Catholic outreach finds success in Bible Belt

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNA HALL Participating in a 5K run together are, from left: Father Jim Chamberlain; Hayley Ryckman, a student at the University of Oklahoma; Kelsey Bob, FOCUS missionary; and Anna Hall, FOCUS missionary. Hall has delayed her entry into the work force to become a missionary for FOCUS for two years.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNA HALL Participating in a 5K run together are, from left: Father Jim Chamberlain; Hayley Ryckman, a student at the University of Oklahoma; Kelsey Bob, FOCUS missionary; and Anna Hall, FOCUS missionary. Hall has delayed her entry into the work force to become a missionary for FOCUS for two years.

Topeka Catholic commits two years as focus missionary


 

by Edward Lang
Special to The Leaven

TOPEKA — How much do you love me? It’s the question Christ asks each of his followers. Twenty-three-year-old Topeka native Anna Hall was just listening a little more carefully than most.

Hall not only delayed her business career in favor of service, she also chose to commit two years of her life to become a missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

The organization began in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison. With the encouragement of then-Pope John Paul II, it started out with four missionaries on one college campus.

Fourteen years later, this group now has over 300 missionaries and a presence on 74 campuses in 30 states. But its goal remains the same — to offer outreach programs of Bible study, prayer groups, and devotions to Catholic college students.

Hall was only three years old when she and her parents, Jeffrey and Renee Hall, converted to Catholicism. Her home parish was the former Holy Name in Topeka, which later became part of Mater Dei Parish. To support Hall’s faith life, she was enrolled first in Holy Name Grade School and then Hayden High School.

In grade school, Hall was as an altar server and active in the Girl Scouts, band, sports and the pro-life club. With the latter, she traveled to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life.  She was astounded by the sea of humanity gathered on a cold January day to promote the overturn of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. In high school, Hall participated in a rally sponsored by Teens Encounter Christ (TEC), attended by hundreds of other jubilant youths in celebration of their Catholic faith. Both events left a lasting impression on the young Topekan.

When she started at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., she met other students interested in enriching their faith lives. When she was a sophomore, she discovered the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and its presence on the campus of the University of Missouri – Kansas City. After accepting an invitation to attend a FOCUS picnic, Hall was soon joining other UMKC students at Wednesday evening Mass and Thursday eucharistic adoration.

In Hall’s junior year, she met Clair Westermeyer, one of the four FOCUS missionaries assigned to UMKC. Clair became Hall’s spiritual mentor and eventually invited her to become a disciple. In FOCUS, a disciple spiritually mentors other local university students.

Hall felt “humbled” and somewhat “fearful” to be elevated to the next level of commitment, but with Clair’s support, she accepted and initiated a Bible study group bringing others into the fellowship group.

Hall’s senior year was a busy one. As she worked to complete a triple major in Spanish, psychology and nonprofit leadership, she remained a disciple of FOCUS. In the spring of 2012 she was asked to consider becoming a missionary. It would entail postponing entering the job market, undertaking financial fundraising, making a two-year commitment and relocating.

Hall’s mother, who herself had endured some financial hardship, was at first not excited about the missionary option for her daughter. But after some reflection, she decided to trust her daughter’s judgment, and Hall chose to accept the invitation to become a FOCUS missionary.

In August 2012, Hall arrived at the University of Oklahoma with three other missionaries to initiate the first year of FOCUS there.

Filled with excitement, joy, fear, and curiosity, Hall began to implement the procedures taught during her preparation classes. There was some initial concern over how this group, a Catholic outreach program, would be received in what is called the Bible Belt. But Hall soon found the positive response from the students overwhelming.

The missionary life — even at OU — is not an easy one. Every morning begins with Mass at 8 a.m., individual prayer at 9 a.m., and a small meeting with the other missionaries most mornings. After prayer, each missionary departs to focus on incarnational evangelization — i.e., sharing the Gospel in terms of relationships with the other students. To date, Hall describes her experience as “awesome, rewarding . . . and gratifying.”

For more information on FOCUS, visit the website at: www.focus.org.

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