Lawrence, Kan.– Dressed in jeans and a KU T-shirt and carrying a backpack, Lauren Schulte looks just like any other college student. However, Schulte’s not actually a student at the University of Kansas.
Schulte is a full-time FOCUS missionary. FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, is an organization that employs hundreds of young missionaries, like Schulte, on campuses all over the United States.
“It’s basically a campus ministry,” Schulte said. “The point of FOCUS is to help students who are searching for God in their lives or searching to grow in their faith lives.”
Started in 1998 at Benedictine College in nearby Atchison, Kansas, FOCUS has grown to 113 universities in the United States, according to its website, focus.org. Included in that number is the University of Texas, Schulte’s alma mater.
Schulte was born and raised Catholic, but felt unsure on some of the Church’s teachings and principles for some time. Even though she went to Mass every Sunday, she never felt at home at the Catholic center at Texas.
Schulte spent her first two years of college participating in non-denominational campus ministry groups. While she made friends in these groups and enjoyed herself, she was always left with questions about her own Catholic faith.
Students who were involved in FOCUS at the University of Texas “ really reached out to me and welcomed me to the center,” Schulte said. “Through them, I was able to just ask a lot of questions that I had, and they were very patient with me and just really helped me to come to understand the faith much better.”
Schulte considered this the moment that her faith “really blossomed.” From there, she said her relationship with God grew and became much stronger.
When it came time to graduate from the University of Texas, Schulte had to make a choice between grad school and becoming a FOCUS missionary. She chose the latter.
For FOCUS missionaries, the application process takes place over an interview weekend about halfway through the semester. Throughout the following weeks, prospective missionaries will learn if they have been offered a job or not. However, the new missionaries don’t know what campus they have been assigned to until the training session in June.
“I actually didn’t know where Kansas really was before coming here. I knew it was kind of box-looking and north of me,” said Schulte, laughing. “I’m sorry if that’s offensive.”
Like many Texans, Schulte is proud to be from the Lone Star state, and never pictured herself moving away from Texas. Despite the difficulties in moving away from her home, she felt FOCUS was a worthy cause.
“Just knowing what it did for me and my relationship with Christ, I knew the impact that is has on other students, and I was willing to make sacrifices in order to be able to make that kind of impact on other people, as well,” Schulte said.
Schulte is now in her second year at the University of Kansas and has found a home in Lawrence.
“It’s just such an incredible opportunity because I’ve gotten to move to another state and meet an avenue of people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Schulte said. “I feel like I can either be at home, or here, and it’s just something really beautiful.”
Though too humble to admit it, Schulte has made an impact on many lives at the University of Kansas. One of her roles as a missionary is to act as a mentor for young women who want to grow in a relationship with God, but also share their faith with others.
Taylor Avery, a sophomore at the University of Kansas, is one of the women Schulte mentors. They met at Hawk Week at the beginning of Avery’s freshman year, and a friendship quickly formed. Avery joined Schulte’s Bible study and later began a mentorship with her.
“I consider Lauren one of my good friends,” Avery said. “It’s really cool because, yeah, she’s older than me and this is her job, to bring people closer to Christ, but she doesn’t make it seem like a job.”
For Schulte, it doesn’t seem like a routine job, either. No day is ever the same, and she typically has a relatively full schedule. Schulte is the Team Director of the FOCUS team at KU, which consists of two men and one other woman.
Each morning starts out with an hour of prayer in the St. Lawrence chapel. From there, Schulte’s schedule changes day-to-day. She meets with a variety of people throughout the week, including students she mentors or other people that have questions or need someone to talk to. Schulte leads a couple of Bible studies for girls, also. Even though these are all technically “work,” Schulte said she loves it because she gets the opportunity to interact with people every day.
“I think in college sometimes you just get into a very surface-level conversation. When ministry is your job, you get into the nitty-grittys of people’s lives, just like things that are very real that I don’t think we talk about enough,” Schulte said.
Through these conversations, Schulte has befriended many people on the KU campus. Her teammate, Sean Tomko, described her as one of the most genuine people he’s ever met.
“She’s just very good at loving people,” Tomko said. “As a teammate, and I can speak for the rest of our team, we, and many others, are loved very well by Lauren.”
Schulte views these friendships as one of the greatest things that have come out of her time as a missionary. Her network of friends not only is in Lawrence, but throughout the country with other FOCUS missionaries.
As it gets closer to the end of the semester, Schulte’s time as a missionary is also drawing to an end. After spending two years at the University of Kansas, Schulte will move back to Texas to attend grad school in the fall of 2016 and study occupational therapy.