The Summer Job That Changed My Life – And Can Change Yours Too!

by Evangelization, Leadership, Outstanding Initiatives, Social Justice, Testimonies

Imagine with me for a second: You’re standing on top of a 30-foot cliff, about to jump into a level 3 white-water rapid in Colorado…you hold the instructor’s hand as he attempts to console you…“just walk straight forward, pull your feet together as you fall, just take a few steps…” Sweating, you grip his hand and repeat, “I just walk straight forward?” 

“You just walk straight forward,” he says again. You squeeze his hand tightly and say to yourself this time ‘just walk straight forward…’ as you walk towards the edge, step, step, step…you fall for what seems like hours, until the crashing water replaces the sound of the wind. You can’t be sure if it’s your flying soul or your life jacket that brings you back to the surface, but you feel the cold air rushing between every tooth in your wide smile…Adventure! Adrenaline! 

Your heart pounds as you swim over to the dozens of college students who have just taken the same plunge. This scene is just a happy snippet from the summer of 2018 – a summer that dramatically changed my life.

That summer I lived and worked alongside 76 other Catholic college students who vibrantly pursued the faith, all thanks to the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Summer Projects program, a ten-week program where college students roll up their sleeves and work at a paid summer job by day and receive world-class faith formation from FOCUS at night. As the story I just shared reveals, living life with Christ takes courage, walking straight ahead, embracing the fear of falling. I could see how my heart desired to be deeply rooted in my identity as a daughter of God, but I needed to bathe in His Truth, daily, for it to really be engrained. Summer projects provided a community of truth-seekers, truth-tellers, all running together towards the ultimate Truth.

Summer Projects entails an intense yet rewarding schedule. Both before and after the workday, we spent 30 – 60 minutes each day in silent prayer, usually attended daily Mass with the chaplain on-site and met weekly with our discipler (a peer mentor). Each program includes small group Bible studies, a reading plan, a speaker series that includes two lectures a week and regular spiritual direction. I received consistent spiritual direction from priests who were formed in the Lord’s love and mercy – they prayed healing prayers over me, talked to me about past experiences, opened scripture with me, and taught me that our spiritual fathers seek and save the lost – just as Jesus does. 

One of my most cherished moments from the summer was talking about Mother Mary for hours in the car with Fr. James Brent, O.P. on the way to a camping trip. The thought-provoking speaker series opened uplifting conversations about finding Truth in the Beauty of nature, apologetics on Mary and the Eucharist, church teachings about same-sex marriage, prayer, and so much more.

Weekly recreational activities at summer projects include white-water rafting, hikes, camping and other adventures. As a person who had formerly sought friendship in the ‘party scene,’ I was absolutely amazed at the amount of GENUINE joy and life that we all experienced at summer projects parties. The missionaries’ house was constantly full of people dancing, singing, playing cards and seeking to know one another through an art of conversation that can only come after intimate vulnerability with God. 

One night a few of us started a game of “what-are-all-the-nastiest-condiments-we-can-mix-together-and-taste.” On another occasion, in the same home, we sang songs ranging from the early 2000s bops to the most heart-melting praise and worship. 

Alongside these brothers and sisters in Christ, no one was concerned about what time it was, what they looked like, or what the world was telling them was important. We were in a space of being. Living from our hearts, we loved like children, and encountered a depth of peace and generosity only those who have seen the world for what it truly is can appreciate.  

FOCUS Summer Projects started in 2016 with nine students. Since then, the Holy Spirit has worked through the hearts of more than 400 participants, bearing remarkable fruit. Over 90% of participants in the program take concrete steps forward as disciples and evangelists. The Summer Projects community was inflamed by the Holy Spirit, igniting healing, redemptive suffering, joy, peace, and a desire for souls. 

To reach more than 500 students in 2021 and triple in size, Summer Projects is expanding beyond its previous Colorado mountain locations to California (specific locations TBD), Michigan (Boyne Mountain, Inn at Bay Harbor, Boyne Highlands) and New York (Huguenot). Summer Projects is also considering several other locations to be announced in December 2020. Most programs will run May 24 – Aug. 10, 2021, but Summer Projects will host at least one location more conducive to quarter system schedules.

John Bishop, summer projects director and co-founder, summarized the goal best when he said, “our mission is to help souls desire Christ, and to pray that those souls, in turn, desire more souls for Christ.” 

Through the talks and curriculum provided by FOCUS, the time I spent at Summer Projects equipped me with the intimate relationship and apostolic knowledge I needed to reenter my campus university to witness to my peers the joy of living your faith. I continued to lead a bible study in my sorority house (Gamma Phi Beta) at Wichita State and asked other women into discipleship, helping them to begin small-group bible studies that have now grown into more women saying yes to the call to mission on WSU’s campus. 

After graduation, I made the radical decision to become a missionary with FOCUS and have since served at Belmont University and Nicholls State University. The group message from Summer Projects ’18 is still in consistent communication, the relationships and vocations from that summer continue (yes, some are now married after meeting there!). Still, I often return to the graces received in prayer that summer to remind me who I am and whose I am. All it takes is one step forward.

There is no deadline for applications; the selection process is first come, first served. In past years, spots have filled up quickly. College students are encouraged to apply early. More information, an overview video and the application form are available at focusoncampus.org/summer-projects.

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