In my early years of secondary school, I had little interest in studying languages. The only language I would have liked to have learned was Welsh but at the time that was not an option at my school. The idea of going abroad, even for a holiday, wasn’t something I even thought about, so what was the point in learning a foreign language? Little did I know that the Lord would lead me from Pengam in the Rhymney Valley to serve him in France.
This year Emmanuel and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Marrying a Frenchman is something that I would never have imagined in my youth. If I’d known, I might have had a go at O Level French after all. Emmanuel and I have two points in common from our backgrounds. Emmanuel’s family originally come from the north of France, where in years gone by, there was an important coal industry. My father and both my grandfathers were coalminers. The second and more significant point we have in common is that the Lord, by his grace, revealed himself to us in our youth, bringing two youngsters from non-Christian families to a saving knowledge of himself. I had what could be described as an unstable childhood but my parents, who had no church links, allowed me to attend Sunday school and become progressively more involved in church activities. However, Emmanuel’s parents did not want him to have anything to do with a Protestant church. He had to wait for five years after his conversion (until his 18th birthday) before he could start to attend an evangelical church. How great is the grace of God, which not only saves but also enables us to persevere in the faith. What a blessing to know that our salvation is assured by God himself. As Paul says, ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:6).
From Wales to Paris
So, what brought me to France over 28 years ago? Well, during my first year of employment following my years at university, God confirmed to my heart the call that I had already been hearing for some time. The call was to full-time service overseas, though not to a particular country to begin with. There was a lot to think and pray about but my prayer was always ‘Lord, open the right door and close any wrong ones’. I could fill a few pages describing how exactly the Lord did lead me – it was far from anything I had expected.
In 1988, having been accepted for service by UFM Worldwide, I went to study French at a Christian language school in the Paris area with a view to working in Western Africa. On my arrival in France I was shocked to find myself in a spiritually needy country, which in spite of its Catholic heritage, remains so secular and has such an interest in the occult. Current statistics show, for example, that of the 36,664 communities in France, around 34,500 are without a resident evangelical witness.
During my time of study, the Lord opened my eyes to the spiritual poverty of France and gave me a burden for its people. At the same time, Emmanuel was working at the language school and we came to see God’s hand in bringing us together. We were married in 1991 and both worked at the language school. Emmanuel was responsible for the maintenance of the centre, school and student accommodation and also helped out as a student language partner. I also helped out with various tasks but my main job was caring for missionaries’ children in the crèche while their parents studied. We were active members of the local church and had the joy of welcoming many students and church contacts into our home.
From Paris to Brittany
From the start of our married life, the Lord placed Brittany very much on our hearts and it was finally in 1999 that we moved here with our two young children. On arrival in the area, we became involved in the nearest evangelical church where Emmanuel is now pastor. Having recognised God’s call to full time service we were accepted into UFM Worldwide in 2004 and continue to serve in the same church in the town of Guingamp.
We aim to share God’s Word through as many different means as possible. As well as regular church activities, evangelism has taken many forms including market stands, literature distribution, concerts, conferences and concentrated efforts of outreach over a period of a fortnight, helped by teams of young people from the UK. Ministry in Brittany requires perseverance, particularly as many are suspicious of anyone calling themselves ‘Christian’ but not being part of the Catholic church. So building relationships with people is vital if we want to be able to share the gospel and this takes time. We would obviously be overjoyed to see more immediate visible results but we pray for grace to continue casting bread upon the waters (Ecc 11:1) and to encourage other believers to do so, trusting the Lord to water the seeds that have been sown.
While I have had specific responsibilities in the ministry (such as children’s and ladies’ work) I have always seen my role as being a support to Emmanuel in the ministry in general. When our children were younger, they were obviously my first priority but were also the means of building relationships with other parents at school or at the different sport and leisure activities in which they took part. As parents, we give thanks to God for the salvation of our children (now in their 20s). Growing up in such a small church is a challenge, when at times, the only children left at Sunday school or of youth group age are the pastor’s children. But God is faithful and gives grace to young and old as we are reminded in Isaiah, ‘You whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth, even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you’ (Is. 46:3-4).
Over the years, we have experienced many blessings and encouragements and faced some challenges and disappointments but the Lord has been our constant strength. Whatever else might change in our lives, we can count on the faithfulness of our unchanging God: ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (Lam. 3:22-23).