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Women missionaries (3): What’s mission life like?

April 2016 | by Elinor Magowan

Elinor Magowan, women’s pastoral worker at UFM Worldwide, asks Elizabeth to explain what life is like for a woman missionary and her family in France.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born and brought up in London, the eldest child of a large family. My parents are Christians who have always been actively involved in serving God. I began to seek the Lord for myself when I was about ten years old and was baptised at the age of 14.

Through my involvement with French beach missions, I was struck by the spiritual needs of France. It was when I was cooking for a team in Belgium, at the end of my first university year, that I met my husband. We were married two years later.

He was assistant pastor of a church in the UK, but had previously lived in France and felt a calling to go back there. Within a year and a half, I went from being a student in a career-focused environment to being a pastor’s wife and mother of a baby girl.

What service are you engaged in?

My husband has been pastor of a small church in France for five and a half years, and we are expecting our fifth child. He also runs an evangelistic literature/website ministry and seeks to reach out to ethnic minorities.

His work is very much on the ‘front line’ and I have always felt called to be his ‘behind the scenes’ support. That means I spend a lot of time simply doing mundane chores and caring for the house, garden and children, in order to free him up for ministry. I want our home to be a refuge for my husband and children, but also for the many people who visit us.

Hospitality has been important for building up relationships between church members and welcoming newcomers. I often edit articles, emails and prayer letters that my husband writes in English. He, in turn, edits my written French! In many ways, my role is the same as that of a pastor’s wife in the UK.

I teach Sunday school, play the piano and provide simultaneous translation into English during sermons. I have also built up relationships with women in our village and seek to witness to them when there is an opportunity.

When we first arrived in France, church meetings left me feeling exhausted. I also felt overwhelmed by the different health system, the forms we had to fill in, not knowing where to buy things, and the unfamiliar driving.

Now we feel much more at home. I don’t think I’ll ever feel French, but when we return to the UK we no longer feel fully English either. Being far from family and loved ones teaches you that you are a citizen of heaven and must find your security in belonging to the Lord.

What are the joys you encounter in life and ministry?

France is a lovely country to live in. Who wouldn’t like the sunshine, bustling markets, good food and beautiful scenery! On a more serious level, it has been a great joy for us to see the church grow in number, maturity and unity.

When we first arrived, there were a lot of underlying tensions, but we have seen the Holy Spirit changing attitudes, through Bible teaching and prayer. Another encouragement has been seeing church members grow in their eagerness to evangelise.

A few weeks ago, one lady went to visit someone in another village, but couldn’t find the house. She sat on a bench and prayed for help. A young man sitting on the other end of the bench offered her some popcorn, then asked if she was praying and whether she went to church. He said he was looking for truth and had recently left the Mormons.

He attended our church the following day. After the service, he spoke to my husband and said, ‘You described what the Christian life should look like in your message. My life doesn’t look like that. I want to ask Jesus to save me’. My husband prayed with him and now he regularly attends Sunday meetings and Bible studies.

Of course these things don’t happen every day, but we rejoice when they do.

What answers to prayer have you seen recently?

Ever since we outgrew our former building, the church has rented a room each Sunday and Bible studies have taken place in houses. This has limited our ability to start certain ministries, such as children’s work. But the Lord has answered prayer for our own premises and we are in the process of buying a large building with huge potential.

I am particularly excited about reaching out to children during the week. Talking to children in our neighbourhood, I have realised that they know nothing at all about Jesus. We are so thankful that God has led us to a new building and provided the means to buy it.

A second answer to prayer is more personal. I have often struggled to find someone to babysit, at times when I really needed help. But the Lord brought two new couples into the church recently, who have been like family to me. The older couple are always offering to come over to babysit or help in other practical ways. This is a great blessing.

What are your concerns for those closest to you?

Sometimes I see my husband being engulfed by his workload. It’s important for us to set aside time together as a family. I am tempted to get irritated when people phone to have long conversations about ministry issues on his day off, or when his day off disappears in a flurry of unavoidable meetings.

The tensions in a church weigh heavily on a pastor. During our initial years here, it was sometimes hard as a pastor’s wife to watch my husband becoming emotionally drained by difficult situations.

Like every Christian mother, I want to see my children walking with the Lord as they grow older. It is a concern that they have so few friends from Christian families. Then there is the challenge and blessing of raising bilingual ‘third culture kids’.

I teach my children to read in English at home, and sometimes learn new nuggets of French from helping them with their homework. They also correct my accent at times! We want to equip our children to live for God and stand alone for him, no matter where in the world they end up.

What are the challenges?

The church is entering a transition period as we purchase a building, see work on it completed and start new ministries. We need wisdom and unity.

One of our daughters is going to have an operation soon, at a hospital an hour and a half away from us. The main challenge I face daily is juggling my different roles and a complicated time table, and having the energy to do all that has to be done each day.

How have you seen God sustain you?

The Lord always knows what we need. At times he has brought just the right Bible verse to mind that has lifted me up and encouraged me to persevere.

Sometimes it has been a letter from a friend, a conversation with my mum, a hymn or encouraging word from a church member. I listen to a Christian radio station for women online which does me good (www.reviveourhearts.com).

Often a beautiful rainbow, sunset or birdsong reminds me of God’s goodness and faithfulness. When life gets crazy, I find I need to escape into nature to be alone with God, pour out my heart to him and realign my perspective with his.

What shall we pray for you?

Please pray that I will have the energy to fulfil my calling and act with cheerfulness and love, even when life is hectic. Pray that this will stem from a close walk with God. Pray that I will have wisdom to do what God wants me to do, instead of trying to meet other people’s varied expectations.

Pray for opportunities to share the gospel with the women I know, and for wisdom to know which relationships to invest more time in.

I really appreciate prayer for protection when I am alone with the children. My husband often travels to help other churches with weeks of evangelism. During our early years in France, things often seemed to go wrong when he was away: a power cut, getting locked out for hours with potatoes in the oven, having a tummy bug, for example!

What kind of support have you valued from others?

Knowing that people are praying for us is an amazing encouragement. I like to remember how many people are praying and are ‘with us in spirit’ whenever I am building up the courage to start a spiritual conversation with an unbeliever. Practical help is also a great blessing to any young mother. We are thankful too for those who have come over to replace us here while we travel back to the UK.

Elinor Magowan is a women’s pastoral worker at UFM Worldwide