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Advent 2023 newsletter

 

Julie Lawler, Cambodia

Live in love – Sharing and helping others in the community. Sreymom shows Samnang how to prepare and cut pork for the community lunch. Photos by Sopor Lay/DDP.

Living here in Cambodia, Christmas is not a holiday that our local community celebrates. Cambodia is 95% Buddhist, so the vast majority of people do not celebrate Christmas or Easter.

I have been invited to celebrate the traditions and ceremonies of my receiving community, participating in Khmer New Year, Pchum Ben (similar to All Souls Day) and Water Festival activities.

Being in mission here has led me to dwell in the richness of Christmas and to be reminded of the true focus, which is on the birth of God’s son, Jesus. He invites us to encounter people who are not like us and people who follow a different path from our own.

Witchika cleans banana leaf.

Witchika cleans a banana leaf for the community meal.

I would like to share with you some experiences where I feel Jesus has encouraged me to remain in the true spirit of Christmas and to find those moments of hope, peace, joy and love in my daily interactions.

It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories
of goodness and thus to open doors of hope
(Pope Benedict XVI).


Live in hope and peace:
Each and every day I see hope in the eyes of my Cambodian neighbors. This country has lived through a history of devastating loss, fear and war, so 40-plus years later the older generation of Cambodians still focus on a “hope in a better tomorrow.”

One Sunday after Mass, I had a chance to talk to a village leader, who shared his wisdom with us. He said, “Even though today still has its challenges, struggles and hardship, we focus on being in a better place than we were yesterday; we live in peace; there is no war.”

Many of the younger generations of people do not have these shared life experiences and have a different way of viewing the world. He left me with the feeling that there is hope if we choose to remain in that belief and to see life’s challenges as little detours. His main focus is to live each day with this conviction, “We need peace in our lives and in our families, and homes.” Nothing else matters.

 

May we be in this world a ray of that light which shone forth from Bethlehem,
bringing joy and peace to the hearts of all men and women
(Pope Francis).

Live in joy: Most of the time I feel and see joy when I am participating and encountering people in the Deaf community. People who are deaf value connection, having access to and being included in conversations, and developing relationships with people who share their same language.

Joy in connecting with others: Julie, Vanarith and Sakun share a laugh as they prepare a meal for the community.

I find the most joy in just doing everyday tasks with the DDP students. We could just be sitting around, chatting and sharing stories about our day or preparing food for celebrations. In those moments, I can just see the joy on their faces and their sense of peace in having a space where people listen and talk with them.

For me it is their “laughter and shouts of joy” that remain with me this Advent season.

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup
of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home.
Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start
(St. Teresa of Calcutta).


Live in love:
As we get new students at DDP, there is a transition period where a deaf student leaves their family and life of isolation to living in a fully connected community.

The students at DDP act as helpers and assist new students in becoming more aware of their new environment by practicing sign language and associating it with the topic they are helping them with.

Each day new students slowly understand that signs in sign language have meaning and each individual sign helps them communicate with others. It is the first time they begin to feel connected, and each day brings a new sense of belonging. It is through these interactions that I see the deaf students sharing and “bringing love” to their DDP community.

Happy Advent and merry Christmas,
Julie


Please consider supporting my mission work at the Deaf Development Programme with a donation through the link below.

I invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 

 

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