December 2021 newsletter
Julie Lawler, Cambodia
As I was listening to the song “Companions on the Journey” by Carey Landry, I was struck by how I have been walking with people in my ministry and how they have also been walking with me. Accompaniment to me means joining people arm in arm as we share our burdens, joys and celebrations together. In mission, accompaniment is a relationship and a journey that people participate in by saying yes to sharing life together.
I have found that I have started to progress on my accompaniment journey as I have spent time this past year and a half with the staff at the Deaf Development Programme (DDP). I have come to the realization that we are all companions on the journey no matter what we believe or where we come from. The differences in us do not divide us but bring us together — such as religion, language, cultural beliefs, customs and/or race. We can all share life, welcome various people to the table, and not be strangers any longer.
‘Companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life’
Sophy Thuch is a co-worker at DDP, and she has truly shared life with me these past two years. I have learned so much from her as a colleague, friend and mother. As deaf education teachers, Sophy and I share a desire to promote accessible education and language development opportunities to deaf individuals no matter their age.
I have experience teaching deaf students in Texas who were 8 to 10 years old and who already knew American Sign Language (or learned it at a young age), had literacy skills in reading and writing, and progressed in regular math classes from an early age.
Meanwhile, Sophy has experience teaching Cambodian Sign Language to her students for the first time, as well as teaching Khmer literacy and basic math to students who range from 16 to 35 years old. Sophy’s and my relationship thus far has been like the song that says, “We are companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life.”
‘No longer strangers to each other’
Sreytouch Siv, an interpreter at DDP, is another co-worker who has joined me on this journey, although initially we did not interact much. But as time has passed, we have become more familiar with each other and are finding more and more ways to communicate despite our language barrier. After two years in Cambodia, my Cambodian Sign Language has developed to the point that I can hold conversations, connect and share life with deaf and hearing people who can communicate through sign language. My Khmer is progressing but is still at the beginning level.
Sreytouch and I choose to communicate in sign rather than spoken English or Khmer. We recently went shopping at the local market to buy kramas (the traditional Khmer scarf that features a checkered pattern with various colors and is used for many different purposes), and the local vendor was clearly puzzled by our interaction. I had asked about prices and products at her clothes stand in Khmer. But when the vendor saw Sreytouch and me having a conversation in CSL, she was confused. She asked if I was deaf. Sreytouch said, “Julie is hearing and can talk. She just asked you prices in Khmer, but her Khmer is still basic so the two of us communicate in sign language since my English is also basic.” Sreytouch and I are no longer stranger, and we are sharing life more and more.
‘Gifted with each other’
Accompanying Sophy and Sreytouch has brought me so much joy as I reflect on how these two relationships have grown. My “yes” to mission was not a one-time response. I continue to say yes each and every day and to walk arm in arm with people that God has called to accompany me during this time in my life.
We truly have been “gifted with each other,” as the song says. I want to thank all of you — my family, friends and benefactors of Maryknoll Lay Missioners — who have also joined me on this journey.
I am so grateful for your continuing support of my ministry. During this season of giving, I would like to urge you to consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign. This new campaign raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us.
A group of donors has already pledged to match the dollars raised by this campaign 2-to-1. That means that every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. This campaign will ensure that Maryknoll Lay Missioners will be able to continue to send and to support missioners like me in the years to come. Please pray for the success of this campaign and if you can, please donate at the “Walk With Us” button below.