‘It’s an incredible joy to see the Holy Spirit at work’
CHARLOTTE — Authentic friendships rooted in Jesus Christ and sharing the beauty of the Catholic faith are at the heart of the mission of the Chang family, FOCUS missionaries serving at St. John Neumann Church.
The Changs – Jimmy, Melissa and their young daughter Amaria – are a part of a pilot program for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a lay Catholic movement with the mission to know Jesus Christ and fulfill His Great Commission, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).
FOCUS missionaries are trained in Church teaching, prayer, Scripture, evangelization and discipleship. They strive to encounter people in friendship where they are, inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accompanying them as they pursue lives of virtue and excellence. Through Bible studies, outreach events and one-on-one discipleship, missionaries inspire and build up people in the faith, helping them go out to spread the good news and to live out the Great Commission in their lives.
This pilot program places experienced FOCUS missionaries who are college graduates from every walk of life – fresh off campus or retired, single or married with children – into parishes in the U.S. Four parishes are in the pilot program: St. John Neumann, Christ the King Church in Tulsa, Okla.; St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, Ill.; and Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Denver, Colo.
“The FOCUS Parish Outreach pilot began in order to take what FOCUS has learned from campus about evangelization and discipleship-making and apply it to the parish,” says Andrea Francois, FOCUS director of parish outreach. “Our hope is that our parish missionaries will make disciples in the parish and teach them how to share their faith through evangelization.”
Melissa first encountered FOCUS at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She had recently graduated from college and moved to Lincoln for a work opportunity. Melissa was impressed by the FOCUS missionaries’ zeal for the faith. She attended a FOCUS Bible study and a national conference.
“I became intrigued by the FOCUS missionaries as I grew in friendship with many of them,” she recalls. At the national conference she saw many young adults “on fire for the faith and so many of them opened my heart to the Lord’s greater call to share that with other people.”
She took a leap of faith, leaving her full-time job of three years, and has served as a FOCUS missionary since 2009.
She and Jimmy arrived at St. John Neumann Church last August. The past seven months have been a blessing, she says.
“We are growing in authentic friendship with people here, helping them to have a deep, personal encounter with Our Lord. We’re really walking with them and equipping them to reach out to others, to share their faith in a real way,” she says.
They are now running six Bible studies at the parish, several during times when parents drop off their children for faith formation classes, so that the parents can also grow in their faith.
“Sometimes this is the first time that people are opening God’s Word. It’s been amazing to see the Holy Spirit at work as we build friendships through living the Gospel,” she says.
Jimmy, a native of Ecuador, is bilingual, which has been very helpful to the St. John Neumann Church community. He was educated in a school run by Salesians and in high school he started working in a mission caring for poor children.
“I was involved in door-to-door evangelization in impoverished areas where we would visit and pray for the sick and the poor. Prayer groups were very familiar to me in Ecuador. I remember joining my first prayer group when I was around 12 years old,” he recalls.
He met Melissa in Miami, where he was introduced to FOCUS while they were dating. “FOCUS’s method and model of evangelization caught my attention. I believe that this method of incarnational evangelization is what Jesus chose to reach the whole world,” he says.
He began considering serving as a missionary with FOCUS three years ago when he was speaking at a Catholic retreat in Miami. He recalls feeling that God was calling him to something more.
“It was a true moment of conversion to mission for me. As I continued to learn more about FOCUS through my wife’s involvement as a missionary, we heard about a new initiative to bring the FOCUS evangelization model to parishes. It seemed to us an answer to our prayers. We had desired to serve together as family.”
Jimmy shares that some of the things he enjoys most about serving the parish community is serving alongside his family and getting to know other families.
“So much of what we do is about diving deeper with parishioners as we build authentic friendships. It’s an incredible joy to see the Holy Spirit at work as we pray with others, as we study Scripture together, as we share life together.
“We are preparing them to head into lifelong mission by raising up servant leaders, disciples of Jesus, who will be equipped for a lifetime of reaching others and teaching them to do the same.”
He stresses the need to always be aware that it is Jesus who is making the impact. “We are just like a brother or sister who knows Christ, and are sharing with our brothers and sisters in the parish what we have experienced in and through life with Christ.
“This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is doing the heavy lifting.”
Father Pat Hoare, pastor, is glad to have the Chang family serving the parish. He learned of the pilot program a couple of years ago.
“After a few conversations, FOCUS visited St. John Neumann Church and met with our parish council and finance council. After lots of discussion, prayer and discernment, we decided to accept FOCUS’s invitation to serve as a pilot parish,” he said. “We’re early in the process, but I see seeds being planted that I eagerly hope will begin to bear great fruit!”
— SueAnn Howell, senior Reporter