Our First Week in France – Pt. 1

In last week’s article, we caught a glimpse of the heart of a missionary wife and mother, just before they headed overseas to France where they all would concentrate on learning French.  This was an important step for them to become much more proficient in French before they would go next to West Africa and minister there where most people are bilingual in French, the official language.

In the first two weeks that this missionary family spent in a small rural town in France, all of them had some interesting and often demanding experiences.  I’m sure that the leaders and experienced field personnel from our mission were careful to teach them what kind of things to expect when they would get to Africa, and to be prepared for the culture shock that would happen once they got there.

What they may not have been prepared for was the initial stages of being enamoured by the differences they found in France, followed by shock and frustration that comes when they realized that that was not their home.  Familiar activities that would normally be quite easy, could suddenly become very difficult and frustrating when they didn’t work the same way.  Then add to that the language barriers, which can get anyone discouraged and frustrated.

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Thankfully, God built most of us to be somewhat in awe, filled with excitement when we first get to our new environment.  This is called the “Honeymoon Stage”, where everything is just so fascinating because things are both different and interesting from what we are used to.  God also has designed us to be flexible and learn how to adapt quickly to new situations that occur in new environments.

That is what I would like to do now, in this article and one more, is to see the interesting differences of life in another country seen through the eyes of a new missionary family.  The wife kept a kind of journal, which she would then email back to her family and friends over here.  She has given me permission to put out excerpts from her notes.  I hope you will find some of the things she writes as interesting to you as they were to me when I first read it.

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Let’s get started, and I think the easiest way to do this is to focus in on some of the main topics which she wrote about:

Traveling & Jet Lag

Our flight was uneventful and we were actually able to get a little sleep in preparation for our 8am arrival in Paris.  Since we had 6 hrs between flight and train, we didn’t feel at all rushed even with the transportation strike.  And the luggage carts are free at Charles de Gaul!  We blessed our French professor many times yesterday!  The kids did great too!

[Note:  most missionaries now will tell you the best flight you can have is an “uneventful one”.]

Many, many trains were cancelled because of the strikes, but ours went right on!  Thanks for praying because it truly was a miracle – the folks in Mours St Eusebe (our town) were told it was supposed to be cancelled.

[Note:  when a missionary first arrives in a non-Western, developing country, we’ve heard enough stories to know to expect things not to go smoothly, especially in the area of transportation and logistics.  But note how this family arrived right in the middle of a transportation strike in France.  So no matter where we travel as missionaries, we always need to keep up our prayer support to cover us for whatever lies ahead.]

On Day 1, she wrote, “After a brief time up around 2:30 this morning, we slept until noon!  Jet lag must be gotten through. 

On Day 2, she wrote, “The whole family was up at inappropriate times last night from jet lag.  Tonight we will try Tylenol PM.  We did get up at 8am though.

And on Day 5, “Have had a rough couple of days/nights.  Jet lag isn’t our favorite.  We were up at seven-ish this morning though so hopefully we can make it through the whole day awake.

And for Day 6, “The girls are the first ones to sleep completely through the night!  Progress has been made!  Our son got up for some decongestant last night but was able to go right back to sleep.  The two of us are still struggling but will get there.

[Then, after Day 6, jet lag and poor sleep is not mentioned very much again.  One conclusion: tough times (like no sleep) can hit us hard, but they only last (usually) a short time.  Trust God to carry you through tough times, and know that better days lie ahead.]

Be Careful At First

We will plunge into our new community and language learning this afternoon.  One thing we were advised was to just tell our neighbors we are here to learn French and not to mention being missionaries right away.  He said people will put you in a category that might hinder the relationship if you tell them right away that you are an evangelical Christian. 

A few days later:

On the way to Bingo, a lady was parking her car near our house.  Since it was raining, I offered to share my umbrella.  We chatted about many things.  Of course, our work in Africa came up.  I tried real hard to dodge the “what will you do” question in accordance with the advice given to us.  But she wheedled it out of me.  She said she was Catholic when she was young but now she was nothing because (here she paused for a long while and I inserted, “La vie est difficile? (Life is difficult)” to which she nodded her head yes). 

[I would agree that we should be cautious at first in new situations with new people.  But we must also be sensitive to the hurts and needs of others so that at any time we might be there to offer words of hope and encouragement.]

Tune in next week for Part 3.

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