Day 7: What an incredible day! The whole trip has been great, but today was just good in a different way. Let me be transparent for a moment. Throughout this trip, we have had several moments of weakness when we have asked ourselves, "What are we doing here?" We have had tears, frustration, doubt, and discouragement, and God has calmed our hearts and reset our focus each time. He did the same today.
This morning, we had coffee scheduled with a pastor in the city of Toulouse, which is about an hour and a half away from Limoux. The exhaustion from this past week had caught up with us both. To be honest, neither one of us were feeling it today. We had to wake up pretty early in order to get to Toulouse on time. I knew we were getting low on gas, but I figured we'd just stop somewhere along the way and fill up there before getting on the Autoroute. Google maps had other plans. We were sent way out into the countryside. It was a beautiful drive, but we were getting really low on gas. We passed through several small towns, but no gas stations in sight. Eventually, the gps dumped us onto the Autoroute. We drove just a few miles, and, thank goodness, saw a gas station on one of the exits. We pulled off drove down to a large roundabout, went around it a couple of times (don't ask), and finally flung ourselves into the gas station. I rushed over to a pump and let out a sigh of relief. We had made it. I got out of the car, put in my debit card (which only had a little money left anyway), and pulled the card back out. Denied. "What? I know there's money on there." Swiped again. Denied. "No, no, NO!" Swiped again. Denied. "That's fine. I'm not sure what's wrong, I'll just pay with cash." I looked over to the lady pumping gas on the other side. "Parlez anglais?" She shook her head, "Non Monsieur." She could tell that I was aggravated, so she walked around to help. She tried to explain, but I just couldn't understand anything she was saying. I got back in the car, slammed the door, sped out of the gas station, took a ride on the roundabout, and jumped back on the Autoroute. "Great! This is just wonderful! We're stuck by ourselves, in the middle of a country we don't know, we can't speak French, and are about to run out of gas! What are we doing here??!! Have I lost my mind? We'll probably run out of gas before we ever find another gas station." Niki spoke softly, "Honey...there's a gas station at the next exit."
When I pulled up to the pump this time, I just turned the engine off and looked at Niki. "There are places all over the world that need missionaries. There are places in Africa and South America where people are coming to Christ daily. People have told me back home that there are places in the U.S. that need missionaries. Why here? Why France? Why not any of those other places?" Niki has been married to me long enough to know that, when it comes to these kinds of things, if she just stays quiet long enough, I'll answer my own questions. I sat in silence for a moment, and suddenly it was as if a whisper passed through my mind saying, "Because you haven't been sent to those places." I immediately repeated it aloud, "Because we haven't been sent to those places." Half of that statement had barely even passed through my lips when I heard Niki saying the same words. "Because we haven't been sent to those places." I took a deep breath and nodded.
That was it for me. I didn't need to look any further, ask any more questions, or wait any longer. I knew that I knew. God has called us as missionaries to France.
The rest of the drive to Toulouse was different. The cloud over my head had passed, the confusion and doubt was gone. We had a great discussion with the pastor in Toulouse. His associate pastor was there as well serving as a translator. That church is really growing, and it was refreshing to see and hear how God is working there. We received a third warning today, this time by the associate pastor, "Please, do not move over here and try to start a church where no one else is working." I'm beginning to see a pattern here. I plan to speak with Jason Clark when we get back to the States.
The rest of our discussion was both pleasant and informational. The pastor set me onto a website and some statistics that made me realize a little more why God had called us to France. Allow me to share a couple of these. According to studies done by a French Baptist association of churches, there is only 1 evangelical church for every 30,000 people in France. Only a small number of these classify as what they call "Mature" churches. Their use of this term is in reference to churches who have at least 30 in membership, meet at least 3 times each month, have some form of recognized leadership, and have their own building. By these standards, the churches I have mentioned in Toulouse and Carcassonne would both classify as "Mature" churches. There is a lot of work to do in France, and, while I know that there's only so much our family can do, I am understanding more and more why God has called us here.
The rest of the day was just icing on the cake. We had a picnic lunch with a Chateau in the background, walked through a beautiful little village with a whopping population of 50, and maybe even got an idea on an area where God might want us to work. The last thing will need to be prayed on before sharing publicly, but it was a great day. We had our final dinner with our English host and hostesses, and then walked over to Matthew's house for a time of fellowship with the people of the Limoux church plant. Jason Clark joined in on Skype. We had a wonderful time of singing praises and discussing life and God. Our hearts were full as we walked back to the house tonight. Time to turn in again for some sleep. Tomorrow we wake up at 5am and head back to Toulouse to drop off our rental car and begin our flight home.
I don't know all of the details yet, but I do know this...We're moving to France.
Day 6: This morning, Niki and I had breakfast with our hosts and then traveled back to Carcassonne. Our coffee with the pastor was scheduled for 10am. Like Kevin, he also gave us some valuable advice and insight to working in France. The thing that stuck out the most about his advice was a warning that we do not come over and work alone. Like Kevin, he advised that we either work with someone as a team or work in close proximity to other Christians. He also advised us to spend the first two years after language school working with another church or missionary before venturing out to do our own work. Once more, we have much to think and pray about. We had prayer together, and then allowed him to get back to his work on the new church building.
Niki and I took the rest of the morning to visit the old City of Carcassonne again. This time, we had the Chateau (castle) in our sites. We wondered and winded through the streets of Carcassonne until we finally made it to the gateway that led into the Chateau. The tickets were only 9 euros, and we could spend all the time we wanted walking through the castle. I won't spend much space talking about our tour, but two things do stand out. First, when we entered into the building, there were two old gargoyles that had obviously fallen from...somewhere. That's not the funny part. When we walked by, Niki said, "Oh, look at those big door knockers." I looked around the room. "Where," I asked. "Right there!" She said, "Those are the biggest door knockers I've ever seen!" I laughed through the next three rooms. Don't worry, I eventually told her they were gargoyles, but you had better believe that I'm going to mess with her about that every time I see a gargoyle. The second little tid-bit that I'll share is about the walls around the castle. All along the outside of the castle were narrow, vertical openings in the wall. I told Niki that was where archers would take aim at their enemies while being safely guarded by the walls. I honestly have no idea if that's true or not, but the rest of our walk around the walls were spent watching Niki shoot imaginary arrows at invisible enemies. She's such a kid. Lol
I'm not sure if we took a wrong turn somewhere, but we suddenly found ourselves walking on the outside of the castle along the walls of the city. We followed it around what must have been half of the village. Eventually, we came to the large city gate and could go no further, but the view from up there was spectacular. We got some great photos. My grandfather recently passed away, and he was crazy about pigeons. While we were up there, we had some pigeons come and land beside us. I couldn't help but think about Pawpaw.
We worked up an appetite with all of that walking, so our next stop was to find something to eat. Someone had told us that the signature dish in that area was called cassoulet. Naturally, we needed to try it. It didn't take us long to find a little restaurant whose specialty was cassoulet. It was great! Basically, it's just white beans with chicken and sausage, but I loved it. I'm kind of a sucker for down-home cooking anyway. Some of our French friends made sure that we knew there was much better dishes in France than cassoulet. I guess that would be similar to a French person visiting America and raving over ham and beans.
While most of our day was spent touring Carcassonne, I feel like we were able to gain a better understanding of what life is like in this area of France. Again, we don't feel like we'll be working in Carcassonne, but the pace of life is probably pretty similar to wherever God will have us ministering.
After a late lunch, we drove back to Limoux. Niki hadn't had the opportunity to visit the village yet, so we took an evening stroll through town before returning to Jason's house for supper. She wanted to try and find some things for the kids and for our missionary booth. There really wasn't much to find, but we walked and talked until nearly dark. There are still some concerns that we need to pray through, but we can tell that God is at work.
Day 5: This morning, the English gentleman (Kevin) invited me to accompany him into town. He had an errand to run, so we took a moment to drop off a package at the post office and then made our way to the old bridge there in Limoux (conveniently called the Pont Neuf: new bridge). One of the people in Jason's church plant lived fairly close to where we were, so we dropped in on him for a few minutes. After all of our errands had been run, we journeyed back to the center of Limoux and found a place to get coffee. That little run into town turned into a fairly good introduction to city.
Kevin offered me some sound advice at coffee today. He has been working in France for a long time, and he had a very...frank conversation with me about the realities of ministry in this country. One of the things that sticks out the most was a warning that we should not attempt to go out somewhere by ourselves. We will need the encouragement and strengthening of fellowship with other Christians. His suggestion is that we either come over with another family as a team or find a family with whom we can work closely. He gave me a lot to think and pray about today. He didn't sugar coat things, and I'm appreciative of that. This is going to be a long and difficult field to work, and we need to come with that understanding.
This evening, we met Kevin and his wife Susan in Carcassonne. They have been doing some work in the new church building there. In addition to Kevin and Susan, there are also two young adult ladies from England as well. They will be working here for a couple of months in the church at Carcassonne with evangelism and Bible clubs for children. They are all such a pleasure to be around. We have really enjoyed getting to know them a little. Of course, we're all asking questions about one another's homes, customs, and experiences. Kevin had a Bible study scheduled this afternoon with a local gentleman, so we made our way into the old City of Carcassonne. It was beautiful. We didn't get to spend much time there, because we needed to get back for supper, but we plan on returning tomorrow morning.
When we returned to the church for supper, we had the opportunity to do some work in the new building. We also help set up a room for the two girls to stay in throughout the remainder of their mission trip. For supper, we had deli meat, fresh bread, fruit, and some of the cheese that we bought yesterday in Clermont-Ferrand. I also got to try Marmite. It was quite strong, but I liked it. Kevin told me to make sure that I didn't let any of the French people know that I liked Marmite. Evidently they hate it...and so does he. Lol.
After supper, we went to a Bible study that Kevin was teaching in a local village. The pastor of the church in Carcassonne was there, and we were able to schedule coffee together in the morning. I look forward to speaking with him. The Bible study was great. It was all in French of course, but Susan sat beside us and translated everything so that we could follow along.
What a day. I am hoping that our meeting with the pastor tomorrow will shed more light on this burden God has laid on our hearts.
Day 4: This morning we woke up early and tried to get out of Massy before everyone started on their way to work. We hopped on the Auto Route and began making our way south towards Limoux. On the way, we stopped in and visited with a friend and his wife in the city of Clermont-Ferrand. They showed us around the town for a couple of hours and then took us to one of their favorite restaurants: a place called 1513. The name either comes from the year that it was established, or the year that the building was constructed. Either way, it was old. The food was good. We tried a Crepe filled with hamburger meat. I felt sorry for our hosts. I was tearing at that Crepe like a caveman. It was kind of like eating Sloppy Joe's. There was just no good way for me to eat it and still keep my dignity. I think Niki likened me in some way to the dinner scene in Beauty and the Beast. I guess that's fitting.
After lunch, we strolled around town for a while longer. They brought us to a local Fromagerie. The kind lady behind the counter cut the cheese (literally) and let us have a taste. The smell was terrible, but the cheese was good. Please forgive all of my attempts at being punny. We made our way back to Mike's house and enjoyed some French coffee. Then, we got back on the road and headed south towards Limoux, the city where our friends Jason and Angie Clark are working to plant a church. What a beautiful drive that was. Since the Clarks are away on Furlough, we were welcomed into their home by an English couple who has been watching over the Clarks' house in Limoux while doing some ministry at a church in the nearby city of Carcassonne.
The rest of our time in France will be spent in this area. After an eight hour drive to Limoux, we're ready for some much needed rest.
Day 3: Today is Sunday, so we decided to attend the worship service at the French Baptist Church that meets in the same building as the language school. We don't really know anyone who attends there, most of the students seem to find their own church in the area rather than go to this one. Yet, we really enjoyed the services. Didn't understand a thing...but we enjoyed it. The place was packed. About half of the congregation was African, and the other half French. Two different worship styles, but they all blended their passion for Christ beautifully. It really was a joy to witness. In fact, in the worship service today both Niki and I had a difficult time trying to control our emotions. I think we both eventually gave up an allowed our tears to stream without worrying what everyone else was thinking of us. Listening to that crowd of people singing praises to our God, in another language, and at the top of their voices was very moving for us. Again, we didn't understand everything, but we experienced worship today unlike anything we've experienced before. Simply put...it was beautiful.
We were excited that one of the ladies Niki met at the Language School on Friday invited us to lunch. We had a great time with them and their family. They are intending to move to Marseille and do evangelism amongst the Muslim people in that area. They also gave us a lot of useful information about the process of moving to France and getting started at the language school.
After our lunch, we walked back to our hotel and just rested for a while. Since there are no evening services at the church here in Massy, we had plans to meet with Yvain (a believer we know from Paris) this evening for supper. Almost everything closes down on Sundays, so the only restaurants we could find open were McDonalds and Pizza Hut. Go figure. We chose McDonalds, and had a wonderful time of fellowship with our brother in Christ.
Although we still didn't hear any angelic choruses, I feel that God is confirming our calling to France. Today in worship, I was overjoyed to witness the love and unity in Christ amongst our French brothers and sisters. Yet, it also breaks my heart to know that there are still many places in France with a very small gospel presence. I look forward to how God will continue to guide us throughout this next week.
That's it for now. I am exhausted, and my legs are killing me.
Day 2: Today we woke up feeling much better. We stopped and prayed this morning, and then discussed both the blunders and blessings of yesterday. We decided to start with a clean slate and have a good time. That would be easy of course, because today we went to Paris. This was the day we set aside for "touristy" things.
We began with a brisk walk from the hotel to the train station. The gentleman at the counter was very polite and helped us get the tickets we needed to get to Paris and back. Once we maid our way outside to the track, we double checked with a young lady to make sure we were headed for Paris. We had been told worrisome things about people's manners on the metro systems in and around Paris. This same young lady got up from her seat later on the ride and came to make sure we knew what exit to get off, and then used hand signals to tell us where to go next in order to get to the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully, we had Google Maps with us, but we appreciated the courtesy she showed us. Perhaps those rumors are untrue, or perhaps it's just because it's Saturday. Lol.
The Paris we experienced today was everything we could have dreamed it to be (besides the wet and dreary weather). We don't feel called to work in Paris, but it is definitely a place to which we want to return with the kiddos. There's so much to say about all of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Paris, but I'll just share some photos and tell you where we walked. We walked from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre Museum; from the Louvre to Notre Dame; and then from Notre Dame to the nearest metro. Then, when we finally found our way back to the correct Metro train line, the train skipped our stop and let us out two stops later. We were told in plain English, "This is the last stop...Get off." We walked another 45 minutes before finally returning to our hotel. I looked it up. Just in travel time from one site to another, we walked over 15 miles today. Did I mention that we also climbed the stairs at the Eiffel Tower and walked four two hours around the Louvre Museum?
Even with all the walking, today was incredible. It wasn't really a spiritual day, but we feel like we got a taste of the public transportation system, along with a feel for the pace of Paris. A word to the wise. If you ever visit the Eiffel Tower...Take the Elevator!
Day 1. We arrived in France today around 8am. It was a long flight, and Niki and I were already completely exhausted when we landed. We were able to find our luggage easy enough, but got a surprise when we made it to the car rental counter. Our $200 dollar car rental suddenly became an unplanned $1,000.00 hold on our debit card. Before we left, I had taken out a little over 600 euros, and had just around one thousand U.S. dollars left in the bank account. This means that we literally had to move money from our savings account in order to rent the car. We're literally going to travel France for a week with little more than the money in my pocket. If that wasn't bad enough, then we had the incredible experience of driving. Those few kilometers between Paris Orly and the Kyriad Hotel in Massy were the most intense moments of driving I have ever experienced. Niki helped me with the GPS and signs, and I just tried to keep us alive. With God's protection, we made it safely to our hotel. The next thirty minutes were spent trying to find the invisible parking garage that the lady at the front counter kept pointing at....it was underground. Sigh.
We made it to the language School in Massy an hour early today. Our appointment was for 10am for the purpose of meeting the students on their class break. We were frustrated, exhausted, and a little discouraged about the money issue. For weeks, we had been dreaming of walking through the doors of Les Cedres (the language school). I basically already knew how to get there, because I had traveled there on Google Maps countless times before our trip. I think I was expecting a rainbow to appear, bells to ring, or angels to begin singing when we walked through the door.
None of that happened.
The school was beautiful, the staff was more than friendly, and it was obviously a nice school...for someone. I had already done so much research online, that the information I received from the secretary was redundant. I remember thinking, "I could have done this through an email. What am I doing here??!!" Niki and I took a seat on the bench out in the foyer. It still wasn't break time yet, and neither of us had the energy or encouragement to stay any longer. I waited for what seemed like eternity for the secretary to bring me back a printout of some paperwork. When she returned, she asked when we thought we could get started in school. I answered, "I'm not sure right now." Yet, in my head I was saying, "Lady, I'm not ever coming back." That may not be what you want to hear, but I'm just being transparent. I had only been in France for an hour. This was supposed to be the trip that confirmed everything! I felt nothing.
Then, it happened. The bell rang, and suddenly Niki and I were surrounded by American students (most of whom were missionaries). Niki had three or four women encouraging her, praying for her, and quoting Scriptures to her. I was met by one or two of the husbands and was receiving the same. Those men and women may not have know it, but they were ministering to us right there in that foyer. We exchanged phone numbers and sent Facebook friend requests. Then, as quickly as they came out, they went back to class. We walked out recharged. As I passed through the doors, I realized what had happened to today. The enemy had met us with discouragement the moment we stepped off the plane. Thankfully, our Savior knew just what we needed. I wish that we hadn't been so led by emotions, but we were. We're human. It will happen again, but I know that our God will supply all of our needs.
We spent the rest of the day checking out some of the grocery stores to get a taste for what shopping will be like in Massy. We found three places. The first was a huge shopping center called Cora. It was kind of like a Super Walmart on steroids. We found another small grocery store on the walk between the hotel and the school. It was nice, but pretty small. The third was the Massy Marche, which was a more traditional French shopping center. It is a little further away, but I feel like we'll probably make the trip every once and a while just because it's a cool place where lots of families hang out in the afternoons.
That's it for now. Time to get some much needed rest.