Forty-one of the 50 Catholic Christian Outreach missionaries originally slated to complete in-person evangelism in Belize, Mexico, New York or Uganda pivoted to provide online ministry through CCO’s Be the Light mission. Photo courtesy of CCO

Mission finds new ‘Light’

By  Michael Romen, Youth Speak News Special
  • June 17, 2020

Computer screens and Zoom calls have become the new operation zone for the university student missionary organization Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO).

The organization, which had to cancel its international missions to Belize, Mexico, New York and Uganda because of COVID-19, has turned to the Internet to continue its work, launching the Be the Light virtual ministry campaign on May 11. 

Forty-one of the 50 missionaries who signed on for fieldwork heeded CCO’s call to evangelize via online one-on-one and small group meetings. 

Be the Light accentuates outreach and encounter to counteract the isolation brought on by social distancing. The goal is to reach 153 people, modelling itself after Peter’s miraculous catch of fish in John 21:11. 

Eloisa Greenwald, the director of campus programming for the CCO, is pleased with how the CCO’s missionaries are partaking in a new kind of outreach. She is also delighted with how the Church as a whole has responded to COVID-19.

“How do we reach out to those who can’t come to our churches — that should be a general thought, whether it’s COVID or not. There (was) a wake-up (call) for our Church to go into mission mode.”

Adapting to online ministry was mostly effortless for the student missionaries. In fact, in the early days of the shutdown, the members of CCO Halifax — students at Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities, held their winter retreat online. Almost 400 people were in attendance.

“For one day, they gathered very early on in the shutdown, and the retreat happened,” said CCO co-founder André Regnier at the organization’s Virtual Founders’ Dinner April 27. “They were reflecting on God in their lives. Not the fear or confusion of the times, but on the One who is stable, their rock.”

Chris Keyes, CCO’s vice-president of programming, credits the way campus leaders responded to COVID-19 by connecting with peers via social platforms as a propellant behind CCO’s organizational move to online ministry.

“The pivot was done by the teams on the ground. We really entrust a lot of authority to our leaders,” said Keyes.

Greenwald was one of the pioneers in the online shift. Using Google’s Design Sprint as a framework — a model for providing tangible solutions to critical questions in five days — CCO charted an operational pathway in a COVID-19 landscape. The three goals of this endeavour were to “gain new contacts,” “create moments of encounter” and “commission people to become missionary disciples.”

Even with provinces slowly re-opening their economies, university campuses are poised to remain restricted, with many opting to move to online education. CCO is preparing for the fall semester by focusing on its core tenets. 

“On campuses over the last 31 years, one thing we won’t be known for is social distancing. Everything about what we do is relational — one on one relationships and small group relationships,” said Regnier. 

Amanda Ho, a Ryerson student and Be the Light missionary, said she longs to have in-person encounters again.

“One part of our ministry that I love is being around people — being able to pray with someone and pray over someone.”

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