(from Eric: Today's post comes from our special guest blogger Kathryn Wong. She is a friend of ours from Michigan, and a blessing to our families, as she visits and studies with us for a few months. She is also a great writer, and so we thought you might enjoy hearing from her as a different perspective on our lives here. Read her own blog here.)
Here they are. Three families, three singles, and seven – soon to be eight – kids living in the Alps of Southeast France. Living in this land of baguettes, cheese, and wine, of majestic mountains and rich history. Living in a land that displays culture and cultivation at its finest.
But it doesn't take long to figure out that this year of living in France is really not at all about France. You walk down Le Chemin des Galibouds, what seems to be a very normal, peaceful, residential little French street until you arrive at the blue and green sign that reads: Centre Chrétien d'Enseignement du Français. Turn into this driveway, and you'll find a collection of connected, faded white, somewhat weathered buildings with dark brown roofs surrounding a small parking lot. And here in this place, people live with a purpose, for the most part with a purpose decidedly beyond France. People going to Mali, to Togo, to Chad, to Burundi.
Living with the focus beyond France manifests itself in a multitude of different ways. Hardly a day goes by when I don't observe something – different actions, words, gatherings – directed towards what is yet to come.
Aunt Sarah practices the alphabet with Abi each week. I watch them hard at work – jumping from letter to letter, Abi receiving stickers as a reward for her endeavors. A preparation for and a mere foreshadowing of what's to come. She is now learning who each of these little people are, and her role in the lives will be enormous.
Pastor Bob flies across the ocean to visit the McCropders. Why? To discuss Christianity in the context of French culture? No. To look forward. Ahead and into the future of life in Burundi. To wrestle with issues of how to present the gospel in a transformative way to the Burundians. Not a word of France is mentioned. Eleven adults, crammed into the Cropsey's apartment, focused on what is yet to come.
Not all McCropders are natural language learners. Some enjoy it, but not all. For many it's a struggle synonymous to scaling Mount Blanc (and indeed some may prefer that more physical challenge!) Yet they persist in le discours indirect, in mastering les pronoms compléments, in the mind-bending game of communicating correctly with the subjonctif, conditionnel, imparfait, passé composé... Why do they willingly subject themselves to the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of learning an entirely new language with all that it entails? To studying extensive, imaginary dialogues in their textbooks between rather petty, shallow French women celebrating their thirtieth birthdays. To essentially putting themselves back in the shoes of a child, just learning how to speak. Why? Because of what's to come.
On Sunday nights they gather as a team. This time crammed in the Fader's apartment, they enjoy the Galette des Rois – a French epiphany cake – whilst they listen to sermons and work on the aspects of their team covenant, articulating in words their mission statement for beyond France. They pray for and with each other. They're preparing themselves for life in Burundi by learning the language, but underneath the constant verb conjugations and new vocabulary, they're preparing themselves in many more ways than by simply learning the language.
A common refrain is, “It's on the container.” Yes, there is a piano that the McLaughlins packed...I don't have that book with me here, but I do think we put it on the container...Yes, yes that's on the container...No, we don't have that with us here, but it's on the container... They are even materially focused ahead. They will never use this furniture again. They will never use many of these bulky winter clothes again. They will not use these dishes, or these French coffee presses, or this silverware once the year is up. The future of their material lifestyles is packed up, sitting somewhere in Ann Arbor in a big metal container. Eyes are focused on what is yet to come.
The marketplace in Burundi burns to the ground. Attentions are riveted on this event. Something has happened hundreds of miles away, and according to google maps 6,000+ miles, that has powerfully impacted their future. There is a detachment from the place that they now live, from the current events of the locals; there is a deep connection with a place some of them have never been to before.
Lest you get the wrong impression, however, let me assure you it is by no means all detachment from France. Each Saturday many a McCropder hits the ski slopes, fully aware that this may very well be the last opportunity for winter sports that will present itself in decades. On Friday, the célibataire McCropders enjoyed a delicious, French raclette dinner at the McLaughlins. Crêpes and cheese and French bread abound in great quantities. McCropders help out with French Sunday school, they attend Friday night Old Testament Bible Studies with the French church, they're involved in the French youth group. As time and children allow, they travel, exploring the vast amounts of history and culture and legacy that surround them. And so they do embrace France and the great opportunity that a year in Europe presents.
And yet something brews within these walls that is much more than just learning a new language and living in a spectacular country.
Toujours, the McCropders look ahead.