Kailey Garrett, Second year missionary; Sami Galuppo, Second year missionary; Thomas Imholte (Savannah), First year missionary; Andrew Noah (Maclaine), Team Director, Sixth year missionary
The West River Catholic sat down with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) team at Black Hills State University to meet the new team members, find out what their new goals are, and to get to know them better. FOCUS was founded in 1998 and uses campus missionaries to invite college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship, and friendships in which they lead others to do the same. The goal is to have students take the skill, formation and encounters with Christ and share them for the rest of their lives. Missionaries are college graduates that range from newly graduated, to families, to adults who feel a call in their lives.
WRC: Thomas, since you’re the newest member of the team, please introduce yourself and explain how you became involved with FOCUS.
Thomas: I graduated from Minnesota State – Mankato. I transferred there to play baseball and there was a FOCUS baseball Bible study, so I got plugged in through the baseball team. The FOCUS team walked with me and challenged me throughout my college years, and I had a big conversion, or reversion, to the faith. I didn’t really take my faith seriously until I got involved in FOCUS.
I was a student leader. I led Bible studies and felt called and the missionaries invited me to be a missionary right out of college, but I was stubborn and wanted to do my own thing. I was a CPA at a public accounting firm in Minneapolis for the last three years and eight months. My wife, Savannah, and I decided to apply in April. Her role is Affiliate Missionary. She went through the same training I did. She’ll lead Bible studies and help when she can.
I went to training with the rest of the team in Lincoln Nebraska, and then was fundraising all summer. My wife’s technical role is affiliate missionary and I’m full-time. We are Varsity Catholic and work with the athletes. She will be leading Bible studies, and discipleship/mentorship with the female student athletes while I’ll be working with the male athletes. She can choose to get as involved as she wants to.
When the three of you left last year, did you know you would all be coming back to Black Hills State?
What was your reaction when you learned you were getting a new team member?
Sami: Our prayer and our hope last year was that we would become a complete team and have a fourth teammate. A lot of answered prayers that we not only got another full-time missionary, but Thomas’s wife also works with us.
Andrew: And someone we were already friends with too.
Sami: Yeah, we saw him go through the interview process and we thought it’d be really cool if he stuck around. So, when we finally got the call, we were excited.
Andrew: Last year, he was already helping and getting involved in the Newman Community. I had two guys in spring football who were in my Bible study and they weren’t able to keep coming so Thomas hopped right in so he was already helping me here.
Thomas, how did your experience with them the previous school year influence you in applying to become a missionary?
Thomas: There’s always been a tug in my heart to do it. I felt like I was always creating my own plan and not following God’s plan. Over time it slowly chipped away, and then moving here and meeting Andrew, Maclaine (Andrew’s wife), Sam, and Kelly, that was the icing on the cake. It was the final thing. I love these guys and they’re having fun doing this. It added to my desire.
How does being married affect your ministry?
Thomas: It is definitely different than being single. I think a lot of boundaries and prudence is needed in terms of how you set your schedule up. When you’re single you have more freedom to be wherever throughout the night and hang out with students at whatever time. I do think it’s such a blessing to be in the vocation of marriage and give that to the ministry. Your vocation comes first before the mission, so our mission is not going to bear any fruit if our marriage isn’t in a good spot.
I’m excited about inviting students into our marriage, inviting them over to our apartment just to be a witness of what a good healthy marriage is. I’m sure Andrew has experience with that.
Andrew: That’s definitely true. My wife Maclaine and I had wonderful experiences being able to host large groups of students at our house last year. I remember being an undergrad and going to a married missionary’s house for dinner and it was so cool. Just like to be able to see marriage and family modeled in a really beautiful and holy way that I hadn’t really experienced and seen.
What do you hope to build on from last year?
Sami: Kailey and I started a monthly women’s night last year. It creates an opportunity to bring women of all different faiths and backgrounds together for the singular purpose of making sure that they know that they’re seen, known, and loved by God. We invite women into our home in the Newman Center, and we have a theme and try to create a relaxed casual setting. You can meet new people and there is no pressure. From there we can build and cultivate relationships with them so that we can invite them into Bible studies and discipleship.
We come up with a theme — sometimes it’s dependent on if we have an event coming up or a holiday. One of our nights last year we did bouquet making. The girls made a bouquet and were able to give their bouquet to another girl. They were able to get to know the person who they were making their bouquet for. We have a new activity each time so that the women can talk to each other and become friends.
Normally, it’s hosted in our apartment to give kind of that off campus, homey vibe of inviting women into a space that’s not a dorm room, and then we’ll just interact with them. Sometimes we’ll feed them. Sometimes there’s just snacks. We just kind of let the night progress as it does and there’s no pressure.
Kailey: I was working with a lot of the freshmen last year and I’m excited to build on the foundation that we started last year. Our Bible studies are going to get a little bit more in depth so at the end of their sophomore year, they’re going to be ready to possibly lead the Bible study the next year for the freshmen, trying to get them involved as leaders.
Andrew: In terms of numbers, I know we’re going to continue to grow and build and I’m really excited about that. We’ve had nearly 50 students come for dinner after Mass and I know we’ve had a few more who didn’t come. We’ve already had almost double the size of students coming into Sunday Mass and coming to our meals. In the first two weeks, our OCIA has more than doubled from last year. We’re going to have a lot more students involved in Bible studies. I have a bigger team.
The hope is going deeper within some of those studies that started last year. My prayer is that as we continue to grow and have more students come into the community, we are able to grow in our understanding of our identity as a Newman center, and as the Jacket Catholic club.
Do you feel FOCUS has centered the students a little bit better? How do you see your role in that?
Andrew: Our job is to remind the students of the basic things. We certainly teach a lot of new concepts and teachings of the church that students may not have known about. I also think the biggest way that we can have an impact is accountability and going back to the basics — inviting students into a life of prayer, a life of the sacraments, fellowship, and community with one another.
As a team, we also bring a lot of zeal for the faith to the students that might be cradle Catholics, who have grown up going to Mass and they do that every Sunday, but then we can come in and say, “I challenge you to pray every day.” Through those challenges and encouragement, to frequent the sacraments and pray every day, and things like that, we’re also setting that example of living that lifestyle and showing them it’s actually possible. We’re trying to imitate what Christ is asking of all of us, for the students. I think they are seeing us do that and know it is possible for them. They see our zeal for the souls on campus that it excites them to want to do the same.
I think the reason we’re seeing fruit is that we’re helping to bring and encourage students to come to Jesus — either through that encounter with Jesus in prayer, in the sacraments or the community. From there, we just let Him take care of the rest, because it’s really Jesus who’s going to transform the minds and hearts of the students.
Are you planning on any new programs for this school year?
Andrew: We’ll have different Newman Nights. We’re hoping to bring in a speaker or two. Maybe bring in a band for praise and worship nights. We have different one-night ideas. It’s going to be an exciting year.