A summer of firsts in France

It seems that during this stage of life, time is measured in firsts and lasts: last first day of school, last meal in the school cafeteria, first day of a new job, first apartment, etc.

For me, this summer was a summer of firsts.

I spent about half of the summer on my first mission trip—a month-long trip to various locations in France. It was the craziest, most unpredictable month of my life. I visited new places, made new friends and experienced new situations.

Here are just a few of those firsts:

First time singing acappella in front of a crowd.

My expectations were continually shattered on this trip, but the biggest surprise came during the first part of my time on assignment. My team and I were sent to an evangelism camp in southern France, which doesn’t sound too bad.

But there was a twist. This was an evangelism camp that used song, dance, and theater as its platform, none of which are anywhere near my comfort zone. Yet suddenly I found myself standing on a stage with a few other girls singing “10,000 Reasons” in front of 200 French people. I still cringe every time I hear that song now.

First time feeling like a complete stranger.

At this same camp, I happened to be one of only two people who didn’t speak French, and most people didn’t speak any English. I have never felt more confused and helpless.

I understood what it feels like to not know how to communicate with the person right beside me. I understood what it feels like to not understand a single thing that’s happening.

As hard as that was, I later realized that experience was valuable. I now have new eyes and a new heart for immigrants and refugees. I was a stranger for 10 days and then got to move on to more comfortable things.

But for so many people, that isn’t the case. Those 10 days gave me a new desire to help the strangers in my school, my church, my town, and my country feel welcomed.

First time trying escargot.

It was slimy. It was chewy. I made a weird face while I ate it. But I tried it.

I also tried a lot of delicious French foods that I did like, such as tarte flambée, French onion soup and beef bourguignon.

First time sprinting through a train station.

As we were heading to the train that would take us from Paris to the farm where we had debriefing, things didn’t necessarily go as planned.

Suddenly we realized we were 10 minutes away from our train that left in 12 minutes. There was no room for error, so, of course, our team leader’s metro ticket didn’t work. Two others stayed behind to wait for her as the rest of us dove onto the waiting metro car.

As soon as the doors sprang open, we barreled out onto the platform and up the escalator. As we were running through the automated ticket gates, my backpack got stuck in one of the closing doors, and I experienced another first as the stress of the moment got to me and I burst into tears in a very crowded, public space.

Thankfully, a man, who I’m convinced was an angel, muscled the doors back open and I was able to catch up to my teammates, who had sprinted ahead.

At literally the last second, we dove onto a train car, which happened to be the car where our seats were (another God moment). We breathed a half sigh of relief, since we knew the other three had missed the train as we pulled away from the station.

The God moments continued though, as we had given their tickets to a train attendant and they were able to exchange them for a train two hours later at no charge—which never happens.

First time experiencing the global church.

Worship was one of my favorite parts of the training and debriefing times because we sang in both English and French. It was like a taste of heaven to hear our voices combining in different languages to praise the same God.

One of the songs we sang was called “Une Seule Église.” It talked about our identity as one, unified church. I will never forget the feeling of singing those lyrics as I stood in a circle of people of all ages from France, Germany, Canada and the U.S.

I came home from my time in France with so many new memories and dear friendships. But most importantly, I came home feeling encouraged and blessed by my brothers and sisters in Christ who live half way around the world from me, and my prayer is that they felt the same way.

Bailey Kaufman is a 2017 graduate of Tabor College. She has been writing “Horizons” since August 2012. You can reach her at baileykaufman@tabor.edu.