Most people who leave college after graduation, don’t plan to return to live on campus, but that is exactly what FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries do! This great ministry is bringing the new evangelization to over 80 college campuses in the United States.
I first heard about FOCUS a few months ago when my parents told me about meeting former Vanderbilt basketball player, Jennifer Risper, who was training to become part of the Varsity Catholic outreach program. Recently, the Tennessee Register published an article featuring her and a former teammate. After learning more about Jennifer and this great ministry, I knew I had to share what she is doing!
I wish that I would have been able to meet Jennifer in person before she left on her assignment to the University of Nebraska this fall, but I’m so grateful that she took the time to answer some questions about Varsity Catholic and her own faith journey. Please consider supporting her in this mission. I’ll list ways you can contribute at the end!
1. First of all, can you explain a little bit about the FOCUS ministry and how you reach out to college students?
I am actually working with Varsity Catholic, which is a division of FOCUS. This is a particular outreach to varsity student athletes. This ministry is very necessary and unique because of the role athletics plays in our society and on campus. Also, I played college basketball in college and professionally overseas so I can relate to the obstacles that college athletes go through in trying to grow in their faith. It really requires a lot of time, a lot of love, and a lot of prayer. I desire and need to be fully available to the athletes because of their schedule. I need to meet them where they are in life and be sensitive to their struggles and their time. They really “don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This past weekend I had some athletes over to my house and made appetizers for them. We played games, ate, and had great fellowship. I also invited our very cool priest who plays the guitar. There was a girl here who has no faith at all. Another girl is from Germany and Catholic but doesn’t know why. There was a non-denominational Christian who I went with to RCIA the night before. She wants to become Catholic. There were a couple Lutherans too! God really blessed our time together and I pray that He will continue to do more and more!
2. Looking back, what seeds do you think God planted in your heart earlier in your life to prepare you for what you are doing now with FOCUS?
Hmmm, well when I was in high school I went to a church camp and God became so real to me there. It was there that I gave up basketball because I realized God wasn’t #1 in my life, basketball was. I wanted Him to be my number 1 so I gave it to Him. That night He gave it back to me and told me He wanted to use me through it. That was the beginning for me in building my relationship with Him. It was also the start of learning how to give God glory through my sport. How to bring others into relationship with Him through my sport and sports in general.
I think God has given me a gift to talk to people and to relate to them. It is more natural for me to go up to someone and start a conversation and show interest in their life. I desire to love people and I know that is something that comes from God.
I think another seed was truly the graces I received at my baptism. There is so much grace through our baptism and I truly believe it helps us on our journey to sainthood.
Another seed would be my conversion to Catholicism. I am a revert to the faith but it was through a strong conversion. That conversion for me helped me seek and desire truth in everything. Truth in how I view and see the world, but in also how I see sin in my own life.
Jennifer in Portugal
3. What advice do you have for others who are discerning God’s call for their own lives?
I think with discernment it is important to be truly honest with God in prayer. Tell Him the truth and the desires of your heart. I think it is also important to see WHAT you can do for the faith now. We were all created for a purpose and placed in this moment in time for a reason. I think often times people ask God “why?” but we should really ask God, “what?” What should I be doing with my life? What are ways I can bring glory to your name? What can I do to bring people into or back to your Holy Church? We are all called to evangelize those around us.
4. Do you have a favorite quote, song, or book that motivates and inspires you?
My favorite song right now is Lord of Lords by Brooke Fraser. I learned this song this past summer and fell in love with it. I first heard it during adoration and now every time I hear it I think of adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. A quote that I love is by my patron, Saint Catherine of Siena “If you are who you should be, you will set the world on fire”.
Jennifer’s official Varsity Catholic staff photo!
5. How can others contribute to your ministry?
Jennifer, you are an inspiration to all of us! Thank you again for taking time to share about how God is using you to reach others!
For more about the importance of FOCUS and its impact on college campuses, click here!