My husband Neal and I were anticipating June 9, 2004—our 25th wedding anniversary. Since we are both Francophiles, we contemplated a quick trip to Quebec from our home in North Carolina. We checked the cost of flying to Canada and gulped.
Neal said, “I have an idea. Why don’t you fly and I’ll drive the car there to meet you.”
“Yeah, right” I said. “You will spend almost three days on the road—each way. That will leave us about one day together to see the sites. I have a better idea. Why don’t you stay home and I’ll go alone,” I kidded him.
As spring approached, clients started calling Neal, scheduling for computer help. A former Bible translator in Togo, Africa, he now assists others. I stopped thinking about special trips—at least French-related ones.
In March, Neal received an unexpected invitation to teach in North Africa, with Marseille, France, as a base. He proposed going in the fall when the weather would be cool—and when his wife could come too. It seemed like God was determined to give us a special trip, after all.
Since my passport had expired several years earlier, I had to reapply from scratch. The process, for me, was complicated and nerve-wracking. I started wondering if God had really planned for me to accompany Neal on the trip.
About one month before our departure, an unexpected bill almost drained our checking account—a bill that could have been avoided. Upset, I said, “That’s it—no trip for me!”
Only a few hours later, a second unexpected circumstance dumped a significant amount of money back into our account. Obviously, God had intervened and kept our plans on course.
Application for Neal’s visa paralleled my passport marathon. He phoned the embassy numerous times, emailed others, checked the internet, and drove to the local post office in an eleventh-hour effort to procure it. Only fifteen minutes before we were to leave for the airport, the precious envelope was delivered to our door. We had packed and waited in faith—then ran out to catch our ride, sweaty but smiling.
We flew to Marseille on September 8. Colleagues there dropped me off in Aix-en-Provence at the home of Wycliffe friends. They whisked Neal back to Marseille, almost before he could wish me “Happy Anniversary.” We ended up spending two of our three-week anniversary trip apart from each other, after all!
A couple days later, Neal flew to a city in North Africa. With two other teachers, he taught one week of Bible translation principles. The second week, alone, he taught Paratext, a computer program for translation work. His students were gifted men and women working on Scripture translation. Their work can reach, potentially, large numbers of people who do not know the Savior.
During those two weeks, I visited Aix, a fascinating city dating from around 1600. I also traveled to Valence to visit friends at the Wycliffe office. Later, Neal and I went to Avignon, the former city of the popes, and then west of Nimes to see a French family we had known in Togo. The countryside, viewed from slow, relaxing train rides, looked like dry, sunny, southern California. Homes stuccoed in nature’s shades and topped with reddish-orange tile roofs dotted the hills.
God let me know the trip was not only for my pleasure. Even though I feel comfortable speaking French, I experienced significant culture shock. Having no car, all my food and purchases were lugged home in a cloth shopping bag I never left the house without. There were no water fountains—take my own water bottle. Few bathrooms available—be prepared. Don’t forget the city map, I thought. Did I need a train ticket? I walked twelve blocks to the station to get it and back. In addition, I coped often with pain from a sensitive tooth.
Cultural adjustment can be a love-hate relationship. I hated the difficulty and slowness of my own integration. Trying to read coin denominations quickly and not feel dumb in front of cashiers. Arriving at a store at noon and finding it closed until 2 p.m. Feeling like a stranger even in churches. Wanting so much to make new friends and knowing it would be impossible in three short weeks. Loneliness dogged me one seven-day stretch in spite of available laptop email and loving colleagues nearby. Hoping to make a difference for the Kingdom, I realized I was the one who would change more than people around me.
The highlight of the trip, for me, was a visit to Le Musée du Désert (Museum of the Desert). Located in the Cévennes mountain range, it graphically presents the history of French Huguenots (Protestants), persecuted for their faith in the years following 1685—a veritable spiritual desert for them. Many men, including pastors, were executed on the wheel, others were sent to ships’ galleys, and many women spent their last years imprisoned in the Tour de Constance.
This beautiful, but sobering, museum touched me deeply, for I can trace my ancestry back nine generations to Ambroise Sicar, born in 1631 in Mornac, France. A Huguenot, he fled France in 1681 with his wife and six children. He was the first Secor (Sicar) to arrive in America and among the first Huguenot settlers in New Rochelle, New York.
How does all this relate to Bible translation? For me, it’s the struggle. Trip preparation, travel, cultural adaptation, language change, a new life in a new land—they all require a radical restructuring of our lives. Struggle can come because of a country’s powerful resistance to the Spirit of God, but it also comes through persistent, nettling details of life.
Neal experienced struggle too as he faced visa problems and long-distance planning challenges. Once in the classroom, a lack of capable computers frustrated everyone.
We had forgotten how difficult translation can be: translation of lives, spirit, and mind, as well as words. We return home determined to pray harder for colleagues struggling in foreign lands for the Kingdom.While in France, I wrote the following poem to relieve my frustration. Put yourselves in my well-worn walking shoes and then remember—please—to pray for missionary friends on God-appointed trips around the world.
Bien-aimé, pays d’amour,*
Take me in your arms
And teach me to dance.
You step and sway rhythmically
In time to your native themes,
Moving beautifully in tune with life.
Clumsily, haltingly, I stagger
From place to place,
A wallflower, unsure and feeling the fool.
Your culture calls to me,
Teases me to be one with it.
My mind, shocked by new and unknown,
Refuses to guide my steps, my hands, my lips.
Come love me, show me, teach me—
I want to dance like you.
I want to be your friend.
*Beloved, country of love,