Good morning, Ladies!! Happy Tuesday!
It’s finally here, you guys! Today, I’m so so happy to share the first of many touching interviews. So many amazing people have volunteered to share their stories in this new little project and I am so happy to use this platform to spread their amazing messages!
Carissa was one of the very first ladies to reach out with her story and I couldn’t be happier. She is the wife of a FOCUS Minister and a campus minister herself. Her enthusiasm and love of her faith is so inspiring and contagious! So, please read her story with an open heart and take it all in!
+ For those who haven’t heard of you, please introduce yourself.
My name is Carissa Pluta and I currently live in Birmingham Alabama with my husband and 4-month old daughter. I’m the wife of a FOCUS missionary and currently the Catholic Campus Minister for three local universities. My family has dedicated our time to the New Evangelization by bringing Christ’s light and love to college students.
+ When did your relationship with Christ first take root in your life? What brought you to a deeper relationship with God?
Well, I’m a cradle Catholic and looking back on my childhood, I can see that Christ was always so present in my life but it wasn’t until high school that I began to make the Catholic faith my own. When Pope Benedict XVI came to visit the United States, my youth minister/good friend Dan invited me to a youth rally which was a big turning point in my relationship with Christ. Seeing so many young people excited about the faith and hearing the stories of young saints, I began to really recognize the gift that I had been given in my faith.
My faith went deeper when I was in college, which is so often the time when people lose their faith. I was blessed with incredible friendships that called me on to greater holiness.
How do you find ways to glorify God in your daily life and spread the Joy of Christ to those around you?
To glorify God in my daily life, I follow the advice of St Francis De Sales: “Be who you are, and be that well.” Being authentically myself, striving constantly to be the person God made me to be. The culture we live in makes it so easy for us to build up walls, to put on a face not truly our own. We desire authentic relationships and, in my and my husband’s jobs, we are able to offer that to people. Reaching out to students to talk about deep topics, welcoming them into our home and our family life, to join us in prayer or for a meal has been one big way we bring Christ’s joy to others in our community.
+ What led you and your husband to begin work on college campuses?
While attending Franciscan University, my husband and I met FOCUS missionaries who greatly impacted both our faith and our lives. My husband developed deep friendships with two missionaries in particular who really helped shape his understanding of what it means to be a Catholic man, husband, and father. Pretty early on when we were dating, my husband told me that he felt like God was calling him become a FOCUS missionary. He wanted to devote his life to serving God and wanted to help students grow closer to Christ. I knew that if the relationship were to continue that I also needed to be a part of the mission. Throughout New Staff Training for FOCUS, the desire to serve college students really took root.
When we found out we were being sent to Birmingham, AL, I began looking for a job and it was really divine providence that the Catholic Campus Minister position for the same school was available. I never thought I would be so intimately involved in this mission as I have been.
+ What is one struggle you see in young people that you hope to help remedy through your work?
So many young people today have come from broken or dysfunctional homes and it has a major effect on how they approach relationships. So many are afraid of marriage, afraid of having kids, afraid of the demands of love. Being married, my husband and I have a unique opportunity to offer them hope in this way. We want to be witnesses of a good, holy marriage and a positive example of the joys of family life.
+ Let’s talk a bit about fear. I’m sure being a missionary is no small task and that fear plays a part. How have you conquered fear in doing God’s will for your life?
Missionary life has put me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one, but it’s helped so much having my husband by my side through it all. He does a great job speaking truth into my life when I am afraid and helps support me along this journey. Also, prayer is instrumental in facing fears. Every time I faced something that made me nervous or afraid, I’d stop (even though it’s super difficult at times) and entrust these fears to Christ. Pray with confidence; He will always come through.
+ How has doing mission work strengthened you and your husband’s relationship?
We were only two days married when we went to New Staff Training for FOCUS, so we’ve been in this mission together since the beginning, which is a unifying experience. Our work is not independent of one another, it is always together; we witness the faith through our marriage and through our family life. Our work with FOCUS in many ways demands excellence of us. We have to strive for holiness in every aspect of our Lives, both professional and personal. We have learned to be more selfless in love and more trusting in the Lord. Also, we are blessed with jobs in which personal prayer and daily mass are literally built into our job descriptions! And with that as our foundation, the grace from the sacrament of marriage has been given good soil in which to bloom.
+ How has it shaped your own faith??
Working in college ministry has been an incredibly humbling experience. It has helped me see more clearly my reliance on God, that all the good things I do are only done with and through Him. The Holy Spirit prompts and gives me the wisdom and courage to follow those promptings. The moment I close my soul this movement, I falter. It encourages me to persevere in prayer, even when it is difficult because I know that I cannot give what I do not have.
Humility helps you see yourself more clearly for who you really are–both in your strengths and your weaknesses. So it has really helped me more fully recognize my identity as a Daughter of God, which has had a powerful effect on my faith. It has allowed me to approach God as Father, with more trust, rejoicing in my smallness, and with a deeper knowledge of that I am Loved.
+ What does a typical day of ministry look like for you?
Every day looks so different. I got to Mass every day and this past semester we prayed the rosary before mass. Part of my job involves helping the chaplain, organizing events, and teaching students about the faith, and the teachings of the Church, so for part of the day, I work in the office on these things.
The other part of my job is the more fun part, which is to be available to the students. I often go out for coffee or grab a meal with them. I host a women’s breakfast every Wednesday and join them for dinner after Sunday mass. I attend bible study, retreats, and other events on and off campus. I am able to develop an authentic friendship with the students and help develop the community as a whole.
+ What are some of the fruits that you have witnessed while working with FOCUS?
There have been so many fruits that I have seen, both in our family and in the community, from our time with FOCUS so far. One of the best is being able to witness some pretty profound growth in the hearts of many of our students. One student in particular did a complete 180. She had a major conversion while attending the SEEK 2017 conference and she came back on fire for the Church. Her joy and love for the Lord is palpable and her desire to bring Christ’s light to others is truly inspiring. It’s been amazing watching her grow.
+ What advice would you give to any Catholic college student?
Find good friends! Staying Catholic in college is tough but having good, holy friends helps make it possible. Find people to struggle with, laugh with, pray with. Find people who encourage you and call you on to be a better person. Jesus sent His disciples out two-by-two; He knew we weren’t meant to do this holiness thing alone.
+ How can one get in touch with a local FOCUS branch or missionary??
If you visit their website (https://www.focus.org/) you can find a list of campuses and the contact for the missionary team serving at each one.
Have a great Tuesday, friends!!