Monday, June 9, 2014

Say it in French

It was time for my thirty-minute one-on-one with Leighton Ford. Only I didn't know what I wanted to discuss. Isn't that just the way it goes? I get thirty minutes of uninterrupted time with a spiritual giant and I find myself at a loss of words.

He welcomed me warmly, made small talk, and then gently asked, "Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about, or would you just like to visit?"

"Well," I stammered sheepishly, "if there's one thing I'm really struggling with in my ministry it's the French language. Perhaps you can speak into that."

I went on to share an experience about a time when I completely flubbed three simple sentences in front of a room full of French leaders.

"What were the sentences?" he asked.

So I spoke them in English.

"Say it in French," he said. 

So I spoke them in French.

"I do have a story that you might relate to," he said.

And then he told me about a time when he was working on a Billy Graham Crusade in Australia. He had been fighting a cold, and between the travel and all of his speaking engagements he had almost entirely lost his voice. In the midst of that time, he was assigned to preach at the Air Force Base. He found himself in a giant hangar (at which point in the story he said, "you know what that's like, since your husband is a pilot." I don't ever remember telling him that my husband was a pilot, but that eighty-three year old man doesn't seem to forget anything.). Hangars have the worst acoustics imaginable, so he was grateful to see a microphone, through which he would proclaim the Gospel to about 500 airmen. When he took the stage, the microphone was positioned too low, and as he tried to adjust it, he broke it. With no voice, no amplification, and poor acoustics, he croaked out the high-speed version of the Good News, and left. He was horribly discouraged by the whole ordeal.

But then, a few days later, he received a phone call from the chaplain of the base. Since Leighton had preached, over 25 men had come to see the chaplain and decided to follow Jesus.

"Thus," he concluded, "it seems that God can do his work whether or not he uses our words."

I nodded appreciatively. Our time was drawing to a close. I took a token photo of us, thanked him for his time and wisdom, and went on my way.

The next morning, our last day together, Leighton was leading us in a time of sharing and gratitude. He asked us to reflect on the things that we saw, heard, tasted, smelled, and felt during our time together at Apple Hill. As there were participants from at least eight different countries in the group of 24 people, I said that I was blessed by hearing English spoken with lovely accents by those who were speaking English as a second (or third!) language.

Another person was about to jump in to share, when Leighton gently raised his hand to hush the group. He looked directly at me, deeply into me, and he said, "Say it in French."

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I began to tremble, conscious of the many French speakers in the room who would surely hear my mistakes. He waited patiently. They all waited.

"J'aime entendre l'accent des gens qui parlent anglais comme une langue étrangère."

Just then a young man from Angola asked (in heavily accented English), "Does she have an accent in French?"

I bowed my head, defeated. I know the answer. I have a horrible accent.

"It's poetry," came the reply from the only French person in the room. "It's poetry."

How easy it is to hear the beauty of another's accent. How difficult it is to acknowledge that the same could be said of mine. I'm sure people are just being kind, extending grace while cringing from within. And yet, the Spirit can speak, does speak, in spite of it all. 


  1. Oh, Jen, your blog just touched my heart. I did not get enough German to be able to preach or even have a good conversation, but God continues to nudge me. And then, in my head, comes a voice which says, "Who do you think you are, trying to learn a bit of German?" Thank you for sharing and encouraging this one who so wants to communicate in the culture where God has ordained my life to be lived! Blessings! Carolyn

  2. Dear Sweet Sister in Christ, God bless you mightily. May His Spirit fall upon you, live and shine through you and speak into others as you are used of Him. You are such an encouragement, Jenn. Never forget the words... that the Spirit of God speaking through you is .... pure poetry. Pure poetry, but poetry that changes lives. :)