When California State University Fullerton (CSUF) English major, recent graduate, and new missionary Jeena Rudy met her first college campus missionary, she thought her job sounded awful.
“Look at me now,” Rudy, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s in Placentia, laughs. “I always knew that I had a call, and that I was going to follow that…but I was being stubborn to actually doing it.”
Rudy and three others from CSUF, one of the largest universities in Orange County, have become new missionaries of Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS. The organization was established in 1998 by Curtis Martin, who saw an alarming trend of young Catholics abandoning their faith, particularly in their college years. With over 500 missionaries on 125 college campuses nationwide, FOCUS’ mission is to serve students, encouraging them to have a deep, personal relationship with Christ.
“Instead of a ‘come here, go to our event’ approach, we’re more of a ‘we’ll come to you,’ and meet you where you are,” shared Gelton Morada, a Cal Poly Pomona graduate who served on Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Catholic (Newman) club as spiritual formation chair, who is excited to be a first-year missionary with FOCUS.
“We’re like spiritual soldiers, comrades, accompanying others in their suffering. We are an invitation of bringing Christ closer. We might not see the ripple effects, but we know something is going to get out of it…we could be working with future saints,” Morada said.
Accounting major Christopher Garcia, from St. Joseph’s in La Puente, explained FOCUS in a nutshell: “There is a huge amount of spiritual poverty in our world; people who are depressed, searching for meaning. Here in the US, we are blessed with such a higher standard of living, and yet there’s an emptiness. But we aim to restore that joy and peace—not just feeding people with food, but more importantly, spiritually.”
Garcia expressed his initial worries and hopes for the mission work, which requires at least one year of team service on an assigned college campus. Garcia, who graduated this past semester at Cal State Fullerton, had his life turned upside down when he encountered FOCUS on campus.
“I had no idea what it was, or why we had missionaries coming here,” he said. “The concept of domestic Catholic missionaries just seemed so strange to me, and was something I fought against a lot, internally. I even rejected my initial offer to serve in November.”
Garcia grew closer to the missionaries who came to Fullerton over the past two years, many of whom helped to shape his spiritual journey throughout college. After participating in a student FOCUS mission trip this past spring in Mexico City, Garcia had a major wake up call.
“I was praying in front of the shrine of Our Lady [of Guadalupe], and I felt such a genuine sense of love. I knew a big part of this experience was thanks to the missionaries I had, and the work and time they put into me. I knew in that moment that I couldn’t contain this joy that I felt for my faith and my God; that this was something I knew I needed to pass on with others, not be selfish with and keep to myself,” he said.
After taking it to prayer, Garcia knew where he was being called. “I was fortunate enough to be raised in and around the Catholic faith, and it’s been important to me to keep sharing my faith with others,” he said. “I gave up a job offer in an accounting firm to become a missionary. It did so much for me to have FOCUS walking with me in an isolated commuter campus [like CSUF], made me feel like I was valued beyond my work.”
Morada shared similar sentiments about his call to the mission, also having worked in accounting for several years after college, and had an entirely different plan for his life.
“I had a full time job, was about to get married, and both of those things didn’t work out,” Morada shared. “[When I was younger], most of the things that kept me close to my faith or going to church events was for a girl. But God was using my desire of the beauty of women in bringing me closer to Christ.”
At age 25, Morada left his high-end accounting job to go into ministry work around the Orange/LA/San Bernardino dioceses. “I was trying to find meaning and purpose. I helped lead Bible studies, confirmation classes and day retreats, and was just meeting all kinds of people. Some of those were the FOCUS missionaries at CSUF.”
He laughs, “I even made fun of them for a while, for ‘being paid to hang out’ with the students. Now I’m probably going to be the one being made fun of—life’s kind of funny that way.”
Morada, whose home parish is St. Denis in Diamond Bar, will be serving Columbia University in New York City, and is ecstatic for the chance to serve the church on the East Coast.
“Half of the excitement is not knowing what’s going to happen, and being joyful about it,” he shared. “Not a lot of times you hear of people quitting a job or lifestyle to fundraise your salary and talk to people who often don’t want to hear about God—I’m excited.”
Agreed Garcia, who will be serving students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, “It’s definitely far from home, out of my comfort zone. But I now have a greater dependence on God, knowing that wherever I am sent, He will take care [of everything]. I now feel prepared to endure the next step in helping to build a Christ-centered community, to do what my FOCUS missionaries did for me.”
Both Garcia and Rudy also served as officers on the Titan Catholic board, as Vice President/Treasurer and Social Chair, respectively. They remember the experience as “formative leadership” that helped ground them while in college.
“When I expected to be exhausted from giving love, I was so filled with love,” Rudy shared. “We are all on this road to Emmaus, walking together and evangelizing through genuine friendship. We’re bringing back that real, one-on-one encounter with Christ, entering into discipleship with Him.”
Rudy also expressed her love for the hundreds of FOCUS missionaries, both new and returners, whom everyone met during summer training at Ave Maria University in Southwest Florida.
“It was incredibly sanctifying and transformative—both the training and the Florida gulf humidity!” Rudy, who is going off to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Co., laughed. “I am so excited to have my heart spread thin between my mission team, family and friends. I know that I was sent here for a specific reason, and I have no idea what that is.”
The three Orange County missionaries have spent their summer in prayer, fundraising, evangelizing, and finding partners in mission to help support both their financial and spiritual needs.
“I always share with my mission supporters that the work I’m doing [through FOCUS] is a result of the community I was formed in; that they helped make me the Catholic I am today,” said Garcia. “My mission is theirs, too.”
Added Morada, “Being a missionary helps [you] confirm your vocation. A lot of people are going to rely on you. If you can prepare yourself to help others, complete strangers, grow holier and closer to God, how much more down the road—as a priest, sister, husband or wife—can you do for your own family or parish community?”
To learn more about, and prayerfully support Gelton, Chris, and Jeena, please visit each of their FOCUS Missionary pages: