Young Canadian missionaries five years on from volunteering in Sligo
A year of volunteering with National Evangelisation Teams (NET) can bring a lot to your life; a deepening of one’s faith, long lasting friendships, and a whole new life experience. NET is made up of Catholic missionaries who share Jesus’ Gospel message with young people in a team format. NET Ministries recruits and trains teams to evangelise to young Catholics every year in churches, schools, dioceses, and school boards in Ireland, Australia, Canada and America.
For Chantal (26) and Hannah (23) NET was part of their lives long before they applied. Since she was the age of two, Chantal’s parents had been hosts for members of the teams and this influenced her decision to join. “I’ve always felt called since I was young to join NET,” she says. When the time came for Chantal to join, she signed up without hesitation.
Hannah’s parents were also hosts for NET Team. “From a young age, I have always admired NET and what they stand for, though I was not always sure that it would be for me,” Hannah says. When a NET Team came to her parish while she was in high school, Hannah was influenced to join. “It was in that year of attending youth nights and getting to know those team members that I really understood that NET was something I wanted to devote real time and energy to,” she says.
Matthew Webb (25) was also unsure about joining NET. After submitting his application, Matthew’s feelings towards it changed. “I grew more excited at the prospect of growing in my faith, and spreading that same faith to others that I’d meet; not only young people, but the adults whom I met,” he says. Matthew married Mary in July 2012 and they are expecting their first child this month. His team-mate Matt Regnier (27) served as best man at his wedding and his other team-mate Jesse (25) married Mary’s sister, Katie in 2011.
It was through NET that Matt met his wife Kelsey (23). “I’m still seeing the fruits of NET in my life. I married a teammate of mine and the foundation we have in NET and in the Catholic Church is so wonderful for our marriage and our future,” Matt says.
Kelsey agrees, “We have such community with other Catholics in our city because of NET and we draw a lot of strength and courage from that.
We know how to resolve arguments, how the other one needs to be loved, and we are able to pray together which is not easy to do.” Matt and Kelsey, who married in May this year, still remain close to their fellow team-mates. “Many of us are separated by geography but we are just as close as we were in Sligo. The work we did bonded us to one another,” says Matt.
NET left on his life, five years on. “The greatest way that NET has impacted my life now is that Matt and Matthew are still my good friends whom I consider my family, and a girl who was also a member of NET now happens to be my wife,” he says. Jesse and Katie welcomed their first child into the world in June 2012. He also learned that daily prayer and direct communication with people is essential. Prayer and communication are lessons the team members all had in common. “The overall experience has impacted my life greatly. From the way I act and treat people, to my prayer life, which was basically non-existent before. I’ve really learned the importance of prayer in my life,” says Matthew.
While their experience with NET was five years ago, ministry work hasn’t left the team’s lives completely. When she is not caring for her two little boys, Chantal and her husband volunteer their time in the Marriage Preparation ministry at their home parish in California. Here they teach engaged couples God’s plan for a joy-filled marriage.
Kelsey is finishing her degree in Art History with a minor in religious Studies, and also leads Bible studies on campus. Matt is currently working for a major Canadian bank and studying for exams for his investment fund licensing. He assisted with a youth ministry programme in his parish for several years, “When Kelsey and I married, I retired from ministry but it definitely isn’t permanent!” he says.
Hannah recently graduated with a degree in English and Religion and hopes to become a teacher some day. She is also part of the Ottawa Catholic Challenge Movement in Canada, a movement for teenagers and young adults to grow in faith and fellowship. Jesse will soon be finishing an Education degree to become a high school English, Religion, and Drama teacher. And Matthew is currently working in Xerox and enjoying being a new father.
Prayer and discernment
Prayer and discernment is something the team advise to anyone considering applying to NET. “The only way that I have had peace in my life is when I have said to God, ‘I trust Your plan more than my plan.’” says Jesse. Hannah also encourages those considering NET to pray and discuss with their family and friends the pros and cons of NET. “Sometimes, people who apply for NET only see the fun and good times, and don’t realise how gruelling the years can be on you, emotionally, mentally and physically,” Hannah says. Matthew agrees, “It’s a ministry that takes a lot and forces you to grow as a Catholic and step outside your comfort zones.”
Chantal advises to think and pray about where you feel you may be called to serve and to contact the person in charge of recruiting for that country’s NET office. “They will send you everything you need to apply, but they’re also there to pray for you and if you have any questions or concerns,” she says. Matt proclaims what a wonderful learning experience it was for him. “Seeing youth return to Mass is entirely worth putting your life on hold for a year. It was the most rewarding year of my life and I will never forget it,” he says.
The last five years have offered much to the team members so what do the next five years hold for each of them, could a 10-year reunion back in the land they carried out their ministry work be on the cards? “A 10-year reunion in Sligo would be incredible!” Matt says enthusiastically. “Kelsey and I have managed to see everyone from the team a couple of times since coming home from Sligo but five out of seven is the most we’ve been able to get in one spot. Matthew, Jesse and Chantal already have children, so who knows where we will all be in another five years! God has blessed us with some wild turns in our lives already. I can’t wait for what’s next!”
NET Ministries began in 1981 when an ‘experimental’ travelling retreat team was sent out from the Catholic Youth Centre in St Paul, Minnesota, USA. After a favourable response, demand for the ministry increased and additional teams were assembled to meet these growing needs. Today, there are NET Ministries offices in Canada, Australia, the United States, and Ireland.
NET Ireland recruits and trains teams to evangelise to over 7,000 young people nationwide every year. It sends out three teams of young adult missionaries who lead retreats and develop parish youth ministry programmes for Catholic youth across Ireland.
Host families are a vital part of NET Ministries that care for teams while they’re away from home, and many families stay in touch with the team members even after their time with NET has finished.
To find out more about joining a team, becoming a host family or offering a NET Ministries retreat see www.netministries.ie or contact 074-9190606.