Bishop’s Appeal helps young adults learn to build relationships as missionary disciples

By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | February 13, 2019

APPLETON — Maikue Vang remembers how a national Catholic convocation in July 2017 was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” It rekindled the fire of faith in her heart, she said, and led her to start a new ministry when she got home.

She knows first-hand how the Bishop’s Appeal benefits ministry in the Diocese of Green Bay. It helped finance the local delegation of 11 young adults and four diocesan leaders who attended the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” where they joined 3,000 other Catholic leaders and laity in Orlando, Fla., to reflect on Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) and how it can be integrated into church life.

Maikue Vang, a member of St. Bernard Parish in Appleton, sits with her children Justus, 11, left, Paxton, 6, and Bella, 15, at the Appleton church. Vang was one of 11 young adults who attended a national Catholic convocation in 2017. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

Among the others attending was Sarah Gavin, coordinator of youth ministry and faith formation for grades 6-12 for four parishes in Door County: Corpus Christi, Holy Name of Mary, St. Joseph and SS. Peter and Paul.

Both women said the convocation centered on the topic of relationship building. “Relationship ministry, or walking with the people we minister to, has always been how I have been taught,” Gavin said. “Before the convocation, I sometimes felt like not many people were interested in outward evangelization, but wanted the people to come to us. I would get weird looks when I told people I try to help teenagers in the messiness of their lives. It can be draining, but with the support of my pastors and my volunteer base, we were doing what we thought was best.”

Gavin said that when the U.S. bishops stressed the importance of going out and evangelizing, “I was on fire again. Knowing I have the support of more than just my local community, that is what it is all about.”

Vang, who is a volunteer at St. Bernard Parish in Appleton, said that while all people are called to be disciples of Christ, “many people don’t know what it looks like, including myself.”

“Does it mean we have to go out and ‘get’ people to come to church? Does it mean I need to memorize Scripture and spew it out to every person I encounter?” she asked. “Perhaps our interpretation of what being a disciple looks like has been skewed due to our upbringing and our personal experiences. The convocation spoke to me on discipleship through relationship building and what that looks like in the 21st century.”

Vang said people today do not want to be told things. Instead, “They do want to share their stories with someone, anyone who is willing to listen,” she said. Vang points to social media and how people all over the world are sharing their stories, often with complete strangers.

“As a disciple of Christ, we can offer to meet them where they are and listen to find common ground with them,” she said. This is where the “discipleship magic” really starts to happen, said Vang.

When she returned to Wisconsin from Florida, Vang said she felt called “to be more brave through social media. … I challenged myself to share how Christ is alive in me on my social media outlets.”

That meant finding joy, even in tough situations and sharing that with others, she said. “Since coming back and rethinking how I can use my social media outlets, I have had people — both believers and nonbelievers — reach out to tell me the things I share are a breath of fresh air for them. I’ve even had one person tell me they were encouraged to come back to the faith after seeing how God has been present in my life.”

Vang helped launch the Christian Family Movement group at her parish, where families met once a month to discuss faith matters and enjoy a meal together. Today, that movement has been incorporated into the parish’s faith formation program.

“Under the leadership of Emily Jenks, our faith formation coordinator, we now have ‘Discipleship Evenings,’” she said. “They include everything that our small group was doing and more. I truly believe that what started as a few families who wanted fellowship and community was heard by the parish. It allowed the parish to rethink how we could tweak something that we already had into something that could meet the needs of more parish members.”

Gavin said the biggest impact the convocation had on her ministry with youth was understanding the importance of doing the work of Jesus. “There are so many hurting people plagued with addictions, diseases and a multitude of other hurts,” she said. “The convocation stressed the importance of ministering to those who aren’t in our pews; the people not in our youth groups; the people who need the love and healing of Jesus.”

All of this was made possible through the Office of Young Adult Ministry in the diocese.

“I see each day how the Bishop’s Appeal has helped launch a new direction for young adult ministry,” said Jane Angha, coordinator of that office.

There are eight regional coordinators around the diocese who are working to build the ministry, said Angha.

“We have this missionary discipleship model where it’s not all about big, one-time events, but small gatherings, one-to-one conversations over coffee or combined efforts of regions to offer more variety, more creative events,” she said. “We are ahead of things here, knowing that young adult ministry is about people being invited, welcomed and offered a place to belong and discover faith.”

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