By Becky Berreth
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
“Everything we do is to make disciples of all nations,” explained third year FOCUS missionary Ben Acosta. “We teach students to have a sacramental life, to rely on prayer and the sacraments, to live an authentic friendship and to go out and teach others to do the same.”
Acosta, Sarah Knopik, Kim Herdering, and Andrew Noah will be helping the students at Black Hills State University, Spearfish, find that authentic friendship with Jesus as missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
FOCUS is a Catholic outreach organization whose mission is to share the Gospel with university students. Missionaries are trained in church teaching, prayer, Scripture, evangelization and discipleship, inviting students to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and accompanying them along the way. BHSU is one of 19 new FOCUS campuses this academic year. They are working from the new Newman Center which was dedicated in September.
“We have real conversations with the students,” said FOCUS team leader and third year missionary Sarah Knopik. “We are being taught how to rely on God for all things and in turn do the same for the students.”
One of the first things the missionaries do on campus is begin leading Bible studies. Then, eventually, begin training students to organize and lead their own. The goal is to bring students closer to Christ and to help students establish and/or deepen their relationship with Christ.
All four missionaries first experienced FOCUS through a Bible study. As an undergraduate at North Dakota State University, Knopik became involved with a FOCUS Bible study her freshman year. From there she was invited into discipleship (one-on-one mentoring program) with another student.
“As I got more involved in my faith, I started leading my own Bible study, experiencing discipleship with other women, and going on missions’ trips,” she explained. “I felt that God was calling me to be his missionary, so I took the opportunity and ran with it.”
First year missionary Andrew Noah, joined a Bible study his freshman year at St. John University, Collegeville, Minn. By his sophomore year he was leading a men’s group in his dorm. After attending a leadership conference, he began to think about becoming a missionary.
“Being a theology major, I knew I wanted to do something with the church. Halfway through my sophomore year I thought maybe I should check this missionary thing out,” he said. “By my senior year it was apply to be a FOCUS missionary or go on with graduate work in theology. Here I am.”
It was through a Bible study that Kim Herdering, a first-year missionary who also attended North Dakota State University, was invited to attend a SEEK conference. At that yearly national conference — presented by FOCUS — she encountered the Lord in a new way and carried that through her college experience. Majoring in biology, with the intent to continue on with a career in medicine, she always felt called to care and serve people.
“I really love healing and maybe the Lord wanted to satisfy that desire not through physical healing but through spiritual healing,” she said. “Now I’m working with people’s spiritual needs which is really cool too.”
Ben Acosta was leading a Bible study on his own, not knowing that the University of Northern Colorado had a Newman Center. “I went to a pro-life event and met a FOCUS missionary and was plugged into and started doing things with the Catholics on campus,” he said.
However, he still was not sure if being a FOCUS missionary was in his future. “My senior year I had a few offers to teach and I turned down FOCUS initially,” he explained. “That is until Jesus intervened, and I said ‘yes.’”
All four are excited about the new Newman Center and being part of an expansion campus. The group attended Mass at both St. Paul Church, Belle Fourche, and St. Joseph Parish, Spearfish, when they first arrived in S.D. and have been welcomed by parishioners at both parishes.
“People are eager to learn more about us and who we are,” said Acosta. “I know Jesus was preparing the way, going before us. In a very real sense we are building a culture here — a culture of missionary disciples. A culture of love that is contagious, meant to conquer all and set the world on fire.”