Lord, your love is blossoming here in France!! My name is Sarah Beth and I am one of 10 missionary interns spending three months in Europe this summer. After a prep week in Denver, we landed in the French countryside, at a Beatitudes house called Bethany, which is about 2 hours south of Paris. This center for retreat and mission feels like its own village. Set in a large clearing in the forest, the red brick buildings are surrounded by rose bushes, sheep, and little bodies of water.
After a good night’s rest, we felt ready to move mountains. Mission, however, begins with small acts of love–especially as we face the language and cultural barriers. The bright smile of an African sister invited us to our first task: help cleaning up after breakfast. The sister’s name was Sr. Flower. It sounds cute in English, but it even rhymes in French: soeur Fleur, or “sir fler”. Surprisingly, we actually understood each other. Sr. Flower joked that, of course, we can understand each other! Christians received the gift of speaking and understanding tongues ever since Pentecost. That comment struck me because Pentecost Sunday was just a few days away.
A big retreat was planned for Pentecost weekend. 125 French young adults and community friends filled the guest rooms, and 60 boy scouts and girl scouts set up tents in the meadow. We united our hearts to the throng of praises and song in the glorious chapel. At table and during chores, we got more personal encounters.
One girl, Marie-Gabrielle, that I got to speak with a couple times asked a simple question that I had not thought a whole lot about before. She asked me, “if this is your first time in France why are you choosing to spend it with the community and have so much time in prayer instead of seeing more of the country?” At the time I told her that I knew I needed some time after finishing school to spend with the Lord and see where He is leading me. I told her about my desire to go to World Youth Day and to have time to take a step back from my plan to let the Lord guide me. Honestly, I only half knew what I was signing up for this summer, and part of my desire to commit to the whole summer was to learn French. While I have so much to learn and need to grow in confidence in speaking French with native French speakers, it is so fitting that the first big feast day we were present for in France was the feast of Pentecost.
My sister-in-law warned me before I left that I might have headaches the first couple weeks here while trying to process two languages. Sometimes this has been true, however during Saturday night praise and worship (in French), this wasn’t the case at all. I was surprised that I could understand most of the songs we were singing and could really enter into a time of prayer. I chose to sit away from the group where I would be less distracted and be able to sit and still see the monstrance. I went up to the choir loft and Sr. Marie-Liesse (Mary Joy) happened to be there and sat down next to me to translate the spontaneous praise for me. In translating for me the sister was giving up her prayer time to help me enter into prayer. I was so moved by her small kindness toward me and the sacrifice she made for me.
I was deeply moved by the greater retreat community entering into prayer. Coming from Franciscan where weekly praise and worship nights are common, this night of praise was so genuine, and people were so free to pray as the Spirit moved. Towards the end of the night there was time to break into small groups and pray for each other. The American group split into two and we each took turns praying over each other. It was beautiful to see the way that the Lord worked through each of us to bring comfort and words of encouragement to each other.
The next day, I was not feeling well. As I walked into the dining hall, I was overcome with a sense of middle school fear as to where I should sit. All of a sudden, a young French woman named Armelle invited me to sit at her table. At that moment I knew that God was looking out for me and telling me that it was okay to need a break from meeting new people. God was giving me a chance to take care of my needs for familiar faces at the lunch table and not trying to introduce myself when I was feeling shaky and had a headache. Before the apostles went out on Pentecost Sunday and spread the Gospel and converted thousands of people, they were together in prayer lifting each other up for many days. The Lord gave me a space to have a more personal encounter and reminded me that I need to receive his love before I can share it with others.
Thank you Lord for the flowers, the joy, and the peace you have given to our team so far. Please pray for us as we continue our mission this summer and prepare for WYD.
Sarah Beth and the Beatitudes Missions Summer Team
“Viens, Saint-Esprit, remplis les cœurs de tes fidèles et allume en eux le feu de ton amour.”
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.”