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Loving a language and the lost

SEARCY, Ark. — “Où il me mène …” 

That’s French for “Where he leads me.” 

I didn’t know where God was leading me in the mid-1960s as I began ninth grade — and had to choose a foreign language.

Inside Story | Lynda Sheehan
In junior high I studied Spanish and then French, taught weekly by itinerant teachers —forlorn souls who pushed their carts through the halls with no classroom of their own. My Spanish teacher named me Linda Belita which I didn’t like too much. In French I was Camille, soft and appealing. 

The choice was clear. 


I could not have imagined that this simple choice would lead to mission work thousands of miles from my native Oklahoma — and a lifetime of connections with those who seek to spread the Gospel to le monde francophone (the French-speaking world), 609 million strong and growing.

So my heart was rempli de joie, filled with joy, as I greeted longtime friends and made new ones at the French World Mission Workshop, sponsored by the College and Westside Churches of Christ near my alma mater, Harding University. More than 125 believers, coming together from seven countries on three continents, enjoyed sweet fellowship, meals and updates. Together they represented hundreds of years of missions experience. 

The work has never been simple, given the mindset that dates back to the French Revolution. Among other things, it was a revolution against the power of the Catholic church, said Doyle Kee, who has served in Geneva, Switzerland, for 45 years alongside his wife, Barbara. 

As a result, French speakers can be distrustful of — even antagonistic toward — any kind of Christian influence, Doyle Kee said.
Nonetheless, many dedicated Christians are determined to be lights in the darkness — and to be there when God opens doors.
A moon landing and french bread
I owe so much to the high school teachers who introduced me to this beautiful language. I was guided for two years by Madame Kozak, who truly loved anything and everything French, and for two more by Monsieur Marcotte, a master teacher (and head wrestling coach).  

I took my first trip to France at age 15 with the Marcottes, brave sponsors shepherding 19 students for 45 days as we traveled by train and lodged in hostels and tiny hotels. On the deck of a hostel near Toulouse, we watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon while enjoying French bread with jam and café au lait for breakfast. 

When I enrolled at Harding and had to pick a major, again my choice was clear — French. On the campus of this Christian college, I gained a polished talent and spiritual direction. 

I participated in two summer campaigns led by my mentors, Winfred and Dottie Wright, to bless churches in Belgium, France and Switzerland. We traveled in Volkswagen vans and stayed in campgrounds. We stuffed mailboxes with thousands of invitations for gospel meetings and Bible correspondence courses. We sang French hymns and devotional songs in town squares, invited people on the street to study the Bible and worshiped alongside French-speaking Christians.

I later spent almost a year in Lyon, France, working with college friends Arlin and Judy Hendrix in their mission effort, launched in 1975. Arlin lost Judy to cancer, and 26 years ago he married Pamela, a former missionary in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Christians representing seven countries on three continents gathered in Searcy, Ark., for the French World Mission Workshop. (PHOTO BY LYNDA SHEEHAN)
It was wonderful to see Arlin and Pamela at the workshop, as well as the Kees. I also saw unfamiliar faces — workers from French-speaking regions of Canada and Africa. I met George and Joyce Akpabli and Arnold Dzah, Christians from English-speaking Ghana who learned French to reach souls in Benin and Senegal. 

Barry Baggott, a longtime worker in French Africa, shared historical perspective on the French work. God, working through dedicated Christians and their converts, has grown Churches of Christ in the French-speaking world from nearly none in 1947 to 742 in 2015, Baggott reported.

For the college students who attended, the workshop awakened new possibilities to serve God. 

One attendee, Annella Beattie, who had participated in a mission trip to Paris, said, “I felt connected to people whose lives have a grand purpose and are passionate about getting God’s Word out. I now feel like God is making his move on me.”

For others of us, the time together reawakened our desire to spread the Gospel. More workers are needed. Funds are needed. Encouragement is needed. Even stateside missionaries (of which I am one) can help, as can anyone who has a heart to touch French-speaking people for God.   

Where is God leading you in serving? Are you making the most of every opportunity? Watch for doors he will open for you.  

Je vais suivre. I will follow. 

CONTACT [email protected]

Filed under: Inside Story

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