How we came to be here in France

Wes Stecker (from our church in Texas) emailed me this week. He asked me how we decided to move to France to plant churches. Well, Wes, here is our story:

Patrick and I met a little over fifteen years ago in Seattle (where we grew up), surrounded by missions. I had just returned from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from a short-term outreach. We met briefly and then he spent a semester abroad in Calcutta, India at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and Destitute. When he returned, we started dating. During courtship, engagement, and marriage, we spoke often of wanting to serve Jesus overseas. Initially, since we had both lived in and loved Asia, we thought that’s where we would go. I looked into getting a Masters in ESL, but that never materialized. Patrick’s job, in the medical field, was fulfilling and challenging–he continued in that field until this summer when we moved to France.

We did our first (unsuccessful) church plant after we’d been married a year. Then children came and I stayed home, “retiring” from my illustrious two-year teaching career. We bumbled our way through the American dream, buying one home, then a second. All during this time, I managed our home, hugged our kids, and wrote.

A vascular surgeon friend of Patrick’s who had moved to Palestine, Texas called him and asked if he’d be willing to set up a department in the hospital down there. After much prayer, we decided to move. We looked for a church in Palestine, and God led us to Trinity Valley Community Church, a dear group of people who we still keep in contact with. Within one month of being there, Patrick went to a Promise Keeper’s event in Houston with some guys from church. There, during a worship song, he felt the Lord call him into full-time pastoring/vocational ministry.

We spent the next two years in Palestine, trying to figure out this call. In the meantime, the pastor of Trinity Valley left. Patrick was part of the leadership team and search committee, and he eventually became the interim pastor. Though we both knew seminary loomed, we were both afraid to take the leap, knowing how much it would cost and that it would mean another move.

But, God was so so so faithful! We moved to the Dallas area after having stayed two years in Palestine. Patrick enrolled full time in Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and started his own business as a consultant. December of 2000, Patrick surprised me on our ten-year anniversary with a trip to Paris. While there, we realized the huge need in Europe. We wanted to go somewhere where the gospel was not prevalent, France greatly fit that bill. Something stirred in our hearts while we walked the cold streets of Paris, the city of lights.

We came home and started praying about what it all meant. A few months later we attended a mission’s conference at DTS. One of the breakout sessions was about Europe, so we went. There, we met Linus Morris, the president of Christian Associates International. During Linus’ presentation, we kept elbowing each other because they so aptly reflected our heart for Europe and our emergent leanings. A year later, we were in Thousand Oaks at CAI’s headquarters attending a Staff Candidate Orientation. There, the Lord was gracious enough to confirm that this organization was who we were to align ourselves with and France was where He wanted us to go.

He specifically placed a snippet of an old hymn in our hearts right then. From “Be Thou my Vision,” the words echoed through God’s call on our lives:

Riches I heed not,
Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance
Now and always
Thou and Thou only
First in my heart
High King of heaven
My treasure Thou art
Everywhere we went, those words followed us. When we attended church, we sang those words. I’d find that specific verse in two different magazine articles within a week of each other. The Lord was confirming His calling upon our lives with the words of that ancient hymn.
Nine months later in February of 2003, our newly assembled team met in San Diego, California. Dubbed “the gathering,” we worked together to see how we all fit. We had a great time on the weekend and were encouraged to continue to move forward. We started raising support then. A little over a year later, Patrick graduated from seminary (YAHOOOOOO!) and we continued to raise support. This was last May of 2004. The road to get to France was fraught with many, many obstacles. It has not been easy. But in mid-July, a container parked outside our home and took all our stuff to France. Three weeks later, we hopped on an airplane and flew to Amsterdam for our staff conference and then flew to Southern France to start getting settled.
It’s interesting to think about the American dream. We had it. We moved from a beautiful home in a lovely community. We left a spectacular church and amazing friends. Patrick’s job was going very well, and my pursuit of writing and publication was taking off. Our children were happy in school. And yet, the words of that hymn kept coming back. God is our King. He is our treasure. Because of that, we can live the American dream in reverse, downsizing our financial aspirations in lieu of the inheritance that God freely gives. Jim Elliot, martyred missionary to Ecuador, said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We cannot keep what’s in this world. As Randy Alcorn says often, there are no U-hauls behind hearses. Why not live for what will remain? (I don’t mean to imply, in saying this, that if you are not a missionary, you are not living with an eternal perspective. This is just our particular journey. You are called simply to be obedient to Him where He has you.) 

That has been our winding journey. We are here now, trying to ascertain the spiritual climate in Southern France. Living here has not been simple or easy, but God has been utterly with us, helping us to cope with our children’s pain in a new environment, our own enculturization bewilderment, and the sometimes overwhelming task of planting a church.

It was our deepest dream to be involved in missions when we got married. It took nearly fifteen years to get to this place. We thank God who took us on a very weird and wild journey, from a small church in Kuala Lumpur and a house for the dying, to the wilds of suburbia, to the piney woods of East Texas where God whispered a call, to the wonderful but difficult years of navigating seminary and work and life, to France where we are learning about our utter need for Jesus. I am profoundly grateful to the Lord for His journeys. They are seldom straight paths from A to B. Often meandering, sometimes painful, full of joy, God winds us around on our journeys to teach us trust–no matter where our feet may land.

What’s your story? Where are you going? Where is God taking you? What has He whispered in your ear? If you are like me, I get energized by hearing the stories. Would you share one with me today?

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