Hi, my name's Sophie and I'm a recent Primary Education graduate from the University of Cumbria (I did 2 years beforehand at Lancaster University). I'm originally from near Manchester, but spent the last 5 years in Lancaster where I was a regular at the university chaplaincy.
However, now I lead a somewhat different life…I'm a Catholic missionary with NET Ministries Ireland. NET is a Catholic youth ministry that encourages young people to love Jesus and embrace the life of the Church. It's a path I never would have thought myself capable of doing back in first year of university, but God is faithful and with Him my life has been so much more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined.
I come from a family who would have called themselves Catholic - I went to Catholic schools, we occasionally went to Mass, I received my Sacraments of Initiation but it wasn't until I was in my final years of secondary school that I truly and personally encountered Jesus for the first time. My time at university was great and I had some wonderful experiences, and it was there that I was able to develop a relationship with Jesus. I also experienced the spiritual highs and lows of being a Catholic at university; having to defend Church teaching at 3am in the flat kitchen, trying to explain a new-found love for Jesus to family or finding faith when life seems to be falling apart.
However, I made some incredible Christian friends who helped keep me on the right track and held me accountable to going to Mass and keeping prayer as part of my routine.
During my final year at university, I was praying hard about what I was supposed to do after I qualified. I was set to graduate with good grades and references so obviously the presumed route would be to get a job in a school, complete my NQT year and start my teaching career. Yet, for some reason this didn't appeal to me. I knew it was what was expected of me, and would allow me to do all the 'grown-up' things like getting a house, a car and the dreaded 'settling down'. I am passionate about education and one day I hope to have a job in a school, but I knew it just wasn't the right time for me to start yet. I know that when I get busy, and stressed, that I forget to pray; I can turn away from Jesus, and I wanted to have my heart rooted in Christ before beginning my career. I couldn't ignore the niggling feeling that God was calling me to give a period of my life specifically to Him, to bring Jesus to other young people, to give youth the same opportunities to grow that I had received.
So, months later, after graduation, applications, interviews and training, and plenty of prayer, I'm now settled in to my new mission field and I love it! NET has completely exceeded any expectations I may have had beforehand. We have had so many great adventures as a team such as hiking in the mountains, helping lead a Youth 2000 retreat, putting on a praise and worship night and making friends in our community, particularly with the priests and religious. Soon we will be going into schools to give retreats, which includes delivering talks, activities, dramas, music and prayer ministry. Not only are we carrying out ministry but I'm growing in my knowledge of the Catholic faith and Church teaching, and in love for the gift of the Sacraments from the Church. I'm being stretched and challenged in ways I never expected; missionary life is a radical way to live out the call from Pope Francis for youth to be counter-cultural, as a team we strive to call each other on to holiness.
One of the areas I've had to grow in most is surrendering to God - I am learning to give everything to Jesus. A striking moment for me so far was on training during a prayer evening, we were encouraged to write on a piece of paper everything that we wanted to surrender. At first it was difficult to admit to myself how much I love to be in control and how little I allow God to lead my life, so I asked Jesus to show me all of the areas I need to surrender to Him. A few minutes later my paper was full, I had written down my weaknesses, my strengths, my future, my vocation, relationships with my family and friends and my possessions. I then went and nailed this surrender to a cross placed in the middle of the room, my heart beating fast as if Jesus was asking me to give Him my heart too in surrender. I remind myself of this encounter every day, there's nothing in my life that's too big or small for Jesus to handle!
Pope St John Paul II once said to young people "It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle."
Serving with NET Ministries has shown me the truth of these words, that while I love adventure, only Jesus is going to satisfy the restlessness in my heart. He has called me to this mission and I am so excited to live out the plans that He has in store for me this year, and for the rest of my life!
Sophie, 23, Waterford - Ireland
If you would like to find out more about our ministry or if you would like to join us in our mission to bring the Good News to young people, you can visit my page on the NET website: www.netministries.ie/sophie-benson