Bonjour and Joyeux Noel! It’s amazing that my time in France has come and gone and Christmas is upon us. Thank you for your prayers and the financial support to make that trip possible. French language school was both incredibly fulfilling and unbelievably difficult. By the grace of God, a lot of help from my students friends, and hours of homework every day, I accomplished my goal of growing from beginner to intermediate proficiency. I don’t remember a time when I was so challenged and stressed out over such an extended period – or so enriching and encouraging.
Not only was it enriching to experience one part of France and French culture, it was also a time of sharing God’s love with people who never even think of God, as well as fellow Christians. It’s amazing what happens when we operate inside of our purposes, strengths and giftedness. Over and over while in France, I experienced God moving through me. Whoever would have thought these things would happen while I was struggling with all my strength to learn French? Not me, that’s for certain. But, God surely did and I’m so grateful that I could play a small part in his plan for Montpellier.
2017 Highlights. It is the same with the impact Agape Africa Fund has had in 2017. Even though it has functioned on a very part time basis, your generosity and prayers made the following and others possible:
· Coordinated the donation to Bongolo Hospital and funded the container shipping costs of a donated gently used, full-body x-ray machine by a Pittsburgh chiropractor friend.
· 4-week (March) trip to Bongolo Hospital where my mission to advocate on behalf of the team there (and perhaps others in the future) was confirmed. While there, I was able to encourage and support the missionary doctors and others on the team.
· Participated as part of the ACAC team at the Alliance’s international meeting in Columbus, where deeper contacts around Bongolo emerged.
· Funded the next generation of internet access at Bongolo, enabling the team and visitors to have more of a first world online experience.
· Guest Pastor for 4 weeks (July) at Ross Community Presbyterian Church, where I brought a message of hope through surrendering and trusting God.
· Developed and nurtured a fledgling relationship with the leadership of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the North Hills (Dr. Izzi Elliot’s sending church).
· Continued my training to become an Alliance pastor through the PBI (Pennsylvania Bible Institute). I’m currently more than half way through the three year program.
· Held dozens and dozens of meetings with ongoing and new supporters and friends, sharing the vision and gathering financial and prayer support.
· Attended Immersive French Language School, September – November in Montpellier, France.
God Shows Up. I want to linger on the Language School experience for a moment as an example of how God shows up when we want His presence in our lives. My prayer going over was that I would somehow impact and encourage others while being taught. I didn’t have any idea how this would happen. And, the question in many minds was the same as mine: “How could this happen when Doug doesn’t speak or understand French?” Well, God provided some amazing opportunities.
At school, I became “Cool Uncle Doug” to my 18-25 year old European classmates. When it was time for oral presentations, I often discussed being a missionary and pastor, which led to some wonderful follow up conversations. God also used me to encourage them and gently nudge toward Him when the opportunity arose. For example, He gave me the words to plant seeds of faith to a German atheist. And, God opened the door to witness to encourage several Christian German young women to follow God and grow in their faiths. I gave several copies of my book to various new friends, hoping that they will be drawn close to our amazing Savior.
God also gave me a host family to invest in, even though I didn’t speak enough French to communicate much verbally. Somehow, my “French parents” sensed the Holy Spirit in me. They are staunch Catholics, yet especially my “mom”, Catherine, loves God. We talked about him using sign language and through my French Bible. I comforted her when their oldest son, a lifetime Army officer, was deployed to Lebanon for six months. I was able to reassure her during an upsetting family drama, and I made friends with and encouraged my French “father”, Michel, in how he handled that same drama. Catherine repeatedly told me that they were so grateful for God to bring me into their lives.
The most amazing single event in France was to preach my last Sunday at the English speaking International Chapel of Montpellier, where I brought a message of hope, encouragement and the challenge to take even more action as individuals and as a church. That lovely body had become my church home in France and I attended there the entire time I was in Montpellier. God opened the door to befriend several members of the congregation, and especially to come alongside Pastor John, who has been ministering there for 13 years. It amazes me that my life coaching and construction skills would come in handy there, but they did.
What is the plan for 2018? The big picture is bright and here is a taste: spend the winter engaging Bongolo supporters throughout the Midwest, especially in Ohio; continue to improve my French through Pittsburgh-based classes, self-teaching, and conversation groups, as well as potential course-work in Quebec and perhaps French, again. Finally, I hope to test out my French on a return trip to Bongolo, possibly in the Spring for an extended time of fleshing out their needs, working alongside the team, and encouraging them as they struggle day-in and day-out in the jungle.
Will you continue to come alongside this ministry? Your financial support helps to make this work possible. Please contact me (412-716-3105) to make arrangements, or simply click “Donate” on the Agape website. All gifts are tax deductible.
Checks can be made out to and mailed to: “Agape Africa Fund” c/o Doug Sprague, 1015 Galveston Avenue, Pittbsurgh, PA 15233
Thank you in advance!