Part 3 - The desert in France
Finally - A Completely Normal Job: Praying Full-Time
Antoinette goes on to say: "I went back to Switzerland for a year to take care of my mother. However, I did not live with my parents because I wanted to support myself. I no longer wanted to be an official missionary, but a normal one; I go to work and live like the people around me. Early in the morning I would carry a couple of newspapers by bike, then I went to the laundry to iron, and at noon I cycled to my mother for half an hour to help her eat. Finally, I went back to work, until I heard the church bells in the evening. I really enjoyed normal life until one day, the Lord told me that my profession would now be, prayer. Shortly after my mother died, I thought that if praying should actually become my profession, then I have to be trained first. I decided to move to the desert to study.
At the same time, Susanne came back from Togo and had exactly the same impression! So, I quickly took my bike and took the train to her in Léon. I greeted her with the invitation to come to the desert with me and showed her my bike. Susanne was enthusiastic, but had never learned to ride a bike ... I assured her that it would not be a problem since she was riding a motorcycle in Togo, it was the same. We went to the city center of Léon together, bought a bike for Susanne and practiced a bit there. The following days we made preparations to go. With very light luggage, we headed for the desert - southwards.”
The two women had acquaintances there who lived alone in the country. They offered for us to take care of their home, while they were in India for a few months. That sounded tempting after a nice desert time. But when they finally arrived, they were greeted with unexpected relief: their acquaintances were so happy that Antoinette and Susanne had come, because there would be a few people in their house to look after. Antoinette and Susanne stayed only one night because they felt cheated, and did not want to commit to it. That was not their 'desert', and so they continued to cycle from there. Susanne had Abraham from scripture, in her head at the time, as Abraham had set off without knowing where he was going. Later people called them "Soeurs vélo", which is French for the "bicycle sisters".
Abraham - painted by Antoinette, 2019
Antoinette continues: “In the late afternoon we finally reached a small town, but couldn't find any suitable accommodation. We were already on the way to find a broken barn. We made ourselves comfortable in the straw with our sleeping bags. However, we were very cold all night long - it was January 6th!"
Listening to her share her experiences, I wonder, astonished, why they weren't just in a hostel. Whereupon Antoinette immediately denied several times and finally declared that a hostel was not 'her desert'. The same thing happened again after she told me about their mutual agreement not to tell anyone on the way, about their mission and Jesus - not a word, because that was the time of the desert.
She continues: "Early in the morning we drove our frozen bicycles to the nearest village to warm up in a café. When we came out, a man was waiting for us next to the crystallized bikes. He asked if we could be the owners of the bikes and where we were going to? We didn't have a specific answer to this and so he invited us to his home. He made a large room available for us, which was equipped with a bed, sink and kettle. It was good, we thought, it would be wonderful! Later he even brought us a heater, together with two friends. When we saw the three, it immediately reminded us of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Everything around us was like a personal message from the Lord to us. "
Many similar stories follow and it became clear that Antoinette and Susanne experienced a special time in these years. Everything around her seemed to take on a deeper meaning. They lived and worked in very different places, especially a lot in agriculture. Particularly outstanding, are the many encounters that they were able to experience with very different people. For example, it was the time of the hippies, with whom they were often employed as auxiliary workers. Once, one of them said that Susanne and Antoinette were actually just like them, only older and different. People knew that there was something special about Antoinette and Susanne. Nevertheless, the two women had never told anyone about their belief in Jesus; their job was to pray. Only when they arrived in each village did they go to the pastor to explain to them who they were and what their mission was. They regularly attended a service and read a lot in the Bible. It was not always easy between them, as both Antoinette and Susanna were very different.
After a few years, they ended up in a vine farm in a small village. Their plan was that they would only work over the summer, but they ended up staying for several years. It was a big house, which is why there was enough work for them, even in winter. Over time, more and more people came to live with them.
Antoinette continues: “During this time, something changed in our lives. We heard about a charismatic movement. One day we attended a seminar near us to learn more about the Holy Spirit. I remember how a young girl paid the entrance fee for us and we met a pastor friend. There were also many young people there, all of whom showed great interest and listened attentively to the English pastor. Many people converted to Jesus that evening and received the Holy Spirit. After this seminar everything was different for us. It was possible for us to pray even more with all of our heart and it always gave us great joy. We also recognized the will of the Lord much more clearly, which influenced everything.
The first thing we did after this seminar was to tell people about Jesus; the time of silence was over! The people there already knew us and really appreciated us and our work. This basis of trust, gave us good access. Nevertheless, prayer was always the top priority in our area of responsibility. When we prayed together in the kitchen, the others sometimes told us to go to church. But we wanted to talk about Jesus everywhere, not just in the church. So, we went to the market square every Saturday, for a whole summer, and just started singing praises for our Lord. People liked it and some stopped and joined in! Once we even got a live chicken as a gift. In addition, people asked us many questions, and only much later, did we notice what a special picture we had to give: such a close friendship between a Catholic and an Evangelical woman. We see it as part of our calling to be a witness to the unity of the Church.”
One day, her pastor and friend told the two women about his visit to Israel. They knew even then that the LORD would one day send them to Israel - and not just for a visit. Still, it would take ten years before they would go. During this time, they went from place to place with their bicycles, worked a lot in the field, and prayed. Antoinette adds: “It was a good and very important time in my life! From time to time we drove to our hometown and visited our family. Although my father would have loved to have me with me after my mother's death, my parents always supported me for my travels. As long as they knew I was fine, they were happy too.”
To be continued...