I want to begin with a disclaimer: this isn’t my “You need to be a FOCUS missionary!” advertisement. I’m not getting paid to write this. I have 700,000 other things I need to be doing as I start my new job. But as the title suggests, as I leave FOCUS staff and head into a new mission field, I want to reflect on the past two years as a campus missionary and ask the question, was it worth it?
These were two years in which I fortified a prayer life, frequented the sacraments, taught others how to teach, practiced boldness in sharing the gospel, and deepened my knowledge of the Catholic faith. These were two years in which I traveled the country, fundraised a (very mild) salary, fought insecurities, and made the daily decision to keep chugging along. These were two years in which I leaned into God with all that I have. These were the best two years of my life.
My route into FOCUS wasn’t the typical one. I didn’t graduate college and head straight into training, bright-eyed, and on fire with the Spirit. I was an actor in Los Angeles with a—somewhat—decent living. I wasn’t uberly successful by any account, but I had established enough time and credits to at least hold my head up.
I was part of a good group of Christian men who fostered community. I lived close to the water and surfed everyday. I had a serious relationship.
I had a lot. But I didn’t have the relationship with Jesus that I knew I wanted. I didn’t have the know-how to pour into others when I ached to do so. So I threw caution to the wind and decided to join FOCUS.
Some of my friends became missionaries right out of college, and I was going to do likewise upon graduating. However, a film I was cast in shot me out to LA. For the five years following, FOCUS bounced around in the back of my mind. After enough of LA’s empty promises, I decided to finally bite the bullet. Better late than never.
I’ve never experienced such a death. I quickly became a stranger in my friend group. My relationship quickly broke apart. The water, my one safe-haven, felt chillier than normal.
I went from being an actor, living “the good life,” to being just another (slightly wrinklier) face on a college campus. I went from having community to starting over with friends in a completely new town. I went from living seaside to living in the middle of America. I was heartbroken, doubtful, and putting on a smile, pretending everything was alright as I fundraised my salary with over a hundred different people. I was stripped in just about every way a person can be stripped.
I remember pulling up to campus and telling myself, “I’ll give it a month.”
Praise God I kept showing up. Where I was weak, He was truly strong. I chose to keep trusting the Lord. I kept leading Bible studies, even when I had absolute zero confidence. I kept taking constructive feedback from my way-younger boss. I kept praying. I kept on keeping on.
And it got better and better. The Lord moved. I healed. I made new friends. I fell in love with the mountains of Colorado—and a wonderful, holy woman. I grew with Jesus. I felt my heart mold in so many ways. I softened to my teammates. I cared deeper for my students. I grew more confident in my ability to share the faith. I still failed miserably (as many people can attest to), but I changed. The very core of me changed.
And as I pack up my things here in Boulder, I like to think some of the hearts I invested in changed as well. Not because of me, but because of the Lord somehow working through my small efforts these last two years.
As a going away gift, some students of mine created a video. In it, they thanked me one by one. I soaked in every word, but one of my students in particular said something that really struck me: “If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know if I’d be alive.”
I didn’t need to hear their affirmations. I wasn’t expecting them. Honestly, they surprised me. I’m sure they were pumping up my tires a little bit, but nonetheless, they were nice to hear. They were proof of what I’ve known for a while: it was worth it. Even if it was for just that one guy, my time with FOCUS was totally worth it. Even if it was for just one person to remember just one thing we talked about—and then have a deeper conversion 40 years down the road—it was worth it. Even if it was just for me to grow in intimacy with the Lord, it was worth it. Even if it was for me to simply learn how to invest in others in my next mission, it was worth it. It was so completely worth it.
Watching that video was way more satisfying than watching any other film I’ve helped make.
Watching these guys develop prayer lives was way more beautiful than any California sunset.
Knowing and serving Christ was and is way more fulfilling than any other way of life.
In emptying myself, the Lord filled me up. I’m leaving staff and entering into marriage as well as a new mission field, and I’m as inspired for lifelong mission as I’ve ever been. Could I have found that inspiration somewhere else? Sure. Could I have found the experience to live out mission somewhere else? Sure. Maybe. I tried to find it elsewhere for years. I desired to be on mission in LA when I moved out there. There’s a difference between desiring a good thing and practicing a good thing though.
Experience begets the best knowledge. I wanted to evangelize LA, but I didn’t have the skills to do so. I didn’t have the hours of leading a Bible study under my belt. I didn’t have the courage needed to reach out to strangers that only fortifies as a campus missionary who faces rejection after rejection. I didn’t have the method modeled by the Master. FOCUS equipped me. FOCUS gave me the tools to concretely live out my faith. Again, this isn’t a “FOCUS is the best!” plug. My time with FOCUS wasn’t perfect. The organization is imperfect and has certain ways it can definitely improve. But it’s still true. Serving on a campus for even just two years has radically transformed my life.
Sainthood is tangible. It’s dangling in front of my face. It’s clearer than it’s ever been. It’s mine for the taking. I have FOCUS to thank for that. I have my students to thank for that. I have my teammates who put up with my…poop…for that. I have my pastor to thank for that. I ultimately have the Lord to thank for that. He is truly never outdone in generosity. Someone told me that when I was struggling my first semester on campus. I quickly rolled my eyes at them, but they were right. The more we give Him, the more He returns. I wouldn’t trade these two years for the world. Praise God.