Serge Makoundou, a parishioner from St John Vianney in Bexleyheath, shares his personal story about how faith and volunteering with CAFOD transformed him into being a follower of Christ and the gospel.
Serge writes: “Some time ago I was what you might call a jet setter.
“For 9 years I worked for an airline which involved continuous travelling, luxury hotels
and a very material way of life. “Although I was based in the Ivory Coast, most of my time was spent in Paris where, like many others, I enjoyed the good life. Sadly, although it’s no excuse, my day-to-day Parisian and airline activities meant I had ceased going to church. I didn’t actually lapse in the conventional sense but regular visits to church became irregular and then none at all.
“Then I had what was to be the first of several ‘wake-up calls’. “The airline company ceased trading and its closure meant redundancy and the end of my jet setting life as I knew it. Worse still, not only was I jobless but I had to return to my home in Congo Brazaville. “Now I was suffering both a culture shock, as I was almost penniless, and I also had an anxiety complex. Then, by chance, I met Father Guy Honoré a catholic priest from the Diocese of Brazzaville who said: ‘When you have some problems give to the poorest. Think of those who have even less than you. When you had money you didn’t do it… Do it now.’
“At the time I thought it was mad idea. How could I give anything as I had nothing left?
“Then one day this same priest took me to an orphanage.
“As I toured the establishment and saw how there were so many less fortunate than myself I reflected on my situation and realised now was my opportunity to give.
“I think the Lord was inspiring me because I gave those orphans what very little money I had. It gave me an uplift. Then within three months I got a job and from that point I felt and believed God was not only hearing me through prayer and deed but was actually answering me. Sadly, my mother died before I could tell her the good news – that I’d found this work and decided to mend my ways and share what I had with others.’
“From then on I resolved to continue supporting the orphanage with food, milk and oil. The nuns and mothers, who ran the centre, welcomed all these children left parentless following the war.
“It was in this orphanage I met a little girl called Grace. She’d lost her speech following the trauma of brutal hostilities. I was so moved by her parlous state I believed I had to keep on helping others… Like Simon of Cyrene who was called to share the burden… I was called to ‘turn over a new leaf’ and take on the new man (Serge, who is French speaking, referred to St Paul asking to leave the old man and become a new man).
“Without question I was called to follow Christ by looking after my neighbours.
“When I arrived in England in 2003 I thought I had to get involved very quickly in a charitable work. First, I volunteered in my parish in Notre Dame de France for the homeless where I served food. Then I sought to do even more with something else.
“This is when, through leaflets left in the church porch, I heard about CAFOD. They included references to an Understanding CAFOD workshop and I thought I should explore what CAFOD was about. You might say it was a ‘lightbulb’ moment when I heard a CAFOD speaker talking about who they were and what they did and stood for.
“I learned that CAFOD works in over 50 developing countries across the world in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, supporting all people regardless of race, gender, religion or nationality to find their own solutions to poverty.
“Put simply, that’s why we work through the local Catholic Church and other partners in those countries to fight poverty and injustice and give support wherever the need is greatest.”
“I thought, if I were to join CAFOD here was an opportunity for me to get a wider open-mindedness to my neighbour: ‘We are global neighbours and we believe that everyone in the world has the right to live their lives with dignity.
“With and through CAFOD I can really live God’s kingdom. And also with CAFOD I have found I stay soundly rooted in the gospel. CAFOD has firm foundations, it is solid (Serge again spoke in French as he referred to the gospel of the man who built his house on the rock).
“God told us to love our neighbour.
“And, now as a volunteer, I am inviting you, my fellow parishioners, to make a gesture, a gesture which will save and bring happiness to my (and your) neighbours with dignity.
“I think CAFOD’s work is extraordinary as it allows me to put my faith into practice. With CAFOD I can help as it is structured, organised and in parishes. CAFOD has a community spirit and through its many world-wide activities it offers solidarity with dignity as it brings happiness to people.
“Therefore being a volunteer makes me feel more open to others and to their needs. It’s a very moving experience when you’re standing in front of fellow parishioners and you see them listening and really following what you say. Once I felt truly rewarded when I had the audience clapping at the end of one of my talks!
“I also feel being part of God’s kingdom when people, at the end of mass, come and talk to me and thank me for letting them know about the situation in the country I mentioned in my talk.
“Being a volunteer for CAFOD is my way of taking part in the community.
“No longer a jetsetter but to be a global neighbour.
“I know what it is to be hungry and not to have anything, so thank you to the Lord for what he has done with my life.”
Reported by Richard Gallimore
If you wish to find out more about CAFOD please visit our website (cafod.org.uk) or come and join us for an Understanding CAFOD workshop on Saturday 4th February 10 am to 2:45 pm in London SE1 6HR. Book your free ticket here on Evenbrite or call our office on 0208 466 9901.