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On a mission

Tom Gray (TBP ’23) is on a mission. Since participating in the Truth & Beauty Project last summer, he has thrown himself—heart and mind, body and soul—into becoming a witness for Christ. Although Tom came to Rome already committed to a year of missionary work, he says that the Truth & Beauty Project kickstarted him on this new path. “TBP really filled me with a lot of zeal,” he says.

 

Walking in the footsteps of the saints in Rome, Tom was impressed by the stories of their “all-in” witness for the faith. He noticed the same about John and Ashley, in their words and also in their example. “It really flipped the script…on what a life can be, and also, of course, what the life of a disciple of Jesus is supposed to be.”  

 

Tom’s whole year has been one big FIAT project. As a missionary, he helps high school students recognize the deception the culture’s empty promises. “In this world we are lied to, and beauty is distorted,” he says.  He can see that his students are distracted and that they “don’t know their own hunger, their own sense of hunger that should be leading them to God…” He wants to help them to discern this disconnect.


New to the Faith

When Tom arrived for his TBP Immersion in June of 2023, he was a new convert. He knows firsthand what young people are up against—what he calls “lies” and “attacks” from a culture saturated by social media, confusion, superficiality.  He also knows the potency of one person’s example to the contrary. “I was lost back then, and it was someone else’s witness, through a youth camp, that pulled me out,” Tom says.

 

Through his baptism in April of 2022, Tom felt called to help others find their way to true happiness in Christ as he had. “For a long time, God put mission in the back of my head,” he says, noting the simple command of the Gospel to go out and make disciples (Mt 28:19). “God put it on my heart to give myself radically.”

 

Baptism by fire

Leading students on retreat

Embedded in campus ministry in a high school in Orange County, California, Tom leads a team of 8 missionaries. They run retreats for the students and local middle schools, facilitate small groups, and meet with kids one on one.  As team leader, Tom is also in charge of pastorally caring for his peers while trying to pursue his own spiritual life, maintain a prayer life, relationships back home, and all the ministry. “It’s been such a learning curve,” he says.

 

Being only two or three years older than those whom he was serving, Tom found himself struggling to know how, exactly, to play his role. “Who I am in relationship to these students?” he wondered.  How could he most effectively serve these young people? Who did they need him to be?  Should he be a wise old man? A pal? An experienced man who has seen the world? He didn’t want to let anyone down.

 

Despite the enthusiasm with which he first undertook his missionary work, Tom went home for Christmas discouraged and anxious about the prospect of returning for the next term. The pressure he felt to figure out who others needed him to be forced him to wonder an even deeper question: Who am I at my core?

 

Revival

Nevertheless, Tom knew he would remain faithful to his task. “I signed myself up for this,” he says. “There was no way I was going to quit.”  He came to understand two things: first, that God was with him in the difficulties and trials he was experiencing.  “It was as if God were saying to me: You’re going to go through your own little passion.”  

No pain, no gain...on the Camino just after his TBP Immersion in the summer of 2023

Second, Tom put aside his fear of failing to be the “right” person for the job. “I learned that I only need to be myself and that I am enough,” he says. “I’ve heard that for years but it finally hit me. God wants me.  And these students need me not because others can’t do what I can do but because I can do it and God wants me to do it.”

 

Tom started seeing the fruits of his difficult first semester. Once when he was about to cancel a retreat because no one had signed up, one young man in his small group decided to make the retreat.  He drew in a couple dozen friends with him. That young man had a powerful experience during Adoration, and this year he became Catholic.

 

In fact, under the guidance of Dominican Sisters at the school, Tom and his team help run an RCIA program. This year, they had not one but 33 students come into the church. “It’s been really beautiful to be able to make an impact,” Tom says. You can hear the smile in his voice when he tells it.

 

Why so happy?

With Adam Wilking (TBP '23) at the finish line of the Camino: the Cathedral of Santiago di Compostella

Tom says that his students see him and his fellow missionaries and wonder: why are they so happy? Why are they sacrificing this whole year? Why is it so important? An Old Testament-inspired question comes to him now as he looks back on his missionary year in California: Would I have signed up to save 100? 30? 10? What about just one person?  

 

“TBP has the ability to do that for people,” Tom says. The TBP ripple effect is obvious in him. And if Tom is a pebble, that pebble is skipping across the big pond, making more waves. Tom’s been accepted to serve on the missionary team in Scotland next year.

 

We hope he’ll come to visit us in Rome.

 

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