Hoops, Jesus and ministry

Meeting a Vagabond missionary transformed Jaylen Campbell’s life. So, he decided to give his over to God—joining the Catholic Church and becoming a missionary himself.

Campbell, who turns 20 later this month, was playing basketball in a park near his home in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood several years ago when missionary Christopher Kerfoot came up and asked to play.

“He wasn’t very good,” Campbell recalled with a smile, “but he invited us to the Underground (youth center). It changed my life.”

Meeting teens in parks, on streets and at school, missionaries build relationships, showing kids that they care. They teach them the Catholic faith, holding worship nights, Bible studies, and hosting retreats and trips.

Growing up in Garfield was rough, Campbell recalled.

“I lost friends and classmates to gun violence and drugs,” he said. “My mother and grandmother kept me in the house a lot for my own protection. They did well in raising me.”

When he wasn’t in classes, Campbell was hanging out at the Underground, making friends and learning about Catholicism, having been raised a Christian but not in any particular faith tradition. He entered the Church this past Easter.

From two missionaries at that first site in Saint Maria Goretti Parish in 2015, Vagabond Missions has grown to 19 missionaries in four locations in Pittsburgh—adding Sharpsburg, Allentown/Mt. Oliver and the Hill District over the years. Five of the missionaries, including Campbell, were youths in the program.

Pittsburgh is also the national headquarters of the organization, which now serves inner city teens in Mobile, AL, as well as in Steubenville, OH, Greenville, NC, and Wichita, KS.

This past summer the missionaries took young people to a sports camp in Monroeville, and to an adventure camp in Ohio, according to area director Shannon Loucks. Small group talks, adoration, confession and Mass were on the agenda.

Loucks said they spent the summer meeting kids in parks, grilling hot dogs and holding movie nights. This fall they are starting up new discipleship groups and RCIA.

Campbell begins his ministry this month in the Hill District, reaching out to young people the same way he was approached—with a friendly smile and brotherly love.

“The Catholic faith is a beautiful thing,” Campbell said. “I always wanted to do something more with my faith. I know God is walking with me, and gives me His grace.”

Young people take a break at Camp Damascus in Ohio.