Half-Way through our Time in France: Some Relfections

by Stacey
8 months ago we arrived in France exhausted yet praising God that we successfully arrived in country with all our luggage and all our children. Lord willing, 8 months from now, we will arrive in Cameroon with all of our luggage and all our children. As we are at the half-way mark, we thought we would reflect on our last 8 months here in France:

Turns out Language Learning is Hard

On our flight to France, I was explaining to a girl I was sitting next to that French would be easy to learn since it has a lot of similarities to English. She looked at me and laughed and said nice and slow for me that French was a different language and that learning another language is not easy. I thought to myself, “Oh sure, I guess it might be a little challenging.” Further, everyone says that English is everywhere, right?  So I was sure there would be enough English around for us to make it by until we learned French.

Boy was I wrong. English is NOT in Albertville, France and it turns out that learning another language is incredibly difficult and incredibly humbling. When we landed, we could not read one sign. We wandered around lost for months. I guessed what spices to buy at the store because I did not know how to read the labels (good thing all the spices look the same). We could not understand the announcements at church or at school. We could not read the signs on the door of our kids school telling us that there would be a strike and to not bring our kids to school the next day and so we showed up the next day wondering why the doors were locked. 

We have inadvertently said and done painfully awkward things. I have walked into a men’s locker room to men taking off their pants while trying to practice their English with me. An anonymous person in our family commented to a woman that she had a dog on her shirt…but accidently said she had a dog IN her shirt to which she pointed inside her shirt and explained that what was in her shirt was her, not a dog. I have accidently kissed people on the lips instead of kissing the air while touching cheeks. Me and my English speaking children were the topic of conversation for an extended period of time at a meeting at my kids’ school. And then we keep talking about heaters instead of unemployment, condoms instead of preservatives, we keep using future tense instead of past tense and so on. And as if these mistakes were not painful enough the first time, we keep repeating them!

It is amazing how zeal for the mission field is put on the back burner and raw moment-by-moment swallowing of the pride comes into play. And you just have to keep going. When discouraged, when sad, when humiliated, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep trying. Keep being corrected. Keep learning when you cannot see any progress. This has been the theme of our past 8 months.

The Progress has been Painful, but it is Progress Nonetheless

Oh but thank God, there are milestones. There have been conversations we have had with French people where they have not asked us if we are foreigners. We actually can read the signs now, we are not lost all the time, and we even managed to understand the announcement in church about daylight savings time. We are developing authentic relationships with people at church and at our kids’ school. Our kids are starting to walk down the halls at school and give other children high-fives while rattling something off in French. We are able to sing the songs in church now and make it to the right book of the Bible before the pastor starts reading from it. I had to teach Elias the English version of jingle bells the other day because he only knew it in the French version. We can read our Bibles in French, we can apologize to people when we offend them, and we can follow the news. During these past 8 months it has been difficult to see progress when we have been in the middle of it, but compared to where we started, there has been remarkable progress.

God Really is Everywhere

Aside from the language highs and lows, a constant theme during these past 8 months has been that the Lord is so clearly with us. God is not tied to really solid Bible conferences (as wonderful as those are). He is not tied to a particular local church, Bible college, or articulate pastor. No, he is tied to his children. He is tied to me. Even if various means of grace have been diminished in my life, grace itself has been abiding within me in the person of the Holy Spirit. Grace itself has been with me as I read the Bible and as God reminds me of what it says. My friends are few, my Friday and Saturday nights are usually very dull, and yet there has been no lack. Psalm 139 has brought unspeakable comfort to me time and time again:

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether”  Psalm 139:1-4.

I do not even know what words are going to come out of my mouth, and yet, God is so carefully watching me that he knows what I am going to say before I say it. There have been so many changes in our lives that our kids sometimes need to ask what country we are currently in, and yet God knows every time I sit down to study, the exact hour I fall asleep exhausted, every verb paradigm that I am thinking about. He is more concerned for me then are the friends I left behind.  Turns our leaving America is not leaving God. I always knew that in theory, but this theory has been put to the test and has proved true. Jesus really is always with his children.
Thankful for the past 8 months, a lot has happened, and looking forward to our next 8 months as we finish up language study here in France.

Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.