Home » Cambodia » One year in: Reflecting on the gifts of the Holy Spirit

Lent 2021 newsletter


Julie Lawler, Cambodia



Julie leading a team building activity at the Deaf Development Programme’s annual meeting


When I arrived in Cambodia, I was welcomed with a small gift. The box contained a small hand fan, a small porcelain elephant that is used to hold incense, and lastly a pack of incense to burn. The gift was such a sweet gesture, but I didn’t typically use incense; I liked candles. So the box sat in my room for a while. After seeing the box again sometime later, I decided to give the incense a try and use them along with my candles. Come to find out, I really enjoyed the aroma and still use the incense to this day.

Have you ever received a gift that you didn’t know how to use or didn’t use right away? Did you put it on a shelf and leave it there? Throw it away?

New Year’s Day family meal in Memot

When you receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), what do you do with those gifts? As explained in a resource for the sacrament of confirmation, “These seven gifts help us to respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to make good choices, and to serve God and others.”

During this past first year in mission, I feel that in moments when I said yes, I was given the opportunity to walk with the local people, learn from them and be in community with them, sharing our unique gifts and talents with each other. I have been growing in my faith and continue to rely on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to keep me centered and on the right path of living out my Catholic faith in my daily life.

Here are reflections on three of these gifts:

  • The gift of wisdom has allowed me to participate in quality time with the local people and be available to learn from their lives, how they live, and share in community with them. It has let me learn more about my Khmer friends and their families.

From Julie’s zoom presentation to the confirmation teens at her home parish, St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church in Austin, Texas

A friend, Sophayot Khat, works for Maryknoll Mental Health. Traveling home from a staff meeting, when we were dropping him off, he invited me, along with Father Kevin and fellow lay missioner Kylene, to his house in Memot. It was New Year’s Day, and his family treated us to a traditional Khmer meal with sour soup made especially for me.

  • Working at the Deaf Development Programme (DDP), I have had to lean on the gift of understanding many times this year. This gift is helping me be compassionate and open-minded, and learn how to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, customs and cultural norms.

At our annual staff meeting, I was able to see how this gift has helped me to work with a variety of abilities (deaf, hearing, hard of hearing) and languages (Khmer, Cambodian Sign Language, English), as well as interacting and working with staff from other cultures, backgrounds and religious beliefs (Khmer, Khmer-Chinese, Khmer-Vietnamese; and Buddhist, Muslim).

  • The gift of piety: When I was asked to speak to a group of confirmation teens at my old parish in Austin, Texas, I needed courage to accept this request to share my story. For my current journey, I decided to leave my job, join Maryknoll Lay Missioners and move to Cambodia to serve the deaf population and also walk with the people who live in Cambodia.

Christmas Eve in Sampan

Each Sunday I attend Mass in Khmer with Father Kevin and Kylene in Vietnamese villages along the Mekong River outside Phnom Penh. The Mass supports and serves the people who are culturally Vietnamese by birth and live in Cambodia due to the past war and land disputes which have left them with no documents to prove their citizenship.

The parishes’ events that I have been able to attend were so special. One in particular was saying yes to an invitation to attend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass at the village of Sampan. I was missing my family during my first holiday away from family. This experience brought me great joy, and I was able to feel the gift of piety leading in this opportunity to serve and participate in this special service. I was able to hand out gifts with Father Kevin after Mass and see the joy on the children’s faces as they received their bag of treats.

While I live out my call to follow God’s plan for me, I want to keep using the gifts of the Holy Spirit and continue to grow in my faith. I will keep seeing how I can capture meaningful moments by saying yes, and using the gifts that have been given to me.

I need to keep a lookout for how the remainder of the gifts have been shared with me (wonder, counsel, knowledge and fortitude), and through those new experiences try to live out my call to share the gospel as Jesus has called us all to do.


Julie Lawler
Julie Lawler is a deaf education teacher with the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.