The most popular question I’m asked when I tell people what we’re doing is, “do you speak French?” I’m always forced to say no, though I do speak American French, which is just English, spoken more loudly and slowly, and is generally considered obnoxious by all but the most generous of listeners. *
The second most popular question we’ve gotten so far is, “Where in France will you be?” This is a valid question, though most Americans (myself included) are so bad at international geography that unless our destination is Paris, the answer will do little more than confuse the inquisitor. Answer Marseille, Lyon or Toulouse, France’s second, third and fourth largest cities respectively, and you get the same look I’d give someone if they began to speak of a fuel injector. I know it’s somewhere under the hood, and I’m sure it’s important to someone, but I don’t know what it looks like, and I don’t care what it does. In all fairness, this lack of geographical knowledge does seem to be cross-cultural. When the French meet an American, they automatically assume that we’re from New York City. When you explain that you’re not from New York, but rather North Carolina, they demonstrate real disappointment, and begin to scan the room for more suitable conversation. I don’t suppose I can blame them, as most of our movies and T.V. shows either take place in New York or L.A., as if nothing interesting ever happens anywhere else. Personally, I think CSI Milwaukee has a nice ring to it. But I’m getting off track…
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is, at least right now, as difficult to answer as answering the question of what we’ll be doing in France. Simply put, we don’t know where we’ll be exactly. I’m sure this fills some of you with nothing but dread…”they don’t know where they’re going, they aren’t clear about what they’ll be doing, and they don’t speak French!” All I can say to that is, you’re almost right. Donnette speaks French, though during our trip last fall she forgot how to conjugate the “we” verbs, so she had to order dinner by saying “I’ll have the lamb, and he will too.” We don’t know where we’re going, but there’s a good reason we don’t know, it just takes a little explaining.
I’ve said this before, but we’re going to work with a missionary team that is already, and has been for some time, in France. Specifically, the team has been in Marseille, a port city in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea. Marseille is the second largest city in France, with a population of about 3 million people. MTW, our mission organization, has been in Marseille for some time, I believe well over 20 years at least, and has helped to plant three churches in various parts of the city. Pete and Ruth, our team leaders, have spent their entire careers in Marseille, but now feel that it is time to move to a new city to begin a new work, preferably in a city where there is little to no Evangelical, or at least no EPRE church currently in existence. (The EPRE is the French denomination the PCA partners with in France. Our goal isn’t to plant PCA churches, our goal is to plant EPRE churches led by native-born French pastors. I’ll explain all of this in more detail in a later post.) Pete and Ruth are starting over, and once we’re through language school and our internship (I’ll also explain this in more detail in a later post) we’ll be joining them in this work. When we visited last fall, the port city of Toulon seemed like a real possibility, but for any number of reasons it isn’t really on the table anymore, and so now the team is looking at either Lyon or Toulouse as the most likely candidates, with Bordeaux as an outside possibility.
In one of the early songs from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Belle expresses her desire to live much more than the Provencal life. Ever since we decided to go to France I’ve gotten a kick out of this line, because Donnette and I were very much excited about living the Provencal life, or at least living in Provence. (Though Ruth informed me that Belle wasn’t so much referring to the region of Provence so much as she was referring to a desire to get out of the country. But still.) Provence is one of the most southern regions of France, known for beautiful lavender fields and a simple, laid back way of life. Donnette and I have for many years loved the books the English author Peter Mayle wrote about living in Provence, and so we were excited about the prospects of actually living and ministering there. Except that it looks like we won’t be, as both Lyon and Toulouse are not actually in the region of Provence.
I’ll confess to feeling a little disappointed when we found out we wouldn’t be in Provence, at least until we googled Lyon and Toulouse and remembered that, if you’re in France, you’re in a beautiful, historical place. ** Lyon has a population of roughly 472,000 people, making it slightly larger than Atlanta. (It is actually the exact same size of Sacramento, CA, but since most of the people reading this live in the south, I didn’t think that would provide much of a reference point.) Toulouse has a population of roughly 439,000 people, making it almost exactly the same size as Atlanta and meaning that I should have just gone with Sacramento and not rounded.
(I did not take this pictures, but rather copy and pasted them from Wikipedia. Hopefully no one will come looking for me for copyright infringement.)
As I said about, these cities are the third and fourth largest cities in France, and are big enough that they would fall into the top 40 biggest cities here in the States and would at least merit a professional basketball team. I’d love to tell you all more about these cities, but I don’t know much about them except what I’ve read online, and if you’re reading this blog then you are probably familiar with Google. What is important to note though, at least so much as it concerns us, is that, as big as these cities are, there is little or no evangelical church presence at all. By contrast, there are approximately 3,000 evangelical churches within a 60 mile radius of Charlotte. No place in France is replete with evangelical churches, but these two big cities have none, and that is something that must change.
There are days when the task ahead of us seems too monumental to fathom. On these days, I find myself really wishing I knew more about what lay ahead. Where the money to go will come from, how quickly I’ll be able to pick up the language, and of course, where are we going?! I don’t know. But God knows, both where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. God told Abraham to go, without telling him where, and Abraham went. Paul intended to go to Spain; he may have made it there he may not have. Both men trusted God, and I intend to do the same. I would ask though, if you’re reading this, to pray for Lyon, and for Toulouse. We’ll be in one of those cities, but not both, yet both need the gospel. Pray God sends more people out, into these cities. Pray for France.
* i.e. Not the French
** I don’t mean to give the impression that we will only go and work in a place that is beautiful and historic. I just tend to be averse to anything new (save your comments) and had already settled my mind on Provence.