Happy End toilet paper

 

“I don’t like sad movies. I prefer movies that are… funny,” said a friend of Silas who joined us for dinner the other night.  He is a typical French ten year old, he has seen sad movies.  Think of the cultural differences here! This young French kid has seen sad movies, and has decided he doesn’t really like sad movies. He’s ten. What kind of movies did you see in grade school? I don’t remember seeing sad shows. What about Silas and Efrem…they watch mostly animated movies, they are silly and definitely have happy endings. Life is sad enough, maybe we try to protect our kids from it as long as possible. We hope and pray for a happy ending, in our lives, in our children’s lives, and beyond.

I have heard French people make fun of the “happy end” of American films. I have to admit, I’m solidly American there. I love a happy ending. In life, we feel the tension between how tough and sad things can be and the hope we have for something better. Where does this idea of something better come from? Why do we hold onto it so firmly? Reading in Hebrews 11 this morning I was struck with verse 16, “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” I wonder - how good is my vision of what God has prepared for us? That realization of something yet unrealized is what carried those heroes of faith through incredible trials. What am I hoping for?..

What are you hoping for?

In Ouagadougou, Efrem trying to balance a bowl of fruit on his head like the fruit vendor

 

Ouagadougou is pronounced – wa ga doo goo, a really fun name to say and the capital of Burkina Faso. The last week of October, which was the All Saints holiday in France, we went to this West African country with a team of 13. Only five of us were Campus Crusade staff members.

I have a notorious fear of the unknown which God has been slowly working on through the years. On the plane flying over an ocean of desert I was anxious. Anxious about how different the culture would be, potential illnesses, malaria carrying mosquitoes, the inevitable heat… There was so much I didn’t know.

We were told to hold on to our luggage as we left the airport, because there are usually people who will try to carry them for you hoping to get some change in return. We warned Silas and Efrem to hold on to their bags and stay close to us. 

As we approached the door a host of students all wearing white polo shirts with a “Campus pour Christ” logo start taking everyone’s luggage. We promptly told the boys to go ahead as we blindly handed everything we were carrying over to these smiling strangers. More smiles and hand shakes followed. Our luggage was heaped into a pile behind a little Toyota truck. Then, just to be safe, three students sat on top of the mountain of luggage. Our team climbed into a large white van, Efrem on my lap. A pile of white people, we made a spectacle that everyone noticed. It was dark, because in Africa the sun comes up at 6am every day and sets at 6pm every day. There is no daylight savings time or variance. They drove us to the complex where we stayed – SIM, which stands for Serving In Mission. Most of the team was crammed into bunks while the Workman family was in a two bedroom apartment. We would get used to turning on ceiling fans and tucking mosquito nets around our mattresses.

Efrem’s first journal entry: When we arrived IT WAS SO HOT!!!! And indeed it was, highs near 100 and lows, well not low enough. At night we would wash pants or t-shirts, give them a light wring, and in the morning they would be dry. I noted one morning, “I drank four glasses of water, one glass of milk, a cup of coffee and a .75 liter bottle of water.” It seems your sweat can take priority over your bladder in some heat, so we were constantly reminding the boys to drink. The dust didn’t help. Every window and door is screened and open, and the air is dusty. At dusk and dawn there is a red haze. The ceiling fans just blew the dust around. Dishes had to be dried and put into cupboards so they wouldn’t just get dirty again. My nose was constantly dry and my throat parched. But it’s not really the heat that made the biggest impression, but warmth of another kind.

Read more: Ouagadougou

Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea

Our campus team is studying Hebrews together. The men’s group and our student leaders are studying 2 Corinthians. I love digging back into the Word together with others. But right now I’m also plowing through Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose, about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Like most every Jr. High student in Montana, we spent months and months studying Lewis and Clark, their explorations and discoveries. I remember drawing maps that showed their different treks across Montana. I might have thought their main goal was to explore Montana rather than find a route to the Pacific.

Today I read an account of them hunting a grizzly bear. Six of them were able to approach and surprise it. The bear absorbed four bullets, got pretty upset and ran after them in a roar. Two additional shots were fired, one of which broke its shoulder. This hardly hindered his progress toward them. They then did the only sensible thing when armed with a muzzle loading rifle that’s been spent – RUN! Some of them took off in a canoe. A few others thought they’d keep firing at it from a willow grove, which only revealed their hiding place. They then abandoned their gear and jumped off a 20 ft. cliff into the river. The bear, speaking of undaunted courage, dove into the river after them. It had almost reached one of the swimmers when a soldier on the bank finally shot it in the head. Lewis wrote something similar after every encounter with a grizzly, “these bear being so hard to die rather intimidates us all.” This translated from early 19th century English means – why do we keep shooting at these things?!

It’s a book about the adventurous, exploring spirit and certainly undaunted courage. I think about the adventure before us as we hope to see the Lord work in the lives of French students. The expedition took years longer than planned. I need that kind of patience and perseverance. They had a clearly defined purpose, and so do we – living and sharing the gospel with students here in Rennes. They had a great team: two captains who were decisive leaders, brave men like John Colter, and perhaps the most valuable of all, a sixteen year old Indian squaw named Sacagawea. She kept her wits about her and saved equipment and journals that had fallen out of their boat after her husband nearly capsized it.  Sacagawea knew how to find roots and food to supplement their all meat diet, and her presence told the Indians encountered that theirs wasn’t a war party. Our campus team is also a great combination of networkers, communicators and artists who all share a heart for Jesus and the French. We’re all in this adventure together.

But there are grizzly bears. One fear we have is that we won’t be able to break through the indifference that shrouds the hearts of most French students. How many times will they need to hear the gospel before they will be overcome with Christ’s love? We continue to take initiative with undaunted courage, because God has called us here to do just that. But what effect will our prayers, words and actions have? Time will tell, and one day from heaven we will clearly see.

Keys Cafe Logo

 

In France, we don’t eat out much. 98% of our meals form right in our own kitchen. But when we’re in the States we end up eating out pretty often. I’m normally shocked by the amount of food on the plate in front of me. In France, I’ve never heard anyone ask for a doggy bag and I’m not even sure they exist. So when a huge plate of food is set in front of me, my default setting is – don’t let it go to waste.

One sunny morning in Minneapolis I met my friend Chris for breakfast at Key’s Café. Keys is one of our favorites, with down home cooking, perfect caramel rolls, and pancakes that hide the plate. I was really interested in the 2 pancake/2 egg breakfast, but was concerned about portions. Could I really plow through two pancakes? So I asked the waitress if it’s possible to have a half order. Of course, but it’s only a dollar less. At that point I decided I might as well try my best at the full order.

Now Keys serves both buttermilk and buckwheat pancakes. Can I have one of each? Of course. But when the plate comes out it has just buckwheat. The waitress points this out, offering to bring out a buttermilk if I’d like. No problem, this’ll do fine. But no, she wouldn’t let it go and pretty soon there was a THIRD pancake sitting beside my already heaping plate. I went from being concerned about portions, thinking two might be too much, to having three pancakes!

Imagine the dilemma. I am barely able to cram in two full pancakes and this third buttermilk pancake is sitting there pondering it’s future. Do I ask for a doggy bag for a pancake? Do I leave the waitress’ gesture sitting cold on the table? Should I test to see if pancake will really ooze out of my ears when I’m that full?

Hey, I eat at Key’s Café but once every four years!

I used to think that reverse culture shock was a myth. What could possibly be “shocking” about returning to your home culture? It makes no sense. I probably wrote about this two years ago, but honestly, it gets worse every time.

When I’m in France, I never function at 100% due to language and culture. Where can I go to find this? How do you say that? It’s why I still make trips to the bookshelf to pull down the dictionary. It’s why I am always a student of the culture. You eventually get used to it, accept your limitations and rely on God to fill in the gaps.

But that’s not what you expect when you return home.

I expect to be able to easily accomplish everything I need to do. I know where to go and what to say. But my country has changed since I’ve been away. Kinkos isn’t called Kinkos anymore, and they’re not open 24/7. I needed something printed. They used to help you with that, instead they pointed me to a workstation. I needed it printed on card stock, another on color paper. Eventually I left the store. The people at the next one were helpful. I was shocked at how long and labor intensive such a simple task could be.

It turns out I’m handicapped in my own country too. Even when I speak there are holes, words that won’t come, sentences cut short. I used to be pretty fluent in English, but now sometimes I sputter like an old car that needs a carburetor adjustment.

I was standing at the back of my first church service in the States for two years, looking across a room with thousands of people. It’s a far cry from the 30 or so at my church in France. The music was polished, the technology was modern, everything was fine tuned. It was overwhelming. As rich as worshiping in my heart language is, it almost seems, foreign.

A friend asked me how I see “home”, which is really tough to answer. Home is a concept that has become fuzzy. I’ll always be Montanan, but I’m also a little bit Minnesotan, French and even German. Those are all places I’ve called home. But identity, which goes even deeper, isn’t a problem. My citizenship is in heaven, and I am a child of God. So wherever home is, I’m in God’s hands and that’s exactly where I need to be.

UPDATE - our project in Burkina Faso had to be canceled due to military revolts and other unrest in the country. It was a tough decision, but we had to call it off. We're already looking at when we can reschedule the trip, possibly in the fall...