Pure and Undefiled Religion

I’m walking in my maternal grandparents’ footsteps this fall, caring for the orphans and widows.  In this day and age, where most singles and couples live without extended family support, these terms can apply to a wide range of people. And I think that this is one of the main roles of missionaries worldwide: Being financially supported, our time is more available for the needs of others. Kind of like stay-at-home mothers used to be for society. And because “acts of service” continues to be my love language, even with lower energy levels, Jesus makes my day when He puts together connections in serendipitous ways!

Let me share some recent examples in detail:

I had just delivered homemade soup to 2 English-speaking friends: Ben’s wife was out of town and had a sick daughter. Helen struggles with chronic pain and exhaustion and I launder her bedding twice a month. That day she also gave me her duvet to get cleaned. Ma Belle lives close to the laundromat and dry cleaners, so after checking prices and hours, I went by her apt. and no one answered. Looking at my watch, I realized that she would be walking home from a HoP set at church, so I headed that direction, spotted her and pulled over.

Since I had given away all my soup, I asked if she was hungry. She was, and since it was a sunny day, we headed to McDonald’s and had lunch out on the patio. Out of the blue, she asked me if I would help her deal with her chin hairs because her sister told her, without mincing words, that she was ugly. So we decided to go back to my house where I could give her disposable razors and show her how to shave. Her hair was pretty greasy too, so she took me up on a shampoo and trim as well! Happy day – She looked like a new woman! The root of the problem seemed to be a broken water heater (again) and no shampoo, so before taking her home, we stopped at a discount shop and got cleaning supplies, not only for her body, but also for her apt., since she warned me that it wasn’t in very good shape. Others had told her that her kitchen bins were the problem, but she seemed unable to tackle it. I hadn’t come by all summer, so it was time for a visual.

Upon entry, I was dismayed at the state of the kitchen. Despite lack of hot water and clogged sinks overflowing with dishes, we managed to get the floor and trash cans to an acceptable level of clean, (thanks to her bathtub) in about an hour. Her bedroom was heading down the same path, so I gave her a deadline to get on top of it or else I would come do it myself. I simply cannot imagine allowing all my hard work last year to be wasted. Her pride keeps her from asking, and she doesn’t like me working for nothing, but she admits that my occasional interventions really help her.

I’m putting on the pressure because I’m off to visit my parents for the 5 weeks around Thanksgiving and I want to make sure she’s in good shape for the winter before I leave. This brings us to the biggest crux in missionary life – while caring for others, we aren’t around to care for our own parents. In early September, my parents needed my support for the first time, but airfare and soon-to-expire visas don’t make it possible to fly out on a dime. Jesus got them over the hump, but I feel compelled to go out anyway. I think our family was last together in 2004 and I miss them. I’d also like to help my parents find a place closer to my sister before the next emergency. They are 78 and 82, so I don’t think I’m being too hasty.

Mitzia and real Italian coffee!Another precious moment happened after I had texted Christiane on a Sunday, our friend now in palliative care with lung cancer. I told her we missed her, esp. as she was the most faithful attender of David’s HoP sets and sent her a photo of the latest church wedding (see photo below.) She said that Mitzia, (a real widow) had wanted to come visit her as well, but needed a ride and Manuela (her daughter, our pastor’s wife and part of our house project) was in Israel.  Maybe we could bring her on Monday, esp. as it was a Mitzia’s birthday. That was also a day when the intercessor scheduled to minister to Christiane was unavailable, so we could come without tiring her out.

So I called Mitzia Monday morning. She had no plans and invited us over for coffee beforehand. That morning, I also received cash in the mail from my pen pal (who was returning my efforts to contribute to all the gas she used during our vacation together.) So I ran to the florist for flowers for Christiane and to the bakery for some birthday tarts. David agreed to drive and bring his guitar. What a sweet time of sharing and worship we had that came together so easily, falling on a day when I was also rested and had the energy to pull it off. That’s what makes these days even more special – all these “widows” have more bad days than good ones, so I give Jesus all the glory for orchestrating these moments of mutual blessing.

Mitzia’s great grandchildren are the ones I will be living with, and they fit in the “orphan” category when mom needs extra help with babysitting and after school pickups, esp. when Grandma Manuela is out of town. (I’m really starting to feel like a member of the family now!) And we had another “orphan” over for lunch yesterday: “Ling” married into the church family last year (the 20’s wedding). Since then they have moved from the polluted, noisy city of 20 million in Beijing to an isolated Swiss village of 700! During the week, she lives in the school chateau with her husband’s parents (the pastor’s sister) and takes French classes, while her husband works in Switzerland. The last time we crossed paths, she said she missed speaking English and Chinese food. So we had her over and heard her fascinating life story: A rare first born girl who wasn’t aborted and has a brother, whose parents divorced and left her to fend for herself at around 14. Unwilling to conform to the Asian societal mold, she studied in England for a few years and then found her Frenchman when she returned. The quiet strength of his faith and family has brought peace and stability to her, though God is still a foreign concept. We planted more seeds when she asked why were in France.

All the handsome boys at church, who were Rachel’s age when we moved here, have fallen for and modeled a Christ-like love to orphans like her and won them over just before marriage. It is clearly our church’s most successful outreach program! So for Louisa, it’s only a matter of time…Vincent and Clémentine

If any of you are near Scottsdale or Las Cruces next month, let’s try to connect! Looking forward to eating turkey in the sunshine this year!

Love, Angela

A Long, Hot Climb August 2018

The summer felt like a long, hot climb, which is something David and I would never choose to do in the natural, but apparently God wanted to give us lots of opportunities to grow in patience and joy in trials! (But watch Paul, Apostle of Christ to put your petty complaints into perspective!)

Amanda and her honey, goat duck pizza!

A month without a living/dining room was pretty constraining, but the room was presentable just in time to host Amanda, our old babysitter from Denver.  As a French teacher, she comes through every 5 years or so, but we’d always missed each other till now. And boy, did she pick the perfect weekend: Bastille Day fireworks on Saturday night, a casual church service in the mountains and the French World Cup win on Sunday!

A few weeks of repaving our local streets during the summer heatwave was also taxing: Opening windows for a breeze was out of the question with bulldozers inches away and access to our door and parking was a daily adventure. The narrow sidewalk in front of our house was one of the last sections finished and immigrants were doing all the grunt work. I offered to freshen up their water bottles and gave them a hearty “Merci beaucoup” when the last shovelful of asphalt was applied and they walked off into the sunset.

It was also during this time that we drove 4 hours to see our pastor’s only daughter marry, staying overnight in a B&B that couldn’t even offer us a fan. After a lousy night’s sleep, the temps dropped and the magnificent outdoor setting and ceremony pulled us out of our misery!

Olivia got to experience the heatwave the following week as a key player at her school chum’s wedding: 5 days sweating it out at the bride’s parent’s house with 12 others and 2 bathrooms. Her roles included cleaning a dirty reception hall in advance of decorating, decorating, being a witness for the mandatory civil ceremony, leading worship with a band she’d never played with before, keeping the potluck buffet table full and doing the dishes afterwards. A ventilator kept the hall under 90 degrees, but the candles were still slumping over! Thank God she was joined by a great group of friends who laughed their way through it all. (But we made a mother-daughter pact that if she married in France, she wouldn’t do it in the summer!)

In the meantime, we were apologizing for the heat to more weekend visitors – our old friends and supporters, Tim and Sue, with their friends, came through after their ministry time in Switzerland with Athletes in Action. (The baker on our street just opened up an Airbnb this year to make ends meet. So they were able to stay a few doors down and sleep in air-conditioning – they highly recommend it!) Once visitors were cleared and the temperatures dropped, we painted the woodwork in the salon. And the room is finally starting to look the way I envisioned it!

The future M and Mme Vairet!

In my last newsletter, I mentioned that we wouldn’t be vacationing this year, but it seems God always comes through to make sure we celebrate our anniversary! Our American friends, the Byerlys, did a house swap during their summer furlough with the Hinson family from DC and I was their on-call person for any needs. So I did the cat-sitting for a month when the Hinsons traveled to Italy, did an afternoon of babysitting and then house-cleaned at their departure. And they were extremely generous in return. And the couple to whom we gave pre-marital counseling also surprised us with an unexpected big gift! So we booked a cheap flight and flew to Biarritz last week, where we were housed, fed home grown food and generally spoiled to death by Corinne, my pen pal of 40 years. In the end, David was sick most of the week and I caught his bug just before we flew back, so it wasn’t the couple time we had hoped for. But it provided a lot of much-needed girl time, as she is going through a difficult season and really needed a listening ear. Our friendship is becoming more precious with each passing year as she looks to me for more spiritual input into her life.

With Corinne at the Biarritz beach on the Atlantic.

If you ask David, his “long hot climb” this summer has been applying weekly for jobs. For the first time, he’s experiencing a lot of rejection in an unfamiliar business world, which is pushing him to lean hard on God, rather than his own understanding. Corinne was able to give him insight into the French recruiting mindset, and along with our dear intercessors, I am cheer-leading him on, knowing there is a perfect post waiting for him to find.

On a final, happy note, my chronic fatigue recovery has been less of a climb than I thought it would be. 2 months later, good sleep, extra supplements and mega-vitamins seem to be doing the trick! I also noticed that I felt much less achy in Corinne’s newly built house than I do at home, probably signaling mold sensitivity – another reason to move. At the same time, I have been delivered from all chocolate and sugar cravings, mainly because the side effects are so not worth it!

Ready for fall, Angela

Banishing Missionary Guilt – July 2018

After lots of glorious weather, we’re finally getting a couple of days of rain – no heat waves, fires or lava flows here, thank God, and a good day to write a newsletter while the neighborhood streets go quiet to watch France in the World Cup quarter finals.

Backing up, the biggest event of May was David’s trip home to stay connected to family, while I stayed back to help host a team of 7 middle-schoolers and 3 adults from Bethel Redding Christian school for 10 days. My role with this team was to welcome them from the airport with refreshments, house a mother and daughter and manage the church work day. Because we didn’t have a lot for 14 yr olds to do at church, except pull out the ever-present Japanese knotweed in the parking lot, I came up with some other projects. One was to empty Ma Belle’s basement storage area and the other was to start attacking the ceiling of my living/dining room.

The new kitchen walls

I had spent the entire winter looking at Pinterest photos and imagining how I wanted to decorate our future apt., when suddenly the blackened wallpaper and outdated ceiling paper that I’d lived with for 14 years started screaming at me. At the same time, 2 of our neighbors renovated their facades, giving our corner a huge facelift. Then we got a letter from the mayor saying that our surrounding streets were all going to be repaved this summer - that’s like getting a free, new driveway, for us! God was obviously working hard to give us better street appeal and it upped my motivation to overcome inertia for the interior by updating the living/dining room and kitchen walls.

With my neck issues, ceiling work was out of the question, but I noticed that quarter round had been nailed on both sides of our 6 ceiling beams and that would have to come off first. So that’s what the director of the school and 2 boys did for me in under 2 hours. With that jumpstart, last month I hired the neighbor kids to help me rip the paper off the walls, and then Olivia spent a week scraping the ceiling and helping strip the kitchen paper. David followed by rewiring the room; it had only 2 ancient outlets with exposed wiring. Then when we decided to pull the wainscoting off one wall, we realized we were in over our heads, and we were all tired. I had also thought I was capable of working 3 afternoons stripping and repainting a quarter of the kitchen, after a retiree from church blessed us with a little finishing work. But I ended up in bed for three days with exhaustion and brain fog. It scared us enough to put a name to my gradually worsening symptoms and start treating it:

Chronic fatigue syndrome.

In the meantime, David called in a professional for advice, and miraculously he was able to estimate the work quickly and had men available this week, which allows it to be habitable before our guest arrives next week!

So right now I’m working on Step 1 of my cure from www.endfatigue.com: Get 9 hours of sleep every night. I also got another Sozo to deal with my missionary guilt, among other things. God showed me the smiling faces of some of the hundreds of people I have served over the last 19 years of ministry, whether through teaching, healing, counseling, housing, babysitting or cleaning. It is enough and at 56, I’ve earned a rest. Now I believe it.

So I’m feeling much lighter, giving myself permission to take a real sabbatical from meeting everyone else’s needs. We’ve never been able to take real 2-week vacations like the French do, but I’m hoping the money spent on a new, white living room will get me through this last year here in better shape, especially during the dark winter months. I expect my real renaissance will happen with the move, where we will be enjoying long summer evenings dining al fresco on our terrace instead of inhaling plaster dust behind closed windows to shut out the asphalt rollers and yelling neighbors. Happily, I am cat-sitting this month for friends in a quiet neighborhood with a garden, allowing us an escape and a taste of the future.

This spring we also hosted English prophet Anne Griffith and attended a prophetic arts weekend. The events confirmed that we had served well, but it was time to rest, and for me to start writing the book I’ve dreamed of that will bring about my healing, as well as healing for others, as a new ministry for me that will be life-giving instead of life-draining! Fortunately, our pastor and his wife are all about making sure that we find our God-ordained place now to thrive in this intense season that we are walking through.

So David is still applying for jobs, while mentally pulling back from future church leadership and I have just taught my last Sunday school class. A couple of young ladies agreed to replace me after my formal announcement, but they are looking for reinforcements so that no one has to miss more than 1 Sunday per month, something I was never able to achieve. It’s a struggle to leave a ministry position if we don’t see our replacement lined up, but we have both learned that if it’s time to move on, no one can take your place until you vacate it first! One of the young mothers (who gave me my Sozo session) thanked me for serving and sitting for her children these past 5 years with a couple of lovely outings recently. I’m thrilled that she lives in the village that we will be moving to so that our friendship can deepen.

Let the healing begin!

Building Up The Body – April 2018

I’m looking back over my Feb – March calendars in order to find a theme and all I see are first names! It’s pretty obvious that we are focusing on community and relationships right now:

I continued helping Ma Belle weekly through February and I’m pleased to announce that she’s now maintaining her place on her own. The apartment odor hasn’t changed unfortunately, probably because she has 6 large bags of her son’s unwashed clothes still stacked in her salon. After 6 months, I don’t think he’ll be back to retrieve them, but she’s not convinced yet. She still has junk stored in her basement that she is ready to part with, but the stairs are intimidating for both of us. I’m hoping that we can take care of that in May, when some young teens from Bethel Christian School come to visit for a week. Sounds like a perfect missions project for them.

She bought herself a paperback French-English parallel Bible awhile back and I’m not sure why, except maybe because of her affinity for me. I admired it greatly as something I would love to own as well, but couldn’t justify buying when I can get any language on my Bible app for free. What a surprise to unwrap it for my birthday last month! She was given a used, hard back Bible recently, and decided it would be more durable and lighter to carry around. I was touched!

Speaking of my birthday, quality one-on-one time with 8 different girlfriends spread out over 3 weeks is my favorite way to celebrate! David and the kids inundated me with books from my Amazon wish list and Emilie, our boarder, made sure I had a homemade dessert complete with a candle to blow out along with her gift. This relationship has also been a real gift for both of us. She has expressed that our home has been a safe place to heal emotionally and physically, and I love having someone “in house” to correct my written and oral French!  We will miss her when she has to move out next month (so that our Americanized Olivia can move back in!)

At church, our discipleship efforts are going well. The young adults chose the adult with whom they wanted to serve and confide in. Mine is a young lady that will be moving back to Paris this summer to be part of a new Christian school project. So I’m not raising up my replacement for Sunday school, unfortunately. David, however, has 2 disciples in the technical department who aren’t going anywhere and the love and respect is mutual. He also just supervised another young man from our church, who spent his internship analyzing our sound needs as part of his studies in audio engineering.

On top of that, no less than 5 couples are marrying from our church this summer and one of them has asked us to do their pre-marital counseling. What a refreshing challenge it will be to spend time with a couple in love, instead of the hurting ones we’ve ministered to in the past. Our first church baby in 4 yrs was just born last month too – a precursor to a big shift coming to our little church’s age demographics! Needless to say, this discipleship thrust feels like God’s perfect timing and forming home groups will probably be the next one. The building renovation work is finally moving forward as well, so it feels like our church is being prepared for the coming harvest. Europe shall be saved!

Our annual 12 hours of worship happened on Easter Sat. this year. I tend to do the prep work in advance, creating spaces for personal encounters and then playing with the kids that attend for a short time. But David is fully engaged with logistical planning AND the entire day of the event between running sound, projecting words, leading a worship team or playing an instrument for other groups. Then on Sunday, he had a wedding to attend, while I manned Sunday school. So it was the first year I didn’t make a big Easter dinner – Emilie had a simple, delicious meal waiting for us when we got home and it felt very good to simply receive. (As an added bonus, Easter Monday is also an official holiday in Alsace!)

In other news, we were disappointed to be turned down for French nationality last week. This means that after David finishes his US taxes this week, and then his French taxes next month, he has to start preparing another dossier to renew our 10 year residence permit. Will he still be able to do this at 67, 77, 87 yrs of age? This is what we were hoping to avoid, but God knows better. Apparently, the government needed to see more French income. Wish they’d told us that up front. And because we will soon lose boarding income and IT freelance work is still sluggish, David is now actively applying for part-time telecommuting work with other companies. (And if he goes with a French company, we may re-apply for nationality again in a few years.)

Happy springtime to all of you, Angela

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!