When They Think They See Us, But It’s Not
They thought it was us, but it wasn’t. It was him.
In a land where warm fresh bread was just a morning’s walk away — the long crusty-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside French baguettes– and where buttery pain au chocolates “croissants” with inner chocolate streaks elicited moans every morning, everything was vivid. Our team of thirteen senior high students and adults savored the two weeks with our French friends. Partnering with a French church in northern France, we worked alongside them to reach out to and get to know the residents of Roubaix.
“Why are you here?” the shopkeepers and kebab sandwich vendors asked us, in warm wonder. “It’s the poorest city in France,” another one told us.
“We love Roubaix and the people of Roubaix,” we told them. “God loves Roubaix and has given us his love for this city too.”
Roubaix is a vibrant city full of Europeans, North African Algerians, Moroccans, Romano nomadic gypsies, and Middle Eastern peoples. Tall narrow rowhouses rub shoulder to shoulder down winding cobblestone sidewalks. Butcher shops display skinned lambs and chicken breasts; fruit venders corner the lanes, their apricots, peaches, and dusky purple grapes blushing out of slanted wooden crates. Bread shop boulangeries and patisserie pastry shops dot the avenues regularly, such a staple of a daily French person’s life that they are more common than cathedrals and post offices combined.
We relished our time with old and new French friends, the two weeks passing entirely too quickly. They taught me about hospitality and generosity, their platters of chicken, garlic potatoes, and tuna fish appetizer salads brimming and spilling with food. They said our students’ joy and love for God and one another encouraged them “like a breath of new life.” I watched the ten American students run a three-day Bible Club for children, use mime sketches to share stories of God’s plan from the Bible to rescue his creation from a broken world, and I smiled proudly at the hours of cheerful work the teens did again and again, often breaking into song while they worked. I saw the way they loved the kids around them, using broken French, English words, and lots of smiles. Love flowed out from them.
At the end of a beautiful evening at a friend’s house, our host put his hand on his heart to thank us for coming. Overwhelmed by our host’s gracious hospitality for us, we placed hands on our hearts and issued the grateful thanks right back. “No, no, it’s our delight and joy to be here with you,” we told them. “It’s a pleasure to be with you,” we said.
He demurred, touching his heart, and we saw it in his eyes. He thought it was us, but it wasn’t.
He was seeing the beauty of Jesus in us, and it drew him.