By: Drew Decker, FOCUS Missionary
I think it’s fair to say every Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary enters their first year on campus with a bit of swagger in their step. For most missionaries, leading a FOCUS Bible study or discipling students was part of their college experience; many of them were pretty good at it, too! But then that first week on campus arrives, and the floodgates open. Fall outreach, meeting inherited disciples, moving to a new city (or in my case, moving literally across the country) and getting used to team life combine for one crazy start to the year. And then comes the inevitable drop-off: It happens at a different time for each missionary. For some, like myself, it came very quickly. No matter the experience level or confidence, every missionary ultimately hits a wall, and realizes that they can’t save souls on their own. Maybe Bible study isn’t going well, teammates have different personalities, or they’re simply homesick. This is the “make or break” moment for every missionary. For me, it was a giant step into a new phase of my life.
Unlike most FOCUS missionaries, I didn’t graduate from a FOCUS campus. Before attending FOCUS’s Student Leadership Summit in 2016, I had never met a missionary before; I didn’t even know what the acronym stood for! SLS 16, a leadership conference, was my first introduction to the FOCUS model, and I was all in. I left the conference with an application in hand, interviewed a month later and accepted a job offer two weeks after that. The rest of the school year flew by as I eagerly anticipated summer training and the start of the semester. Looking back on those months, I realize that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that God had called me to this mission, and if He had called me, that must mean that I was qualified to do this job. When I arrived at UF in August, I threw myself into fall outreach and team life, reached out to the disciples I was inheriting, and generally felt like I was on top of the world. I trusted my skills and my willpower to accomplish the mission of saving souls on campus.
And it wasn’t enough.
I wasn’t a washout by any means, but I certainly wasn’t living up to the standards of a missionary. I found myself tired of preparing Bible studies, not knowing what to say in discipleship meetings, and constantly comparing myself to my teammates. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy every day. My teammates seemed to effortlessly reach out to students, and I felt as though I hadn’t built strong relationships with anyone, including my team. It was only September, and I was already questioning if I was good enough to be a missionary.
Fast-forward a year later, and I’m impatiently counting down the days until I get to return to Gainesville for my second year as a missionary. I’m working with a group of men to kick-start our men’s ministry, Fight Club; I have three new teammates relying on me to help introduce them to our campus; and while writing this article, I received a call from FOCUS Missions asking if I would direct a mission trip this year. I’m a veteran missionary, with new responsibilities and expectations, and I’m loving every minute of it. I don’t say this to brag about myself, but to illustrate how God works in all of us. He doesn’t call the equipped to mission; He equips the called. Over my first year as a missionary, I never had a “Eureka!” moment, and I was never struck to the ground in a flash of light like St. Paul. There isn’t a moment that I can point to where everything changed, where I transformed into a better man and missionary. I did nothing to get myself here except for this: Every day, I chose to allow God to work in me. Our team prayed a holy hour every morning before we started the day, and in my holy hours, I asked God what He wanted me to do with each day, and begged Him to make me strong enough to follow Him anywhere.
And He did.
I won’t say that it was easy after that, because it wasn’t. Being a missionary last year was the hardest task I had ever taken on. God gives us the strength to do all things, but only if we have the courage to embrace His call every day. I wanted to quit some days, and other days I felt as though I could save the entire campus on my own. But every day I had to choose to trust that if God had called me to FOCUS, it was because He wanted to save souls through me.
If I had to condense my first year into a single word, it would be “awe.” I am in awe of how powerful and mighty our God is! When I trusted my skills and strength to accomplish my mission, I came up short. When I let go of my pride and let God work through me, He worked wonders. I am not responsible for anything that happened this year except for falling into God’s arms and begging Him to be with me. But even more incredible is the understanding that God INVITED me into His mission, and He doesn’t need me! He could accomplish my mission and infinitely more with only a thought, and yet He asked me to join Him simply out of love. Through my first year, I grew closer to Him, and through me, others grew closer to Him. I don’t pretend to be the best missionary, but I do know that I am loved. As I prepare for my second year, I know that with the hardships that are coming, there will be even more grace to see me through them. He called me to be a FOCUS missionary, to follow Him onto UF’s campus, to share the Gospel with others and to be with Him every day. I can’t imagine a better job.