By Craig Johring
During the days of July 7-22, 2016 a group of 14 FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries traveled to Southeast Alaska to visit the communities of Juneau, Hoonah, and Excursion Inlet. (I arranged the logistics and hosted the group.)
We began the mission activities with an evening at the home of Bishop Edward Burns in Juneau. The next 9 days of the mission were spent in Juneau, reaching out to the homeless in the downtown area. The week ended with the FOCUS group taking a group of homeless individuals to visit the Shrine of St. Therese and to spend the day together. In addition, during the week the FOCUS group also held Kids’ (Bible) Clubs each day in two neighborhoods in Juneau. Each was attended by 10-20 children.
On Sunday the 17th of August the mission group took a boat to Excursion Inlet with Bishop Burns and Deacon Steve Olmstead of Juneau; there they celebrated Mass with seasonal cannery workers and Bishop Burns baptized two children.
The following week was spent in the village of Hoonah. The group was joined by Father Matthew Gutowski from the Diocese of Omaha. The FOCUS mission team spent the week stepping into the lives of people in Hoonah by holding a Kids Club each day, and gathering around a bonfire together in the evenings.
The highlight of our trip was the opportunity for FOCUS students and staff to step into the lives of the homeless: to listen, care, learn, and to see the face of Christ. Each person on the mission was impacted through this listening, and through seeing Christ in the face of the poor.
Elyse Dishman, one of the leaders of the Mission, shares her story:
As a FOCUS missionary, I’ve always wanted to have zeal for souls.
Coming to Alaska on mission had me extremely excited, but I was also nervous about interacting with the homeless. I had put up barriers between myself and the homeless all my life because I was scared of them, in all honesty.
I remember one of our first mission days in Juneau, we were preparing to go out and walk streets to meet the homeless, and I was getting antsy. Thankfully we went to the Glory Hole first to break the ice, and did God break the ice!
I walked in and looked around and a woman smiled at me, so I quickly walked over to her and sat down and introduced myself. She introduced herself and before I knew it she had pulled out her bible and was reading one of the epistles from the New Testament; she started singing a song about Jesus, and she gave me a scarf with a Raven on it that represents her tribe.
All I could do was sit in stunned silence and watch as Jesus flooded from her eyes, hands, and mouth. I saw Jesus that day, and I continually saw him in the days after with other homeless men and women and even in the other missionaries with me. I don’t think I’ll ever stop looking for Him, especially now that I’ve found Him in His beloved creation.
Praise God for this woman! Thank you for opening my heart to hold this zeal for souls! God bless!
Elyse Dishman – FOCUS Missionary, The University of Tulsa