Kari Hoeft is a woman with a mission: to share a message of authentic love and life with young people through a missionary experience called The Culture Project.
Created in 2014 by a group of students from Pennsylvania State University, The Culture Project “envisions a world where the dignity of the human person is at the forefront of every relationship, law and societal structure … a culture where people are honest with their struggle, share stories to strengthen solidarity among their community and reject isolation.”
“We all have that hole in us that we desire to fill and our culture tells us to fill it with drugs and alcohol, with sleeping around, with better clothes, with a better boyfriend or girlfriend,” Hoeft said.
“The church gets a bad reputation of being an institution that wants to tell you what to do, to boss you around, but our job with The Culture Project is to take that idea and flip it on its head, to say the church tells us that, no, you don’t have to live the way culture is telling you to live,” she said. “You get to live the way the church is paving.”
Hoeft, 22, graduated from the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph this spring with a degree in liturgical music and theology. She grew up on a farm near Paynesville with five siblings and started singing in the children’s choir at St. Louis Church in second grade.
“That’s what got me connected with music and faith,” she said. “I started playing for Masses in eighth grade and that brought me to St. Ben’s. And while I was there, I also fell in love with theology.”
During her college career, Hoeft had the opportunity to get involved with FOCUS — a Catholic collegiate outreach whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the Gospel with college and university students — and that’s where she first heard about The Culture Project.
“At the time I was looking for a summer job, and I found Catholic Heart Workcamp [for youth] where I worked in the kitchen. I also picked up a card for The Culture Project. It was a yearlong thing so I just tossed it aside but I followed them on social media,” she said.
At Catholic Heart Workcamp, Hoeft realized how much she loved what she called “big faith experiences that light you on fire.”
“I enjoy getting kids excited, building relationships with them and then getting to the point where we could take that relationship that we built in the crazy fun stuff and bring that over to a faith experience, having a place to ignite their faith,” she said.
Hoeft said the idea of getting involved with The Culture Project kept coming up and never went away. She interviewed with them, was accepted into the initiative and spent two weeks training in early June. She will leave for a one-year stretch of mission work in September.
Throughout the year, she will be part of a team that lives and prays in community, receives formation and gives presentations to youth about the dignity of the human person and about sexual integrity.
Even though she is not sure yet where she will be stationed, she is spending the summer “support-raising” to help offset the costs she will incur over the year and to invite people to be part of her mission.
“I have been meeting with family, friends and really anyone I meet to invite them into the mission with me. I hope that people will see that we are all called to do something about this in different ways. Maybe not everyone can go out for a year but everyone can be connected throughout the year. We’re all in this,” she said.
Although Hoeft is accepting financial contributions, she wants to dispel the myth that she is just asking for money to “go off on an adventure.”
“I really want to sit down with people and tell them more about the mission, get to know the people who will be supporting me, asking them to pray for me and letting them know I will be praying for them,” she said.
Considering the difficult topics she will have to broach, she knows it won’t always be easy.
“The most challenging thing I think is hearing from past missionaries that, during this year, God is going to work on me and that I’m going to meet some challenges. … Being at that point, knowing that it is coming and trying to navigate how to prepare for that and to live through that and come out on the other side stronger and closer to God and better at loving and receiving love,” she said.
“But it is really cool to know that, as I’m going into a room of middle-schoolers ready to bite my head off, that I’ll have this team of people praying for me, rooting for me.”
Hoeft spoke about The Culture Project at Mass July 15 at St. Michael Parish in St. Cloud, where she assists with music ministry.
She shared a number statistics, including that four out of 10 children are born without married parents, nearly half of all teens have had sex and that before the age of 18, nine out of 10 boys and six out of 10 girls will have been exposed to pornography.
“When she talked about pornography and sex, we all lived through those years,” said Robin Hunstad, a member of the parish who heard Hoeft speak. “I remember that time in my life and what I was going through and how much fear I had in what was going on in the world. I just think the mission she is on to educate and help teenagers and young adults is a great mission.”
Deb Seifert also is a member of the parish and serves with Hoeft in music ministry.
“I admire how she is willing to go out and do this. It is so needed in our world today. She just believes fervently in what she is talking about. I think she will be met with great response,” Seifert said.
Hoeft wants to assure other young people that they are not alone.
“As missionaries, we are walking this walk, too, and we are right here with you. And we are not that much older than you. Our hope is that we can guide you and encourage you not to travel down some paths that we might have traveled to find that authentic love and life that our world is seeking,” she said.
“You are loved and you are made for love and you are made for a great love,” she continued. “Our culture only provides counterfeits of love. Real authentic love is incredible and amazing and we are all made for that. And we are capable of that, no matter what our stories are. We are all called to be loved and to love.”
For more about The Culture Project, visit Restoreculture.com, also on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Contact Hoeft at firstname.lastname@example.org.