For nearly 40 years, NET Ministries has challenged young Catholics to leave behind their families, schools and jobs to travel the United States for nine months, sharing the Gospel with young people in parishes and schools.
Each August, 175 young adults ages 18-28 set out on the journey to serve with the National Evangelization Teams (NET), witnessing to their faith and inviting peers to live for Christ.
This year, three young people in the Diocese of Harrisburg are among them: Vanessa Valovage, 22, of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Lykens, and Peter Krimmel and Sam Ellis, both 18-year-old members of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lancaster.
Since 1981, NET Ministries teams have led more than 32,000 retreats for more than 2 million young people.
Ten years ago, Valovage was a sixth-grade recipient of those efforts.
She was drawn to the joy and energy of the NET team that visited her parish, and their impact stayed with her into high school.
“What drew me to their mission that made me step on the ladder that led me to consider applying was the thought that they must see the world in a really unique way while serving with NET,” said Valovage, who graduated from St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., earlier this year.
As graduation approached, she decided to apply to become a “NETter.”
The application process included an interview retreat weekend of talks, small group discussion, activities, and praise and worship. The weekend offered a glimpse of the work of NET Ministries.
“My hope is to gain a stronger community of faith. We all need people to help us grow spiritually, and I think I’ll find some amazing people to help me do that here,” Valovage said.
All for Christ
NET Ministries is composed of 16 teams: 12 retreat teams and four discipleship teams.
The retreat teams, on which Valovage and Krimmel will serve, are groups of 10-12 members that travel by van to facilitate retreats six days a week for junior high and high school youth. In their nine-month ministry, each team will travel 20,000 miles to offer nearly 150 retreats for 8,500 teens. When they’re not traveling by van, they’ll stay at upwards of 125 host homes.
Discipleship teams, on which Ellis will serve, remain in a specific parish or school to assist with youth groups, teen Masses and retreats. Discipleship teams are focused on long-term evangelization throughout the school year, and entering the lives of the families to whom they minister.
Valovage, Krimmel and Ellis departed Aug. 15 for a five weeks of training which will focus on everything from facilitating retreats, sharing the Gospel message and interacting with young people, to driving vans. Then, they’ll receive their team assignments for the next nine months.
NET Ministries is under the ecclesiastical care of the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. It is inspired by the Scripture passages, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” and “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Team members leave everything behind to live for Christ and share the Gospel.
“Contact with family and friends will be limited,” Valovage said. “Our phones will be off and away most of the time. We also are allowed only one suitcase and one backpack on the road, so that will be an exercise in living simply. We do have a few weeks off for Christmas.”
Krimmel said “Goodbyes are very hard to do, especially with my best friends and my siblings.” He plans to write letters and said he will “carry all of my friends and family and their love with me on this journey.”
Krimmel learned about NET Ministries only a year ago, when his friend joined the team.
“My first experience with NET was my interview weekend,” he said, although he’d been open to its message from the moment he heard about the program.
Those he met on the retreat weekend “had a certain energy about them at all times of the day and night that was unexplainable until I saw them in Adoration. I wanted that type of connection with Jesus in my own faith life,” he said.
“I saw all leaders filled with the energy and ability to listen and appreciate everyone around them. That fire they had acted as a spark in their souls to light my fire. My dry heart was waiting for that ember to come in and that is what I’m going to bring with me on my trip, as well as the love and support of my family and friends,” Krimmel said.
As they set out for their training, Krimmel and Valovage don’ know where they’ll be serving or with whom they’ll be ministering. But they know exactly why they’re doing it.
“It is less about gaining than, ‘What can I find in myself to give? Where are my talents beneficial to somebody?’ It isn’t about me or how good I am, it’s just, ‘How much can I let God work through me?’ Krimmel reflected. “We all want to help. That is why we start at NET. We all want Jesus to help through us and to rid us of ourselves and fill us with Him.”
“I want to bring God’s love to young people. I want to bring them hope and joy and comfort,” Valovage said. “This world can be really tough, and middle and high school can be some of the worst times. I want the young people to realize that they will make it through and that God can make it infinitely better in His own way, if they just let Him in.”
(For more information about NET Ministries, visit www.netusa.org.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness