The next day, I entered the bakery, politely waited my turn, and asked the girl at the counter if I could talk with Marcel. He came bustling out of the back, shook my hand, and in front of quizzical customers I explained I was a Protestant Missionary and would like to talk to him about working together. You could have heard a pin drop. He asked me to come back later when he wasn’t busy, like after dinner.
That evening I headed for Marcel’s bakery, trembling in great trepidation. Closed for the evening, the houses lined the streets like cliffs, carrying me down a deserted canyon. My thoughts churned. Yes, I had prayed to work with the Catholics, but not to embrace them! All the hair-raising stories I had ever heard about them came flooding into my head: levitation, bloodletting, chains, whips. . . . Maybe I should turn back, maybe they really were the enemy. As I walked alone down those shuttered corridors, I had the distinct impression of heading for the gallows. But I knew I had heard from God, so I pressed forward.
Marcel took me up a winding staircase to the darkened third floor of his building. The bakery occupied the ground floor making a “U” formation surrounding the staircase. He, his wife, and two boys lived on the first floor conveniently heated by the bakery ovens underneath in winter and suffocated by them in summer. He rented two apartments on the second floor; the third floor made a playroom for his children. The bakery supplies lining the staircase would never be tolerated in the States. And in the attic, he had built a chapel. It stunned me. It was the size of a small church.
The ceiling sloped from the roof peak, standing on either side of the room meant you ducked your head, and a skylight opened upward. An altar, his father’s original bakery counter made of solid oak supporting a beautiful marble top, stood before a window revealing the roofs of La Garde de la Croix, the predominant one being the roof of the Catholic Church. High overhead the cross on the mountaintop, which surveyed the entire Gulf, could be seen if one knelt on the velvet kneeling chair standing in front of the altar. Candles were everywhere. I miss candles in the Protestant church. The statues of Mary threw me off a bit, plus the pictures of treasured saints, but I buckled up my resolve and spoke forthrightly.
I told Marcel what the Lord had said, and I described the event I nourished in my heart. That stunned him. He said he had been thinking of doing an event in the very place I recommended, and he had been praying for a broader outreach in Christianity, a unity between Protestants and Catholics. That’s why he organized the Festivals of Peace. He relayed his testimony of conversion, and I could plainly see this man genuinely was born again. I relayed my testimony, and he acknowledged my new birth. Then we talked about the differences between Catholics and Protestants.
I said, “We don’t believe in the Pope. We believe we are to speak directly to God without any man interfering with our relationship.
He said, “We believe in order and in a hierarchy to keep things in order. The Pope isn’t there to be between us, but to help us get to the Lord. All things in the Catholic Church are not there as laws, but as aids.”
I said, “We believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, blessed among women, was indeed a virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit, but we don’t believe that she herself was born from an immaculate conception.”
He said,” It only stands to reason that a holy vessel would carry our Holy Lord.”
I said, “A baby is insulated from its mother. The Bible says the life is in the blood, and a baby’s blood does not mix with the mothers. The sperm of the father provides the blood, and the Word that produced Jesus came from the Holy Spirit. He didn’t need a holy vessel. He needed holy blood, which He had. The sperm of a physical father carries tainted blood, contaminated by sin.”
Marcel said, “Whether or not Mary’s conception was also immaculate has no bearing on the salvation Jesus obtained with His blood. Isn’t that right?
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Then that is a point we don’t need to discuss.”
I nodded and continued. “We also do not believe in the “appearances” of Mary around the world, such as Medjugorje. That spirit is not the mother of Jesus, as those in heaven have no contact with us. I, personally, think it is a spirit from Satan sent to create a trap. People who follow these apparitions don’t follow Christ.”
He said, “I believe these appearances are Mary. I’ve experienced them, and I’ve never felt such love. Didn’t Moses and Elijah come talk to Jesus? Why can’t Mary, then, come talk to us?”
I didn’t have an answer except to say, “Yes, but that was Jesus.”
Marcel responded,” As He is, so are we.” But then he graciously added, “There is no reason to discuss that, either. The Catholic Church doesn’t even recognize these appearances. It’s not essential. The essentials are God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If we stick with these, we have nothing to bicker about.”
We discussed a few more details, agreed on a date for our event, prayed, and parted in glee—both of us. I wanted to bound up those same corridors I had dragged my feet down just hours earlier. Something electric had happened, and I could hardly wait to see the results. If levitations and bloodletting really happened in the Catholic Church, then maybe it occurred underground, not in the mainstream. After all, we Protestants have some images to overcome, like snake handling! Soaring in my reverie, I remembered Sylvie. What was I going to tell her? That I had consorted with the enemy? I prayed, “Lord, You’ve got to take care of Sylvie.
The next morning at our 9:00 a.m. prayer time, before I could relay my conversation with Marcel, Sylvie said, “Maggie, the Lord told me to trust you. He said I could trust you.”
Whew! That hurdle being crossed, I explained the event we planned, and Sylvie said she would support it. She has lived in this village for sixteen years and knows everybody. At least she knows the artsy ones as she and her husband are both artists; she teaches art, and he is an architect. Marcel was born here, and he literally knows everybody. As it turned out, Marcel personally invited all the Catholics who came, and Sylvie brought her husband.
But before the event arrived, I had two more sets of firemen to entertain; besides, there wasn’t much for me to do regarding the event except bring my friends. At the beginning of October, three gals came from Florida, three gals who gave me heartburn just thinking of their visit. Up until now every set of guests had paid their own way as well as supporting me. These gals were as penniless as I was. I wondered how they were going to pay for their tickets, much less food and drink in the expensive Gulf of St. Tropez. Were they expecting me to foot the bill? Surely these gals were not a gift from God! I only knew one of them well, Patty. The other two, Sandra and Lynn, were tag-alongs.
They flew into Paris and to save money, they took the train, so I picked them up in St. Raphael. Patty said the Lord told her in church one night to go visit me; she didn’t know why, and she didn’t now how, but she said, “Okay.” When she told Sandra and Lynn, they both chimed in that they wanted to go, too. About this time Lynn’s parents won the Michigan lottery and paid for the transportation tickets, plus giving her some spending money. Just before they left, the church took up an offering, and now they had more than they needed, and here they were!
Once again, the Lord caught me unawares! How He arranges everything floors me every time! There He is behind the scenes, working things out for my good. He suddenly jumps out and says, “Surprise!” and I am dumbfounded.
Sandra and Lynn became my instant friends, and Patty and I picked up where we left off in the States, making the visit enthralling! We targeted Grimaud and put a tract in every mailbox. The priest ran huffily after us, his skirts flying, and threw his tract back in Sandra’s face. She recoiled, caught it, smiled and said, “Bless you!”
Then the gals helped me move. Greg and Alice’s lease ended October 1st, and I had no money to sign another. However, before Jacqueline (a Bible Study member) left for Dijon, she offered me her summer home during the winter, if I would pay the utilities. So before I took the gals back to the train, they helped me move my things down to Jacqueline’s house. Thank God for them being there! If I had had to move all alone, knowing I couldn’t afford to do anything else, I might have entered a depression that would have ended my stay in France.
My last set of guests arrived in time to be a part of the tantalizing event at Le Chameleon. Paul and Ann, my dear friends from Dundee, and their son, Chuck, and his wife, Adele, came at the end of October, timing their visit to coincide with Marcel’s and my event and for the famous Chestnut Festival in La Garde de la Croix. By now I was settled in Jacqueline’s summer house, which meant no heat, and I put them in the second bedroom on the third floor. Once again, I was living in a Trinity.
The kids I put in the house just across the street, less than five feet away. My Trinity sat on one corner of the Place du Marche, the old tin-roofed fish market. The “street” between me and the building opposite allowed one car to pass, carefully, and more than one had driven off with a morsel of mortar attached to the vehicle, and so we could practically touch the building where Paul and Ann’s kids were.
Having worked together in the past, we planned the big event. Ivan, my music leader from the Bible study, would be our Master of Ceremonies, a job he applied himself to with relish, and he would lead the group in commonly known Christian songs. Paul would play his banjo and sing his old-timey hymns. Chuck and Adele weren’t sure if they would sing or not, and I had invited a couple over from Brignoles; he played the keyboard and she sang. We really didn’t know what would happen, but we had an outline.
The night arrived, the tingles and the apprehension arrived with it; we dressed, reconnoitered in my 12 by 14 foot living room/dining room/kitchen and walked the 50 feet to the restaurant, it being next door to where Chuck and Adele were staying. Marcel was there already, nervous as a cat. Since our initial meeting, we had barely exchanged three words. I met Viviane, one of the owners of Le Chameleon. She wore a British uniform; I think from the Navy. I was so overwhelmed by her costume I barely spoke to her. She showed us the room.
By American standards the restaurant qualified in size for a local beanery, but it was the largest in La Garde de la Croix. There were two levels to the room. The eating space was divided by a little railing and a step down in the middle. More tables were on this lower part, and then it stepped up onto a tiny stage. Viv had placed two rows of tables down each side of the room seating a total of thirty people.
An incredible twenty-nine people showed up! The Protestants outnumbered the Catholics by one. For twenty-nine people to visit any restaurant in La Garde de la Croix on a Saturday night at the end of October was unheard of. Like lemmings, the Catholics sat on one side, and the Protestants sat on the other—stiffly I might add. Marcel went around shaking hands like a politician. A priest from Sainte Maxime came, grandly pulled a chair aside and sat as if holding court. The Protestants hunkered down like attending a pot -luck supper, their heads huddled together in the middle of the tables.
Ivan jumped on stage with his guitar and introduced Marcel and me. We had halting words of greeting, me translating Marcel into English for my friends, and me translating myself as well, which made everybody laugh and put the group at ease. Marcel started out with his religious voice and quickly became real the more he stumbled over his words. By the time we finished, the Catholics were leaning on their elbows, the priest pulled his chair into the table like one of the guys. The Protestants were exchanging pleasantries with the Catholics, and the rest of the evening flowed like a sparkling fountain.
Ivan got everybody singing and clapping. Then we ate a meal worthy to write up in the annals of gourmet cuisine. As we leaned back, completely sated, lounging over coffee, Ivan took to the stage again. He pulled Paul up to play his banjo. At this point, Roger, the other owner of Le Chameleon, came dancing out of the kitchen in full chef’s regalia, hat and all, playing the tambourine. He remained on stage the rest of the evening.
My friends from Brignoles, Marie and Jean-Pierre, took the stage for half an hour. Roger backed up into the shadows but didn’t leave the stage. Marie knows no English, but she sang “Amazing Grace” like one would expect Edith Piaf to have sung it. Then the Piece de Resistance came. Chuck and Adele decided to sing. They sang in English, and they sang songs they had written, so no one could really translate, and no one could really understand. However, the spirit between them and the love they had for the audience, sparked a flame in the listeners, and everyone felt they had been treated to a performance meant for royalty.
As everyone left, there were hugs and kisses on all sides. Only one old grump commented, “Well, the Protestants outdid us tonight,” but his was the only note of discord. From that day forward the Catholics greeted me in the street and even encouraged me when I finally did open a church.
Writing has been in my blood, so to speak, but when I surren-dered my life to Jesus Christ and He told me to write, all my trepidations rolled away and I began in earnest! After all, if God Almighty says it was His idea that I be a writer, who am I to stand in His way? My hope is that you not only like what I write, but that your life is moved by it, and that your party to Jesus and with Jesus turns your life into days of Heaven on Earth.