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IMG_8434 IMG_8432   I was riding home from church with my dad on Sunday afternoon, just after Erin and I had two hours sharing about our year in France with the congregation of Burlington First Church of the Nazarene (the church where I grew up) when I made the startled comment to my dad, “that house has a French flag flying from the front porch.” The house was off the highway and part of the flag was covered, but I could clearly see the blue, white and red of the French tri-couleur.  I had no idea why that flag was flying, but it made me a bit homesick France sick and left me wondering whether there was another Francophone in rural Iowa.

That evening we passed by the same house and I pointed it out to Erin, who saw the three colors but wondered why the white stripe in the middle was bigger than the other two stripes.  That’s when it dawned on me that the flag I was seeing was actually the Iowa state flag.  But due to the distance from the highway and the trees covering part of the flag, I hadn’t been able to see the eagle in the middle of the state flag.  The fact that I would mistake the Iowa state flag for the French flag shows that while I’m physically back in the Midwest, some part of me is back in France.

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I’m working to embrace being back in the Midwest, though but I keep being reminded of the place we’ve left and still miss.  There are several things I’ve missed that I’m glad to be able to experience again.  For example, last Friday night, after arriving back in Kansas City after spending about 9 days at my parents’ in southeast Iowa, I was enjoying being able to listen to my favorite radio station 96.5 The Buzz when I noticed a new band the station was premiering is named “The Bastille.”  I unexpectedly became a little France-sick again.

The next night, I was sitting at my sister-in-laws, thinking about how nice it is to be in KC  and to be able to watch the Royals (I really missed watching Baseball while in France) when an updated leaders list for Le Tour de France scrolled across the bottom of the screen.   Another reminder of a place we’re currently missing.  The next night, we watched coverage of Le Tour and saw the racers go through several places in Provence, the pictures of which can be found in the “Provence 14” blog post.

We are home, and we’re very glad to be home, but we’re missing the place and people we’ve just left.  We miss the country because, to be honest, it’s a much more ascetically pleasing place than the Midwest – for various reasons.  We also miss the people we left behind because we realize that we may never again be a part of the Versailles Church and the Palaiseau community.  We will be able to visit both places in October while we are working for MNU Europe in Switzerland, but we’re not sure whether we’ll ever actually live there again.  It’s hard to say goodbye to friends, especially when you’re not sure when you will see them again.

The fact that we say “goodbye” to friends demonstrates the difference between friends and family. While we did say “goodbye” to family last summer, it was really just a “see you later” because we will always be family and we will always make being together a priority.  Friends however, come in and out of your lives during different seasons of your life.  Maybe we will share life with them again someday or maybe this past year was the only season in which we’ll be together.  The unknown of the future makes the loss a bit more acute.

For a great description of what it’s like to return home, check out this post by a friend of mine who writes a travel blog about her experiences living in New Zealand.   Denise’s post is also called “Home,” which I just realized after finding the link to share.

Moving onto the positive now, it’s wonderful to be around family and friends.  My dad and a good friend from the church picked us up at the Chicago airport two weeks ago and drove us the four hours to my parents’ farm.  A few days later, we were surrounded by the church family of my home church.  Burlington First is not an exceptionally large church nor is it a wealthy church, but that congregation provided a third of the support for the past year and even surprised us by taking an offering for us last Sunday.  I didn’t expect the offering, but I wasn’t really surprised, that congregation (as they do with all of their “kids”, continues to shower us with love and support.  The offering was quite timely, too as we won’t get paid until September and are starting to run out of money.  I also was able to spend a few days helping with the sweet corn harvest, the sales of which they invest into missions projects all over the world – including our past year in France.  Those few days picking sweetcorn was a highlight, so far, of our brief stay back home.

Last Sunday we were with our home church in Gardner, Indian Creek Gardner and again, we were overwhelmed by their gracious welcoming.  While it was wonderful to hug family and see them in person, it was a different experience than seeing friends we haven’t talked to for the past year.  We stayed in touch with immediate family and knew what was going on in each other’s lives and we were even more aware of missing family.  When you reconnect with friends however, you realize just how much you missed them, even though you hadn’t been consciously aware of how much you’ve missed them.  For this reason, we were giving a lot of hugs last Sunday.  We were also able to participate in the dedication of our godson, whose family is a part of that church.  I have to say though, that even though we basically stayed in touch with immediate family, nothing can beat physically being with them.   Watching the joy and comfort on Dawson’s face while he has been playing with his cousins is a wonderful experience.
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Speaking of Dawson, he had a meltdown on Saturday morning.  It seems that all the transitions finally got to him.  We were heading up to Independence Avenue to meet some people with whom we might be ministering when we return (for good?) to the US in December, Dawson kept asking when he would see the Ketchum kids again, why his Palaiseau friends couldn’t come to the “dance party” he wanted to throw and why we had to talk with some kids he didn’t know before we finally saw the Garcia cousins he hadn’t seen for the past year.  When we got to the house in KC, it took about an hour from Dawson to go from being violently angry to playing with the other kids in his usual out-going manner.  The fact that we’ve been sleeping in various different houses the past two weeks hasn’t helped, either.  Yet one more example of Dawson’s minor experience as a “third culture kid.”

There is a saying that has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson but he never actually said, though he certainly loved France, “Every man has two countries: his own and France.”  The saying actually comes from a French play in the 19th century, of which the French translation is, “Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France.”  Jefferson did write this, however: “So ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, In what country on earth would you rather live?  Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections and recollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.” I have to say that I understand where Jefferson was coming from.  While there is certainly no place like home (especially when home is Kansas) it’s also true that you can never really return home, because while you may be returning to the same place you’re not coming back as the same person.  What doesn’t change though is the affection you have for family and close friends.  No matter where you are physically, I think home is defined by the closeness of those relationships.  In that way, we are truly home.

As a fun side note, we had a 22 hour layover in Dublin, so we were able to walk around the city and even have a meal in an irish pub.  All the pubs there have traditional Irish music every night, well except for nights where they are showing a world cup match.  The food was great, though and even though we weren’t there for long, my wife had a huge glow about her because the “Irish Girl” (which is what the name Erin actually means) was able to touch the same soil from which her great-Grandfather immigrated during the Potato Famine. Here are some pictures from Dublin, followed by some pictures of us picking and selling sweet corn with Burlington First
Church.
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My Uncle Frank and Aunt Karen, who have been leading Burlington First's missionary efforts for decades and are up every morning to pick sweet corn.

My Uncle Frank and Aunt Karen, who have been leading Burlington First’s missionary efforts for decades and are up every morning to pick sweet corn.

Un, deux, trois, soleil

This is a game French kids love to play, it’s similar to “red light, green light.”  What’s interesting about this game was that it was the first French specific thing that Dawson learned.  He learned the game from friends at school and for a few months, was obsessed with it.  We played it at the park, in his bedroom, with random kids we found around town and as you can see in this video, at church.

The other interesting thing about this game was that the title was the first bi-lingual concept that Dawson understood.  He would sometimes say “let’s play un, deux, trois – soleil” or other times he would say, “let’s play one, two, three – sun.”  It’s become normal now, but this was (I believe) the first occasion in which he was thinking bi-lingually.

Here is a video of the game, along with some other stuff.

Au Revoir, Dawson

Dawsons has been a bit confused and quite sad lately, as we’ve been making the rounds of saying goodbye.  It started about a  month ago, saying goodbye to the Ketchum kids.  Then two Fridays ago, he had to say goodbye to all of his school friends.  I don’t think he completely understood the finality as the next week he kept asking when he would be back in school, but some of his little friends understood and one in particular was quite heart-broken.  Yesterday it was time to say goodbye to his friends from church.  We spent Sunday afternoon with Dorin and Safira and their kids, with whom Dawson loves playing, but had to tell them goodbye at the end of the afternoon.  Dawson wouldn’t say it, he wouldn’t even look at them, because he’s starting to understand the finality of it all.  He was really sad when we left their house yesterday.

What’s even more sad is that he woke up last night crying.  When Erin went in to see what was wrong, he said, “mom, I’m sad.”  So it’s all apparently hitting him.

Now, take all of these experiences and multiply them throughout an entire childhood and that’s what cross-cultural missionary kids experience over and over – a lot of goodbyes.

Language Acquisition

A Nazarene Missionary who lives near us but shall remain unnamed, tells a funny story about a time in which his parents were speaking at  a church while he and his brother were running around saying bad words in French.  His parents didn’t know what the words meant until someone else in the French-speaking church explained the meaning to his parents.  This unnamed person was then busted.

Dawson was sort of busted on Friday, though not really.  He was sitting on the slide after school with a friend when this friend leaned over and whispered something into Dawson’s ear.  Dawson then said, though not too loudly, this French “gros mot,” link if you want to read the translation.  The other kid immediately looked at me to see how I would respond.  I have watched enough French movies to grasp the concept of the word and how it’s used, so I just asked Dawson to come over and then explained we don’t say that word.  Dawson was completely innocent, obviously though I laughed a bit at the gall of the other kid to take advantage of his English speaking playmate.

This wasn’t the first time we had to explain there are certain French phrases that he isn’t to use when talking with other people.   When at a local mall to see Santa Clause last December, we caught him leaning over the railing and yelling at people below (though they couldn’t hear him) <<tais-toi>> / “shut up!”  What was funny though, was that he was using the imperative in the singular, telling just one person to shut their mouth, not the entire crowd, which was likely how he was hearing it at school, though in December it probably wasn’t being said to him but rather to another student.

Dawson isn’t just English speaking now, though, he really is speaking (and even thinking) in French.  You can tell by the way he constructs his sentences or how he even occasionally uses a French word when he can’t think of the English word that he is actually thinking in French.  It’s been an amazing process to watch unfold and he is, at least for now, a Third Culture Kid.

He really hated school for three months, I would have to carry him kicking and crying down the steps to the school.  He was blunt in telling me why he didn’t like school, “because I don’t understand what the teacher is saying.”  We just kept forcing him into the classroom each day, though know that eventually his brain would click.  Just like we had been told by a lot of people, he was starting to really get it by Christmas.

The first thing we noticed was Dawson making nonsense words composed of French sounds, which started happening sometime last fall.  It was just like when he was learning to speak the first time.  When we were driving to Strasbourg in late December, he was playing with his toys in the back seat and speaking French at the same time, just little phrases.  We then noticed that he always spoke French to himself while playing with his toys.  We are at the point now where we have actual conversations with him in French.

A year ago, when we would wrestle and taunt each other, I was say, “I’m the strongest.”  To which Dawson would reply, “No, I’m the strongest.”  We still test our manhood in this way, but now it’s <<Je suis le plus fort.>>  <<Non, c’est pas toi.  C’est moi qui est le plus fort!>>

Dawson usually doesn’t like to hear his parent’s speaking French, I think he’s actually embarrassed by the fact that “you don’t sound right.”  He has occasionally corrected our grammar, too.  All of this to show that he is not only speaking French, but even acting French.

Dawson’s teacher has said that after Christmas break, she could tell that he was understanding everything but it was after the February break that he started talking like crazy.  Talking like crazy is our Dawson, the shy, timid boy that was saw in his school for moths was a strange apparition, born out of a very unfamiliar and difficult environment.  I try to take video of his talking with his friends at the park, but I usually miss it.  But if you know Dawson, you can imagine him going crazy when he first sees his friends coming into the park and then chasing after them to get everyone involved in some sort of game.  Just imagine Dawson doing that, but doing it in French rather than English.

Someone came to the door one night, some sort of sales man and as usual, he stopped talking once he heard my accent.  After I closed the door, Dawson yelled out from the bathtub what he’d heard the guy say (and I hadn’t understood).  While he doesn’t do it a lot, he translates for us sometimes.  What he does more often however, is ask us “how do you say ____ in French?”  We don’t always know the word but when we do, it’s so great to watch the gears turning as he inputs yet another word into his French vocabulary.

It’s funny how many of the words and phrases he knows come from the aggressive world of little boys on playgrounds, with their fights, taunts, races, games and ploys to annoy the girls.  We were watching Le Petit Nicolas one day and Erin asked, “What’s a bagare?”  To which Dawson immediately responded, “it’s a fight.”  I now notice how often I hear that word yelled while they are playing.  I think the word has a softer meaning than an actual fist-fight, too.

I think the first actual sentences we heard him say were <<C’est pas vrai.  C’est pas bien.>>  “It’s not true, it’s not right.”  I kept wondering what the kids in his class were doing that was prompting his teacher to use that phrase over and over.

I’ve been storing up a year’s worth of memories of Dawson learning a new language through the difficult method of complete immersion into a foreign school and while the post might’ve seemed to be full of a bunch of random memories, I wanted to make sure and share them.

 

 

 

 

Provence 2014

8 years ago, during the trip to Europe that might have been the initial catalyst toward this whole Mission Corps year in France thing, we spent a few days in the south of France, the Provence region. During that trip, we saw some incredible urban scenes and Roman ruins throughout Nimes, Orange, Avignon and the Pont du Gard. What we didn’t see much of, though was the Provencial countryside. This past week, we spent 4 days in Provence, based out of the town of Arles. While we did see some great towns and more Roman arenas, we also spent a LOT of time just driving around the countryside, taking tiny little roads through vineyards, next to sunflower fields, around lavender fields and though canyons and along the sides of mountains. It’s amazing how much geographic diversity is found in this region. What’s even more amazing, however is how around almost every corner (and a lot of the roads are small and windy) is yet another view that truly does take your breath away. I can’t count how many times we just sighed, “wow.” We tried to take pictures and I’ll share some of them, but pictures just can’t capture the breadth and scope of all that scenery. What Erin wanted to see the most were the famous lavender fields. While we saw some great lavender at the iconic Abbé de Sénanque, the most impressive lavender field we stumbled upon was found just after driving over a bridge and passing a vineyard. We stopped and took a few (to put it mildly) pictures. We spent time walking around Arles and seeing some places made famous by Van Gogh’s painting of them. we watched bull-fighters-in-training run in front of the bulls in tha Roman Arena in Arles, we drove through several of the hill towns of the Luberon, walked the ruins of a chateau on the top of the cliff at Les Baux and drove the mountain route of the Côtes du Rhône. In addition to the pictures, here are also a couple videos I took. The first one is of the bull race (or whatever it’s called) in Arles and then my attempt to catch the iconic sound of the Provencial locusts while showing some of the scenery as well.

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Guess who painted this cafe?

Guess who painted this cafe?

Taking a break.

Taking a break.

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Ancient Roman Theatre

Ancient Roman Theatre

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The incredible color of the region is what drew all of the Impressionist painters.

The incredible color of the region is what drew all of the Impressionist painters.

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Abbé de Sénanque

Abbé de Sénanque

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This is a classical view, the vineyards going up to a peach colored house.

This is a classical view, the vineyards going up to a peach colored house.

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"Sur le point d'Avignon, l'on y dance, l'on y dance."

“Sur le point d’Avignon, l’on y dance, l’on y dance.”

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A Roman Bridge that has stood for two thousand years.

A Roman Bridge that has stood for two thousand years.

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A park at a rest area on the way back home.

A park at a rest area on the way back home.

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A wheat field near Chartres.

A wheat field near Chartres.

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Le Temps Passe Vite

We’re finishing up this bittersweet day by finishing up our packing. Our stuff is currently strung out across the Ketchum’s living room but will be soon be stuffed into one of 7 suitcases and duffle bags.

The bitter part of the day is obvious; we had to say goodbye to a group of people we’ve really come to care for. The silver lining that makes us all feel just a bit better is that it’s not a complete goodbye (as Dorin said, “at least it’s not goodbye until heaven”) because we’ll be bringing a group of students back here in October. So we were saying “see you soon” rather than “goodbye.” To be honest, though it was a “goodbye” to this season of our lives and a “goodbye” to the privilege of seeing everyone on a regular basis. Yeah, it was a real “goodbye” and it was difficult.

The sweet part of the day was all of the gratitude and encouragement we received today from so many people. It’s funny how it takes a major transitional event, like a real “goodbye” to openly express feelings of gratitude and regret. All of the gratitude we received today confirmed for us that this year really was worth it. We were clearly making an impact on a regular basis among the lives of church people. We weren’t always aware of the impact we were making but a lot of it was under the surface was revealed to us today. It’s a feeling of gratitude to God for using us during this past year and a sense of satisfaction for having used our gifts in positive ways.

I gave my final message today, in which I shared some memories from the past year and some things that I had learned, both serious and funny. We got on a bit of a roll with all of our laughing, which made it even harder than usual to correctly pronounce the tougher words in my text. It was also a bit difficult to continue speaking when people looking at me were fighting back tears.

I finished the message by saying we’ll always have a place in our hearts for everyone in the church and that we hoped they would keep a small place in their hearts for us, too. Several people responded by calling out “Une grande place – a big place.”

I’m going to post below the English version of what I shared today:

It is always a privilege to share scripture with you. Thank you for allowing me to share with you. I know that my strong accent forces you to listen closely. Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for saing, “Donnie, you’re getting better” even though it’s not true. Okay, I’m kidding, maybe I’ve gotten a tiny bit better. I still had Benoit translate this sermon, though.

This is the last time I’ll get to share a message with you, at least for now. Tuesday we will get on a flight to Chicago, where my parent’s will pick us up and take us to their house. Dawson is very excited to see his Grandparents and his cousins. We’re also excited to see family and friends. We’re really sad about leaving, though. This year has gone by faster than we had expected. It was hard to say “good bye” to family and friends last summer. It’s hard again to say “goodbye” to this church family. Thank you for being the kind of people who make it hard to say “goodbye.”

I’m not going to preach a regular sermon today. I’m going to share some memories before looking at a passage of scripture.

Memories
Here are some of my favorite memories:
1) Our first Sunday in France our church didn’t meet worship because of the Tour de France. So when we finally met all of you, I read something to all of you. I was shaking and terrified to read French in public. Now I only get slightly nervous.
2) The costume party was another good memory. I have some funny pictures of Jocelyn with his face painted and some other pictures of Marie Francoise dunking her head in the bucket of water.
3) One of my favorite memories was watching Sami and Sophie rededicate their lives to Christ. This church is a good place for people to experience the love of Christ. I’m so glad you shared that love with them. I know that you are able to continue to share Jesus’ love with people.
4) Of course, another great memory were the meals we had together. After my parents had a meal with all of you, my dad said he met more interesting people in a few hours than almost the rest of his life. Which is one of my favorite parts of this church, that so many of your lives are such amazing stories. You’ve moved from all different parts of the world, have overcome so many challenges, including learning French. You are from a lot of different cultures but have found a home here together in this church.
Those were some of my favorite memories.

Things I’ve learned
Now I’ll share some of the things we’ve learned during this past year:
1) First of all, we’ve learned that Erin is allergic to mold. It’s been the mold in our apartment that has given her so many headaches. We now know to have our next house tested for mold before we move in.
2) Secondly, we’ve learned how to live without a car. So many of our American friends ask, “how do you survive without a car?” But there is better public transportation here than in the US. We’ve enjoyed watching people run to catch a train and we’ve done the same thing a few times, too.
3) Also, we know what it’s like to be a foreigner who can barely speak the language. There are parts of the culture that we don’t understand, so we accidently offend people. When I’m in a store I’m always scared the clerk will ask me something I don’t understand. I usually just nod my head “yes.” It’s been a very humbling experience to talk like a 3 year old. It’s been a good experience, though because when we work with immigrants to the US at our next church, we will know how they feel.
4) We’ve learned to appreciate fresh bread. I love a warm, fresh baguette. We are also going to miss how fresh produce in the markets. The food here is usually of a higher quality than in the US. And I’m going to miss being able to buy quiche on every corner.
5) Also, I’ve learned, “I don’t have the right.” It’s been said to me over and over, “Vous n’avez pas le droit.” I then think, “oops, I won’t do that again.”
6) Sixth, I’ve learned what it’s like to have tourists wander into the building while you’re preaching. That has been a new experience.
7) Finally, I’ve also learned that if I’m speaking during worship and it’s not an English service, I need to write out what I’m going to say before actually saying it.

Things I’m thankful for
I will get a little more serious now and share some reasons I’m thankful we have spent a year here:
1) First of all, You have helped renew my faith in the church. I know this might be a bit shocking, but I was ready to give up on church before moving here. I wasn’t giving up on God, I was just really tired of church. Your love and simplicity has really renewed my faith in church. I have gained a renewed passion for ministry, thanks to all of you.
2) Secondly, I’m very thankful that Dawson has adapted to a new culture. The first few months were really hard for him but by Christmas, he had finally stopped hating school and had started to enjoy it. By January, he was speaking a lot of French. As hard as it was to watch Dawson struggle, it was thrilling to watch him thrive. I’m glad he has learned the life skill of adapting to a new culture. He missed his friends from Kansas when we moved here, but now he is going to miss his French friends. I’m glad he’ll know how to relate to kids from other cultures, since we will be a part of a church will kids from all over the world.
3) Thirdly, we have become open to new possibilities for ministry. In September, we will be moving to Switzerland to spend the semester teaching students from MidAmerica Nazarene University who are spending a semester abroad. Our time of living in another country will help us as we work with those students.
In December, we will be moving back to Kansas City and will be working with a church in the poor part of the city. As I’ve already said, this church has immigrants from all over world. We will be able to help them learn English and fit into the culture. We will understand their struggles because we know what it is like to live in a new country and to learn a new language.
4) One of the main reasons I’m thankful for being here is that our faith has been stretched and strengthened. I haven’t shared a lot about this, but it was really hard to get here. In fact, many times we thought we it wasn’t going to happen. First of all, we had to raise a lot of money – way more than I thought was possible. I remember lying in bed one morning, feeling sorry for myself, thinking that maybe we would be able to raise enough money to spend half a year in France. Of course, God provided what we’ve needed and even more. A lot of people have given money to support our ministry here this year. God has provided all we’ve needed and then even more.
We also thought our Visa application was going to get rejected by the French consulate. In order to apply for a visa, we had to go to a meeting in Chicago. Even though we brought all of the paperwork they requested, they asked for even more. They wanted the signature of the head of the Protestant Federation of France. It took months for that office to respond to Brian’s request. It was taking so long that we were trying to find another place to go serve. We were seriously considering Hungary. We were quite sad, though because we believed France was the right place to be. We also had un-refundable plane tickets to Paris.
My parents were praying for us and my mom kept telling me to be patient and trust God. Well, with just a few days to spare, we got the paperwork from the Protestant Federation of France and got on our flight to Paris.
All of this has taught me to be more patient and to worry less.
A few months ago, we were trying to figure out what we would do when we return to the US. We had been offered a full-time position with a church in Indianapolis. The position would have matched our ministry skills and the salary was full-time. We were really, really excited. We were even looking for houses in Indianapolis. Then however, the situation started to change and it became obvious that the position wasn’t actually going to be available. It was really disappointing to lose that position. It was scary to be moving home and not have a job. In the midst of all that uncertainty, though I was reminded of how nervous and upset we were a year ago, when it seemed we wouldn’t be able to come to France. If God got us to France, he can take care of our jobs when we return home. Of course, God is taking care of us and we are going to be fine when we return home. Going through the uncertainty of moving here has taught me to better trust God in the future.

I have also entrusted this church to God. It’s hard to leave all of you. I can imagine it’s a bit scary for the church to lose a volunteer family, to not have a pastor and to have the Ketchums in the United States right now. The future of the church is not completely clear. But we trust God with the future.

One of our scripture readings was from Jeremiah chapter 23. In this passage, God is condemning those who have mistreated his people. The shepherds were supposed to care for and nurture the flock but instead they have destroyed and scattered the flock of sheep. This was a difficult time for the people of Israel. They needed a strong and good leader. They people of Israel were not as strong as they had been in the past. They had powerful enemies on either side of them. They were fearful for their very existence. They needed someone to lead them. Someone to take care of them. Someone to remind them that God was in control of their future. Instead, they had selfish leaders who did not know the heart of God.

The people are scared, they don’t have a leader, so God tells them this, vs. 4-6. God says to his people, “You are not forgotten. I will be your leader. I will send my son to live among you and he will care for you. I am your God and I will care for my people.”

I believe that’s what God wants to say to us as a church. God would say to us, “your future is secure because I am your leader. I will take care of my people.” God is faithful. We can trust our future to him. The fact that God is in control does not mean the future will be easy or that everything will happen the way we think it should. The fact that God is in control does mean, though that we don’t have to worry about the future. Our shepherd is strong enough to handle the future. Vs 6

So as we leave a church full of people who have cared for us, we entrust the future of this church to our Good Shepherd. I believe he is trustworthy, and you can believe that, too.

Also, there is one final reason that I’m thankful we were able to spend a year in France, which is that we were able to meet all of you. We will always have a place in our hearts for this church family. We hope you can keep a little place for us, too.

The Shot Heard Round the World – 100 years later

Einstein once said, “You cannot simultaneously prepare for war and plan for peace.”  It seems that’s exactly what European nations were trying to do more than 100 years ago, during the several decade long arms race that eventually lead to the Great War.  Ever since arriving here, I’ve noticed how much attention is being paid to the 100th commemoration of the start of WWI.  This terrible war is much more a part of the European conscience than the American conscience, but that makes sense since we don’t have any villages that lost every single fighting aged male to the war as did some European villages.  I’ve attached some pictures that were taken from the website, www.fieldsofbattle1418.org and displayed along one of the fences of the Luxembourg Gardens.

What has always struck me in reading the history of the Great War was just how vague were the reasons for actually fighting the war.  It seems that since these nations had put so much work into developing all of these weapons and training so many soldiers, that when a leader of a small nation is assinated, their larger ally (Germany) jumps on the chance to start a war they believed would be a quick and easy way to wrestle some colonies away from France and England.  The Allies, of course, didn’t want to lose any slices of their global colonial pie, so more than a month after Franz Ferdinand was assinated, the first mass killing in history had started.

Another thing that has always struck me was how excited everyone was to be going to war.  It was a sense of relief because after all, the nations had been moving toward this war for decades.  Crowds of people were dancing and singing in the street as they sent their young men off to the slaughter.  Three years later however, many of those same crowds were revolting, bringing down the monarchies that had brought about such a terrible carnage.  Four years later, 8 million civilians were dead, 20 million soldiers were wounded and 10 million soldiers between the ages of 20 and 48 were dead.  They were Europe’s “lost generation.”

I just finished watching the French Television special “Apocalypse: the First World War” and in my own little commemoration of this awful event in history, I’m going to share some of the quotes that I found interesting.  I can’t remember the actual quote, but Jean Jaurès got it all started by explaining why the French worker needed to oppose the war because they would be the ones to bear the brunt of the war while the industrialists would be the ones to line their pockets.  Not surprisingly, Jaurès was assinated for speaking out against the war, but what also is not surprising is that companies like Ford and Citroen profited greatly from the war.  A French soldier wrote to his wife expressing the pain of fighting a war that “enriched the profiteers.”

“If we monarchs do not make peace, the people will make it over our heads.” – New Emperor of Austria-Hungary Empire, Charles I in 1917, who was overthrown when his empire collapsed at the end of the war.

“All of France says its prayers.  Every side evokes God’s name.  May God protect France.”

A soldier described the horrors of the battle of Verdun in saying, ‘If we remain on this battlefield it is because they will not let us get away.”

“Human ingenuity knows no bounds when it comes to killing.”

“Those wretches, the Huns, they are just like us.”

217,000 British soldiers died in the battle of Paschendaele, which resulted only in the British army advancing 5 miles.  The poem, “In Flanders Fields” was written about that battle.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
A French soldier wrote to his wife, though the letter was confiscated by censors, “If women knew how bad it was, they would rise up together to stop the war.  ‘We want our husbands home.’”

The German Fighter Ace, Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron) stated, “The murder of a man is still murder, even in wartime.”

Writing about a battle with the Italian army, Ernest Hemingway wrote in A Farewell to Arms, “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.”

US President Wilson wanted to defend France, the birthplace of democracy but he also knew that if France and England lost, the US would never be paid back the $2 billion owed by them by the two countries.

British Economist John Maynard Keynes had this to say about the Treaty of Versailles, “If we take the view that Germany must be kept impoverished and its children starving and crippled, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp.”

In explaining why the US Congress would not ratify the treaty, a Pennsylvania Senator said, “Mr. President, I am convinced by the most painstaking consideration I can give that this treaty does not spell peace, but war – war more woefully devastating than the one we have now closed.”

“Leaders shape the memories by commissioning countless monuments that depict their soldiers marching toward sacrifice and glory.  They never depict the firing squads used to keep order in the ranks.  These monuments almost always seek to convince us that it is right to kill and be killed for one’s homeland.”

The documentary ended with this line, “A whole generation of German children will grow up humiliated and dreaming of revenge.”

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