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Disciple Diaries: From heartbreak to hope

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Crippled in pain and psychologically broken from years of an addiction to methamphetamine, one time Wimbledon hopeful Andrew Condoleon climbed to his apartment balcony and prepared to jump.

“I was one of the lost sheep and I wanted to end it all,” he recalls.

For the 19-year-old tennis prodigy who had been at break point before, this was breaking point.

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But, looking down, he saw an awning two storeys below that would, ultimately, break his fall.

“I can’t even get this right”, he thought.

This cruellest of ironies didn’t escape him. He looked to the heavens and laughed.

He also did something he hadn’t done since he was a boy with his Filipino mother and grandmother.

“I spoke my first honest prayer. I looked up at the sky and asked ‘God, are you there? Are you there!?’”

God answered him. Not with “angels or anything supernatural, but a burning question: is there more to life than this?,” he explains.

Disciple diaries - The Catholic Weekly
Andrew as a young child holding and achievement trophy. Photo: Supplied.

Now 41 years old, that question would lead Andrew from a youth filled with family heart break, bullying, gang violence and drug addiction to a life of faith and family.

His journey back to the faith is chronicled in the latest Disciple Diaries from the Archdiocese of Sydney.

As a young boy, Andrew grew up in a Catholic household but never felt a connection to the faith his mother held so dear. “There was no interest in it. I went there because the music was nice. Every week, I got my Jesus ‘vitamin pill’ and left.”

He was close to his mother, but never knew his biological Korean dad. When his mother married his new stepfather, a loving Greek-born man, he felt a bond, strengthened when this new treasured father figure introduced him to his lifelong passion—tennis.

Under his tutelage Andrew became the top young player of his age in NSW, on track to play in the top competitions of the world, including Wimbledon. “I had this aspiration and I really wanted to make dad proud,” he said.

But when that relationship ended, he and his mother moved to Darwin, ending those dreams and the connection to a father he adored. Andrew says it left a deep “father wound” he would spend his young life trying to fill.

Returning to Sydney, his new school saw Andrew experience school bullying. He found solace with a group of Asian students. One of which introduced him to a street gang. “I felt like I belonged,” Andrew recalls.

He now believes he was still seeking to fill the fatherly “void”, but with a set of “brothers” who modelled themselves on the Hong Kong gangs popularised in films. In their destructive company Andrew discovered a “lust for power and wealth.”

Andrew in his youth with his friend. Photo: Supplied.

That quest would fast-track him into the world of alcohol, underground gambling, sex, and a new addictive drug just hitting the street—methamphetamine, commonly known as ‘ice’.

“It gave me a sense of false, distorted courage and planted a seed for a lot more wickedness and sinfulness,” he recalls.

Soon Andrew spiralled into all-night binges lasting weeks. In mere months, it would leave him spiritually and psychologically broken. The pain so extreme, it culminated in thoughts of suicide.

But when God answered him that fateful morning, something Andrew attributes to his loving mother constantly praying for him, he began “a journey of curiosity.”

From a youth spent looking to the ground, his eyes suddenly turned skyward more often. He began to see the beauty of God in nature, particularly in trees and “saw a vision of what life could look like.”

He kicked his drug addiction and was soon called to church to confess his many sins, culminating in a four-hour long confession.

It was life changing.

“I felt this mercy and love for the first time. That’s when I knew that this Catholic Church is the real deal,” he says.

Soon he returned to Mass and fell in love with his dormant Catholic faith for the first time in his life.

He married, and the couple became part of the community at St Kevin’s Catholic parish in Eastwood.

Now a devoted Catholic, Andrew soon had a desire to move from the sidelines to be “to be an instrument for Christ.” He wanted to lead others but wasn’t sure how.

Disciple Diaries
Andrew with his wife at church. Photo: Supplied.

Fr Pawel pointed him to the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Go Make Disciples Mission plan as set out by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

“The Go Make Disciples model is incredible. On their website they’ve created this incredible model that we can all follow. They’re quite simple strategies but it is a way of having some tools, to step out of the comfort zone,” says Andrew.

Since then Andrew has been involved in various initiatives, both in the parish and in the wider archdiocese.

“Meeting Andrew at a ‘Raising Fathers’ event at Eastwood and seeing him take part in the men’s pilgrimages and the Areté course in missionary leadership has been a real testament to the deep conversion he has experienced these past years,” said Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation Daniel Ang

“The impact Andrew is having on his family, parish and wider community is incredible and a real inspiration.”

Today, Andrew is using his love of fitness, including his childhood passion and talent for tennis, to inspire others.

“I feel like getting active movement is a form of ministry. We’ve got a tennis group and a men’s weekly bike ride,” he explains.

Andrew has finally found the faith and the father figure he’d spent a lifetime seeking.

“I found him in God the Father. I can trust in him. I didn’t have that with my father figures but, he’s like a lighthouse, you know? He just guides me through the storms.”

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