Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Chapter of My Life Called France - Shepherd

Shortly before leaving France, after living there the first time for four years, someone asked me to share my experience of living in Europe. The title suggested was The Chapter of My Life Called France. My problem with the title was it felt like reading a book by looking at only one chapter in the middle, without reference to the beginning or ending of the volume.

If I share with you the chapter of my life called France, I also need to provide a brief glimpse into the first and last chapters of my life book.

Although I cannot tell you when this book will end, I do know how it will end. If I remain faithful to Jesus, He will take me one day to be with Him forever, either when He returns or death comes. Which way is not really important. What matters is that one day I will go to live joyfully forever with Jesus. That will conclude my life book, or at least volume one.

Now about the beginning of my life book - I was born into the home of Salvation Army officers (clergy). From infancy I heard about God’s love, our sinfulness and available forgiveness. Worship every Sunday, Sunday School classes and all of the activities at the church were a part of our family life.
My parents lived what they believed and preached, and under their influence, I make my first commitment to God at age seven.

I tried to be a good girl, but it was when I was in my early twenties that God’s love and grace became real in my life.
Nearly ten years later, my husband, Glen and I felt a calling from God to become officers in The Salvation Army. We entered the College for Officer Training in Toronto, along with our two children, in September 1979. In 1981 we were sent as pastors to Lethbridge, Alberta. Two years later, we went to Montreal, responsible for Salvation Army youth ministries for the Quebec and Eastern Ontario.

In February 1987, our superior asked us if we would be willing to leave Canada to go to an appointment in France. Immediately, we said, "Yes", and on July 29, 1987 we found ourselves at Charles de Gaulles airport after a flight of six hours and a time change of six hours. The following day, we were en route to our National Camp at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to begin our ministry among the youth of France. At the beginning, I thought that I had arrived on another planet. There are so many differences in the way people live in Europe and North America. Slowly I adjusted.

One thing that helped in my adaptation was the six months I spent learning French at the Alliance Fran├žaise.

I started classes at the Alliance Fran├žaise in January 1988. Unable to converse in French between our arrival in July 1987 and January 1988 I spent much time alone with the Lord. Apart from the family few others spoke my language.

That sacred time prepared me for my ministry in France, as I began to pray for specific individuals as I met them, even if conversation with them was limited. The Lord used my prayer time to create in me openness towards France and French people.

When we arrived in France, Glen and I often wondered, what were essentials of The Salvation Army and what were the things we wanted to introduce that were simply part of our cultural heritage as English Canadian Salvationists. It was a question we had often asked in Quebec as well. Our faith must take into account the culture of the people. The problem of culture and of what is particularly Anglo-Saxon in The Salvation Army is a perpetual one, particularly in cross cultural ministry. We always tried to ensure in France that the Army was not identified as an English organization.

Given this priority, you can imagine our surprise, joy and delight when one day while riding the Metro, we had an unusual encounter. A woman and her daughter stood next to us in the crowded train. Glen and I were chatting in English, since we were not with any of our French colleagues. The lady was a cultured individual, who came from somewhere outside of Paris. She asked her daughter what language we were speaking. When the daughter replied that we were speaking English, the lady began asking questions. Hearing her questions about us, we switched to French. The lady expressed surprise that The Salvation Army also existed in English speaking countries. She had always throught that The Salvation Army was a uniquely French organization.

Learning a second language was difficult; but some lessons I learned were relevant to other areas of my life. I developed concern and compassion for foreigners. Now I know how they feel. People think you are stupid, when you cannot communicate your thoughts. Following a conversation is a challenge with inadequate time to formulate a question or express an opinion. Even commenting on the weather becomes a challenge.
The main requirement for learning another language is humility. Even if you are forty years old as I was you must become like a little child again. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:3 that we must become as little children if we want to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Learning a new language enabled me to understand these words in a way I never could before.

In order to understand French, I had to recognize my inadequacy. Without French, I could not communicate. Living the Christian life is like that. Only when I admit, that reliant upon my own resources, I am unable to live as Christ desires, will I invite Him to work in my life and demonstrate His power through me. Recognition of need enables me to appreciate my total dependence upon the Holy Spirit working through my life.

Through my experience of living in France, I came to appreciate the value of adapting to another culture. I learned that other cultures hold treasures that can enrich our lives. Certainly Western European culture is similar to our North American culture, but even exposure to the differences that this permitted me, has awakened a sensitivity and willingness to learn from the diverse cultures that surround me in Canada today. In God’s economy nothing is wasted.

Eleanor Shepherd

1 comment:

Linda Wegner said...

Thanks for opening our eyes to the obvious - yet the so often, unseen. I particularly appreciate hearing again that in God's economy nothing is wasted. Good or bad, it's there for a reason. I look forward to hearing some more of the story.

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