By Celine Klosterman
If youths are struggling with their faith, Andy Farnsworth can empathize.
When he was in high school, his father died after a long battle with colon cancer. Angry with God, Farnsworth dropped out of his confirmation class at St. Joseph Parish in Montrose.
But as time passed, he slowly began praying again and returning to Mass. By his sophomore year at the University of Iowa, he felt ready to be confirmed. He received the sacrament in November at St. Mary Church in Iowa City.
Now, the junior hopes to help youths who face spiritual struggles like those he once did. He’ll do so for nine months beginning this fall as a member of National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries, in which Catholic young adults travel the United States offering retreats and ministering to students.
“I want young people who may be going through a time of doubt to hear the voice of someone who’s been there, and for them to know they haven’t been abandoned. The Lord is always working within them,” Farnsworth said.
On Aug. 25, he’ll leave for West St. Paul, Minn., where he’ll spend five weeks in training with about 100 other Catholic young adults. Then, he hopes to be assigned to a team of 12 people who will travel to various dioceses until May, though a few teams will stay in one parish or in Minnesota. If placed on a traveling team, he expects to minister to more than 8,000 students mostly through one-day retreats involving prayer and personal testimony.
Farnsworth will also draw on his background in theater and music. A guitar player who took part in numerous high school plays, he’s now involved at the university in I-SITE, a peer education program that uses drama to spark discussion about sexual assault and dating violence. He said NET members talk to young people using skits and other methods he’d grown experienced with in I-SITE, so he felt comfortable applying to the Catholic ministry.
Faith-filled, friendly people he met during an interview retreat weekend – the first retreat of Farnsworth’s life – also made him feel NET was a good fit.
Two days after the April retreat in West St. Paul, he was invited to join NET. Though he was excited, his mother suggested he consider what he’d be giving up.
“At first I was very hesitant, especially since he wouldn’t be going back to school his junior year,” Cathy Roberts said. She noted Farnsworth is a resident assistant who receives free room and board; he has a girlfriend, and the university recently approved a personal major he created, community organizing. “I asked, ‘Why would you want to go now?’ He responded, ‘If I was running away from things, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.’”
But it’s a small sacrifice, he told The Catholic Messenger. His life in Iowa will be here when he returns.
Patti McTaggart, youth minister at St. Mary’s, said she’s thrilled he’s making the journey. When Farnsworth entered the confirmation process, he was on fire for Catholicism, she said. “He’s a young man who has a personal message of faith that will resonate with young people.”
NET members “are really solid in Catholic doctrine,” said McTaggart, who has welcomed teams to St. Mary’s annually for the past eight years. “These young adults are so filled with the Holy Spirit and love for the Church. They show students it’s a positive thing to be Catholic.”
Farnsworth looks forward to bonding with and growing spiritually alongside his team members. “I don’t think I’ve ever prayed as much as I will pray in NET.” And he’s sure lessons learned during his journey will prove useful after he graduates from the University of Iowa, when he hopes to find work for a nonprofit organization such as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
He likes the idea of being a servant, he said. “I’m so ready and willing to work for Christ.”
National Evangelization Teams Ministries asks each team member to raise $4,200, roughly a quarter of the cost of keeping him or her on the road for a year.
To donate money for Andy Farnsworth, visit http://netusa.org/supportnet. You may also list his name in the memo section of a check made payable to NET Ministries, Inc. and mailed to NET Ministries, Inc., 110 Crusader Ave. W., West St. Paul, MN, 55118.
Expenses not covered by individual fundraising are covered by retreat fees and organizational fundraising, according to NET Ministries.
For more information, call (651) 450-6833.