by Katie Hyde
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Across the nation, recent high school graduates are readying themselves for the next big adventure: college. They’re busy getting to know their future roommates, selecting meal plans and shopping for matching dorm decor.
Former Leaven intern Heather Nelson is also getting jitters over the first day of school, but her upcoming adventure is a little bit different.
This school year, her role on campus is not as a student, but as a missionary.
After graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas in May, Nelson decided to join FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, as a missionary. In choosing to do so, she will dedicate at least two years of her life to evangelization, intensive prayer and fellowship. She will live and work at Missouri State University in Springfield, helping other college students encounter their faith through Bible studies and individual mentoring.
Nelson’s interest in becoming a FOCUS missionary began during her time at KU, when she discovered a group of individuals who shared her values and beliefs at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center. Her junior year, she attended a Student Leadership Summit organized by FOCUS.
“That’s when I realized that I was a leader in the St. Lawrence Center back at KU,” Nelson said.
“I didn’t really feel like I was a good example of what people should do, but I think through that [summit] I learned to go to daily Mass, go to confession, do all these things that we’re supposed to do. And then I was able to lead others better.”
Nelson’s faith was strengthened her final semester at KU when she received a journalism internship with The Leaven.
“It kind of made me realize how much I love the faith and how much I love talking to people about it,” Nelson said. “That’s something I got in my stories.”
During her time at the newspaper, she covered subjects ranging from the ministries of individual area Catholics to Catholic Schools Week. These stories, and the people she met writing them, reaffirmed her decision to join FOCUS.
“People that I interviewed taught me so much about my faith and keeping with it and just trusting in God,” she continued, “just a lot of things I kind of knew but needed to hear them reaffirmed.”
Taking a leap
While many of Nelson’s friends were supportive of her decision to join FOCUS, not everyone understood why she was making such a countercultural decision. Her parents reacted with some skepticism when she announced she would not be entering the job market, but rather would be devoting at least two years of her life to evangelization.
“They are supportive,” Nelson said. “It’s just in a different way. I think that with time, they’ll understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it — that I’m not just escaping entering the world right away, as some people say. It’s going to be a slow progression for them, but it is getting better.”
It takes a particularly courageous individual to set off to an unknown campus with little more than her faith in God. But for Nelson, that’s more than enough.
“It’s all about trusting in God, going out and doing something that scares you a little, or a lot,” she said.
“I go through days where I’m really nervous about it to the point where I’m like, ‘What am I doing? I shouldn’t be doing this,’” she continued. “But then I’ll have these little ‘aha’ moments throughout the day where God is doing things in my life that I don’t even recognize right away. It might take some time. I don’t know how I do it, but I just kind of accept the fact that I can’t control everything.”
Help a girl out
FOCUS missionaries must fundraise their entire salary. Heather Nelson, who will be a missionary at Missouri State University in Springfield starting in August, needs to raise at least $2,500 before she can report for duty on campus. To learn more about her story or to help support her work, please call her (402) 658-7892.