average college setting: it is a special time of grace that is produced on mission.
When you think of the lives of the saints some of the first things come to mind are the stories that they are associated with – particularly their conversion stories. You may remember St. Francis of Assisi encountering a leper on the road – in seeing Christ in this leper his life was changed forever. This was an iconic moment for St. Francis, and his transformation through this experience changed the world. Now imagine taking college students who are used to the comforts of college life to actually meet lepers or stay in shacks with the poor. Missions produce these iconic moments in students’ lives, and this is a recipe for creating saints.
Translation of poverty
When a student has an encounter with poverty and suffering the likes of which they encounter on mission, love for humanity and motivations to take action set in. In fact, there tends to be a liberating group momentum that enables our students to be radical and take action. After living in such a radical way for a series of weeks, upon returning to the States, the group reflects on what motivations to help the poor were evoked within themselves while on the trip. When did they take action? Why did they take action? Students are then challenged to translate this experience to campus. If their heart was moved in the situations that they experience on mission, take a look around campus… How many of your peers are suffering? How many around you are spiritually starving? How many around you are covered in spiritual leprosy and dying? Students are then challenged to recognize poverty is all of its forms, including that which is in disguise. They are then challenged to be moved with the same compassion they had while on mission and take action. We instill that we are not meant to live mission just for a short, clearly defined period of time, but our lives must be a mission.
Of a very organic genesis, FOCUS Missions started its first mission trip to in Peru in 2004. Individual FOCUS staff members recognized the tremendous value in mission of this nature and, based on their own international experiences and contacts, put together an initial trip. Over the following years, FOCUS Missions has grown enough to represent a full-time work position at FOCUS’ national support center in Denver and then to represent a whole department within FOCUS. Today, many of our mission trips are still established through the experiences and contacts of our new missionaries. Given the trajectory of growth and the effectiveness in evangelization, the sky is the limit for the future of FOCUS Missions!