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at Pinterest photos and imagining how I wanted to decorate our future apt., when suddenly the blackened wallpaper and outdated ceiling paper that I’d lived with for 14 years started screaming at me.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!

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!