(This post was originally published on my personal blog, Of Postcards & Ink, between 2015-2016.)
As Paris has begun preparing herself to farewell summer and usher in the crisp air, grey-er skies and muted warm tones of autumn, she seems to have found herself in a great degree of climactic confusion. Whether in the process of flitting in and out of classes, wandering leisurely around my neighbourhood or picnicking on garden lawns with friends, I’ve found myself doing everything from pulling my umbrella out of my bag and opening it and then confusedly putting it away, to taking my scarf on and off, walking along cobblestones while trying to avoid puddles and raising my hand to shield my eyes from the sun within the space of fifteen minutes (and I thought Sydney weather was volatile…). The last week has been a strange mix of rain, wind and sunshine, but it’s been filled with lots of little exciting moments, new adventures and changes in between.
In an attempt to make the most of the increasingly rare sunny days here, Jessie and I spontaneously decided to make our way to Versailles last week (a 30-40 minute train ride from Paris) and spent a day wandering through its unbelievably beautiful and vast palace grounds. The palace itself and the interior decor, artwork and history encased within it were certainly something to marvel at, but what I enjoyed most was exploring the 800 hectare gardens – most notably its grand canal (which you could rent a row boat on), perfectly manicured lawns, blossoming trees symmetrically lining each walkway (perfect for a bicycle ride) and hidden maze-like hedges. It was so easy to be blown away by the scale of the place and being able to trace its history and beauty on such a lovely day under blue skies made for a wonderful day, indeed. I’ve included some photos of the palace and its grounds below!
One of the week’s colder and rainier days was also warmed and brightened significantly when I opened my mailbox to find a little slip of paper from my concierge telling me that a parcel had arrived for me to collect from him! Lo and behold, sitting on the floor of his office was a hefty-sized cardboard box from my family that had been filled to the brim with love, chai tea, Tim Tams, extra clothes and other bits and pieces of Sydney goodness. As you can imagine, it was with absolutely no guilt or hesitation that I put my Politics of the EU, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Humanitarian Aid & Development readings aside in favour of spending the morning unpacking my parcel and generally being reminded of and floored by the love that I continue to be shown from people here and on the other side of the world.
The joys of last week continued when I visited a new church on Sunday afternoon (a French-speaking church called Eglise Connexion) and also attended a GBU (Groupes Bibliques Universitaires) Bible study that meets every Tuesday evening. In relation to the former, I was feeling a little unsure about what to expect insofar as the way the church service would be run, how much of the sermon I would actually understand and how easy or hard it would be to build relationships with people at church by being limited to conversing in French. Long story short, it was really, really great. After stalking their website and listening to the previous week’s sermon recording the night before, I showed up on Sunday afternoon to be greeted by a lovely and incredibly friendly community chatting away over tea and coffee before the service properly began. The church is made up of around thirty people and what a geographically diverse crowd it was – there were French natives, expats from the US, the UK and a couple of other exchange students as well, which made for a fairly young demographic, with most people ranging from the age of 18 to 35. The service was structured much like the services I’m used to experiencing in Sydney (with a call to worship, music, prayer, Bible reading, announcements, sermon and communion) and I found myself inexplicably tearing up a little when we started singing 10,000 Reasons in French. There was something quite surreal and beautiful about praising God in song in another language and I was reminded of the preciousness of worshipping in song – a place where intellectual and emotional truth meet and where the heart and mind can reconvene. My thankfulness for the richness of the resources available in the anglophone world was affirmed even further after a conversation with the pastor over dinner which revealed the severe lack of good French song lyric translations, let alone original compositions/releases. Apart from the service itself, what I appreciated most about this church was how welcoming it was and how intentionally they went about fostering community and deep, Christ-centred relationships. Presumably facilitated by the fact that the church isn’t huge to begin with, the pastor (Jason) and his wife (Loanne) have made post-church dinners a norm by inviting everyone (yes, everyone) back to their place after the service to share in dinner, fellowship and good conversation. It’s an incredible weekly show of hospitality and just creates such an ideal environment and communal attitude geared towards caring for one another and doing life together.
On Tuesday night, I also made my way to a GBU Bible study, which has just started up for the school/academic year. There were around eight of us altogether and as I got to chat more with some of the other attendees and take part in the Bible study more generally, I was filled with much thankfulness and joy for the blessing of Christian community. Everyone was so lovely and welcoming, and it seems that “Bible study + food + more food = good times” is a universal equation, haha. Unlike in Sydney, where basically every single university has its own IFES group that functions independently week-to-week, the GBU is a France-wide IFES group that conducts its meetings and events by city, rather than by university. As such, I met French students studying at universities and colleges all over Paris and even had a huge “no way” moment when Miri (another exchange student studying at Sciences Po who I had actually met at church a few days earlier) walked through the doors! More generally, reading and studying the Bible in French was an experience composed of small victories, new opportunities to marvel at the richness of God’s word and challenges too, but more on that in my prayer points below. I’m really looking forward to seeing how God grows me and my group in the semester ahead!
Finally, despite catching a cold in the second half of the week and subsequently spending the last few days sniffling and coughing my way through my classes and the rainy weather, the sun came out (both literally and metaphorically) yesterday, when a group of us went out to Le Palais Royal and Jardin des Tuileries to celebrate Miri’s birthday by way of a Parisian heritage-themed wander and picnic (baguettes, cheese and chocolate seem to be the main food groups here). It was really lovely to spend time getting to know some of Miri’s friends and just generally enjoying the sunshine and the warmth of good company.
In other (arguably exciting) news, I’ve also started growing my own basil, coriander and parsley plants in little pots right by my window and they’ve just started sprouting their little green leaves above the soil! I’m potentially a little bit too excited about this, but hey, it’s the little things, right? You can expect some photographic evidence in the weeks to come, haha.
Thank God for His provision of many new Christian relationships and sources of community this week. From church to uni Bible study, I’ve been blown away by the warmth and hospitality shown to me by Christians in Paris. After struggling to find and experience these sorts of relationships during my first month here, it’s been a real source of refreshment and joy this week, and a reminder to not take this dynamic of Christian community for granted.
Thank God for how humbling this week has been. Particularly in the context of church and Bible study, doing everything from singing and praying to reading the Bible, contributing to discussion and generally conversing/getting to know others in French has been a great source of joy and renewed humility at the same time. As someone who was used to being so “competent”, as it were, in doing these sorts of activities in English, it’s been a strange experience to be brought back to square one in some respects, as my mind sometimes finds itself bursting to say or ask something in English but can’t do the translation fast enough to be able to interject or contribute before the conversation or discussion has moved on. Despite this, I’m so thankful to God for how He’s prepared me in many ways to participate in and serve the church here (from nurturing my French proficiency throughout high school and university, to having previously blessed me with such rich Bible teaching and resources on the books of John and Ephesians which we’re currently studying at church and at Bible study) and for how He’s reminding me of His unchanging goodness, truth and sovereignty over all things, no matter how competent or incompetent I might feel.
Please pray that God might continue to heal me from my cold. I was feeling particularly under the weather in the second half of the week, which meant that I decided to skip the first Interfac of the semester (a weekly GBU training event – imagine the likes of CORE and TBT meshed into one) on Friday night in favour of staying at home and resting up. Please pray that He might give me wisdom in taking care of myself and that He might uphold and strengthen me physically, as the semester inevitably also gets busier and my weekly schedule starts filling up more intensely.
It feels a bit strange to be including this as a prayer point, but I was reflecting on how God is ultimately sovereign and powerful over things like this too – please pray that God might continue to grow me in my language proficiency. I’m thankful that my existing proficiency has made the process of taking classes, understanding sermons and communicating with friends in French a manageable experience, but I’m constantly reminded of how much more there is to learn. Admittedly, we’re always our own harshest critic when it comes to language-learning, but I’ve found a renewed determination this week to continue stepping out of my comfort zone and growing in my ability to understand, think and express myself freely in French, despite all of the mistakes and embarrassing moments that will inevitably meet me along the way. As such, I’d really appreciate prayer for resilience, the mental capacity and opportunities to do all of these things.
As always, thank you so much for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers! Sending lots of love and cheers of encouragement to my Sydney uni friends who are wading through mid-sem assessments in anticipation of the mid-sem break and even more to Sam and Rachel who will be getting married on Saturday!
Hope you all have a wonderful week and that it’s one filled with loved ones, sunshine and reminders of God’s goodness and grace in your life.