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Summer 2022 newsletter

Julie Lawler, Cambodia

DDP staff and Julie having fun together after their students have graduated.

Do you want to see “community” through my eyes? Then just imagine a drone coming down on Cambodia and getting closer to where the Mekong River passes by the capital city of Phnom Penh.

As the drone comes into view of Phnom Penh, this is where my Cambodia Mission Team community lives (the Maryknoll entities of the Fathers, Sisters and lay missioners who collaborate together in Cambodia), then the drone flies on to the Boeung Tompun neighborhood or sangkat where I work in my ministry with the Deaf Development Programme (DDP) community, and, finally, the drone approaches the classroom with the DDP student community — and this is where their interactions can be observed. It is the time spent in these communities where I experience “community” as encouraging, fun, and life-giving.

To me, community involves active participation and a desire to develop relationships in the time you have with people. God has a desire for his people to be in community and to not be alone: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1)

The Cambodia Mission Team celebrating a birthday in February.

Community is encouraging: In this first level of community that the drone sees is my Maryknoll family (fellow Maryknoll lay missioners, Maryknoll Fathers and Maryknoll Sisters) of our Cambodia Mission Team (CMT).

Here in Cambodia, I feel blessed to do mission with the CMT and have learned so much from all the vast experiences, wisdom and uniqueness each member of the CMT has to share. Our weekly gatherings are something I cherish. The sharing of our faith at Mass and during Pastoral Theological Reflections, conversations over meals and happy hour, and learning from each other are important supports for me as I live in mission.

Community is fun: In this second level of community is my ministry with my DDP co-workers. It is fun for me to develop my relationships in this community, and it brings me such joy to continue to do work in the Deaf Community here in Cambodia.

One experience I shared with my co-workers in April was preparing for the Khmer New Year and coming together to clean our property. We held an early celebration of the Khmer New Year with the students before they left for their home town. In addition, the staff and students worked hard cleaning the outside property, cooking a community meal for lunch, and then playing games to close out the day.

Somal (black shirt) meeting Chin for the first time. Since that day, they have formed a close friendship and bond.

This was so special because, outside of DDP, most deaf people are included in events or celebrations only in limited ways since no one uses sign language where they live. So the events we share at DDP as a community are inclusive, authentic and priceless.

Community is life-giving: The third level of community that is important to share is the relationship that forms between deaf students and deaf individuals. I have the honor of seeing these relationships blossom. Deaf students come from government schools where they were bullied for being deaf, dropped out, and then lived in isolation. When they come here, it is new and different, and as time passes, many deaf individuals build friendships with other deaf students.

There is a group of boys this year that I have had the pleasure of getting to know. Each of the boys felt sad, bullied or alone before coming to DDP. Now as they spend time together with their friend groups, I have seen these four boys blossom as they become more themselves. They smile more, they laugh more, and they go through the ups and downs of teenage drama. That may seem a small thing, but to our students it is such a pivotal experience. With this group of boys, I can see how “community” is truly life-giving.

Finally, when we grow in relationship with others, we are growing in relationship with God. Seeing community through this lens can shed light on how I see community as an individual core desire for myself as well as why we have it as a core value for Maryknoll Lay Missioners.


Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which 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. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

 

 

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