My year of faith-filled discovery with Step into the Gap

What I learned on my gap year with CAFOD

In his final blog, gapper Chris Burkette reflects on his year and his hopes for the future. Thank you Chris for your valuable input this year, and we wish you all the best in your future aspirations.

Passing on the baton

As my year as a CAFOD Gapper draws near to a close I recall the journey I’ve been on. From the verChristopher Burkettey start when I was learning and receiving new CAFOD resources with great enthusiasm, filled with high anticipation for the year ahead, all the way to returning from the international visit.

Finally, I now pass on, train and walk with next year’s gapper, Kiera, who will be placed at Brentwood.  For me, it stands as a defining moment as I start to transition into another year of my youth ministry, here which has grown as a second home for me.  I am staying at Brentwood for another year before going away to university to study a long time favourite of mine – psychology.

But, after a year of working with CAFOD, where do I go from here? How do I carry on what I have learned and continue to act as a steward of the Gospel with CAFOD and at my retreat centre?

In my last blog I spoke about how each of us have a unique call in life, a vocation.  Linked closely with this I have found that this programme has shaped me over the past twelve months, helping me form a stronger sense of purpose and realise my identity.  When I say identity I don’t just mean how we look, what we do as a job or how we are seen by others.  I agree that these are all recognisable features linked with identity but I believe that the idea of our own personal identity is a lot deeper than a surface based self.

The importance of identity

As a Christian, I believe that identity means so much more. It is our dreams, aspirations, visions, goals, passions and desires for what we want to achieve in life. For me, both as an individual and a Catholic, this contributes to what I would call my purpose… helping towards a better world.  I want to live in a  world where everyone has an equal chance and opportunity to follow what they believe in – a crucial part of anyone forming an identity – and achieving everything we work so hard for like peace, justice and equality.

Dignity poster

Chris reflected on what dignity means throughout his gap year

The concept of identity is also important for CAFOD as an organisation. Its principles and values – dignity, solidarity, compassion, hope, stewardship and partnership – mean a lot to me. I relate most to the value of dignity which refers to a great respect for human life in all its fullness, cherishing it gratefully as a gift from God. In my eyes, CAFOD takes inspiration for this from the start of the Bible in Genesis, where we learn we are made in the image of God.  We are all made equally, and we should treat each other equally.

The Church recognises our identities in two ways: following in the example established by Jesus within the Gospels, and by being really honest and true to ourselves in our God-given gifts and talents. When we look to Jesus we must know that we cannot fail as everything He did and taught was done so in divine love and compassion, qualities Pope Francis urges us all to follow while thinking of God and considering our neighbour with love, care and tenderness. St Paul, a key saint in the church wrote 14 different letters to groups of people, one which was to the Galatians.  We hear: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5:22-23.

Often referred to as the fruits of the Holy Spirit, these are things that we should all aim to hold and demonstrate in our daily lives. It is important to notice that it’s true – there are no rules against any of these fruits. For example, who could criticise a person for being patient or harvest anger towards someone expressing true kindness? We cannot. Similarly, we can acknowledge that CAFOD’s values can play a key role in forming identity and character, and so making the world a place for everyone.

Romero_airport-mural_opt_fullstory_small

Blessed Oscar Romero is to be canonised on 14 October 2018

Blessed Oscar Romero famously said: “It is not God’s will for some to have everything and others to have nothing”. A statement so true. The world should be a place we can all share together!

 

 

 

A final message

Over my time as a Gapper I have been educated about world issues and the importance of treating people with dignity – highlighted especially when overseas during my time in Sierra Leone – for instance with meeting many locals. I have learned about both sustainability and stewardship when giving talks to and leading workshops with young people.

Chris with the team of 2017-18 ‘gappers’

Step into the Gap has taught me to be equally authentic as I am able to make a difference!

All of these small parts have had their place in my heart and mind over the past year as a Gapper and is something I hope to continue positively influencing me.

It is my belief that we each have our universal identity and place within creation.

For Gappers who may read this – I couldn’t urge you more to fully grasp this rare opportunity to make a difference. Aim high, dream big and aspire for social justice!

To end this specific blog as a Gapper I can’t encourage people enough if you are considering a gap year and want to make a difference and raise awareness of issues surrounding social justice, with the rare opportunity to journey overseas and absorb rich culture, then…this is CERTAINLY the programme for you!

Please do continue to pray not just for me and the current Gappers but also for all future Gappers on the programme. Pray that they may equally get the chance to make a difference in the World around them. Lastly, consider a favourite quote of mine… “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19.

As always – continue to spread the Gospel.

Find out more about Step into the Gap.

Excitement ahead for Gapper Kiera!

In September, Kiera Harman begins a one year placement at Walsingham House for the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service as well as CAFOD’s Step into Gap programme. Kiera will give us regular updates on her activities throughout the year

Hello my name is Kiera. I am 18 years old and I have just finished my A levels.

Kiera 1

This year I will be completing my placement at Walsingham House in Brentwood in the south east of the UK. I am looking forward to working with young people and more especially developing my faith and achieving a greater understanding of the faith I am lucky to be part of.

 

 I am extremely excited for the year ahead and most especially the work which I will be doing on the Step into the Gap programme with CAFOD.  

I have previously completed the CAFOD young leaders programme which sparked my interest in current issues especially those surrounding climate change and the refugee crisis. 

Kiera 3

Young Leaders, including Kiera, at Parliament showing their support for CAFOD’s new campaign

In April 2017 I travelled from Wickford to Westminster to speak with MPs in Parliament to ensure the interests of the world’s poorest people will be kept in mind during the upcoming general election.   

 

 

Kiera 2

Kiera with others at one of the CAFOD Young Leaders’ Days

 

I hope I can raise awareness of these. I cannot wait to see first-hand the work the CAFOD in developing countries and to share these experiences with individuals that I will meet throughout the year. I couldn’t be more excited for the year ahead.

We are all chosen to be something great

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.  OverChristopher Burkette 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.

Group-photo-1-1024x768

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.

Romero-cross-5The 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.

Kaddro-2-small-1024x675

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.

Sierra Leone 1In 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)

Sierra Leone 2

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