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.

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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.

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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)

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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

A ‘gapper’ reflects on a forthcoming visit to Sierra Leone

Chris Burkette is a young person who is currently on our Step into the Gap Christopher BurketteProgramme  Here he shares his thoughts as he prepares for his upcoming visit to Sierra Leone:

Journeying, travelling, moving. All words to describe some form of momentum. We all journey: it may be as simple as a commute from A to B or as exciting as travelling away on an exotic family holiday abroad.

There are broader journeys we all walk along; such as the journey of life from birth to death – this being our greatest adventure. And there are other journeys we may experience such as the journey of faith which trickles into other aspects of our lives.

A tropical vista in Sierra Leone

One such journey I shall engage in is a trip overseas to Sierra Leone with CAFOD. I shall walk alongside locals, gain insight into CAFOD’s projects and then share with communities upon arrival back in the UK. CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme (whose participants are sometimes called ‘gappers’) gives a sparkling opportunity to give young volunteers time to get involved and look at life through the eyes of others.

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Villagers and CAFOD’s partners in Sierra Leone

The programme also holds in its hand the rare chance to deepen your faith through being inspired by those you meet and then taking inspiration from stories and personal experiences back to family and friends after the visit.

A central focus of the trip is the experience of an encounter that goes beyond the face-value sharing of personal stories and communication of lifestyle within faith. This is what CAFOD hopes all gappers will experience during the trip.

My personal experience of faith within the context of a journey starts from when I was very young. After Baptism, my parents would encourage me to go to church each week. After I made my First Holy Communion, I wanted to become an altar server which I continue to do at my weekly.

From this time, I was introduced to my local youth service within the Brentwood Diocese where I came to find a multitude of opportunities for young people ranging from not only altar serving to performing music in mass but also serving others around me.

This urge to help those around me grew in my heart for some time, eventually leading me towards Walsingham House and the work of CAFOD in the Step into the Gap programme.

“CAFOD gives a sparkling opportunity to give young volunteers time to get  involved and look at life through the eyes of others.”

Now at the point of the Sierra Leone visit clearly in view with merely days to go, I am filled with anticipation, excitement and wonder while also filled with slight apprehension.  How will people react to my presence there? Will it live up to expectations? Most of all though… how will I communicate the stories of those I meet to people upon my arrival back home?

Chris with the team of 2017-18 ‘gappers’

I ask you to pray not only for me but also for all the other gappers. May we be safe and gain inspiration from all those we encounter. As always – God bless you and continue to spread the Gospel.

CAFOD’s gap year programme is an opportunity to volunteer in the UK, gain experience, develop leadership skills and visit an international CAFOD partner.

Applications for CAFOD’s gap year programme are open. For anyone aged 18 – 30: an opportunity to volunteer in the UK, gain experience, develop leadership skills and visit CAFOD partners overseas. The deadline is 19th February. For all information and how to apply visit www.cafod.org.uk/Education/CAFOD-Gap-year or contact Catherine Jones 0207 095 5308 cjones@cafod.org.uk

Ficamaua! A young person reflects…

Chris Burkette is a young person from the Brentwood Diocese who is currently on CAFOD’s Step into the GAP programme. He writes:Chris cropped

“I recently ran a CAFOD workshop to help inform young people within the Brentwood Diocese of the events unfolding in the Maua community. As part of this workshop they were required to build a ‘home’ anywhere on the retreat site, to be as welcoming and cosy as they saw fit. After having visited each home, I was then tasked with destroying this space and leaving an eviction notice for them. Together we learnt about how this was connected to the situation in Sao Paulo: a place once left in need of rejuvenation but now blossoming…this all thanks to the locals there who over the past decade have put such hard work into returning the place to its original beauty.

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Ficamaua! Brentwood youth gather to show their support for residents in the Maua community in Sau Paulo, Brazil

Until recently all of this was being threatened due to a court order to evict the 237 families from their homes at the end of November. To our great joy this eviction has been averted with the recent agreement between the housing department and the owner of the building for the purchase of the Maua building for around £4.6 million (20 million reais).

CAFOD believes that everyone has the power within them to stand up to such cases of injustice. CAFOD ask people to GAP: Give. Act. Pray. An amazing 4,000 people across England and Wales have signed the petition to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of the Maua community in Sao Paulo. We will continue to show our solidarity through our actions and prayers as we do in all cases of injustice and threats to human dignity.

Pope Francis; a shining example of someone who believes in and leads a life of generous giving reminds us “We should always remember the dignity and rights of those who work, condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and help to ensure authentic progress by man and society.” I relate this to the hard work the residents have put into renovating their community. I believe that it is our duty to demonstrate our belief in their dignity through not only kind acts but through responding to this eviction order.

Facu Mau sign (002)I personally believe that it can be very difficult in the world today to know exactly when we should show signs of love to others around us due to fear of being manipulated or taken advantage of. To show love to others is to take a rather bold step; one of which a large amount of Faith is required to achieve”.