Hearts on Fire: Answering the Call to Mission

Brendan Niklason thought his plans were settled for post-college life. After graduating from Jacksonville University in May, he would serve on a Varsity Catholic mission trip to St. Lucia and return to what he was sure would be a job offer from a local environmental consulting firm. Instead, a week after returning from St. Lucia, Brendan was on his way to Ave Maria to begin training as a newly-hired FOCUS missionary.

Brendan first encountered FOCUS when he joined an athlete Bible study while he was playing lacrosse at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. The next year, he transferred to Jacksonville University in Florida. He continued to be a part of a Bible study at a nearby campus, and attended FOCUS national conferences.

At SEEK 2013 last January, Brendan first felt the call to be a missionary, but didn’t think it was a possible option for him because he would need to pay off his student loans. He did, however, sign up for the summer mission trip to St. Lucia with Varsity Catholic.

While in St. Lucia, Brendan said, the group of college athletes visited schools, using sports to initiate conversations about the talents and gifts God has given each person, and how God wants them to use those gifts. While helping the kids get over their fears of using their talents, Brendan overcame some fears of his own.

Going into the mission trip, Brendan was held back by uncertainty about his career, and the stress of dealing with loans. His fear of public speaking also made him nervous about reaching out to the people they would be working with in St. Lucia.

God worked through that weakness to help Brendan trust Him more. During a group meeting before leaving for the trip, the participants practiced giving their testimonies, and the leaders asked for a volunteer to give their testimony to the group of about twenty people. Brendan said he felt the Holy Spirit tugging at his heart to share his testimony with the group.

“I was blown away by how the words flowed,” Brendan said. “It isn’t something that I’ve been good at, but I realized it was the Holy Spirit working though me, and God showing me what’s on my heart.”

That first moment of learning to trust the Holy Spirit would help Brendan make an even more important decision in the coming days.  As the trip continued, Brendan was encouraged by the leaders to consider being a missionary, and to trust that God would provide for his needs.

“The trip challenged me to take a deep look at myself and the ways in which God has worked in my life, and in doing so I was better able to recognize and share the joy that comes from a life lived for Christ, and sharing my faith through a mutual love for athletics,” said Brendan. “It opened me up to the idea of being a FOCUS missionary and going wherever God calls me to serve.”

When Brendan returned from the mission trip, he began an intense week of discernment. He felt particularly called to work with FOCUS because of the emptiness and suffering that he knew existed in college, especially among many athletes. He wanted to go back and do something about it rather than just going right out into his field.

After much time in prayer, Brendan decided to apply for Varsity Catholic. That Friday, he filled out his application and completed three interviews. On Saturday, he was invited to join FOCUS staff. On Sunday morning, he caught the first flight to Miami to begin summer training at Ave Maria University as a new FOCUS missionary.

“God made it very clear that this is where I was supposed to be, so I dropped everything and came.”

Brendan will be serving at Seton Hall with Varsity Catholic in the upcoming academic year.

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