My Heart for France

To be honest, I hate big cities. I’m a country girl who would rather be surrounded by towering trees than concrete cities.

But 7 years ago, this Colorado mountain girl took a voyage that forever changed my perception of the world. I traveled outside the country for the first time, on a mission trip to Paris, France. When I told people where I was going, some scoffed. “That’s not a mission trip. That’s a vacation.” Yet I knew in my heart it was for me. That my God was for me, and He had arranged to fulfill two of my heart’s desires in this one journey.

I cried as we sat waiting for the plane to take off on the longest flight of my life. I was flat out scared. But sometimes you just have to do things afraid. My earbuds pulsed words of encouragement into me, to soothe my soul. Sometimes, through tears, I can sing what I can’t say.

“Your name is a strong and mighty tower, your name is a shelter like no other. Your name, let the nations sing it louder, because nothing has the power to save but your name.”

That trip stretched me farther out of my comfort zone than I ever imagined possible. We partnered with a couple working with Greater Europe Mission. We fed a theater ministry, taught English classes to adults and teens, cleaned a ministry center, had home church, and did many prayer walks around the city.

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We saw some sights between service projects, and this country girl fell in love. With a city. The majestic music of Notre Dame’s vaulted chorus echoed in my ears as we savored crepes, climbed the massive Eiffel Tower, and were caressed by the Seine river through countless bridges. We had a pique-nique with friends one evening, learning their stories in  true Franglais style.

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When you spend time getting to know the heartbeat of that city, you develop a deep inexpiable affection. It’s true what they say, Paris has a charming reputation. There is an appealing beauty you cannot help but admire. The centuries of history (some forever left untold), the artists, music, words penned there to convey love, war, and every emotion in between. You can no more contain Paris than you could walk every street within a lifetime.

We walked up a rue one day between hundreds of Muslim men doing their scheduled prayer, bowed down on rugs and torn cardboard pieces scattered on the sidewalks because the mosques were overflowing. I didn’t know what culture shock was until that day. Senses overloaded, my heart bursting from compassion, sadness, anger, and simply the unknown, I experienced the true spiritual state of the city of light that day.

Amid the courageous cathedrals towering tall above all architecture, live a spiritually broken, crumbling people.

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65 million people. Less than 2% of French people know Jesus. 80% have never owned or even seen a Bible. Cathedrals are closing as practicing Catholics die, the younger generation dispersed from the idea of church.

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Statistics are one thing. But listening to another woman’s story, establishing a heart connection, exchanging life with someone? That’s what gets carved into you, and even the hardened stone parts of you cannot remain unmoved. Like the day I met Sarah. She was a student in one of the English classes we taught. She was about my age, young and unsure what was next in life. Between my limited French and her pieced English, we communicated.

I went to Paris expecting to give of myself, but I also received a gift there. Friendship. Across language, around the globe, a similar soul.

And my own soul sorrowed that I had to leave. I would never be the same person who lived in a small ignorant corner of the English-speaking American world. Something in me moved. Déménager. 

The final memory sealed in my mind from that first trip was a simple thing, really. Over our ten days, I’d discovered there was a small patisserie just down the street and around the corner from our hotel where I could get a pain au chocolat for one euro. It became my only independent daily adventure, getting my sweet breakfast treat. On the final day, as I walked back to the hotel, I felt successful that I had ordered in French and understood the entire (brief) conversation. Yet another feeling au meme temps. I’d been ruined for the ordinary. In the deep of me, I’d come to love the French people, Paris too. And in that moment walking beneath the tree lined city street, I knew in my heart I’d return…

I flew home praying this song for them. Jesus, move the nation of France, that they may know your name.

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