Profile: Enoch Kanagaraj
Born in Trichy, India, Enoch Kanagaraj is the youngest of four siblings. By the time he was born, his police officer father and politician mother had both given up their jobs to become full time evangelists. Having completed his primary and secondary education in Adventist schools, Enoch registered for a bachelor’s degree in commerce. On completion of his first year of college, Enoch changed direction and moved to the United Kingdom. Here, he completed a BA in Psychology at Thames Valley University.
While studying, Enoch worked part-time in the retail business. On graduating, he opted for a career in retail management. Initially, he worked with a High Street retailer, specializing in the sale of high-end electrical goods. After 20 years progressing to senior management roles, he moved from consumables into food retailing, regarding this as more sustainable and less susceptible to the vagaries of the economy. After all, people always need to eat! Eight years ago,
he joined the Co-op, because he liked their ethical commitment to its suppliers, customers and the community.
Enoch’s choice of career created some discussion in the family. Enoch jokingly refers to himself as the prodigal son, as all his siblings work for the Church. One brother is a pastor, the other brother is a treasurer and his sister is a teacher in India. When Enoch decided not to work for the church, his Dad challenged him to always be faithful and find ways to serve the Lord. It has taken some time, but Enoch believes that he has now found where the Lord wants him to be.
Alongside his full-time job, Enoch spearheads One Vision, a charity working on community cohesion, bringing young people together through a Youth Council, supporting Mental Health and wellbeing, and providing support to the vulnerable in the community.
Enoch is married to Nishtha and they have two children, Jasmine and Jadon.
Although you grew up in an Adventist home and attended Adventist Schools, can you pinpoint a time when you made a personal commitment to God?
I have always identified myself as a Seventh-day Adventist. It is in my DNA, but my deep personal relationship with Christ started six years ago. In fact,
it all started fifteen years ago when I needed some new windows in my home. A Jewish friend recommended Richard Poulton. When he came, he seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had met him. While he installed the windows, he explained that he couldn’t work on Saturday, as he would be at church. Then I knew where I had seen him — in a Seventh-day Adventist church I occasionally attended.
Some years later I went to Richard’s church with my wife. A man sitting in
the row in front, Michael Dragoyevich, turned around and started talking to us. Unknown to me, Richard and Michael were both involved with an initiative called Door to Door Witnessing. Its aim was to share God’s word on people’s doorsteps. They invited me to join them, knocking on doors to listen to people’s needs and find ways to help them. The Holy Spirit started moving on my heart.
I met Jesus as my personal saviour; and that gave me a passion which gradually grew into the Community Chaplaincy Service (CCS), which aimed to raise the church’s profile in the local community by identifying and meeting felt needs. The idea came from my workplace where I had been appointed as a Community Engagement Advisor. My job role is to engage with community members, leaders, small groups and charities. The main aim was to make the Co-op popular, bring back lost members and recruit new members. This struck a chord, as I realised this is what we should be doing in church, and so One Vision was formed.
What is One Vision?
Although the Stanborough Park Seventh-day Adventist Church has over 600 members, as CCS developed, we recognised that the community needs were much greater than we could meet by ourselves. We began to connect and meet with other community organisations, charities, and local and national government leaders, to explore how we could co-operate. Everything was based at the Stanborough Park Church. Suddenly, people who normally would never come to the church were regular visitors.
One Vision grew out of these meetings. Among its stated aims and objectives were:
To provide Watford (our local town) residents with an effective local voice on issues which concern everyone: equality, housing, faith, employment and opportunity.
To strive for a safe home, adequate food, access to healthcare for all.
To provide a forum for members to network, exchange ideas, share information and skills, support each other, and provide a voice for the disadvantaged.
To provide leadership for the volunteer community, including training and development.
These were ambitious goals, but we believe that God expects us to have big dreams and aim high.
As One Vision was starting, the COVID Pandemic hit the United Kingdom. How did this impact One Vision?
As the country went into lockdown, we immediately began to hear stories
of hardship. People could not get out to the shops. School children, who normally would be entitled to free meals at school, suddenly were going hungry. Fortunately, the church has a full-size commercial kitchen, and we began to prepare and deliver meals. Again, it was clear we could not meet the need by ourselves. Together with other faith groups, the community and local government representatives, we now prepare and distribute 3,200 hot meals and 800 food parcels every week.
Is One Vision only about feeding people?
No! Providing meals and feeding people is a real need during this pandemic, but we have identified many other needs. COVID-19 is the visible pandemic, but there is a hidden pandemic which is just as lethal – mental health issues. Each week we take between five to ten calls from people who have suffered bereavement. In a significant number of cases, these have been suicides. Loneliness and mental health issues are particularly prevalent among young people, which has led us to set up a Youth Council and to make a conscious effort to involve youth in leadership roles.
We are now partnering with local government to produce a weekly mental health webinar and support the development of a mental health platform. We have appreciated the co-operation and input from the General Conference, Division and Union Health Ministries Departments.
You keep mentioning other groups, local, regional, and national government officials. How does this co-operation work in practice?
We have focussed on common needs and what we can do together. Our motto is, “Bringing people together”. Everyone has something to offer, and we work to find a place for everyone who wants to volunteer.
We have gone to the local authorities and our member of Parliament, and instead of asking them for help, we have asked how we can help them. This has opened doors. One Vision has been mentioned in the British Parliament as an example of co-operation in the community. We have received several prestigious awards and been invited to the House of Lords as part of an inter-faith dialogue which has grown out of our work in the community and co-operation with other faith groups.
You work full time, have a young family and One Vision seems also to be almost a full-time job; how do you manage?
It is all a question of priorities. The Lord comes first, then my wife and family, then everything else falls into place. Spending time in prayer and committing everything I do to God is key. Because I love the Lord, I want to show his love and compassion to others, to have a spirit of generosity in everything I do. Like Joshua I say, ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’
One Vision is something the whole family is involved with. We see the needs and, as we mix with people, we are just inspired and driven to keep going. I have found that, as I commit my time and energy in service for others, the Lord blesses all areas of my life.
I have also been fortunate to find good mentors who help me stay focussed and keep things in balance. In turn, I try to consciously mentor others, both at work and in One Vision. One person cannot do everything, and a key part of leadership is developing and empowering others. That way, both at work and in One Vision, we can achieve more.
Do you have many opportunities to share your faith?
In all my dealings with people, I try to model Christ’s compassion. Working in the retail trade, there are always issues, like shop-lifting. Rather than prosecuting, I have opted for working with the police and company to find long-term solutions. We started a youth employment scheme and ways to support young people.
I don’t work on Sabbath, and that always opens opportunities to witness about my faith. Of course, One Vision, and the fact that it is based at the church, gives many opportunities to share what we believe.
What attributes do you think are key to your success in both business and One Vision?
The most important thing is to see people. Many people live a task-oriented life. Their priority is to get the job done, no matter what the cost. When you see people, put them first, and ask how you can co-operate together. There is no limit to what you can achieve.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start something like One Vision or getting involved in their community?
First, decide how much time is realistic. For me, it began with knocking on doors on a Sabbath afternoon. Pray! Pray! Pray! Commit yourself and your desire to the Lord. Find a project to get involved in and then be open to the Lord’s leading. I never dreamed that I would be spearheading something like One Vision, but the Lord does amazing things when we are open to his leading.