Setting Aside Life Plan to Embrace Missions in France
“It had to be God,” Jenn Williamson states. Williamson, a student in Portland Seminary’s Online Learning Community, sees no other reason she and her husband felt drawn to move to France as missionaries, after vacationing there for their 15th wedding anniversary. The family had just remodeled their 100-year-old farmhouse, David was running a flight school, and Jenn was Director of Women’s Ministries at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, Washington. A life plan? The family had one. Uprooting and moving to France, however, was definitely not part of that plan.
Now, after five years of serving in France with Greater Europe Mission, Williamson’s enthusiasm remains strong. “I love France!” she exclaims. The country boasts more than 380 types of cheeses, as well as “fabulous bread and great wine.” Additionally, Williamson is thrilled to see the French evangelical community unite to make the gospel known in France. France is leading Europe in its church-planting rate, Williamson shares. Seeing the country’s spiritual hunger and almost unprecedented lack of religious “baggage” the Williamsons find exciting and inspiring. They consider it a privilege to assist with this movement of “momentum from the inside.”
Williamson divides her time roughly evenly between local-community ministry, France-wide ministry, and seminary coursework. While her commitments vary each day, gatherings with her church community are points of constancy in the daily rhythm. At 7:00 every morning, the Williamsons and a small group of others who live within walking distance of the church gather for prayer, songs, and scripture reading and meditation. Then, at 6 p.m. each evening, they reconvene to reflect on “where God was” that day. “In the States I would have rather gone to the dentist than to prayer meetings,” Williamson confides. Now, however, she relishes this invitation to step away from her desk and build relationships with God and people. “I think of those [two gatherings] as my ‘parentheses of prayer’ on the day.”
Despite the bread, cheese, and wine, and the rich times of communal prayer, not all of life in France has been idyllic. Williamson considered herself a competent public speaker, but arrived in France not even knowing the language. She claims to have felt like a child as she tried to acclimate to the culture without the ability to communicate. She had to ask for help with the simplest tasks, and wrestled with a sense of incompetence as a parent when her two teenage sons struggled with their own adjustment. Initially, she believed all she had to offer the community was cleaning toilets and taking care of children. “I had to find my identity in God,” Williamson relates.
Joining her in navigating these challenges and joys have been Williamson’s OLC cohort members. Williamson sees her seminary classes directly informing her missions work, while her ministry also profoundly impacts what she brings into her studies. While she is grateful for this rich academic experience in itself, Williamson particularly loves the way the periodic “face-to-face” class times at the George Fox Portland Center allow her to strengthen connections with her cohort “family”; in this way, she sees this model as much better suited to her needs than a fully online program.
Creating a life plan? That’s not something the Williamsons are investing their energy into these days. Moving to France was a response to how they perceived God’s call, and they continue to seek openness to how God will continue to guide them.
- Sierra S. Neiman
Read more about Williamson and the work of Great Europe Mission on her blog.