When I was entering my freshman year of college, if you would have told me that by the time I was 24 years old, I would be Catholic, live a conservative lifestyle, leave college for a year to do mission work, return to school and graduate but instead of directly using my degree would continue doing mission work, I would have laughed in your face because I grew up in a non-religious family and didn’t even know if there really was a God.

Here I am, 24 years old, and about to start my third year with NET. I’m a confirmed Catholic who has taught confirmation classes to others, and I can tell you that there truly is a God who loves each one of us individually and perfectly. So the joke’s on 18 year old me. And the beauty is that a series of tiny, half-hearted, Holy Spirit led yeses got me to this place, and I am happier than I ever could have imagined.

When I started college, I was living the party lifestyle that I had in high school, but a girl in one of my classes who was nice and seemed to actually care about me invited me on retreat. The word “yes” fell out of my mouth and a few days later I found myself driving to the retreat site. I felt uncomfortable the entire weekend, but when the priest talked about the Eucharist and God and love, my heart longed for something more. Then he mentioned a class where we could learn more – RCIA – and once again “yes” slipped out. My heart was drawn to the class each week, and the more that I learned, the more I wanted to know about the Catholic faith, and the more I believed that everything I was learning was true. So when I was asked if I wanted to receive the sacraments, I said “yes.” I also started going to Mass, and God chipped away at the stone wall around my heart, so that He could be not only in my mind but also in my heart. Bible study, RCIA, Mass, and time with my new friends brought me deeper into the mystery of Christ. Conferences and FOCUS missionaries showed me the joy of serving God with your whole heart. My half-hearted yeses started to become filled with confidence in God.

I wasn’t a saint because I had done a year of mission work. I had a lot of work to do. It was the beginning of a life with Christ.

My sophomore year of college, a NET team came to my parish to put on a retreat for the confirmation students. I said “yes” when my youth minister asked if I would help cook dinner for the retreat, and I saw what the NET team was doing and knew I wanted to learn more. When one of the women on the team invited me to apply for NET, I said “yes.” A month later, I drove 8 hours to my interview retreat weekend and that weekend alone could have been enough for me. I saw people from all different walks of life wanting to serve God, and I knew that if He wanted me to, I would be ready. So a week later when I got the call that I was accepted, I told my parents that I was taking a gap year from college and I was going to travel around the country putting on retreats for middle/high school students. They reluctantly said yes, under the condition that I would come back after that year and finish college. Once again, I said “yes.”

August of 2013 I flew to Minnesota with little idea was NET was. If you would have asked me if I was going to grow that year, I would have laughed at you and told you that I was a good Catholic and I just want to give back. Turns out God had a lot more to give to me than I had to give to Him.

My year with NET stretched me more than I ever thought that I could be and revealed more truths than I could have imagined. It showed me that even the smallest of wounds needed to be healed. It showed me that 12 people stuck on a team together who would not normally be friends could call each other brothers and sisters, and learn to love the most annoying parts of each other. It showed me that the best leaders know how to follow someone else. It showed me how to have healthy relationships with women and with men. It showed me how to grab the attention of a room full of teenagers who normally couldn’t care less about what you have to say. It showed me that the word family can mean so many different things, but is best when it is rooted in Christ. It showed me that the love of Jesus will pierce hearts more than all the facts about Him. It showed me that if I wanted someone to pray and have a relationship with Jesus, I needed to have one as well. I had moments of complete joy and I had moments of utter frustration. The biggest thing that I learned was that God was the leader of my life and with Him anything could be done.

I thought that NET was the best but hardest year of my life. I am so thankful for the year that I served on the road, because it gave God the opportunity to prepare my heart for what the rest of my life would have coming. I built the habit of a daily prayer life and use of the sacraments that would keep me connected to God even through six months of anger at Him. It allowed healing to happen in my life so that closure could overshadow regret. All of the things that I listed above and so many others have profoundly impacted my life for the better.

NET wasn’t the end of my spiritual journey. I wasn’t a saint because I had done a year of mission work. I had a lot of work to do. It was the beginning of a life with Christ.

God has so much for you. And maybe the best way for Jesus to show you part of what He has is through NET Ministries. If you have a desire to serve, maybe NET is for you. All you have to do is say “yes.”

-Allie Ives, NET Ministries Mission Staff