A little over 20 years from her mission sending, Rachel Smith Chung (Class of 1999, Cambodia) returned to work for the Catholic Church. She writes:
It has certainly been a journey of twists and turns, working with the Church, but I do believe God calls us to be where we are needed. I currently work for the Archdiocese of Washington in the Department of Special Needs Ministries. This department supports people living with disabilities and persons who are Deaf to connect fully with their Catholic faith and be fully included into the life of their parish and community.
I have worked with people living with disabilities for over 25 years, including with Maryknoll in Cambodia, but rarely thought about the whole person–mind, body, and Spirit.
I see my life in mission bringing me full circle to really see people with disabilities as whole people and with a spirituality we need in our world. I see walking with people living with disabilities as mutually transformative and their gifts are so needed in our wounded Church.
One person who stands out to me in my journey as a lay missioner in Cambodia is a boy named Bonah (which means “good”) who was born with cerebral palsy. Bonah was abandoned at birth in front of an orphanage. I worked with the small school inside the orphanage, training teachers. He was significantly impacted and could not move his arms or legs and did not use words to communicate. Bonah was completely dependent on people for his needs. He was often left on the floor, sometimes naked.
He did, however, have his smile. “How could he be happy?” I often thought. He truly brought joy to a place that could be so hopeless. I came one day to the orphanage and the staff informed me that Bonah had died. There would be no funeral rite in the Cambodian traditions, but I would remember him long after I left.
Bonah taught me the value of a life despite what the world believed was limitations. Do we not have this challenge throughout the world? God worked through Bonah, and was surely present in Cambodia, which is 98 percent Buddhist.
I knew I would go on after Maryknoll to continue the journey to show the value of ALL life.