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August 20, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 21

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photo: Sarah Pedersen and Jacob Simons are blessed by Father Gregory Kandt at Church of the Incarnation in Charlottesville Aug. 12. With them, back to camera, is Deacon Chris Morash. (PHOTO BY JOHN CLEM)
Sarah Pedersen and Jacob Simons are blessed by Father Gregory Kandt at Church of the Incarnation in Charlottesville Aug. 12. With them, back to camera, is Deacon Chris Morash. (PHOTO BY JOHN CLEM)

Two youths from Incarnation join evangelization team

Two newly-minted high school grads from Incarnation Parish in Charlottesville were sent forth August 12 on a mission to share their Catholic faith with youth across the country.

Sarah Pedersen and Jacob Simons will serve a 9-month commitment with the National Evangelization Team, also known as NET Ministries. They received the blessing of their pastor, Father Gregory Kandt, and their church community at the end of Mass just days before they were to leave for Minnesota to begin their mission.

Since 1981, NET Ministries has sent teams of young Catholics, aged 18-28, to travel across the U.S. to share the Gospel with young people and their families through retreats and ministry in local parishes.

According to the ministry’s website, NET teams have led more than 25,000 retreats and ministered to more than 1.6 million young Catholics.

Sarah, 18, and Jacob, 19, were among about 120 young adults chosen for this year’s evangelization teams. Both have been active in parish youth ministry throughout their high school years, including helping to lead Incarnation’s middle school formation program.

They have attended several diocesan and national youth conferences (DYC and NCYC) and are involved in parish liturgical ministry, with Sarah as a eucharistic minister and Jacob as a lector.

In fact, it was at DYC (Diocesan Youth Conference) a few years ago that Jacob picked up a pamphlet about NET Ministries. He was mildly interested, he recalled, but he tossed it on his dresser at home and promptly forgot about it until a year later when he found it while cleaning his room.

By then he was thinking about college applications, but the possibility of a year on the road, meeting other young people and sharing his faith, definitely piqued his interest. He mentioned it to Sarah with whom he’d become good friends through church activities, and she became interested, too.

“At first I just thought it was a cool idea, but not something I was actually going to go through with,” she explained. “But I prayed about it and talked with friends and decided it really was the right thing for me to do.” When she presented the idea to her parents they were enthusiastic.

Jacob had a similar experience. His desire to serve grew stronger as he worked through the NET application process.

“I had been accepted to both colleges I applied to,” he said, “but I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to do in my life, and applying to NET excited me so much more.”

The two noted that although they are close friends and attended their NET interview weekend together, they made their applications separately. They will ask to be assigned to different ministry teams “because we each want to have our own experience,” Sarah explained.

But it is their past experience in ministry with youth that fueled their desire to continue in the work of evangelization. Besides parish youth ministry, Sarah and Jacob both served as peer leaders in “Capernaum,” a faith-sharing program for mentally challenged youth, sponsored by the non-denominational high school organization Young Life.

“Helping youth in their faith is a huge plus in my wanting to be part of NET,” Jacob explained. “I see how much it affects their lives to know Christ’s love,” he said, “especially during those middle school years that are always rough.

“It’s nice to have someone to look up to who is interested in you,” he continued. “To understand that Christ has unconditional love for you is so important at that time when you are insecure and vulnerable.”

Sarah added, “I hope to grow deeper and stronger in my personal faith and evangelize that to youth all over the country, to share how awesome our God is.”

She noted that with so many distractions and pressures to disengage from their faith, “I want to help youth stay excited about it.”

Each NET team member must raise $4,500 for their mission year and Sarah and Jacob expressed their gratitude to their fellow parishioners for supporting them with contributions. But more than just the money, Sarah pointed out she will take with her what she’s gained in faith from her church community.

“I would not be where I am without my Catholic community family,” she said. It has definitely influenced who I am today.”

Sarah and Jacob’s mission begins with five weeks of training where they will learn leadership, organizational and interpersonal skills.

“It also will be a retreat for us to pray and reflect and grow in our own faith,” she said.

Then they will be assigned to mission teams and head out to share the Gospel.

Looking ahead, Jacob said he has few preconceived ideas.

“I’m trying to make it less about myself and more about the people I’m helping,” he said.

Sarah is the daughter of Lori and Ken Pedersen and Jacob is the son of Theresa and Peter Simons.

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