One night, I decided to walk the streets of Avignon alone to see the performers and have quiet time in the Jardin des Doms, the garden that is next to the Palais des Papes and that overlooks the Pont d’Avignon. I was feeling really down and discouraged. My heart was heavy and overwhelmed, and I honestly just wanted to go home. I was feeling so alone and so small. I even get teary-eyed now thinking about how sad I was for the first week of this trip.
But then I received a small reminder of God’s grace and His faithfulness, despite my weary self. Even though I just wanted to return to Nicole’s house, I felt the nudge to get a crêpe. After ordering my crêpe, I heard singing around the corner. As I continued to listen, my ears perked up and my heart was overjoyed because the group around the corner was singing “Blessed be the Name” in French. Once I got my crêpe, I went to sit on the curb and continue listening. (It was only a homeless man and myself who sat listening while everyone else walked by.) A few minutes later, tears began to steadily flow from my eyes as they started to sing “In Christ Alone” in English.
Here I was sitting in the middle of a busy street, weeping like a baby, and all because God reminded me that I’m not alone and that He paves the way for me. I was reminded of His patience and loving-kindness with my heavy heart, and that in spite of my anger, frustration, and sadness, He was able to bring me back to a place of brokenness and the amazing wonders of His grace and His Gospel for me. I was reminded that He pursues my heart constantly, and He rejoices over me. He reminded me that He gives gifts to His children, when we deserve nothing.
Psalm 73 says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You. Yet, I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
After the singing stopped, I spoke with one of the women in the group, who was from England. Each year, this group (a mix of English and French people) perform during the festival and they’ve found a unique way to capture people’s attention in order to share the Gospel on the streets of Avignon. One man shares the story of how he was once lost, and He uses drawing to present the Gospel (based on John 14:6 that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life). The woman I spoke to heard my entire story, and I explained to her how much I missed home and community. And what’s really interesting is that she and I had been reading the same passage in Joshua 1 where God commands Joshua to take courage and to be bold and strong. She proceeded to pray for me in the middle of the street, and afterwards, I left with a joyful heart.
I feel like Joshua 1 and courage have been the theme of my trip to North Africa. And as I was about to leave France, the last thing Serge said to me was “Bon courage.” I realize that this is a very common French phrase when you say goodbye to someone, but I took this phrase to heart.
Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Courage. It’s hard to come by, especially as a broken sinner. But God’s grace has shown through it all, and He has provided little reminders every step of the way. It’s not by my strength that I can do anything, in fact I can do nothing on my own strength. But it’s only by the grace of God through Jesus, that I can do all things. And despite tiny mishaps and unexpected occurrences, I can still hold to the promise the God does all things for my good. For brokenness and weakness only bring me back to His grace and the Gospel.