Engaging college students in their faith


Former Montrose man serves as part of FOCUS

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Andy Farnsworth dropped out of church during high school, grieving the death of his dad and blaming God for it. But he rediscovered his faith slowly, through prayer and attending Mass. Now a college graduate and a newlywed, he’s charged up with faith and encourages college-age students to get back into or strengthen their Catholic faith.
Andy, a former member of St. Joseph Parish in Montrose, and his wife, Sarah, are involved in Fellowship Of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Contributed From left, Darren Subler meets with Sarah Farnsworth and Andy Farnsworth on the Wright State University campus in Dayton, Ohio. Andy and Sarah are part of FOCUS, an organization that reaches out to college students about their faith.
From left, Darren Subler meets with Sarah Farnsworth and Andy Farnsworth on the Wright State University campus in Dayton, Ohio. Andy and Sarah are part of FOCUS, an organization that reaches out to college students about their faith.

A University of Iowa graduate, Andy met Sarah in the summer of 2013 at the Catholic Urban Project. The summer mission served the poor in Ypsilanti, Mich., and included a day camp for children, free home repairs for the poor and elderly and door-to-door prayer ministry. Sarah ran the camp and was a science teacher.


Both strong in their faith, they felt a call to serve college students. After getting engaged in the fall of 2014, they interviewed for FOCUS. They married last July in Michigan and after receiving their FOCUS assignment, headed to Ohio. “As a missionary, you agree to go wherever you are sent,” Andy said. “I have to be honest in saying I didn’t know that Wright State existed but I can certainly see God’s plan being revealed in sending us to this school specifically.”

FOCUS, he continued, “invites college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and his church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendship in which they lead others to do the same.”

The work with students can be summarized as “win, build, send.” He and Sarah train students to be missionary disciples. “We believe we can fulfill the Great Commission by inviting others to deeply know Christ (win), sharing life with them and helping them in their life of prayer (build), and teaching them to share the Gospel with faithful people who will be able to teach others also (send),” he said.

FOCUS missionaries search out the lost on college campuses and invite them into a deeper relationship with God in the fullness of the life of the church through the sacraments, Bible studies, retreats, national conferences and mentorship, he noted.

He and Sarah, another married couple and two single individuals conducted a fall outreach. “That is an intense period of hosting events, putting yourself out there, and meeting as many students as possible and gathering contact information.” Bible studies were formed, relationships were developed and student missionaries were trained.

Andy thinks most students who leave the church do so because of apathy or misunderstanding of what the church is all about. “Apathy is almost the worst reason, because you can’t really have a good discussion with somebody who doesn’t care or does not have the time. Misconceptions about the church can be cleared up with honest conversations, provided that the person is willing to talk about it.”

He said many stop attending Mass in high school, like he did. Of those who kept their faith in high school, he said statistics show about 70 percent drop out sometime during college.

“We feel that our generation is almost completely absent from most churches. Sadly, this means that in the coming years we will start to see fewer and fewer young adults, teenagers and young children at weekly Mass. This is why we feel so strongly about making a difference on campus.”

The couple prays for students every day. “A few weeks ago we were praying intentionally for more men to desire to get involved and then, out of nowhere, two guys emailed us saying they want to join a Bible study and several others just started showing up at our community nights,” Andy said.

At other times “we just go out on campus and start conversations with people, not preaching, just getting to know them. I have asked lots of people about their experience with faith and religion. It’s just as important to listen as to share. Then as the spirit leads, we might invite them to an event or try to catch up with them again.”

As missionaries, they raise all of their own support for their work. “We are looking to partner with people who are passionate about helping young people grow in their faith and would be willing to financially and prayerfully support our mission work. “I would like anyone interested to contact me at andrew.farnsworth@focus.org or (319) 795-1639.”

“It’s a lot easier to get back into your faith if you know a few people who will go to church with you, talk about common experiences on campus and keep you growing in your prayer life.”

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