Campus missionaries help college students find 'meaning'

FAIRFAX - A diverse group of young college women lounged on couches at the entrance of the George Mason University Student Union on a recent afternoon.

Ninoska Moratin, a campus missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, better known as FOCUS, entreated the students to review their week as she began the Bible study.

"(A) bud is something you're looking forward to and thorns are ... bad (things) that happen," Moratin she told them.

The daughter of a Nicaraguan mother and a Dominican Republic father, she has devoted almost two years of her life to serving God within the many different cultural communities at George Mason University in Fairfax. On Tuesdays, she attends a weekly Salsa Club, where she dances and talks with students.

"I explain to them (that) in my heart I know (the faith is) important and that I love it," she told Catholic News Service.

Chris Rothschild, FOCUS team director at the University of Maryland in College Park, has put his career as a biochemist on hold for three years "to share the meaning my life," he told CNS. He wants to show students that "I was in your shoes and thought the same thing, but was wrong. Here's the meaning in my life (now)."

A convert to the Catholic faith, Rothschild joined the fellowship immediately following his senior year of college.

"I recognized the great brokenness we have in our own culture," he said.

Moratin, who grew up in a Catholic family, was curious about the organization and decided to apply to be a missionary after spending time as a student leader.

"I love my job," she said, explaining that she and her fellow FOCUS missionaries promote the virtues of chastity, sobriety and excellence as a way to address what many describe as three main vices confronting students in college - the hookup culture, drunkenness and procrastination.

Rothschild, who grew up not knowing his father, has spent the last three years of his life as a missionary to "lead the next generation of fathers, husbands and businessmen (toward Christ)," he said.

"Our staff members are ... often found eating in the cafeterias on campus, playing intramural sports, staying up late in coffee shops ... throwing spontaneous BBQs," said a statement on the website, FOCUS missionaries meet students where they are at through one-on-one "Discipleship," group Bible studies, and many other events. Because FOCUS sees each campus as unique, the missionaries tailor their outreach to best meet the needs of students on the campus they are serving.

In January 2013, more than 6,000 college students and missionaries from across America attended a five-day FOCUS conference in Orlando, Fla.

"Many have not personally encountered Jesus Christ. We need to reach the entire world and the way to do it is to reach American university students," said Curtis Martin, president of FOCUS, which has its headquarters in Genesee, Colo.

"The majority of the (future) world leaders are in U.S. colleges," explained Moratin, who majored in materials science engineering at Maryland in College Park. As a missionary, she said she feels she can have an impact on young people and help develop the morality, ethics and integrity of the next generation.

According to Jeremy Rivera, national director of marketing and communications at FOCUS, the organization has about 361 missionaries serving 74 campuses across the country and has hired 160 new missionaries this year.

"At the heart of Catholicism is not a set of rules and regulations," Martin, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told a group of more than 2,000 educators, catechists and other Catholics at the 2007 Living the Catholic Faith Conference in Denver. "At the heart of Catholicism, there's a relationship," he said.

Rothschild told CNS that he tries to "pursue holy relationships with others ... to launch college students into lifelong mission," because college students live in such an individualistic world.

"Faith is shared in community," he said.

"We can tell them many things," Moratin said, "but it's through a relationship that we help them come deeper into a relationship with Christ."

Donors known as "mission partners" take an active role in the life of every missionary by funding their salary, which averages $25,000 to $30,000, a year, according to the website. In addition to their daily activities of evangelizing college students, FOCUS missionaries spend time developing a relationship with those donors.

"Whatever fits in my car is all I keep," Rothschild said. "The Lord is good. He provides all I need," he said, explaining that he feels an additional calling to poverty as a missionary.

"We're all seeking to fulfill some mission, but (we are) all unique in how we use tools," he said, noting that every missionary goes about their call to evangelization in a different way.

Moratin challenges her peers to "ask questions and discover Christ."

"Don't be so open-minded that your brain falls out," Moratin tells them, paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton.

"When we make our own plans," they are limited, said Rothschild, who urges students to trust in the Lord. "Do something. Don't just sit there and complain about it," he added. "Be the difference you want to see in the world."

In a 2008 address, Martin told participants at the National Student Leadership Conference in Grapevine, Texas: "You are an anointed generation. You were made for a very specific purpose. You were made for greatness."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970