We were late in applying for school, and no housing could be found. Our eight suitcases and nine carry-ons were stuffed in the Citroen we bought on our arrival, and our humor ebbed every time we wedged ourselves into it. Someplace to unpack became imperative. But it wasn’t to be. We ended up moving eight times in three months as we lived in “gites” (summer rentals created out of carriage houses or threshing barns, or other unused buildings) and moved according to availability. One of them dated back to Joan of Arc, or so the mounted plaques said.
The city of Tours contained a fifteenth century town square filled with tables, smoking Frenchmen and foreigners enrolled in language school for which the town bristles with pride, boasting to have the purest accent in France. We spent many pleasant hours studying and drinking coffee while sitting at the obligatory white tables scattered in the square. In those three months, our nervous little family calmed down, united, and learned some French. We returned to Montauban ready to work.
Some church members had found what they thought to be an appropriate American house for us to rent, conveniently located between the charming small-town of Montauban and the sprawling big city of Toulouse. Quite striking, the house rose two stories, and included a balcony overlooking a valley. It had four bedrooms and two baths. A porch wrapped around three sides of the newly built house with six arched, French windows entering the Master bedroom, living room, and dining room. Red-flocked wallpaper covered every wall in the living room and dining room, which contained heavy Italian furniture, including a massive dining table and chairs. We entertained often, befriending our new church, John having taken over the cooking while I concentrated on preaching.
I saw why he hated my cooking so much. One week we had steak sandwiches and salad five nights in a row. Another week he made “Roman Holiday” which we ate for seven straight nights. He hated variety. I experimented. He was an exacting cook. I always changed the recipes. However, I appreciated his commitment to the kitchen.
One day, walking down to the Bread Shop, suddenly, as if falling from the sky, love for the French fell into my spirit, landing like a ton of feathers. Just plop, it was there. One minute I could barely tolerate them, the next I thought them to be the sweetest, most gracious people living in the world. Even though that love has been tested many time, it’s still there. And they seem to love me, too!
JJ enrolled in law school, driving to Toulouse every day in a turquoise gas-guzzling Renault that ate his savings. He wanted to work in the church’s storefront Café Bar to evangelize the young people, but at family camp, down in Saverdunne, he had pulled a teenage girl onto his lap, and the elders reacted by forbidding him to be in leadership. I intervened and asked to meet with them.
The pastor translated for me. “I understand you are upset that JJ took a girl’s arm and pulled her into his lap.” There was much frowning and head nodding around the table. I continued. “JJ assures me there were no sexual intentions in his actions. In fact, he was just acting like a Christian youth from California, having fun, messing around as we say it, being goofy.”
One of the gentlemen spoke up. “But JJ is not in California. He is in France and French Christians don’t act like that.”
Another explained, “France has a very sexual culture. Everything is geared toward sex. As Christians, we try to set an example to show our society that this is not the way the Bible tells us to live.”
I tried to reassure them. “I will explain that to JJ, and I am sure he will conform his behavior to your expectations. But I want you to understand, he didn’t mean to offend you. He wants to work in the Café Bar.”
The Pastor put his hand on my forearm, a most unusual, comforting gesture for a Frenchman. “We know you are torn by your motherhood, and we sympathize with you. We recognize you as a strong woman of God, and we are blessed to have you with us. But if we allow JJ to work in the Café Bar after this incident, then it will seem like we are making an exception for him. We’ve decided he must sit out for a year to demonstrate his improved behavior to the community.”
I drove home that night wondering about the tactics of God. JJ gets punished for the slightest mishap, and John gets punished for nothing! Where was the justice? It seemed so unfair. As I pulled into the driveway, I stopped huffing at God, and in the quiet after turning the car off, I heard Him say, “Trust Me.”
JJ found a group of University Christians meeting in Toulouse and spent more and more time befriending them. Jo stayed home. It amazed me to see how the community accepted her, but she kept them at arm’s distance. She chose her loneliness and thrived in it. The rolling farmland around our house afforded many pleasant walking roads. Each day Jo walked one of those roads, taking either John or me with her.
We stayed in the community as originally planned for over a year, teaching from church to church, helping with a house group, and traveling to Paris every month to meet with the committee. Christians in France register few in number. Polls taken reveal less than one-half of one percent are born-again. Our presence in the country became well broadcast as such a small group passes information rapidly. Deserving or not, they invited us everywhere. We traveled throughout the nation making contacts with those involved in video production and harboring hopes of involvement in future Christian television. The vision kept reinforcing itself. Like the day we landed at Charles De Gaulle airport. When my foot touched the ground the Lord spoke, “This is my grass valley. This is where I want that media center built.”
So many well-meaning ministers came to see us, always with advice. One of them sat us down and said, “John, it’s okay to have a strong wife, but you must be the preacher, the stronger one, take the lead! Marty must follow in your wake.”
I wanted to please God; I didn’t want to be a brassy female, so I did everything in my power to promote John. When we ministered, we did it in a way that seemed to please the French very much, and it put John in the forefront. We took a subject, and John spoke for ten or more minutes; I took the podium for about the same amount of time, then John spoke again, then I led the ministry time, laying hands on people for God’s blessing. I wrote out John’s part, outlined my own, and the ministry certainly came spontaneously. John would not write his own sermons, or study for them, so I did it for him. It didn’t occur to me to inquire what John did with his time in France, but I knew he wasn’t preparing for ministry.
Another pastor came to see us; he drove over twelve hours to deliver a message. “The Lord has spoken to me,” he said, “and told me to tell you, John, that you must pastor a church. That’s why He called you to France.”
This was not good news to me, but John thought it to be an excellent idea, and we moved back to Tours, putting six hours distance between us and the wonderful community whom we had grown to love. The young man warned us not to go, saying John’s anointing was for administration, not for pastoring, but John didn’t listen. I did. Then chided myself for always thinking I was the called one, and so I stuffed the voice that agreed with the young man and went along with the program.
Moving out proved poignant for me as JJ and Jo returned to Oklahoma, and the knitting of our family seemed like it would unravel. I entered the empty-nest syndrome the same day I lost my nest. We gave up the big Italian house, stored our things, put JJ on a plane in Toulouse, as he had places to go and people to see, and drove to Nice for a week with Jo before putting her on a plane. I went with her to ensconce Jo in student housing at O.R.U. and help JJ find an apartment so he could attend Rhema. John house-sat for friends in Nice, and lolled on the beach waiting for my return.
We stored our things in a friend’s barn until we were ready to drive to Tours. After settling my children, I flew back to Nice, had a week on the beach myself, and then we headed north. When we picked our things up from storage, a tiny hook was missing from the television screen. I searched diligently, but some feed had been dumped all around our things, and my mission looked impossible. The Lord spoke in my spirit, “It’s not in here; you’ll find it outside.”
So I went outside and walked on the dirt road that circled the barn, thinking myself crazy. Who could find a tiny black hook in the vast out-of-doors? Then I saw it, at my feet, buried in the tire tracks. With wonder I picked it up. If God will do a tiny thing like this for me, He will do anything! I headed north feeling I could conquer the world!
We moved into a carriage house nestled under trees surrounding the chateau, Villandry, with its famous sculpted gardens. Full Gospel Businessmen had just opened a chapter in Tours, and we attended the next breakfast to meet people and settle into the community. Sitting at our table, divinely appointed to be there, was Thierry who had taught himself to speak English by listening to country western songs. He spoke perfect English with a lifting Nashville accent. Thierry became our translator and friend.
In the beginning, he had a slight problem with drink. For three months he attended our Bible study drunk. But we persevered because he was the only one who showed up! However, one by one people found us and timidly knocked on our door. Thierry stopped drinking, we grew, and our church blossomed into being. After rambling along for a year and a half we numbered thirty-five.
When it became evident we would indeed become a church, I begged John to let me be co-pastor, to let us do it together. I was sitting at the table studying for a sermon I was writing, and he sat across the room, bundled up because the carriage house lacked insulation. “John, please; this is the perfect opportunity for us to be a team. Let me be co-pastor.”
“I think there should be only one pastor.”
“But we are already operating as sort of a team.”
“No, it wouldn’t be right. The people need me.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked, frankly wondering what he thought he offered them. Aloof and distant, John didn’t pray for people, he didn’t counsel them, he didn’t even befriend people. Actually, to be honest, he followed along after me.
“Because I am a man.”
Searching my mind, I couldn’t find any retort to his statement. “Is that your last say on the situation?” I asked quietly.
He looked at me as if I were a dumb twit and nodded his head yes, almost imperceptibly. “I know what will happen!” I accused. “I’ll do all the work, and you will get all the glory!” My voice cracked on the verge of tears.
He nodded his head more vigorously, and I sensed a glimmer of compassion. “That’s the way it is.”
I had just prophesied my own future. Our stint in Tours ended my attempts for that unity I had longed for throughout my marriage. We pioneered a church with him as pastor, but I wrote the sermons for him to preach. If someone wanted ministry after the sermon, John called me up to do it. In effect, I was the pastor but operating from behind the scenes. I did the prayer walks, the counseling, even answering the phone in my broken French.
The results were wonderful. We had a fabulous group of people who, scattered about, somehow found us and made us their church home. Cecile, our devoted helper, had lived her life as a nun teaching French. Now retired, she took the train from Chatellerault to be with us several times a week, and she translated the sermons. She, too, became a dear friend. We started a Bible study in her home, which turned into another church. We had a Bible study in Le Mans as people drove from there for Sunday mornings, so we drove to them during the week, or at least I did. I’m not sure what they learned as my French left my lips in a hodgepodge.
This continued for a year and a half until I quit. Carrying the weight of the ministry on my shoulders, and the stress of the deceit burdened me. I just plain quit. Let John write his own sermons. Let him seek God for his own anointing. If someone needed prayer, let John do it. I was tired.
The enemy had resurfaced after Bible School and now had become unbearable to me, a strangling, insufferable weight. Who could I turn to for help? Not my dallying husband, he harbored the enemy. Not my children, they didn’t know the enemy existed. Not anyone. I had hidden John’s deception all these stultifying years, all these many, many years.