Friday, 13 November 2015

Interview with an Aid to the Church In Need volunteer: Mervyn


Mervyn, tell us a bit about yourself...

Although I was born in Kenya some 86 years ago, my roots are in Goa, a former Portuguese possession on India's west coast (now part of India).

After completing my education, I took up employment in the Colonial Civil Service in Kenya, working there for nearly 20 years. Moved to the U.K. in 1966 following the Africanisation of my post in Kenya and worked in various private companies here for many years.

Have been an active member in my parish for nearly 50 years. In addition to volunteering with ACN, I still enjoy writing for magazines both here and in Kenya.  Have also published two memoirs of my life and times in India, Kenya and the U.K. I have been married now for sixty three years, and my wife and I have been blessed with four children and eight grandchildren.

How long have you been volunteering at the charity?

More than 20 years!

How did you hear about the charity?

It was in the early 90’s that Neville Kyrke-Smith, the Charity’s National Director, made an appeal in our parish outlying the work of this Catholic charity. I was completely bowled over by Neville’s ‘art of gentle persuasion’ and enlisted in the “voluntary army” almost immediately; I can hardly believe I’ve now been with the charity for over 20 years, starting in rather “cramped” offices in Carshalton Road, Sutton, moving later to a brighter office in Times Square, and now in our own premises at Benhill Road, Sutton.

What role do you play at Aid to the Church in Need UK?

The charity has certainly grown since I first joined and, from a handful of volunteers in the early days, we now number some 15 most of whom work in the Trading department. Appeals made in various parishes around the country by Neville and other Area Secretaries, plus publicity of our work in the Catholic Press bring in a flood of requests from our regular supporters and others too. These are normally in the form of donations –both large and small, requests for Masses and orders for any number of religious and other articles available from our catalogue. This is where we, volunteers, come in.  Hundreds of ‘thank you’ letters need to be sent out, orders for books and other items despatched etc. All this keeps us busy, in between cups of tea/coffee!

Volunteers work on different days on a rota basis but we all work as a team and certainly feel a sort of bonding with our benefactors and persecuted Christians around the world. The camaraderie among the staff and volunteers is simply wonderful and this in itself makes our job all the more worthwhile.

Another aspect of our voluntary work has been the privilege of meeting many of our distinguished guests notably at our Westminster event each year. This event is very popular and attracts several hundred supporters not only at the concelebrated Mass but at the talks in the hall that follow. Like many other volunteers, I have been very privileged to meet some of our distinguished guests from many countries. It is always interesting to hear first-hand accounts of the untold suffering their people endure and to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to live in relative peace.

I was also privileged to join two ACN pilgrimages to Walsingham some years ago and see at first hand the living faith of the pilgrims. Such occasions are always very uplifting. When I see how our charity has grown from that tiny ‘mustard seed’ planted many years ago by our Founder, Fr. Werenfried van Straatan, I can’t but thank God for the guiding hand of this saintly priest which is evident even today.

In the person of Colette, we are lucky to have a very friendly and caring ‘boss’ to work with, as also with her staff Deborah, Kerry and Bill.

However mundane or routine our work may be, I feel I echo the sentiments of all our volunteers when I say, ‘ we are only too happy to help in whatever way since, what little we are doing is, in a way - to quote the saintly Blessed Teresa of Calcutta-


Why do you think people should support the work of Aid to the Church in Need?

A retiree had once described himself as being “rudderless in retirement” but went on to say,
“Please don’t suggest I take up golf or gardening; both bore me to tears”!  Well, I wasn’t
in quite the same category but, like most retirees always wanted to give back to society what the world had given me. What better way than doing a voluntary job I thought?

Do you have a message for the persecuted Church?

I admire the courage and resilience displayed by our persecuted brethren despite the difficult situations they find themselves in. Their deep faith is an inspiration to us all, and I want them to know that they are not alone in their suffering -they remain in our thoughts and prayers always.

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