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.
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.