Europe is currently the epicenter of the Coronavirus. People are experiencing a myriad of feelings, both expressed and unexpressed, during these days. For most, the reality of the severity of this virus causes concern and understandable anxiety. After the governmental instructions were communicated, and even though there remains an atmosphere of some unsettledness, one can also feel the spark of unity among the people as they prepare together for an unknown situation.
Prior to the shutdown, one could find people scurrying from store to store trying to accumulate all the needed supplies for the next weeks ahead. People were standing in long lines outside the stores in order to take their turn to enter, all the while trying their upmost best to keep an adequate distance between themselves and the people around them. (Social Distancing has become a key phrase nowadays.) However, with all the tasks needing to be completed before the deadline struck 12, one could actually get lost in the overwhelming process that was in front of them. With the shutdown looming and the potential sickness all around them, people seemed to be coping best by keeping their head down and just completing the tasks in front of them in order to prepare sufficiently for what is about to occur.
Unfortunately, these are all too familiar experiences for the peoples currently living and working in Europe. But for the expatriate living abroad there is another stark reality that is quickly sinking in. They have a choice to make which can be reflected in the title of a 1981 English song, “Do I stay or Do I Go?” For if the expat chooses to remain in the country where they are studying or working, they are hit with the reality that their attempts to reach out and tend to their families’ possible future needs during this crisis would be near to impossible as the border crossings begin to close. The expat is closed in (for understandable reasons) along with the entire national population but, they are also closed out from their family ties during a world crisis - unable to get home to give help or to personally receive comfort from those they love. Feelings of loneliness, loss of control, and fear are normal feelings which we are finding people are wrestling with, including ourselves.
But as we speak truth to ourselves and to those christians around us, we remind ourselves that God is still on the throne. He is a God who sees. He is a God who hears. He is a God who heals. And He is a God who is present, amongst an infinite list of other character descriptors.
In our ladies bible studies, we had been studying about the names of God. As God began to reveal Himself to humanity, how did He describe Himself? What names did He call Himself to help to communicate His character to a needy world? Our thesis was that as we study how God describes Himself we would then be able to know God and His character more and more, and as a result, cling to and walk in the truth of Who God is.
As many of you know, I am not the preacher in our family. However, perhaps these words can be of encouragement to either the expat struggling with being quarantined in a foreign country and cut off from the physical support of family OR to those who are struggling with anxiety during this global crisis. God is present. God sees. He hears. He acts. That is how He has described His character. My encouragement to myself and to others during this time is to cling to the God who has revealed Himself; trust in Him who pursues us with a faithful love and then praise Him as He continues to draw all men to Himself. Over and over again in Exodus, God communicated to Moses these words, “… so that you will know that I am the Lord your God.” During this time, may our roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love and may we have the power to understand, as all of God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep is the love of Christ. (Eph. 3:17-19)
Do I stay or Do I go? My answer? I will remain rooted in these truths whether I live quarantined in a foreign country or if I work through this virus living next to family and friends. For me … You will find me clinging to the Vine, allowing my roots to soak up His truth in the midst of a chaotic world.
When one steps off that airplane and begins his new life in another country, whether it be for education, work or retirement, the changes that are about to occur in his life are unknown to him at the time. Life around him at times will be so totally different from anything he would have ever imagined. As well as, at times those experiences might not actually be so different from home after all, causing in him a potential unsettling in the mind as he makes unconfident decisions on a daily basis. Each new day can be filled with both successes and failures. However, without a doubt, those days will be filled mostly with large doses of needed humility in order to survive. But survive they will. Adaption to a different culture is needed anytime someone ventures to live abroad.
But take a peek into what happens to the christian who desires to continue to worship in an international church while living in another country. The experience is extremely profound and yet can be quite unsettling for most. For as we desire to begin living abroad, we cannot deny that we bring “who” we are with us to that new culture, even from our own church background.
The United States is often seen as a “melting pot.” Peoples from around the world came to the US in years past and struggled to make this new country their home, all the while assimilating to those around them. Amidst all the change, they still retained “who” they were to some degree. Greek Town, Little Italy, Chinatown - these pockets of immigrant societies sprang up around the country in the US helping to retain a small portion of the immigrant’s culture and way of life.
In the church as well, we have church cultures and traditions that we grow up with, even if we are unaware of them. We have denominational traditions, ways of “doing” church, church dress codes whether they be stated or unstated, as well as, christian vocabulary that we don’t even think twice about until we leave our church culture and begin to try to assimilate into another church in another country all together. It’s at this point that the expat christian can begin to feel uncomfortable because their cultural “cues” are no longer in their new place of worship. International church ministries at times can be quite unsettling for the expat.
However, it’s at this point an international church has the potential to bring such spiritual life to any christian! As people come to an international church from all around the world, they bring with them their church expectations and traditions. They bring with them their church culture, just like any expatriate going into any country around the world would do. Global diversity in the church can breed a plethora of noise, leading to possible chaos. Yet, one of the greatest joys of international ministries is the stripping back of all the extra cultural verbiage and ways of “doing” church in order to reveal the bare essentials of the Bible. An international church does not have the luxury of some of our various cultural traditions, because they would not be understood by all of the congregants. Each Sunday morning one will find cultural diversity literally between every seat. The ONLY thing that binds this mélange of peoples together is the blood of Jesus Christ and His gift of redemption in which an international church has to cling and stand firm in.
It is very easy and normal for an expat to long for the homogenous church culture of times past in their own country. But the fact remains that an international church has the, at times, unsettling position and yet extreme joy of stripping back all the traditions of man and seeking to be faithful in proclaiming the pure Gospel, revealing the only thread that binds such beautiful diversity in the first place - the very Word of God. That is our starting point. That is our finishing point. What an unsettling, yet thrilling way to worship - bringing diverse people groups from around the world together to worship the Word of God and standing firm with our hope fixed on only His grace. #heaven.
Expectation. It penetrates the moments surrounding us during this time of year. Often, we look forward to the holidays for a myriad of reasons - the lights, the ambience of the season, the special traditional foods that are prepared only one time per year, as well as, the joy of possibly having family and friends around to help celebrate.
Expectation. For me, now being a mother of adult children and living on a different continent than her children and her parents - the holidays often bring me to a heightened state of expectation and excitement. The days I’ve waited for in which I could literally look my children in the eye and physically hug them are coming ever so close. There’s SO much to prepare for. The rooms have to be made ready so that when they arrive they will feel welcomed home again - clean air-dried sheets, brightly mopped floors, and the removal of all the clutter that has seemed to accumulate since their leaving last. The finishing touches will involve placing in each room a small bowl of Spanish/French clementines which help quench any lingering airplane food issues.
Expectation. Our world markets and feeds on our hunger for this anticipation of the coming holidays. The infamous U.S.-based "Black Friday" has now come to France in full force - making it now "Black Friday Week" as we continue to prepare for the coming days. Yet I wonder if we stopped and thought a bit, if we as the Bride of Christ have the same or hopefully even an exorbitant greater expectation for the coming of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ? Do we daily anticipate His arrival as we prepare our hearts and lives spiritually? Are we “making ready” our lives for His imminent return? Are our hearts expectant as we think of our rejoicing at seeing Him soon?
I’ve written before about the image of young children and how so often they will place their little noses and dirty fingers right on the windowpanes in anticipation of the arrival of family or friends. So often we as mothers will scold and chide them, as we see only the work involved in cleaning those dirty windows again. But… what if, what if we as the Bride of Christ, all over the world, young, old, rich, poor, people from every tribe and nation …what would it look like if we would become a people who were not afraid to place our noses right up to windowpanes in anticipation of the soon arrival of our Lord and King? After reading again the story of the priest Zechariah found in Luke 1, I’ve been struck by the thought that after he was able to speak again after 9 long months of silence, who in the world was going to stop Zechariah from declaring the coming of the Lord? Who? I am sure that he spoke passionately about Christ’s imminent first coming until the day of his own death.
The day is coming soon when I will be able to place my arms around those people whom I love so much and have been preparing to see again since the days I saw them last. To be honest, I don’t care much how silly I might look in that expression of anticipation… because I will see some of my family soon.
My encouragement to the Bride of Christ around the world is that we remain counter-cultural in our view of the coming events. The world woos us to remain focused on the glitz and glamour and the allusion of the season. Yet the scriptures, softly but ever so strongly, whisper to us to lift our eyes to the skies, place our noses right up against those windowpanes and look for the coming of the Lord who has graciously offered to you adoption into His family.
My desire and deep longing is to remain at the window - ready for His arrival. There are days when I falter, but I believe that’s where the Body of Christ comes in to surround one other and to help keep each other focused in our waiting.
There’s plenty of window space next to me… and my prayer is that we may globally make a mess of those windows as we firmly expect and anticipate our Lord’s imminent return. See you at the window!
In many ways, our world has become smaller and larger all at the same time. It appears smaller to us because of global transport and digital technology. One can at least feel as if they can reach out and touch the world, if not literally doing so. The world has become larger in the sense that the choices that our children now have before them seem infinite. They no longer need to remain within the cultural boundaries of generations past. Our children can now choose to travel the world for educational purposes; job opportunities; or just for that newly defined term called “wanderlust!”
Over the past 14 years, our thoughts about Ladies Ministries within the international church setting have blossomed & transformed. We have gone from a time of weekly bible studies where community was found within the church walls, to now experiencing that international ladies ministries need to flood over those walls and become life-on-life with one other.
As women come to Montpellier from every corner of the globe and for all types of reasons, we have the opportunity to provide a welcoming home and a fertile ground for the gospel to be rooted and lived out in the ladies’ lives. Robyn has been teaching this group of transient women over the years through bible studies, as well as, seeking to provide wise counsel throughout the week.
But going past the input of our knowledge about God, we have found that international church ladies ministries is a dynamic test tube to communicate that in fact, we serve a living, faithful and watchful God. Most of the women have left family and friends to live in Montpellier for a set period of time. They have set aside culture and comfortability and therefore, sometimes can struggle with one’s understanding of God and His love for them personally. So ladies ministries revolves around not only biblical knowledge about our God, but daily life-on-life experiences and conversations that help to “flesh out” that reality.
This year, Montpellier has been awarded the #2 Incubator City of the World for Business Innovation and we feel that in some way our small group of ladies has its own incubator element. Women are able, in a loving environment, to wrestle with the truths of the Gospel as they hear the Word of God taught and as they are able to see with their own eyes what the Word says. But then as they encounter spiritual conversations or the hardships that expat living provides, it is then that “spiritual roots” are able to go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love and our prayer is that they “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God.“ (Eph.3:18-19) … With the end result that Christ would be glorified in the church and to the ends of the earth!
Thanksgiving. I grew up with a certain concept of what Thanksgiving looked like in my family. Each time this holiday rolled around, my mom would be preparing a few days in advance for the family celebration that would occur. On Thanksgiving Day, all my aunts, uncles and cousins would gather at one of my relative's home and we would spend the entire day enjoying each other’s company, the food that was prepared, the football games on the television and the various table games that would ensue a few hours later. What a brave aunt I had that she would invite such a gangly crew of us to invade her home in the middle of November in upstate NY! Many a year we came fitted with snow boots and gloves on ourselves and with snow tires already placed on the cars. All 80-some people would traipse through those doors bringing the snow and cinders and would be greeted by the chattering in the kitchen or the men discussing the football games that had already begun. We came to celebrate family and holiday, but most of all we came as a family to thank the Lord in heaven for all His provisions that past year. Thanksgiving.
Years later, a continent away, and another setting entirely, John and I brought our church family together to share with them the traditions us Americans grew up with in celebrating this special day. One would have laughed if they were to have followed us around Thanksgiving week! From going to the butcher and ordering 3 turkeys and hearing the “Ah oui! La grande fête pour les Americans.” Oui. C’est ça. And then bringing those beautiful French turkeys home and immediately seeing they must have been “runners” because their legs would just not fit in our standard-sized oven! Désolé, mais… off come the legs! (I secretly named them Louis I, II & III)
Another element that we wanted to bring to the table to share with people was that strange entity called cranberry sauce. How great is some homemade cranberry sauce with the turkey, stuffing and gravy? It brings just that needed tartness to the entire meal. Unfortunately, this is one berry that needs to be imported in France and is hard to find. So, six stores later I eyed just a few containers of cranberries, did a little jig in the store and proceeded to scoop them all up. Perfect!
Now for dessert… Did you know that Libby’s canned pumpkin is not found readily outside the United States? I laugh because I grew up on the convenience of Libbys, but have found I enjoy the real pumpkin purée so much better than my old friend, Libby. However, when you are cooking for a crowd, convenience takes priority. So we turned to the classic apple!
But you know, even though there is excitement in sharing one’s culture with the people around you, there is a greater thrill to be able to share one’s deep thankfulness to the Creator God for all that He has done. What a joy to be able express thankfulness to God for His faithfulness in generations past and for His faithfulness to generations yet to come. During the course of the night, John had us all read Psalms 100 together. And verse 1 commands “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” All the earth… Being thankful to God is a characteristic that all people’s of the earth are to exude. For us that know Christ personally, wherever we live around the world, we have the honor of walking daily through life with a thankful heart.
As I reflected on this truth throughout the night, I realized that I was not really sharing the ultimate Thanksgiving experience with these wonderful people. They already had that opportunity each and every day on their own - to be thankful and to walk in that thankfulness. I was instead just sharing with them a traditional day in my culture that would help to turn our hearts toward thankfulness. … and also maybe sharing the oddity of cranberry sauce!
I am a novice gardener, with an emphasis on the word “novice.” There is something therapeutic for me to be working outside in the garden, rather than tending to the needed desk work that seems to be always piled high. Call me crazy, but when we lived in Chicago and were renting an older home, my thrill was to get on the riding lawnmower and mow the 3 acre yard! Maybe it had to do with the enjoyment of putting in the earplugs and shutting the world out or maybe it was the idea that this was my 2 hour escape from the life of being a young mom? It probably was both. ;)
But as we have come to southern France, I have continued my love for the garden and have enjoyed getting to know the various plants that grow well in this soil. And as Fall has arrived, it has come time to get out and survey the damage caused by the severe lack of rain, high temperatures, and an unexpected hospital stay this past summer.
My attention was focused this past week on a certain bed that needed immense work. In years past it has been filled with lavender plants. But because of the combination of us being gone for 7 weeks, high temperatures here in the area and the plants being the perfect height for our dog to relieve himself on, the poor plants needed to be replaced. However, as John and I began to work the soil, discouragement began to set in for me. The hard earth was filled with rocks of every size that were interspersed with weeds that I’m sure have their root system all the way to China! The soil was so difficult to manage and till.
Yet, as I was working with the hoe in my hand, my thoughts began to think of the spiritual fields here in Montpellier, as well as all over the world. The spiritual ground at times can be like cement as the world’s persistent voices and opinions speak so loudly to us. Our hearts grow hard and some of those pesky “roots” of wrong decisions or bad habits make the “soil” of our lives visibly rough.
But God calls us to faithfully persist in hoeing the solid ground of our hearts and replenishing it with the needed nutrients and rich dirt that God so generously supplies. With these commands in view, John and I continue to till the soil here in Montpellier. We keep picking up the needed utensils to break up the fallow ground of our own hearts and then also coming along side those God has given us to serve. But we not only seek to faithfully hoe the ground, but we want to make sure that the needed nutrients of God’s Word is being poured lavishly into the soil so that the ground of people’s hearts would produce the most beautiful and fragrant “spiritual” garden for the Lord’s glory and pleasure.
As I continued working in the flower bed in our yard that day, my thoughts no longer lingered over the hardness of the ground, but my eyes began to see the end result of the fragrant lavender that will begin to grow and blossom in this rocky, clay soil. My mind likens it to the fragrance that I have delighted in as I have watched people who have turned to the One and True God and have allowed the Master Gardener to till up the fallow ground of their hearts and produce in them a fragrance that is none other than heavenly. … Oh, how fragrant heaven will be!
Keeping my eyes on the end goal changes the way I view today’s hard work in the “fields.”
“… and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Springtime. It is only one word, but yet so many thoughts tend to come to the forefront of our minds when we linger over the memories of this season.
Springtime in the south of France is one of the loveliest times of the year. Flowers are blooming, trees are budding and everything is green. Because this is a semi-arid area, the summer months bring less of the color green and more of the earthy tones of browns and yellows, with just splashes of color here and there. But for right now, vivid "green" is on display for all to see.
On my daily walks, I have been struck by not only the new budding plants and weeds, but also by the textures that they display in our world. With the beautiful green weeds growing right alongside the wild roses or the quintessential red poppies of the South, one needs to stop and just look at the beauty that is found in the “texture” of the picture.
This image of texture in nature, draws me to linger on the correlation of texture that we find in our ministry to the international community here in the region. People from all over the world come to our city and what a wonderful sight it is to behold. Just sitting on our city tram and observing people, one can take in a myriad of cultures, languages and ethnic differences. Much can be learned about a culture by just sitting, listening and watching!
But for me, as much as I enjoy seeing the “texture” that is displayed by the people around me as I walk into the city center, it does not compare with the beauty showcased in the depth of “texture” as I walk through the doors of our church. That is beauty, my friend. Not because we have all the elements that make for grandeur or elegance in our facility. No, instead the beauty actually comes from those who walk through the doors with us. People from every tribe, nation and language, worshipping the Lord together. Unity amidst diversity… Beauty found in the texture…
We have often described our ministry as a small glimpse of heaven. John and I will recount to people the vivid image of the scene set in Revelation 7 where those who know Christ as their Savior will be found worshipping at His feet and around His throne - A myriad of people from every tribe, nation and tongue. What a humbling honor and extreme privilege we have to be able to catch a glimpse - if just only a fleeting glimpse - of what God will see before Him on that day… beauty found in the “texture!”
Spring has arrived or at least that is what the calendar currently tells us! The rain during the month of March broke long-standing records in our area, but they also have helped to water the spring flowers that we have been desiring to see as we look for visible signs that the long winter is over.
One of those "signs" that I look for each spring to tell me that winter has retreated is the budding of the poppies. I don’t know what it is that attracts me to these beautiful flowers for they do not differ in their colors, at all. There is only one color that dots the countryside and that is the color “red.” For me, just seeing one of these beauties standing alone beside the road nestled in the bright green grass with a clear blue sky above is enough to tell me that “Yes … indeed winter is over!”
This fascination with poppies actually began when we first arrived here in France. I was so enthralled by this tiny and delicate wonder that I really wanted to have one in my own tiny garden. Being one who would rather find something for “free” rather than pay for it, I proceeded to look for just the right specimen to call my own and bring it home! So one day I went equipped with a tiny shovel and a bag on my bike to gather up my new find along a back road. I dug carefully around the entire plant and gently placed it in the bag for safekeeping.
During the entire “gathering & transplanting process” I was greeted by many stares from people who were passing by me, however I did my best to try and ignore them and focus on replanting my new spring flower. It was days later that after talking with some of my French friends that I realized that these tiny little wonders of creation that encourage my spirit so much after a long winter were actually viewed by the French people much like I would view a dandelion that would appear in my yard back home. It was at this point that I began to understand why I received so many stares while planting my poppy! I, who was being so careful and gentle with this delicate flower so as not to disturb it’s root system, was actually just transplanting the local weed!
I can confidently say that I have learned my lesson in regards to the poppy. Sometimes the Lord only desires for me to gaze on the beauty of His creation, instead of trying to replicate it somewhere else. It was never meant to be duplicated, but was given to us as another opportunity to thank the Lord for His beauty in creation & His faithfulness to us as we pass from one season to another. Winter will disappear … spring will arrive and all the beauty that comes with it. The poppy no longer draws my heart to want to capture it, but to glorify the Maker of it!
There are days in life when you just have to stop and watch what the Lord is doing in the lives of the people around you. Yesterday was such a day.
I stood, with camera in hand, taking in all the activity that was surrounding me. We were celebrating as a church the baptism of two individuals and the Lord’s work of salvation. How does one illustrate through photography the movement of the Lord in the lives of people? Ministering in an international context as we do, how does one intentionally grasp each moment to plant seeds for God’s Kingdom in an environment which is in a constant state of movement?
There was a point yesterday as our church stood at the edge of the sea watching the baptism take place that I just needed to stop. This was a sacred moment. A moment amongst hundreds of thousands of moments where John and I have been seeking to serve here in Montpellier.
Sometimes it is so normal in a fast-paced society to want to grasp and hold onto people and experiences for as long as we can. How exciting it is to be able to obtain that communicative photo for Instagram so that you can remember the good times for years to come! Yet, yesterday I took a moment to look out over the people surrounding me - people from South Sudan to England and from Indonesia to Vancouver, Canada. People who are just passing through my life for a season. Still here we were on the same beach, witnessing the same wonderful event of newly surrendered lives in Christ, and praising the same God for whom together we will all bow before one day.
So I stopped. I stopped looking for that great photo shot to express the day. I stopped fussing with the food table to make sure it was replenished. And I just took in that sacred moment. This was God at work and I was given the opportunity to witness it.
As John and I continue to try to live & serve intentionally here in France, we lift our hands up praising the God who is alive today and is still moving in the hearts of people. Yet, we also want to keep those hands opened. Opened - so as to allow God to move people in and out of our lives as He sees fit … so that His Kingdom can be advanced around the world.
To be honest, as the day progressed I did continue to look for that photo to express the day & I did continue to fuss with the food table. (no big surprise!) But now I had a renewed sense of God’s presence, knowing that He is building His Kingdom and we have the privilege of watching Him do it!
This is the sacredness of international church ministry.
February 2nd... Having grown up in NY just over the border from Pennsylvania, I believed that when this particular day rolled around each year the entire world would stop and honor a selected groundhog, named Phil, who resided in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I imagined that the people around the globe waited as the officials would ask Phil how much longer their winter would last? But in fact, this is not true! The world does not stop and seek the advice of a furry rodent on how long they will need to wait until Spring. ;)
Having said this though, I do not mean that here in France February 2nd is not to be celebrated or that weather predication for an early spring is not forecasted. Just like in the states, various signs will cause people to predict the length of the winter & when we can look forward to having some warmer weather. The French just look to the skies on this day to forecast their predications, rather than to a groundhog named Phil.
February 2nd, also named "La Chandeleur," is a holiday that goes all the way back to the 5th century and has religious roots. Church tradition stated that this date marked the day when Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem. Because of this, the pope at that time proclaimed a procession through the streets and proceeded to hand out a crêpe-like delicacy to the poor pilgrims.
Voila! La Chandeleur was born ... a day to eat crêpes, laden with various toppings and fillings and then to stand outside & determine with the rest of your neighbors by looking at the skies just how long you will have to wait until those poppies begin to show their red petals proclaiming that spring has arrived! (truth be told... we might just pull out that Bill Murray film celebrating the day while we eat our crêpes ... just seems appropriate.)
Wife, mother, teacher & friend who loves to "do life" alongside others as we journey together in seeking to know God more fully and deeply. Feel free to join with us as walk through a few "French fields" ...
Join us on the journey