This has surely been the most difficult country. Yet it has also been one of the most incredible.
My breath was so often taken away by the beauty of the mountains, the sea, the architecture, the culture, the language…. We had a day to explore a historic village called St. Paul de Vence on our first full day. I cannot wait for all of you to see the pictures! It was such a fairytale. Cobblestone streets everywhere, stone buildings, flowers and vines lining the walkways and the buildings, gelato shops at every corner, an abundance of freshwater fountains for visitors and locals alike to drink from… At the edge of the village there was a walkway where you could see the whole city: mountains on the right, the Mediterranean on the left, the stone homes in the valley between the two. It was heavenly! I only hope I will have the opportunity to come back with the rest of my family, so that they can experience the beauty of the place and its culture.
That Sunday, we had the opportunity to attend both of the churches that the missionary teams manage. In the first service that morning, as I was worshipping, I was overwhelmed by what I think was the Spirit. I was filled with a great love for the country and its people, that I had previously not experienced in any country I have visited. If I am honest, I can’t really find the words to explain the connection God gave me with France. Perhaps it was purely an appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation, but perhaps it was the beginning of a calling to France. Only time and prayer will tell.
During the week, we assisted the church in putting on a Vacation Bible School for about 70 students, ages 4-12. Because southern France is a VERY spiritually dry place, the majority of the children had never heard about Jesus, many of their parents being atheists, not religious, Muslim, etc. Since the people of France are not familiar with the term “VBS,” the camp was called a Bilingual Kids Camp. Most of the parents were sending their kids so that their English would improve, and so that the kids would get excited about learning English. While this was accomplished, God did so much through the camp! What a glorious sight it was to see the kids get excited about singing the worship songs written for the VBS and learning about some of the incredible things God did in the Bible. During the camp, I acted as a crew leader for the oldest group of 10-12 year olds. About 50% of the children could communicate with me in English. So again, the Enemy tried to limit my relationships with these kids with the language barrier. At times I was so tempted to engage with the kids who knew English, and not communicate with the kids that couldn’t understand me. But God was so faithful in providing children who could translate flawlessly so that the other children and I could communicate! Some of the kids who could not speak any English ended up being some of the ones with whom I connected most! One precious girl, Anais, ran up to me after the final performance for the parents and jumped into my arms, planting a big kiss on my cheek and smiling from ear to ear. That moment is one that I hope never to forget. Ultimately, it was such a special experience to see volunteers, parents, and children all getting excited about the love of Jesus Christ and praising Him! It was also very eye opening to see the great need for church plants and faithful Christians to go and spread the gospel and the love of Christ to the wealthy, but very broken people of Southern France.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of spiritual warfare in this country for our team, other teams, and ultimately all of France. This transition was expected to be difficult because of the change from living in a 3rd world country to a very wealthy area of a 1st world country. And indeed it was, but not for the reasons I expected. As a team, we were thrown into a beautiful place, with many very broken people, unaware of their need for Christ. The hopelessness is almost palpable, and was found to be a little contagious. The team experienced some disunity, had a few arguments, and we were pushed to our ultimate limits, relationally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Joanna experienced the death of one of her closest friends, Caylin and Adam became ill, and all of us were constantly exhausted because of the long work days and the little rest we were receiving at the campsite. When I am asked by people I have met on this journey what my biggest struggle has been on the trip, I tell them that I have been challenged so much relationally. It has always been difficult for me to form deep relationships. I am afraid of conflict, of disappointing others, afraid of being hurt or let down, afraid of being completely vulnerable; as a result my friendships often are surface level, characterized by these secret fears. On this trip, you rarely, except in the shower really, have time to yourself, and you are constantly surrounded by the other team members, which can be really difficult for everyone. It is so humbling to have your relational quirks fully exposed. Tendencies I didn’t even know existed, feelings I have never experienced, a heightened awareness of other’s faults…..It is in this proximity and this awareness that I began to really realize how much I needed Jesus. I realized how sinful I am, so full of anger, so frugal in giving grace to others, so easily irritated. As a result of all of these new discoveries about myself, I have had to humble myself daily and ask God to help me to see others the way he sees them. I have only been able to make these friendships and emotionally survive this journey because of his provision. Please continue to pray that our team will continue to rely on God to provide a spirit of unity among us as his Body.
However, this conflict was not the biggest struggle we encountered on this leg of the trip. On Thursday night, we had just finished a long, pretty difficult day. Three of us had worked hard at the VBS, and two members of the team had taken a much needed day to rest, in an attempt to beat the sickness they had been experiencing. That morning, the plan was to grab dinner on our way to the Nice campus of the church to attend a biblestudy there. Afterwards, because it was Bastille Day, we planned on attending the festivities on the Promenade of the beach in Nice, planned on ending our day watching the fireworks on the beach. But because of the nature of our day, with the team’s illnesses and exhaustion, one of the missionaries, Jill, advised that we instead have a restful night at the campsite, in order to recharge for the last day of VBS. Thank God we listened to her suggestion. We would have been exactly where the attack happened, if we had gone into Nice that night. I can’t even imagine being on the beach that night.
The next morning, Adam awoke to 8 missed calls from Sarah, and when he called her back he heard a little of what had happened. Because we had very limited access to internet in France, I am still not completely informed as to what happened, but what I have heard is pretty atrocious and becomes more and more frightening the more I think about how close we were to being victims of the attack. That morning, when we got to the church, I received a message from my very concerned mother, and that is when I realized how awful the attack had been. I would give anything to hear her voice right now and be held by her again. Tears stream down my face as I think about how close I was to never seeing her or the rest of my family in this life again.
Since Friday, it has been really difficult for me to get excited for this last leg of the trip. As I write, we are on a 10 hour flight (2 of 4 flights today) on our way to Nicaragua. I have been more vulnerable in this post in hopes that you would know specifically what to pray for.
In a mere 13 days, I will be home in my mother’s arms again, preparing for my second year of Baylor. Time certainly has flown, yet, simultaneously, I feel as if I have lived a lifetime over these past two months. Thank you so much for your prayers and your financial support. God has done so much through this trip in my life and the lives of many others and I can’t wait to see all that he will continue to do as a result of your support!