We are in Chad! It has been almost four years to the day since we first heard about the need for people to come and share God’s Word among the unreached people in Chad. God has certainly taught us a lot since then—especially during our year in France.
At the end of the year, I was asked to speak at the language school closing ceremony (in French, of course) about what we had learned in our time there. They asked me on a Monday to speak at the ceremony on Friday, and we were flying to Chad Sunday. This meant I would have to prepare the speech during final exams, while packing for our new life in Africa. I said yes, because I can rarely say no. In the end I was glad, because it forced me to stop and reflect on what we had learned in our time there.
I was able to make a pretty decent “top ten” list of things we learned in France. Some were humorous. For example, France is the culinary capital of the world, but the two McDonald’s restaurants in our town were always packed, even more so than in the States.
Also, in learning a language, pronunciation is very important. To me, the French words for “hunter” and “shoe” are somewhat similar in sound, so I had to make sure these distinctions in sound were very clear and proper. I learned this the hard way. When I asked someone if their cat was a good “hunter,” instead the word “shoe” came out. It creates embarrassing, but mostly laughable moments.
French people tend to think America exists in three parts: California, New York, and—the center of all American culture—Texas. I explained that I came from Minnesota, but the closest understanding anyone came to was that I lived where all the mountains were—but that’s Montana.
Reflecting on the most important lessons of the year, what struck me most was how much God uses our weaknesses. I could blend into the crowd in France, but the minute I opened my mouth I stuck out like a sore thumb. I do not like being weak, but God showed me again and again that he could use my “weak” French to create conversations about him. Quite often, when a French person heard me speak, they wanted to know why I was there. This led to the subject of being a missionary learning French in order to speak about Jesus in Chad, Africa.
I got lots of different reactions. One lady initially thought I must be in the gas or oil business if I wanted to go to Chad. When I explained to her that I was a missionary who was going to speak about God she gave me a look like I was crazy for bringing my family there. There were others who wondered if there were other people like me staying in France. I probably talked to more complete strangers about my faith in that one year than I had in all my life, all because of what I considered a weakness. It caused me to really ponder the words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We are super excited as we look forward to moving to a village among an unreached people group here in Chad. We have been praying and preparing for four years now, and it’s as close to a reality as we could hope! As we start learning about life in Chad, it’s good to know we have a God who works through our weaknesses, even if at times that still seems impossible. Weaknesses in Chad seem to be amplified to an extent that is hardly bearable. I don’t even need to speak to be unmasked as a foreigner.
God has brought us all the way to Chad. We could be tempted to think of it as reaching the finish line after four years—“we’ve made it!” Instead, it feels about as daunting, undoable, and far away a task as ever.
When I start to get overwhelmed, thinking that things aren’t going the way they should, I realize that I am trying to force things “the way they should be,” instead of waiting and letting God work as he wills. It’s very easy to see my weaknesses as paths to failure, instead of ways that God can glorify himself. This hits at the center of my selfish nature, of wanting to be the giver of all good things. How can it possibly be good, if I can’t be the one bringing joy to the world through my success?
But even in my mistakes I know God’s grace flows toward me continuously, and that is the amazing gospel of grace that we get to preach! That power of Christ that was made perfect in his weakness on the cross—it is the same power that continues to work in our weakness on earth! I don’t need to worry about doing amazing things or being the fastest language learner on the planet. In whatever broken form I can speak the words of Christ to people, the power of God will shine through.
David Narvesen serves with his wife Sonja on behalf of Lutheran Brethren International Mission to the unreached people of Chad.