The people in my Bible studies were starting to refer to me as their pastor, and the head of the Bible school where I taught told me to start a church, and that he would pay the rent. Someone found a hotel for us, and we rented the restaurant. Since it was off-season, we could have it till summer. The already combined Bible studies made up the membership of “The Glorious Church.” We met Sunday and Tuesday nights for services and prayed on Thursday. We called Tuesday nights our Ministry to the Lord, and Ivan led us in some of the greatest praise and worship I ever participated in.
Without warning, upon arriving for church services one Sunday, the hotel owner informed us he had decided to close his hotel for the winter as he was losing money. Overnight we lost our church home and had one week to find another nest. Then the best happened. The owners of the restaurant where we held the “Gospel Night” opened their establishment to us. Their meeting room, with the little stage and tiered seating, made a perfect little church. They gave it to us for free, which was a good thing because the head of the Bible School stopped paying the rent to the hotel after the second Sunday.
Money was so incredibly tight. It never occurred to me that I would receive so little support from the States. I had to get my food from the food bank. The head of the Bible School had told me he would cover my expenses from the income he received from the school, but I never saw a cent of what they collected from the students. The small amount that came in from the Glorious Church offering hardly covered supplies, but it did pay for cherished wood for my fireplace.
When it gets cold in the States, we crank up the heat. When it gets cold in France, they put on more clothes. My friends told me “Whatever you do, don’t turn on your heat!”
“Because it will cost you more than your rent.”
I wasn’t paying any rent, but I assiduously complied with their demand. If I didn’t have rent money, surely, I wouldn’t have heat money! But by the end of November I put on the one, lone, electric heater in the place, nicely situated under a window so the heat could escape quickly and not tease me by brushing up against my skin before flowing out the crack over the door. By the end of February that non-stop heater cost me $650.
Actually, that crack was only one of hundreds of cracks in this ancient, summer home, some of which I stuffed with towels! My friend’s summer home had cracks opening between the window and the sill that invited a whistling wind. Down her chimney, which had survived hundreds of years without a trap, sang a medley of tunes stirred up on high and swooping down through three floors of maligned sooty bricks. A little pile of ash greeted me in the mornings, lying innocently on the floor, having lapped over the hearth.
Bolstering the efforts of the heater, I bought wood for my brick-lined, capacious fireplace, becoming an aficionado in selecting fine, burning wood. Someone grandly told me I could pick up oak by the side of the road, valley oaks being so plentiful in this region. I never found a twig. Oak is sheltered away like a jewel in a safe, that’s why it takes much sorting and selecting to find a woodsman who will sell you seasoned oak— not just what he dragged in from around the pond that day. I drove five miles in one direction for my kindling because he sold old grape vines, which make the best fire starters, and another five miles in the other direction for the logs, last year’s oak fellings.
The top two rooms of my little trinity sucked the heat out, so I closed them off, brought a mattress downstairs to put on the daybed, and I wintered on the bottom floor. Every night I went to sleep with a roaring fire, the lights flickering on all the walls, comparing myself to the princess who could feel a pea placed underneath fourteen mattresses because I was comfortable! It was the one time of day I truly felt warm. The winter passed while I toasted myself on one side by the flaming fire, and the other side froze. Methodically, I turned and toasted the other side.
Every morning I woke up to icy breath wondering if I could lie under my blankets till noon when the sun might hit my window. But I knew I couldn’t. Sylvie came by faithfully at 9:00 to ask me to pray for her, so my tootsies found my slippers as fast as possible, and I got up and laid a fire. Wood being an extravagant expense, I greatly appreciated the meager offerings of the church.
One morning, I opened my little window overlooking the Place du Marche, and I caught my breath in surprise. There sat Le Chameleon not fifty yards from my door, a restaurant where I was welcome any day, and I remembered my words to Nancy, that I could see myself writing all night and then having a leisurely lunch at the restaurant. Had the Lord been speaking through my reverie that day?
I installed my laptop, a present from Nancy, giving it permanent residence on the round table that filled the center of the room. From my chair I could stoke the fire and throw on more logs. I could also see the Place through my little window. Since the walls were three feet thick, I could crank my music up to deafening decibels and be cocooned in my own little world.
One day Sylvie came by for me to pray for her, and I didn’t hear the knock on the door. She called on the phone, and I didn’t hear that. She resorted to bringing her broom to reach my window and tap on that. When I looked out in response to the tap, I saw she had gathered a little crowd. Not much happens in the village in winter, and an event as extraordinary as someone not answering their door draws spectators.
However, the Glorious Church did not draw spectators. Invite as we might, only a handful of villagers tried us on for size. In the summer the population swells to 1,500 and hundreds visit the village every day, making the villagers hard-working people. But in the winter the numbers shrink to 500, and the villagers become somnolent shut-ins, sleeping off their tired dregs of fatigue that settled in as they drug themselves to finish the summer season. It is possible to walk the streets of La Garde de la Croix in mid-winter and never see a soul! I know. It’s eerie.
However, more often than not, Marcel attended our services. He hung out in the back of the room, just to let us know he was only partially attending. But if I offered prayer, he was one of the first to respond. One Sunday night we had a potluck dinner, an extraordinary event for the French. They prefer to each bring a twelve-course meal and spread it out on their folding tables. The French seem to come equipped with picnic paraphernalia.
Marcel sat down with me and asked, “I am training to be a deacon in the Catholic Church; I’ve been in training for five years, and I want to know why I learn more at these services with the Protestants than I learn in my training.”
At first I was flattered, but then I saw the concern in his eyes, so I responded as honestly as I knew how. “Because Protestants place great importance on the Word of God, on understanding it—not just knowing what it means—but we think it is very important to apply the Word to our lives and live according to the Word. That’s why we teach Faith. It is impossible to please God without faith. Catholics place importance on their Mass, taking some of the Word of God, which the priest repeats back to the Lord. In the days when there were no printed Bibles for the members of the church, that method worked very well as the people could then memorize the Mass. But now, it is insufficient. Revelation knowledge is progressive, and the Protestants have continued in their progress to understand the Word of God. Catholics are lagging behind the rest of the Body of Christ.”
Marcel looked incredibly unhappy. “But I could never be a Protestant. My whole family is Catholic. My parents would die of shock if I became a Protestant.”
“Marcel,” I implored him, “No one is asking you to become a Protestant. Just become a Catholic who understands and lives the Bible.”
His face brightened, “Yes. Then when I’m a Deacon, I can teach it like you do.”
“That’s it!” I smiled.
After that, Marcel attended regularly all winter and into the spring. By spring I had my own apartment. Money manifested so I could pay the three-month’s rent required up front, and I moved into three little rooms overlooking the Place de Mairie. From my shuttered French windows I could see the mountains. I was situated in the heart of La Garde de la Croix. Despite the small-minded, non-Catholic villagers, who determined I must be a sect, my home seemed like heaven on earth.
Another missionary moved back to the States and loaned me some furniture. A friend gave me an armoire, a coffee table and a refrigerator. People supplied pots, pans, dishes, and linens; there was such an outpouring of gifts I was inundated with all my needs met and beyond. Two men came from England for the sole purpose of painting my walls. Another from the States happened along and helped them. Other than the paint, I did not have to buy one item for my dazzling new apartment!
Aside from living in a village and operating a church over the winter, what I loved most was teaching in the Bible School. The students all came from the local church, but they were eager to become good disciples. I wonder if every church shouldn’t have a Bible School. They were so appreciative of my teaching, it made it worth the long drive; I traveled an hour each way, but unfortunately, I had no offerings to cover gasoline, which in France takes a second mortgage in order to pay the pump. However, the joy of seeing the students’ lives change under the anointing in the Word they were learning, made the whole thing worth the effort.
What I didn’t like was the way the teachers treated me. My classes never started on time because they took up thirty minutes of my class to finish their class every single day. They never apologized or tried to make more time for me. I wondered why they would do that. The head of the ministry was the first and the worst of the offenders. One time he took off on a tangent and used up an hour of my hour-and-a-half. He had his own hour-and-a-half, plus thirty-minutes between classes, plus an hour of mine. When he brushed past me, such smugness emanated from him it made me recoil.
Meetings were called without including me. I didn’t complain nor alter my behavior, but things were beginning to mount up inside. One day, I encountered a roadblock on my route to school to make way for a bicycle race which included hundreds of bikes. Therefore, I arrived about ten minutes late for class. Creating their own roadblock, the head of the ministry, backed up by one of the other teachers, met me in the hall and demanded to know why I was late. The teacher said my students were waiting, but they weren’t happy about it, and the minister gruffly barged back into his office as if irritated with me. When I entered the class, however, the students laughed and said for once they were ready for me on time, and I was late.
Coupled with his broken promises and his being aloof, I found it difficult to submit to the head of this ministry. I did whatever he asked, but with gritted teeth. Aside from the other offers, he had also promised to put my stories on the web, and he volunteered the services of a professional actress and a technician to record my stories in French for broadcasting on French radio. This too, never came to pass. That following spring, an international Christian magazine published two paragraphs highlighting what the French ministry was doing for me. They had taken it from one of my upbeat newsletters in the fall when all the promises were fresh. I felt embarrassed and deceived because now it was obvious the promises were empty. Plus, I saw I had landed under the headship of a spiritual juvenile, and my comfort zone dissipated.
At the beginning of summer, the head of the ministry sent a letter to the leaders outlining some changes he wanted to make, and I disagreed with every point. I felt he was leading by negatives. Unfortunately, he asked that each of us respond by letter. Without that request, I would have let it slide. I gave him my letter on June 6th. On June 7th his wife called and said I must come over that day to give some answers about my letter.
When I arrived, his wife said he was very upset and had been up till three in the morning, pacing the floor over my letter. The three of us sat at a table in their garden. She offered me a glass of juice, and he pulled out my letter.
“I want to know what’s behind this!” he demanded. I noticed he seemed to be having trouble breathing.
“There’s nothing behind the letter. It is a response to your letter. I said softly.
“No, I don’t believe that,” he said. “My letter has been well-received by everyone else but you. Maybe you didn’t understand my letter. Maybe the French was too complicated for you.”
“Didn’t I answer every point you made in your letter? You said that anger was forbidden in your ministry. I said instead of forbidding anger, why not give us a higher level to aim for, like asking us to resolve our problems in an attitude of peace and calm. I don’t think I can promise never to get angry.”
“You don’t understand!” he exploded. “(He named one of his associates) has such a problem with anger he may lose everything he has built!”
I wanted to point out he was breaking his own rule, but I didn’t think such a comment would be well received.
Instead I said, “Then deal with him privately, but don’t impose rules on the rest of us that are impossible to keep.”
“As leader here, I take the knowledge I gain from my experience, and I apply it to everybody!” His face turned white with rage. “And it’s for your good, I might add.”
“So your new ruling that no one can go into debt . . .”
“It’s because (and he named another associate) is so far in debt, I don’t see how he will ever get out!”
“But if I do not have a problem in that area, then I should be able to take out a loan for a church building, for example.”
“See?” he raged, “you are making issues out of nothing.”
“If you make these into rules, and you said you were changing your constitution to include these new regulations, then I am forbidden to have any kind of a debt at all.” I persisted.
Apparently stumped, he said with a threatening voice, “You’re too American. You don’t fit in here. What else is going on?! Obviously, you have something against me. What is it?”
I’m not really a fighter, and by this time my resolve to calmly discuss the issues presented in his and my letters had worn completely away, and totally against my will, two little tears pushed their way out of my eyes and started down my cheeks. “I have had a very hard year. You haven’t given me any of the money you promised me, you treat me badly at the school, and I am unhappy here.”
He looked at his wife triumphantly, “I told you so!” He stood up and stormed into the house!
His wife called after him to return, but he didn’t. She listened to the detail of my grievances, but there was no vitality in me to elaborate. After a while, he charged past us to his car and left. His wife tried to get him to come back, but he wouldn’t. She said to me, “I’m in the middle. What am I going to do?”
I could see this situation would not resolve itself easily, and it was terribly unfair to her to be torn between the two. I said, “No. I can’t do that to you. You stand at your husband’s side. This is between him and me. Don’t involve yourself.” She had to go pick up her children, so I left. The minister didn’t contact me again.
Within the next few days, the people who had come from his church, saying they were enthralled to help me with mine, left me. Even Sylvie, her husband, and Ivan left, saying, “You’re too American to be our pastor.” Eight people had gotten born again in L’Eglise Glorieuse, but five had been tourists, and they went home. Only three remained. Therefore, I no longer taught at the school, and I no longer pastored a church.
I lay on my living room floor for three days and shook. I couldn’t believe I had stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. Had I not learned any lessons fighting my previous fight? I had gone from one man who only concerned himself with his way and his needs, to another man who had done the same. How could I trust myself to choose someone who wouldn’t use me for his own benefit? Somehow, I didn’t anticipate that other men would have such disdain for me. Was I trapped in a cycle of use and abuse?
Terrified, I tried to think of what I could do next. Finally, the Lord spoke. He said, “All your life you have looked for a man to put your trust in. The head of the Bible School turned out to be untrustworthy. He promised you an apartment and then didn’t give it to you. But let Me ask you, who gave you an apartment?”
I said, “You did. You gave me a house for the winter, and now you’ve given me this wonderful apartment.”
He said, “He promised to pay your expenses and then didn’t give you anything. But let Me ask you, who paid your expenses?”
I said, “You did. You gave me a church in Florida. They send out my newsletter, which is a gift to me, and finances started coming in.”
He said, “He promised you other things that have not come true, didn’t he?”
I said, “Yes, he did.”
The Lord then said, “You did everything Dan asked, and he didn’t give you what he promised, did he?”
I said. “No.”
The Lord said, “You did everything the head of the Bible School asked, and he didn’t give you what he promised, did he?”
I said, “No.
Then the Lord said, “Why don’t you do everything I ask and trust Me to give you what I’ve promised?”
That seemed like such a simple solution. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I said, “Okay. I will.”
Then I had to find out what the Lord wanted, which ended up being a very simple task. I asked myself what the Lord said in the past that I had left undone. He said, “Write.” And I had not been writing. Even though the writer’s block had lifted, and I carried many projects in my heart, I had not been writing.
A friend, a professional editor, came to visit from the States. While here I asked her to critique my work, which she did, and she lavished me with more praise than I knew how to accept. As painful as that swift jettison from the ranks had been, God certainly turned things around quickly. I’m not a pastor, and I’m not a teacher. In order to please a man, I tried to be what I am not. Now I am going to please God and be what I am. I’m a writer, and through my writings I am an Evangelist.
My friend Marie Louise visited to help me close the church. It was a tough moment. She invited me to move to Sospel and be a part of her church; she outlined many projects she wanted accomplished. She doesn’t need me for any of them, she has very capable people in her church, but her heart was broken for me. If I could have left that day, I would have. But I have a nucleus of people here attached to my heart. I can’t leave them. I’ve birthed them, and now we are family. I will wait on the Lord for that answer.
When I told my son David about her invitation, he thought it was a perfect solution. I asked, “What am I supposed to do? Spend the rest of my life in the company of women?”
He said mischievously, “I’ve always found that to be best.”
A certain couple offered to be the bridge between the ministry that kicked me out and myself in order to reinstate me. David shook his head and said, “They can bridge all they want, but don’t pay that toll.”
As I survey the damage, I wonder if perhaps I should have spent more time gliding on the back of the white horse. Divorce is not an easy passage. I no doubt needed more rest. Perhaps I have wasted an entire year, but with eight new births registered in heaven, I would say that wasn’t true, and like Paul, I am not looking back. I am pressing forward toward the goal.
A certain Frenchman took me aside and explained, “The French make rules and regulations about everything. They create a box and fill it absolutely full of requirements and restrictions. Then they take great joy in figuring out ways to get around the very regulations they deemed so important. It’s a game. But it’s also their way of thinking.”
I realized that’s what the head of the Bible School had been doing, boxing things in, him being French. But I, being American, didn’t want to be fenced in. However, in the French way of looking at things, if I wanted to get angry or take out a loan, there would have been justified ways to work my way around his regulations. Now there was no going back, and I praised God for it.
Pulling my radio programs out of the box I had shipped them over in, I asked friends to translate them for me, paying an absolute minimal sum for the work. Then I asked Ivan and his wife, who had remained excellent friends, even if I was too American to be their pastor, if they would record them and put music and sound effects behind Jeanne’s voice as she read my stories. We did a Christmas series, four stories telling about the birth of Jesus from the viewpoint of the innkeeper’s daughter who was in love with one of the shepherds watching sheep that night.
Ivan took the manuscripts, told me not to worry about a thing, they would take care of it, and when they were finished, they would present me with a CD containing all four stories. I didn’t get to see a bit of the production. One night he came over with the finished product. I gave him a little bit of money for it, which he said he would give to the technician he hired to help them, and giving me a big smile with the required kisses on the cheek, he left. I put the CD in my player and sat down to listen.
The melodious sounds of Jeanne’s reading, the impromptu, glorious music gliding behind that silken voice accentuating the action, the precise sound effects punctuating the story, absolutely overwhelmed me. My little apartment reverberated with sounds resembling a concert hall, and I slid off the couch until I was sitting on the floor, tears dripping from my eyes onto the carpet between my legs; they had made my work beautiful! I could scarcely dare to breathe in that hallowed atmosphere. I felt like I must be a writer’s form of Mozart listening to his first composition played by a professional orchestra. I had always liked my stories, but Ivan and Jeanne had made them into works of art. This was why the Lord brought Ivan to work with me.
I contacted one of the old committee members in our days of being with that Christian television group, and he gave me the names and addresses of eighteen Christian radio stations. Ivan had another friend who duplicated the CDs, and we sent them to all eighteen stations hoping that one or two would say yes. I returned to the States for a month to try to raise funds for this venture, for which the Lord generously provided.
When I came back to France, I called the eighteen Christian radio stations, and sixteen of them enthusiastically said “YES!” Not only did they say yes, they didn’t charge me anything for airtime! Glory to God! I was on my way into the ministry the Lord had for me from the very beginning! Now I’ve found some more stations, and my stories are now broadcast into Francophone nations on 107 stations. The stations are eager for more stories as they say people call in to get born again! Oh, how wonderful is my God to give me such a satisfying job to do and to make me into the evangelist He said I would be!
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.