On a Mission

Alumna’s globally-inspired life story is just getting started.

Rockhampton, Queensland is, of course, a long way from her hometown of Fort Loramie, Ohio, where she grew up on a farm surrounded by animals, a loving family, a strong sense of spirituality, and a service-oriented mindset. As a child, she dressed the barn cats in baby doll clothes, and bottle-fed motherless kittens and piglets.

“I loved getting to look after animals because I’ve found in their dependence on humans, they show endless love to their owners,” Ahrns explained. “If I ever pursue a path working with animals, I hope to be able to work in an animal sanctuary or recovery space.”

Ahrns completed her four-year animal science degree in three years, thanks to her commitment to additional educational opportunities, such as College Credit Plus courses she took in high school to earn college credits early. But her professional goals remain in flux as she dedicates her young adult life to assisting others around the globe.

Her interest in international service learning was sparked by a high school mission trip to Haiti. From there, she became heavily involved in UF’s Oilers Serving Abroad (OSA) program, particularly its trips to the Dominican Republic, where students assist in projects ranging from environmental stewardship efforts to construction work for impoverished residents while exchanging cultural information with Dominican university students and children in orphanages.

Through OSA, Ahrns said she “met new people, tried new things, and went places I had never been before. Each of these new experiences contributed to my personal growth and reflection while learning about who I am and who I’m meant to be.”

Serving others does not always go as planned, but Ahrns acknowledged that facing the unknown “is exciting.”

“Courageously jumping right in with no expectations allowed me to keep an open mind and learn in any situation we encountered” during OSA, she maintained. “The absolute best part was meeting new people and forming relationships that are still dear to my heart today,” she said.

While curiosity, academic pursuits and generosity have distinguished her path, her faith has been the lynchpin to her unfolding life story, Ahrns asserted. A large part of her academic career at UF was her involvement in the Newman Club, a Catholic student organization, and volunteering with Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Findlay. Her Newman Club leadership roles included serving as an officer and as president during her time on campus.

Multiple scholarships also assisted Ahrns with earning her UF degree. She received the Desmond V. Buford “One World,  One People, One Race” Memorial Endowment, Majors James A. and Joan E. Sayer Scholarship Endowment, Ken Walerius Student Involvement Scholarship and the International Education Study Abroad Scholarship. She also received the UF President’s Scholarship annually.

Never one to miss out on a feasible learning or cultural opportunity, Ahrns also served as a student leader for OSA; worked in UF’s Buford Center for Diversity and Service; was a resident assistant for two years; was a member of the honor society Aristos Eklektos; was a Read to Succeed mentor; studied abroad in Japan with the Kake cultural exchange program; volunteered in the community with the Service Ambassadors Program; and participated in off-campus local activities such as internships with the Hancock County Humane Society and a joint internship opportunity with the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation and United Way of Hancock County.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Ahrns received the University’s Founders’ Daughter Award in 2017, which recognizes students who exemplify ideals of superior scholarship, leadership, service to others and personal integrity.

In Australia, she and four other missionaries visit three primary schools and one high school, where they assist with religious education classes, plan and lead youth groups, host community events, minister at daily and weekly masses, speak at school assemblies and remain as a constant presence to build relationships.

“We are ‘storytellers’ in the way we get to share our personal experiences with young people,” Ahrns said of her missionary work and that of others’.

Ahrns believes she is “meant to be a missionary” her entire life, “not as someone who tries to force others to know Jesus, but as someone who is a living witness of authentic love every day to everyone I encounter,” she said. “I’ve experienced something beyond extraordinary, and I want to share it. I hope that I get to have many more encounters with people around the world to testify to love.”

“The word ‘Catholic’ is derived from ‘Kata Holis,’ which means that all are welcome,” said Ahrns. “My Catholic faith has allowed me to find purpose in life and meaning behind all things, often a greater meaning than what I can initially understand,” she continued.

Storytelling is also an inherent teaching method. Naturally, Ahrns said she would one day like to occupy a teaching role.

“After a time of learning and gaining experience, it is quite possible that I will return to school within the next few years. But for now, my heart is happy serving the world and learning and growing from the experiences I’m living as a volunteer,” said Ahrns.

As a missionary and volunteer, Ahrns is responsible for reaching a minimum fundraising goal. The sponsorship contributes to the cost of initial training, living, and serving.

You can also follow her missionary story by using NET Ministries Australia’s hashtag #LiveYourLifeOnPurpose.