Loving the Least – January 2018

This month’s letter will be a long one because I want to recount the 2 yr saga of my efforts to obey Jesus’ command to care for “the least of my brothers.”    The French are good at caring for the poor physically, as they are housed and fed and have access to job training and full health care. However, their souls and spirits are bound by generational sin, a victim/poverty spirit, and demons of addiction and mental anguish. My efforts to befriend my neighbors have fizzled for some of those very reasons.

Now let me introduce you to a lady I call Ma Belle, a saved member of our congregation. She could check all those boxes, except addictions, but lived in a codependent situation with her son, who was an alcoholic. They have lived in the area their entire lives and are well-known by local churches and social workers. They both have learning disabilities and live more like a street people since they can’t drive and avoid their apt during the day, not letting anyone in.

So besides attending free workshops for retired and mentally handicapped citizens, she started attending most of our House of Prayer sets where she loves to draw. But she was in constant turmoil, always asking for prayer for her son to get help (without being able to set any boundaries,) for her heart condition (which seemed to come and go) or her irrational fears (like being evicted.) Since she still didn’t want anyone to interfere and wasn’t a victim of domestic abuse, all we could do was pray with her to get her through another week, and hope that her son would be removed and that she would let him go.

This is how David and I got to know her better in the last couple of years, often driving her home after evening sets, wondering what she went home to, but relieved to see that she was in a decent little historic building, rather than an ugly high-rise. I was one of the few who greeted her on Sunday mornings and celebrated her birthdays. Then last spring, we started Sozos when she decided to break off an unhealthy relation with a man. With her son still at home, I wasn’t sure it was worth it, but then I decided it might free her of soul ties with both men more quickly. We did 6 sessions over the summer, when she easily forgave every single person in her whole life who had mistreated her.
And that was just about everybody.

When she stopped making progress, I said we needed to wait until her son was out of her life. And to everyone’s amazement, he was accepted into a rehabilitation community at the beginning of Nov. That same week her water heater broke down, but she refused to call a repairman because she was too ashamed to let him in. Everyone told her to call me as the best candidate for help, but it took her 2 weeks without heat to finally surrender. Don’t ask me to do hospital visits; I don’t have the stomach for it. But filth and clutter have no hold on me. The dirtier the job, the more excited I get about changing the atmosphere!

The odor she carries fills the hallway before you’ve opened her door. Inside, all the drawers and shelves were broken and emptied, leaving 3 years of stuff on the floor a foot high. She blamed her son’s violent outbursts for all the damage. Her bedroom was intimidating, but the salon where her son lived was overwhelming. So I started with the easiest and got her entry, bathroom and kitchen floor clear in 3 hours. Now she could let a repairman in.

On the next visit, the apt was warm and the floor was still clear, so I was motivated to keep going and coerced David to change a light socket and unclog her bathroom sink. I got her a hot plate and pot from the church kitchen to heat food  since all of her appliances were broken, washed mountains of laundry in vinegar and swapped out her rotten mattress for her son’s, giving her fresh bedding from my attic.

She wasn’t a hoarder and every little advancement made a huge difference. Yet she would still apologize for being a burden to the point of wondering why she was even born. My response was that she was teaching us how to love like Jesus did. I dreamed of having it all done in time for Christmas and started contacting social workers about how to get some help to empty that salon. I also wondered if I could get hired as her personal house keeper in order to earn enough money to take care of some of her needs, as well as mine. In the end, it sounded like I was on my own. I couldn’t hire strangers to clear it out because they wouldn’t be patient with all the sorting and Ma Belle’s potential reactions. And I couldn’t afford it anyway. And while everyone admired me, no one was interested in getting their hands dirty. It was feeling heavy and I needed reassurance that Jesus was going to make this burden light.

Then I looked at my calendar and saw that our missionary care weekend was coming up, (as described in the last newsletter) and David agreed we needed to take advantage of it. I reserved on-line and got a personal message back saying that the other reservations had cancelled and so all the pampering would focus on us! A team was there from the states to take our portrait, cook us a romantic meal, (besides all the others) and give us free counseling sessions!! This was my reward!!

We drove through rain, sleet and snow 3 hrs through the countryside, arriving at night to a darkened village. And it was absolutely surreal to knock on the front door and be warmly welcomed by gushing Americans!! It was a delightful escape that ended on a magical note: The ancient village church wasn’t open that Sunday, so they got the keys and we had an (unheated) English Advent service all to ourselves! Wrapped in blankets, we sang carols and hymns in a cappella that I hadn’t sung since I was a child. God bless the Sutherlin family!

EmilieOn our return, Ma Belle’s heart started acting up, so my break continued over the holidays and I started talking to the young adults who help me clean the church about this mountain. At the same time, we welcomed Emilie, our pastor’s niece, as our new boarder. (Priscille ended up staying only through Oct.) Emilie’s joyful presence especially brightened up our holiday week without family and relieved financial pressure.

So this month, after 4 more tedious hours, I  finally got her bedroom floor completely clear, allowing David and Thibauld, one of our young men, to set up a proper bed frame and repair her broken bedroom furniture. She was so happy that she bought me a gift. A gift I loved.

The young adults from church after eating pizza afterwards

And Thibauld ended up being the key to conquering the salon. As a mover, he’d seen worse and even had a trailer to haul stuff to the recycling center. So the mountain became a molehill when he along with 4 other volunteers showed up for 3 hours last weekend to get the worst of it into the trailer to haul away.  Believe you me, I’m taking it as a prophetic sign for the work still needed for our church building!

David got this verse for 2018: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” What a great image of our journey with Ma Belle thus far. And even if you never meet her here on earth, you certainly will on the other side, when she will be transformed back into the beautiful woman God created her to be. And I’m sure you’ll recognize her because she’ll be the one that smells the sweetest!

Dreams Come True, Nov 2017

Christmas Greetings Dear Readers,

I am looking out over a snow-covered hillside outside Lafauche, pop. 80, in Champagne-Ardenne where a wonderful group of Americans with a heart for missionaries is living out an open vision that they received, slowly renovating a “chateau” as a free member care ministry for missionaries and ministers who need a little TLC. We are taking advantage of it after an exhausting couple of weeks, but more about that in the next newsletter!

Frederiks Kirke (The Marble Church), Copenhagen

Our fall season was beautiful and David’s intercession trip to Copenhagen and Oslo was one of the highlights! He has joined the Operation Capitals of Europe initiative (https://oceprayer.com) on several occasions, but he had been waiting 5 years for these particular capitals to come up because he is half Norwegian and had never visited. Thanks to YWAM connections, the 2 week trip cost next to nothing. He had never been with a better group of people from all over the world and enjoyed quality time with everyone. He got access into beautiful government buildings and leaders for prayer, thanks to the local intercession teams. He felt a real connection with Scandinavia and stayed healthy. The Copenhagen news reported a breakthrough in an area of corruption that they prayed into that very week.

OCE team (WIP prophetic school)

In Oslo, he received 30 minutes of prophecy, not only for himself, but for our entire family – a real gift of encouragement! The icing on the cake was a visit with 2 old Norwegian friends from his year with Up With People 36 years ago. The last time he saw them was at our wedding, but they picked up right where they had left off and he was treated like family. Truly a dream come true for him. And my time at home was equally refreshing!

The second dream has been to move to a residence where we could age gracefully. Our current house is starting to feel more and more like a carnival fun house, where the floors are wonky, the stairs steep and narrow, the doorways low, the view depressing and the windows are few. I am also craving a private place to sit outside. Unfortunately, our house has not appreciated like the ones in Denver and Scotland. We love our village, but other local homes in our price range have similar problems, being built in the same era. We also aren’t interested in apartment living, which feels very confining here for two homebodies who still want to welcome others comfortably.

"The Beast"Well, last month our dream started to take shape: Our pastor’s son, Raphael, is in the credit business and an opportunity fell into his lap when a house sale fell through this summer. He had been keeping his eyes open for a new home for his own family and his parents. This property looked ideal, but he needed one more couple to help finance it, as it would be big enough to cut up into 3 large apartments. Would we be interested in seeing it? You bet! We jumped in the car and drove a few minutes to a sleepy village in the foothills.

Our new "house mates"We’ve nicknamed it “The Beast” and we bagged it for a ridiculously low price, leaving plenty for the complete renovation needed with the sale of our current residences. We plan to move in a year from now, but I am already the on-call babysitter for Raphael’s 3 children, 3, 4, and 8. There is a mutual understanding between myself and his wife Ekaterina because she is also a foreigner and far from family support! She calls me her Mary Poppins…
She runs a Montessori day care in their apartment on the 4th floor without an elevator and cannot wait to live at street level on a cul-de-sac with a yard! Our pastor Luc and his wife Manuela, who founded the school, still live in the school chateau, but are passing on the baton, so they too are eager for calmer environs for retirement. Manuela is a wonderful grandmother, but she also has her mother and 3 other children in town who need her support, not to mention all the needs at the church. So this plan suits us all!

Blessings, Angela

New Connections – September 2017

Olivia and our grand niece at the retirement home

The last couple of months have been full, leaving us little time to enjoy or lament our empty nest! (Olivia is doing well, working in French immersion classrooms as a substitute teacher. She joins Rachel in weekly indoor rock climbing, has found a life group for spiritual nourishment and family fun fills up most weekends!)

Our first connection was with Drew, who arrived from the Omaha House of Prayer the day after Olivia’s departure. With a heart for France and needing a change of scenery, he took a 6 week tour of the French houses of prayer this summer. We hosted him for a week so that he could visit the 3 in our region and David scheduled extra sets to take advantage of his keyboard skills.  A blessing both ways.

David’s connections in Basel continue as he was invited to play with 2 worship teams for 2 different events. The great thing about Swiss churches is that they pay you for serving – no sign of the poverty spirit that we live under here in France! The best thing was that one of the events fell on our anniversary, so we got a free hotel that weekend to celebrate together!

With our part-time income streams slowing to a trickle this summer, we sent out our first-ever support-raising letter to our newsletter subscribers to find out if this was part of God’s solution for us. Apparently it was not, but a week later we were contacted about boarding a young lady from our church for the school year (and requests for PC repair by friends suddenly came pouring in…) Priscille is eager to make us her adoptive parents, filling holes her parents can’t, while she figures out what she wants to do with her life and volunteering at the school. At 20, she is sweet and selfless, but she needs to be listened to. Needless to say, she is filling my mothering cup as well!

This new relationship is also perfect timing, as this year the church council’s focus is discipling our twenty-somethings. It started with a bang 2 weeks ago when this generation finally grasped the urgency of our building woes over the last 6 years that has kept us at a standstill. So we will be attending leadership and coaching training together this year to build relationship and momentum. Fortunately, Sunday school will take a backseat with fewer children coming regularly, freeing up my energies to focus on young adults. But I am still getting my fix by babysitting, loving on kids without the pressure of preparing a lesson every week!

The summer finale connection was a beautiful Alsatian-Chinese outdoor wedding last weekend. It was a 12 HOUR event with a 1920’s theme with guests from all over the world. I felt like I was on a movie set. David translated the sermon into English and I pushed myself physically to enjoy it to the fullest. These are moments when we really feel like part of the family here, (as we pose with our pastors,) but I am still recovering!

With some of the girls I babysitWith our pastor's wifeWith our pastor

Happy fall, Angela

PS: Want to know an easy way to impact Europe? The Awakening Europe team started an initiative asking for everyone all over the world to declare out loud, “EUROPE SHALL BE SAVED!” at 5pm every day. I’ve chosen church bells for my reminder and found that it makes a real shift in my spirit when surrounded by all the negativity!

Red, White and Bluebird – July 2017

I am writing to you on France’s Independence Day weekend that is really the start of the official six weeks of French summer holidays. Our church took the risk of a low turn-out and decided to host a worship weekend with singer/songwriter Samuel Olivier, who is creating my current favorite French worship songs as he experiences Father God in deeper ways as a new father. David so enjoyed playing alongside him, and for me, a song is even more powerful when the writer is singing them himself!!! The timing ended up being perfect because it carried us, as the church council, through a church crisis that was coming to a head this very weekend that would have been much heavier otherwise.

Getting back to this month’s title, Olivia has been the biggest focus of our attention since our last newsletter. She will literally fly the nest next month as our last French baby bird to bravely reconcile with her American heritage (before tackling her master’s to decide what she will do professionally with her multilingual studies.)

Since leaving the states at age 3, she has never felt comfortable in American culture, only returning for short periods at different stages of development and never really bonding with extended family. She also needs to re-establish relationship as an adult with Noah and Rachel, who left her daily life by the time she was 13. So she has grown up feeling like an only child with parents who are 10 yrs older and much less active than her friends’ parents. And because the French spend all major holidays with extended family, her French friends have always pitied her, which made her feel like an outsider, which she kind of is.

This is the lot in life of the Third Culture Kid, where your global life experiences are incredibly rich, but the most dreaded question in the world is “Where are you from?” In Europe, she can sound French, but she grew up with our American filter of the culture. In America, she will sound like an American, but she will react through a European culture filter. She has had the opportunity to testify of her need for Jesus’ help and healing in her personal struggle for healthy identity that we ALL have to wrestle with in one way or another.

So in a dizzying June… Olivia moved out of her dorm and said goodbye to all her college friends.

She found a 6-week internship in Germany teaching at a language school as her last requirement to graduate and rented a private room in a local German couple’s home.

She sang her heart out for the annual school fete.

She bought her plane ticket for her 10 month stay in the U.S. and applied for part-time work in Indianapolis.

And she attended her uncomfortably long French citizenship ceremony on one of the hottest days of the year 8 months after the fact. (A disappointing culmination when she was handed yet another bureaucratic form to fill out in order to get her French ID card!)

We are so grateful to our family members who are waiting with open arms to welcome her, especially David’s sister and brother-in-law, who have offered to house her, as they did for Noah. Do keep her in your prayers as the Lord brings her to mind!

Happy Summer !


Road Tripping

I hope you are coming out of the winter doldrums, enjoying the sunshine on your face and the flowering trees along your path!

The highlights this month were about getting out of town to both give and receive:

Mid-month, a new American missionary friend, Christi, invited me to accompany her to Zurich for a women’s breakfast where she was the speaker. Sadly, it was supposed to be a father-daughter trip and he passed away suddenly just 3 weeks before the date.
She decided to keep the engagement, but needed moral support for the 2 hr drive without him and I was thrilled to come along, all expenses paid, just before my birthday.

It ended up being pure “soul food,” sharing deeply with English-speaking ex-pats during the table talk time around Brené Brown’s theme of being courageously vulnerable.  (When Brown’s 2010 TED Talk went viral, her career took off and Christi is a certified facilitator with her Daring Way counseling program.) Christi did so well that my support role was minimal –she was a beautiful model of grace in all circumstances for herself and others! I even got a free copy of Brown’s book, Daring Greatly!
(I would include our selfie here, but my phone died with my photos inside…)

Birthday joy continued for the next couple of weeks, including the means to buy a new phone and a romantic afternoon in Colmar, with lots of other surprises and love from friends and family near and far.

David did road trip #2 to minister in Orléans last weekend. You may remember that Alana put out a French worship CD last year and David contributed some background vocals. Well, a group of charismatic Catholics and evangelicals there who meet together weekly to promote unity and worship got a hold of her music and invited her to come do a concert! On the group’s site, which is translated “Worship at the Center,” they promoted the event and you can hear one of Alana’s songs, read the program, and watch her promote the evening in French.

Alana was surprised to get this opportunity and rented a 9 passenger van for her “Trésor European Tour” with a team from church that included David. It was a 6 hr drive with stops and a very rich time for everyone. The lady battling cancer, that I mentioned last month, joined them as an intercessor and even though undergoing chemo, she felt great the entire trip. The organizer posted this video of David modeling how to “worship with the Word” after a brief teaching. He is singing Heb. 1:3 and got an enthusiastic response during and afterwards from the participants. He wore several hats, playing drums, the cajon, teaching and singing. They were also able to minister to the youth that were present and the organizers also took lots of her CDs to sell!

This coming together of different streams came at a good time because our apostolic network of churches in France is currently being attacked by an anonymous French heresy hunter site. Pretty heart-breaking, but a real wake-up call to communicate better who we are. David will be preaching his first sermon at church on Sunday based on the book The Culture of Honor by Danny Silk as another gentle reminder.

And on that note, we’d like to make you aware of Pray for France – the only American prayer initiative for this country. David has had lots of email conversations with the founder and was also the main contributor to the worship aspect of the prayer topics. Our pastor also contributed to prayer points for Christian education. Register on their site to get emails with the daily topic of prayer through Easter. They also have a Facebook page!

55 and holding, Angela