Well this is it! We’re entering the last few days before I head back home for Winter Break which means that for the team, this semester is coming to a close. More on that later! We’ve had a pretty eventful week as we started to wind down.
First off, remember how back at the beginning of the semester I talked about how the team and I went to Disney World for a few days for our off-site? Basically it was for us to spend some time together getting to know each other better and plan for the semester. Last week we had our end of the semester off-site to help us wind down and reflect on the semester and to plan on how to better serve when we come back from break. No Disney this time but rather we went and spent a few days on Sanibel Island. It’s not too far from Ave Maria and is the seashell capitol of the world. We got to stay in a super cute little beach cottage and relax. What was great about this off-site was that we got to spend it with the FOCUS team at Florida Atlantic University. They’re our closest neighbors and it was so awesome getting to see them and have some fun together. Overall it was so fantastic just having a few days to relax and talk about the semester. Just sitting on the beach in the sun reading a book and enjoying each other’s company was something I feel we all needed.
In addition to relaxing there actually was a lot to reflect on. We thought about evangelization, outreach, team life, bible studies etc. looking back at the semester we’ve seen a lot of growing pains and a lot of frustration. It’s been super hard being a missionary on this campus. Students are heavily catechized, sacramentalized and very intellectual. Melia and I had a hard time seeing how can relate to students here and finding what we had to offer them. We come from big state schools and don’t have the same background that the majority of students here have. Overall I feel like this semester was a lot about learning how to be a missionary here at Ave Maria. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s also been very rewarding. Again, more on that later!
Our little vacation was great but coming back there was lots of work to do!! The preliminary SEEK deadline had been reached and we have a total of 22 students going from Ave Maria. Nowhere near close to our goal but still a lot more than I was hoping for! Now comes the logistical nightmare of trying to get everyone organized so we all get there smoothly. It’s not cheap to go to conference and flights are expensive so we’ve been doing a lot of fundraising to try and help students out as best as we can. Every year there’s a Christmas festival here at Ave called the Festival of Lights. There’s a parade, food, vendors and booths of all kinds and fun stuff for kids to do. We got the chance to set up a booth and one of the community members, Ed Rivera, devoted his time and effort to making over 20 flans for us to sell at the festival in order to raise money for SEEK. It was some of the best flan I’ve ever tasted. Another community member, Mary Mitchell, donated her time and talents as well in order to make some beautiful Christmas crafts that we could also sell. In the end we raised over $500!! It was a huge success! Thanks so much to everyone that helped us out. We are so grateful and truly blessed.
After the success of the Festival of Lights it was time to celebrate the Christmas season with our students. On Saturday we had a little FOCUS Christmas party. We had cookies, hot chocolate, crafts, games and we ended by doing a white elephant gift exchange and watched a movie. It was tons of fun just hanging out with the students and getting in the Christmas spirit. It definitely doesn’t feel like Christmas here. I mean just a few days ago I was laying on a beach enjoying the heat and the sunshine. And I do have to say that Christmas Lights on palm trees are a strange yet intriguing new experience.
Saturday evening was the school’s annual Snow Ball. This semesters big formal dance. For a while now I’ve been debating on whether I wanted to go or not (you know dating fast and all) but in the end I decided to check it out. It was an excuse to get all dressed up and get some free food. Overall it was so much fun and I’m glad I went. It was really nice to see everyone all fancy dressed and they played some really good music. The chocolate fountain was also a nice touch. After the dance it was off the Pub to celebrate some 21st birthdays. Also a good time. Now there’s only 4 days left until I get on a plane to head back home.
Looking back at my first semester at Ave Maria and at my fist semester as a FOCUS missionary, I’m a volcano of emotions. Like I talked about earlier it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it has been really challenging, frustrating and stressful. But at the same time it’s been so wonderful and rewarding. I feel like I’ve grown personally in my own faith and character by being here and working with the students. I absolutely love all the students I’ve met here and I’m really going to miss them over break.
I’m SO EXCITED to come back next semester because I feel like this semester was more about laying foundations and learning how to be a missionary here and next semester we can really get to work. I feel so blessed to have been sent here and God has definitely put amazing people and opportunities in my life this semester. Next time you hear from me I’ll be back in beautiful Colorado!! I’ve missed those mountains so much and I can’t wait to see my family! I’m scared about fundraising, excited for SEEK and not looking forward to the cold but it’ll be great! Wish me save travels and prayers for me and the team as we go into this last few days!