At the beginning of September 1979, aged 6, we moved as a family to Paris and I was dropped off at my new school, clueless as to what was about to hit me. I didn’t speak a word of French and was stunned into cowered silence for probably two months…
Well, we’ve just done the same to our three little kids about an hour ago. There were lots of apprehensive children, as well as parents, as we arrived at the Belgian School. We’d joined hands and prayed together in the car on the way. We’ve memorized Psalm 118:6: “The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid, what can people do to me.” “Don’t worry kids, God’s with you all the way!”
Zac (6) was first to be dropped off, and he remained fully composed. Grace (4) went for an extra pee to delay the inevitable. And Josiah (3), our little nutter, went into his class easily enough. We’d taught them to say “My name is…”, “I need the toilet”, and “I don’t understand” – that’s all they’ve got! If in doubt, guys, just smile, big big smiles, and be friendly!
As we headed off, we looked in and saw that Josiah had put on this huge fake smile, eyebrows stretched upwards, massive arched mouth, and was jumping up and down in front of another unfortunate kid – doing I guess his interpretation of what we’d instructed him – that’s our Jos, I think he’ll be OK! Grace has a little Irish/American girl in her class to help smooth things over. And as we walked past Zac’s class, there he was, demure and sheepish, being bombarded by the teacher speaking at a hundred miles an hour. It brought tears to our eyes.
We both just about held it together until we got back into the car. Oh, what a horrible feeling! We love those little lives so much. Arriving at home, we had a hug, shed a few tears, and now it’s back to work proper. It’s the end of an era for Lizzie particularly, with all the kids now at school, and the time has come for her to really crack on with language learning herself.
There was a very happy ending for me back in 1979: after those slightly traumatic couple of months, I opened my mouth and found that I was completely fluent in two languages. It meant that I found my school days relatively easy because I had one subject completely in the bag; and in God’s plan, when he called me to Burundi two decades later, it meant I could preach straightaway without a tortuous year’s intensive language study. Please Lord, help them to be blessed in the same way!