Several years ago, Maryknoll lay missioner Maria Montello says, she was “feeling like an inadequate godmother due to my absence in the U.S. and, consequently, my absence in my godsons’ lives.”
To establish more meaningful, regular contact with her three godsons, she decided to send them “what little advice I have as someone who has been in the world for 30 years longer than they.”
That’s how Maria’s weekly “Godmother’s Advice” emails were born.
What makes these emails unique is Maria’s perspective of living and working as a lay missioner in Phnom Penh. A Maryknoll lay missioner in Cambodia for more than eight years, she teaches philosophy and critical thinking at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Catholic Major Seminary.
The format of her advice is consistent from week to week: A photo showing a slice of life in Cambodia provides the inspiration for a piece of “Godmother’s advice” that is then further developed in one to two paragraphs. A final element is related background information on life in Cambodia.
These morsels of wisdom—sometimes whimsical or funny, sometimes serious and profound—provide food for thought and moral guidance, for young and old alike. The topics of the advice range from including others and honoring different perspectives to avoiding bad habits and bad influences; from the benefits of collaboration and the dangers of throw-away consumerism to caring for the most vulnerable and opening our hearts to others and to God. This week there is a timely one about heroism in light of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis.
The photos of these advice emails are snapshots of everyday life in Cambodia and were taken by Maria and friend J.K. Reimer. They depict such things as Khmer kickboxing and street scenes, a traditional boat racing festival and children flying a kite.
The backgrounders on Cambodian society explain social issues and norms, traditions, history, energy policy, migration, and the plight of children, to name a few.
Maria has recently been sharing these weekly emails with a wider audience of friends and others to generate interest in and support of her mission work but mostly “because I feel that folks need some good, helpful or happy things in their inbox these days.”
You can sign up for them here.
A few examples of “Godmother’s Advice”: