In his final blog as a CAFOD gapper, Chris Burkette reflects on his trip with CAFOD to Sierra Leone as part of its Step into the Gap programme. For the last year, he’s been based in Walsingham House in the Brentwood Diocese, alongside volunteering for CAFOD.
Just over a third of a year has passed since I travelled overseas to Sierra Leone. Over these months I have often considered how I fit into making a difference – from the wider world around me, then my local area and community, amongst my friends and family, all the way down to those met on retreat and even strangers I encounter. At first it’s true. It can feel truly overwhelming to think how you have the responsibility to change those around you, but consider the following story I recently heard.
‘I shall change the world’
There was once a man with such a large heart who saw injustice in the world and saw how so many suffered in times of trial and hardship. He decided he wanted a change, to make a difference and it was him to make this difference.
He thought – ‘I shall change the world’, and so he travelled the world and with everyone he met he tried to change them.
He would talk to the rich and powerful and attempt persuading them to give more generously to those less fortunate with money but time passed by and he ultimately failed to change the world – those stubborn to believe simply chose not to believe and those with money chose not to give. So, realising he could not so simply change the face of the world he decided to start smaller, with his local community.
Chris and the rest of the Gappers arrive in Sierra Leone
The same thing happened again and then, with just a small selection of his friends, he soon realised he was still unable to truly change how they behaved.
One day it dawned on the man that maybe if he wanted a change it was something that needed to start with him, for only he could change and influence others through how people saw he treated others rather than forcing people to change in the ways he told them to change.
The moral of the story is simple. So often we try to make a huge change in the places we are, and that is not wrong, as the mistake the man made wasn’t by trying to transform the world – it was by forgetting to start with himself before others.
Something quite potent from a recent Gospel reading was to remove the plank out of your eye before the splinter in another’s.
The importance of stewardship
Over the last year, the word which has repeatedly come to mind is stewardship.
By being a CAFOD volunteer I am called to be a steward – an ambassador, in fact – for sharing the works of CAFOD. Yet we are all called to be stewards of the Gospel equally, as we each have a call to be followers of Christ through discipleship.
For me, a call to discipleship is alike to a call to stewardship and is something important when considering how we as individuals look after the environment.
In one of Pope Francis’ most recent encyclicals, Laudato Si’, he goes further to call us all to be stewards of the earth – our common home.
Chris and the Gappers in traditional dress with local CAFOD partners and community members in Kambia, Sierra Leone
So often we hear from the Gospels that we are called for a set purpose: A vocation, referred to as a special calling from God in which we can serve Him.
We hear that we are all made differently but in the image of God (Imago Dei) Genesis 1:27, and so this calling is tailormade for every individual to serve God in their own unique way. To do this we must follow the perfect example of this in Jesus the Good Shepherd.
In St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 12:12-27, we are given an image of one body many parts, something I find in my own faith very important.
It truly creates the picture of how each of us has a role in the Church that only we can follow – how special each and every one of us is!
The Church is so much more than a physical building. It is a collective community of people; a worldwide community of many parts, each with its own role.
We have all been called and chosen to be something great!
So, what does that mean for all of us – Christians, those of faith and non-religious?
It means that we all have been called and chosen to be something great. We are meant for growth and are born to change our world around us for the better!
It is true to say that people should not wholly know we are Catholics or people of Faith by what we dress or wear but how we treat one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
A lush green Sierra Leonean vista
Spreading the word
I feel like the best way to show the true impact of my many encounters from the overseas trip to Sierra Leone is to show how it has impacted my outlook on life. By spreading the testimonies of those I met, I educate people on the reality of the wider world. It is by telling people how each encounter made me feel that I truly impart to others how important these people are, that they are equal like us and that we each hold the ability to make a change for the better.
I want to end this blog by asking you to think about how you can make a difference in how you treat others around you and how even a simple deed such as a smile or conversation alone holds the power to make someone’s day.
As always thank you for your prayers of the Gappers and continue to spread the Gospel.
Find out more about Step into the Gap