Thursday, March 7, 2013

But They Speak French!

Inspector Clouseau.
It was a simple decision that I would not regret for almost forty years.

Should I take French or Spanish? It is a weighty decision for a seventh grader. The responsible thing to do was to take Spanish because there was a growing Hispanic population in our area. But that is not why I chose Spanish. I made the decision in the typical seventh grader way: Spanish was more fun. The French teacher was strict and constantly drilled grammar and vocabulary. Students came out of her classes with glazed eyes and French accents. They whispered in French to each other in the hallways. The Spanish teacher, on the other hand, had weekly taco parties. By the end of the year students had mastered the words "enchilada" and "burrito". All the cute girls took Spanish because the teacher was also the cheerleading coach. To top it off, my best friend Noel was taking Spanish. Not only was Noel a cheerleader, she was hilarious. Which did I want to do: learn a language or hang out with cheerleaders, be silly, and eat tacos? The decision was ridiculously easy.

How could I know that I would one day move to France? Oh what mighty consequences there are in decisions made by twelve year-old boys! Had I chosen differently I would know how to order a meal, count change, and read the street signs in France. But now I must learn a new language after speaking nothing but English for almost half a century. Woe is me!

The Voyageurs
You would think that living in northern Minnesota would be an advantage in learning French. This area was once the domain of French voyageurs. They paddled the waterways trading for furs with the Natives. French songs echoed across the lakes as they made their way at summer's end to the Grand Portage and Lake Superior. The voyageurs belong to yesteryear. No one speaks French here anymore. There are no French classes within sixty miles of here.

I am on my own.

"Bring him back to me you will."
I've been told that the most common 1000 words will give you about 70% of the vocabulary you need to read a typical newspaper. So I found a wonderful flashcard program called Anki  and am using it to drill vocabulary.  I love French words like "docteur". It means doctor! I hate French words like "blesser". It means to hurt or injure! I have been working through some Basic French workbooks. Who knew that every French noun had a gender? Apparently back at the Tower of Babel they flipped a coin to choose the gender of every word. And the French sentence structure? It sounds like Yoda-speak to me.

He might be a relative...
The hardest part is pronunciation. I have been told that all I need to do to pronounce French properly is use my best Inspector Clouseau impersonation. I try. I really do try. For some reason the French don't pronounce the last part of most written words, so I hack off the ending and give it my best Clouseau. My wife, who was wise enough to take French in high school, furrows her brow and says, "What did you say?" So I try again. The harder I try the worse it gets. Apparently my Clouseau accent sounds more like a drunk Norwegian than a Frenchman! If only I could take a class! Jesus, HELP ME!

Enter God.

Two weeks ago my wife Janet noticed a young woman sitting by herself during our church service. The young woman was new to the area and was checking out our church. When Janet mentioned that we would be moving to France the woman smiled and said, "That's interesting, my husband is fluent in French! In fact, I am sure he would love to teach you!" And so he started private classes with us. As we spend time together my tongue is starting to make the right sounds. I am beginning to understand French. Along the way we are becoming friends.

I am learning to trust God. He has asked me to move to France and when I despair of learning a new language He proves he cares about me. He provides in unexpected ways. Following Him is not always easy. Nor is it always fun. Sometimes it is endless drills rather than taco parties. But it the end, following Him is absolutely the best way to live. He surprises us again and again with His faithful provision and care.

The apostle Paul wrote of times that he enjoyed seasons of abundance, but he also wrote of seasons of great hardship. There were times of joy and times of discouragement. Through it all God was teaching Him to be truly satisfied in Him. That is the secret of contentment that he wrote about in Philippians 4:12-13. As Paul reflected on what he had been through he wrote, "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." While Paul was never faced with my situation, I am convinced that "learning French" is included in the words "all things."

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