Sunday, April 17, 2011

Girl on a Mission

I was once a teen missionary. When I was 17, my cousin Ruth and I went with Teen Missions International to France. Yes, indeedy, I was an evangelist in France.

My cousin Ruth (as a teen)
who, along with her husband,
is serving as Missionary-in-Residence
at LeTourneau University in Texas.
That stretches the truth a little. While we did do a very small amount of [awkward] evangelism, the main thrust of our work in the sleepy little town of Vaux-sur-Seine was to construct dormitories for a Bible seminary, the Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique, so that others could carry out the work of evangelism in France.

Before we got to France, however, we went to a rustic compound in the muggy and mucky Florida Everglades. Part of the Teen Missions International approach is to run all the missionaries through a pretty rigorous two-week "boot camp." We learned how to evangelize, how to build a square foundation, and why the missionary calling was so important.

I have some pretty vivid memories from those two exhausting weeks:
  • Washing my jeans by hand and waiting for them to hang-dry in the 90% humidity.
  • Standing with my back to Ruth while she used the latrine, to give her a modicum of privacy. The stalls had no doors, the toilets did not flush (I don't think) and all paper waste had to go into a garbage pail. The stench was hor-REN-dous and dysentery was rampant. (I do hope they have working plumbing now.)
  • Swimming in the opaque pond and wondering if we were really safe from alligators.
  • Running the obstacle course every day, as part of a team-building exercise.
  • Trying desperately to stay awake as I sat beside a missionary telling the story of her brother being killed by the natives he was witnessing to, and then she, herself, going back to the same tribe to translate the Bible for them.
  • Flirting with boys despite the "No 'Dear'-hunting" policy.
Here are a couple of pictures. I'm not actually in them, but these are pictures from the Teen Missions obstacle course.

The Slough of Despond
Yes, I fell in. Of course I did. Did you expect otherwise?

Jacob's Ladder
This was a lot of fun, like the climbing structures at Ontario Place.
It may sound quite horrific, but I loved it and was not homesick at all. It also gave me a lifelong appreciation for our civilized amenities: running water, electricity, and plumbing.

Eventually, we did make it to France, where our accommodations were quite spectacular. We entered a marble-floored foyer flanked by a broad, curving staircase. A grand piano graced the salon. We all marveled at the bidet. The grand house had lush green lawns rolling right down to the Seine River.
The Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique
Our lodgings, at top.

The dormitories we helped build at bottom.
The village of Vaux-sur-Seine was ancient, built on the side of hills, with narrow cobblestone streets. There was a lively open-air market each week.

Here are a few memories from my time in France:
  • I learned how pitiful my high-school French was. But I was the most fluent member of our team, so acted as translator during our one or two evangelism forays. I also learned that, in France, "salle de bain" is not synonymous with the lavatory.
  • I bought a rum ball at the market, not realizing that it had real rum in it. It was confiscated as contraband, which was fine with me because it tasted yucky.
  • I bought a pastry at a pâtisserie -- a tartelette filled with rose-coloured mousse. Expecting something sweet and fruity, I was shocked to taste salmon! But was too embarrassed to say anything.
  • There was a tunnel from the kitchen to a small bunker-like apartment where our team leaders lived. I always wondered if it might have been used in the French Resistance.
  • We went into Paris for Bastille Day and experienced crowds like I had never seen. I was caught in a crush at the barricades and could not stop to help up an older woman who had been knocked down. It was very frightening and has left me with a distaste for large crowds.
  • While walking back to our bus from the light show, our human chain broke. A man handed me what I thought was a sparkler and, just as the girl whose hand I had dropped turned to shout, "No!" the firecracker exploded in my hands. The man roared with laughter. As my fingers tingled, I was devastated that someone could find such pleasure in doing something so hurtful.
Oh, goodness. Each memory triggers another. So I will leave you with a final picture of a memorable summer from my youth.
That is Ruth with her head in the cement mixer
and me standing beside her.

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