The Love/Hate Relationship with the French?

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It’s been a crazy time in our life, it’s been a crazy time in our world!  That might not be as great of an opening line as Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which was if you remember, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” I don’t intend this blog to be a classic in literature by any means and I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had recently.

In many ways life slowed down for us during COVID-19, but only for a few moments. Who would have thought we’d be watching church services online, taking the girls’ dance classes via online video, and having groceries dropped off at our door until institutions started opening up again in Michigan? We all have our own facemasks and take them with us whenever we’re out in public. Thankfully we are all well!  For the past several months I’m able to work from home and participate in family life through the day.  I can occasionally take a break and participate in the girls’ home school French lesson { I get to represent the male object or pronouns) or intervene when there is a sibling dispute.  I love learning some of the basic French and being able to use it when we talk together at dinner.  The girls really enjoy it too and are doing very well.  The urgency and the need for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed to all the nations is still real yet perhaps has not been an ever-present, nagging reality in our minds.

Sometimes when I’ve talked with people about our calling to church-planting missions in France I’ve heard them say, “Why would you leave a good job in the U.S. to be a missionary?” or “Why don’t you just find a job in France?” or “Why can’t you just help people here?”

Why indeed would someone choose a life of following after our Lord Jesus? In the beginning he called his disciples in Matthew 4:9 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  A few of them dropped what they were doing, left their comfortable homes and familiar work to follow this preacher/teacher wherever He would lead them.  At the end of His earthly ministry He commanded them and us believers in Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Great Commission is surely compelling enough for a believer to decide to go themselves or partner with others who have decided to go and make disciples.  Bethany and I decided long before we met that we would go wherever God would send us. But really, to France?

I recently read this passage in the introduction to Marc Mailloux’s God Still Loves the French that rang true with my experience. “Americans have long had a love-hate relationship with the French. Many appreciate the beauties of the French language, culture, and culinary art. Others find the French ungrateful for repeated American sacrifices on their behalf, and dislike their obstinate bent to act independently of our other allies.”

“Some wonder why the French don’t seem to like Americans, not realizing that these negative feelings aren’t reserved exclusively for Americans: The French don’t seem to like anyone…. The Frenchmen’s general grumpiness may be understandable in a land where not many have the joy of salvation.”

There has been a long history of mutual influence between the French and the English, but also an abundance of unfavorable and unflattering stereotypes as well as mutual trust and mistrust. I’d say the same is probably true between the French and Americans.  I think it’s easy to look at any world culture, compare it to our own, and come to a place a negative judgment about it, even a kind a hatred. But having been in France two times in the last seven years of marriage with Bethany I’m learning to appreciate, even love the French.

I love that the French:

  • Love life! (Joie de vivre translates to the joy of living) They want to enjoy and are passionate about good food, wine, music, art, relationships, fashion, etc.
  • Celebrate freedom! I remember seeing miniature statues of liberty in Paris (There are (at least!) three Statues of Liberty in Paris, as well as a few other Statue of Liberty-related sculptures and models.)
  • Work so hard to preserve their culture and language. They cherish their heritage and their beautiful land.

I had to laugh a little when I read that line about the French not seeming to like anyone, but then I felt a little wetness in my eyes realizing just how far from God many of the French really are. What really drives me and Bethany to bring the Gospel to this wealthy, perhaps grumpy, people is the truth that God still loves the French, and so do we.

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