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Interview with Jessica Brinker By Ellen Mangan

Ellen (E): Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I’m really excited to get to know you more, and hear a little bit more of your story! First, I would like to ask how you got to Seton Hall University. How did you come to be here?

Jessica (J): When I said “yes” to FOCUS, it was really a blind “yes.” There are between 160 and 170 FOCUS campuses, and so when I said “yes,” I could have been sent anywhere. Ideally, somewhere in the East because I was hired in the East, but I could have been sent anywhere. In May, I received my placement at Seton Hall, and it was a big surprise, but a good surprise.

E: Were you expecting anything in particular?

J: I tried not to have any expectations or any “dream schools,” because I thought that if I set expectations, then I would just be setting myself up for disappointment. So, I really tried to keep an open mind and really just be open to where the Lord would best use my skill set and talents, and where He would want me the most.

E: Obviously, I am glad you are here! You talked about the “blind yes,” and the process of becoming a missionary. Could you go into a little more detail about the discernment process for becoming a missionary and what that process looked like for you?

J: Yes! So, for me, I just graduated this past May. If you would have asked me at the beginning of my senior year or end of my junior year what I was going to do, I would have told you graduate school. I wanted to be a social worker, specifically in family and marriage counseling. But going into the summer before senior year, both my parents were super on board with wanting me to discern and pray about, or even just think about, taking at least a year off to be on mission or service. As I was praying about it and discerning where the Lord would want me, I had a few different options in mind. All of them were “safe” options, sticking close to home, and doing things I was already comfortable with. One time in prayer, out of nowhere, FOCUS was placed on my heart. I got super pumped to apply, filled out the application, and then got cold feet as I was about to submit. I felt grossly inadequate and not “holy enough” to be a missionary. Who was I to lead people, especially in Bible study, and walk with people on their journey to Christ? Then a friend of mine who was already a third-year missionary called me and said “if the Lord has placed it on your heart to apply, take a leap of faith and apply.” I did just that and I soon was invited to the recruitment weekend. Just after the recruitment weekend I felt very at peace and very confident that the Lord was calling me to two years of mission work with FOCUS. I was confident that I would get an offer, and then when I did get an offer, I said “yes” immediately.

E: When you said, “Who am I,” what immediately popped into my mind was “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?” Seton Hall is so blessed that you said “yes” and that you are here! Within FOCUS, you are Varsity Catholic missionary. Can you explain what Varsity Catholic is, please?

J: Varsity Catholic is a branch of FOCUS, which reaches out specifically to the athletes on campus. Athletes are busy in a way that regular students would not necessarily understand. They are balancing sports practices, study halls, classes, things that, you know, not everyone can understand (not to take away from other students at all). Varsity Catholic missionaries typically have been college athletes, so we can relate to the student athletes in a better way. But really the goal of Varsity Catholic is to incorporate mind, body, and soul, and really to help the athletes to understand that God is not just a separate entity. God can and should be brought into the center of their sport and the center of their lives, because the Lord has given them these amazing gifts and He would just love to be brought in. Basically, we aim to help them grow and serve Him through their gifts and talents within their sport. I was a D3 athlete, and this is a D1 school, and there is just so much more pressure on the athletes here. I respect them a lot, and I am so blessed and excited to get to work with them and walk with them on their journey.

E: This semester is obviously unusual. All students, athletes or not, are balancing school with the stress and pressure of coronavirus. Students concerned for their family’s safety might struggle just to answer the question “should I come to school today?” Has there been any scripture that you have been leaning on during this time of stress that has helped you cope?

J: Yes! So primarily, the first verse that I always go back to is from the book of Psalms. Psalm 46:11 says, “be still and know that I am God.” I have a tattoo of that on my wrist, it says “be still.” I originally got that tattoo not because of quarantine or Covid-19, but back in college when I was feeling really stressed. With school and my sport, there was all this pressure to succeed and do well and excel, and I fell back on that verse then, as I do now. I try to be still, rest in the Lord, and know that He has a plan. It helps me recall that even when the world seems to be crashing and everything is overwhelming, I can be still and know that God is God, who is going to take care of everything. That is definitely the main one. Then in my own prayer time that I have had more recently, I read the Gospel of John, just a chapter a day. At the end of John, chapter 14, verse 27, Jesus says right before the Last Supper, “my peace I leave you, my peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give.” And then He says, “be not afraid, take courage.” I think now especially, with everything you were saying, it is really important to remember the Lord has a plan, and He comes to bring peace; we should not be afraid.

E: That is beautiful, thank you! I love that idea of rest. I feel like a lot of times, when people think of rest, they think of relaxing and watching YouTube or Netflix. But I am sure that you can attest to the fact that when you spend that time going into The Word rather than bingeing TV, it is so much more restful and peace giving. So, are there any outreach events over the next couple of months where we are going to see you?

J: The general student body will see James, who is the other Varsity Catholic missionary, and me at regular Campus Ministry events. There is an event every Thursday night, but I am most excited for an event I have heard lots about; it is usually “Pack the Chapel,” but with social distancing it is called “Unpack the Chapel.” It sounds really cool! We have adoration, and students invite other students to come and light a candle in front of the altar if they were invited into the chapel. By the end of the night, you get to see how many new people were brought into this time in adoration, which I am super pumped for!

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