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'I want it to be part of my daily life'
Svetlana Skripchenko Chyette
"I don't want to convert and that's it," said Svetlana Skripchenko Chyette. "I want it to be a daily part of my life."
That dedication shows in her immediate plan: This summer, Skripchenko Chyette, 25, will travel to Russia for three weeks this summer on a mission with FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
The missionaries will spend time in hospices, a summer camp for children of single parents and an orphanage.
Skripchenko Chyette spent the first three years of her life in a Russian orphanage,
She came to the United States and grew up in the East Bay. She is a student at Berkeley City College, with plans to transfer to a University of California campus. She studies psychology.
She was raised in the Jewish faith. She went through her Bat Mitzvah, but, she said, she "never felt connected."
She shared her concerns with a rabbi, whose response, "Why do you need to identify as anything as long as you're connected to God?" did not satisfy.
"My best friend had a house guest who was Catholic," Skripchenko Chyette said. The guest was open talking about the questions she had,
"It felt so right," Skripchenko Chyette said. "I knew that's where I belonged."
Once she "decided I was possibly converting," her journey took her to a few Catholic churches.
The first time she went to Newman Hall Holy Spirit Parish was spring 2015. "Newman caught my eye because it is so student-focused," she said.
The pastoral staff, student ministry team and FOCUS missionaries made her feel welcome.
The FOCUS missionaries, who came to the University of California at Berkeley campus in Fall 2013, meet students where they are in the campus and community, inviting them into conversation and other activities, such as Bible study, in missionaries' apartments.
"I started hanging out with Summer Swisher," Skripchenko Chyette said. She began Bible study with the FOCUS missionaries in the fall.
The friendships formed with FOCUS missionaries and other students at Newman Hall have been vital.
"It is really important to me to have religious friends," she said. "When I decided to switch over, I lost a few friends."
At Newman, she's finding many community opportunities, ranging from weekly Bible study to the annual student retreat, which she was looking forward to attending. Visitors, too, breathe life into Newman Hall. The New York-based Sisters for Life visited Newman Hall the weekend of the Walk for Life West Coast. She recalled "going outside, hanging with the Sisters."
The summer mission trip brings joy to her voice. Each FOCUS missionary must raise the funds for the trip. She has $1,000 toward her $3,900 goal. Donations can be made to FOCUS on her behalf at www.focusonline.org/goto/SvetlanaSkripchenko.
She's hoping to learn some Russian before she goes; she doesn't remember any from her early childhood.
Whether FOCUS might be in the future — she still has her undergraduate years to complete — she is trusting in God. "If this is what God wants me to do, I'll find the way there."
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