Initially, it’s really hard to process the profound effect of such an experience. It takes time, reflection, and patience with oneself; you need to marinate in the experience—mind, body, and soul—to figure out what happened to you before you can convey it to others. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Trust in the slow work of God… your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them … Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.”
One day at work, a coworker politely opened a door for me and allowed me to pass through. At that moment, “crossing the threshold” popped into my head. ”Hmmm,” I thought, “a nice analogy for my experience in Cambodia.” Having been an Affiliate for about eight years now, I’ve met many missioners and heard their stories. And before that, I’ve been on three Sister Parish visits to Guatemala—all wonderful experiences in and of themselves, but this FAB trip was different. For the first time, I really crossed over the threshold from the environs of my own familiar and comfortable world into a world touched by mission life, if only for a short time.
Throughout Cambodia’s history, from the Khmer Empire—an advanced civilization ruled by kings—of a thousand years ago to the recent horrific and tragic era of the Khmer Rouge, there has been one constant: the suffering of its people—at the hands of their own leaders and those of foreign invaders. In addition to the lasting effects of the Khmer Rouge’s destruction of social, political, judicial, medical, educational, administrative, and spiritual systems, Cambodians today still suffer from the shortsighted and corrupt policies of government officials. The resulting lack of security, lack of hope, and pervasive fear have scarred the individual and collective psyches of the Cambodian people, many of whom find themselves marginalized and impoverished.
The compassion and missionary spirit of Maryknoll thrive in this environment. In response to the pain and suffering of the Cambodians, the Gospel is lived fully and joyfully, and the mission of Jesus is truly evident. We witnessed it through the Maryknoll missioners we encountered; we saw firsthand their expression of peace, justice, love, compassion, and joy as they respond to the needs of the people they serve. In the midst of so much pain and suffering, in their face-to-face encounters—there was an infectious joy!
The great pilgrim routes are dotted with shrines, monuments and markers to identify places where pilgrims pause to rest and pray and to give thanks for the holy ground they’ve covered. Truly, this FAB experience was a pilgrimage. As I look back over the holy ground we covered, I am filled with gratitude for the many joys which have marked our pilgrim route. I saw joy in the face of the HIV+ resident I met in the shantytown of Anlong Kngan Resettlement Community. With the gift of a scooter from Maryknoll, he can work to support his family. I experienced joy getting down on my hands and knees and butt and playing with the little children in the Boeung Toumpun Education program. My head and heart are full with memories of joy.
How awesome it was to be with the missioners and to share in their lives for even the briefest of time! This is a gift I will surely treasure. Knowing them has enriched my life. Being with them has been a blessing. I pray our paths will cross again.
…the Gospel tells us constantly to run the riskof a face-to-face encounter with others,with their physical presence which challenges us,with their pain and their pleas,with their joywhich infects us in our close and continuous interaction. - Pope Francis, December 2013
Rich Lesssard's complete blog of his experiences in Cambodia is available at Joy of the Gospel...In Cambodia.