Friday, 13 August 2010

The French Connection

We left Vienna early on Saturday morning and traveled comfortably to Zurich where we were to change trains for Geneva. We were met at the station by Philippe and Nadine Buerger. We had been in touch with Philippe by email but had never met. He was born at Mongu, the son of Missionaries to Barotseland, and he grew up in Zambia. He has been working with others on the chronological history book, 'The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland. From the Paris Mission to the United Church of Zambia.' This will be printed and published next month. His father's notes from 1885-1935 have been used as a primary source. They saw us off, after coffee, on our way to Geneva.

It was a nostalgic journey for Keith. We passed through Feldkirch in Austria where his grandfather, Hugh, a Cameronian, was detrained as a prisoner of war by the Austrians during WW1 and marched upstream to the POW camp in Liechtenstein. We saw the castle at Vaduz in the distance as we passed. A little further on, we went through Walenstadt where Keith had a summer job as a Council Worker as a student in the mid-70s.

We were booked into a comfortable Christian Hotel in Geneva. We worshipped at St Peter's (Calvin's Church) on the Sunday morning and met with Ann-Lise Chatelin (Sibeso) for lunch, a chat and a stroll through the old town with a visit to the Reformation Wall for us and the play park for Mubita. In the late afternoon Jean Fischer who oversaw the building of the Basic School at Mwandi while he was head of the Senanga Trade School took us up into the mountains for a delicious fondue and to enjoy the view from the summit down to the Lake and the city.

The next day we took the TGV to Nimes via Lyon where we met another old friend, Rev Francois Escande, who was formerly a Minister at Mwandi. Mwandi Mission is actually the oldest Mission in Zambia, being opened by the Paris Evangelical Mission Society in 1885. One thing you are always conscious of at a Mission are those who have lived and worked on the station before you, whose work, in a way, you are continuing, so we have enjoyed the fellowship in meeting up with some of our predecessors at Mwandi. Francois, like Philippe and Jean, has been busy with the book.

In Nimes, a beautiful town with a well-preserved Roman arena and temple, we spent a great afternoon and evening with Lucienne Lawton Girard who was a Missionary in Western Province for many years and retired home to France just last year.

The following morning we were welcomed at the HQ of CEVAA (the Community of Churches in Apostolic Mission) in Montpelier by Celestin Kiki the Secretary General and Philippe Girardet, the Projects Secretary. The French Church has been very helpful and supportive of our work at Mwandi and so this was a good opportunity to visit them to say thank you for recent support with the classroom block which they had helped to build for the High School. It was a good meeting with a pledge for further aid towards the Admin Block and the Youth Centre. After a stroll through the town centre with its impressive Arc de Triomphe and Roman aqueduct and a good lunch we set off for a few days break with Keith's brother at Perpignan.

We wanted to visit friends in Normandy on our way home on Friday but were prevented from moving out of Perignan until Monday because of the French August Holidays starting at the weekend. On Wednesday we travelled back to London by Eurostar. Interesting that the Metro-fare from Gare Ste Lazare to Gare du Nord cost 1.10 Euros per ticket, a similar journey on London Underground, in spite of British taxpayer subsidy, from St Pancreas to Marylebone costs GBP4.00!

Finally another French Connection nearer home: Le Monde Diplomatique for August 2010 has a good article on what they call ‘social apartheid’ in Glasgow by Julien Brygo entitled Living the Good life in the Midst of Poverty. He says that in a de-industrialised Scotland the wealthy suburbs of Glasgow enjoy an incongruous prosperity in comparison with the decay found in the poorer housing schemes. Brygo believes the situation is reminiscent of the 19th Century where the lower orders were kept firmly in their place, and toffs thought that a bit of charity and philanthropy was enough to salve their conscience and maintain the status quo.

Are we surprised, in today’s Britain where 18 of 23 members of the 'Austerity Cabinet' in the Westminster government are millionaires and whose collective wealth according to the Sunday Times amounts to over 59 million Euros? As Robert Burns appositely points out in 'To A Louse', it is good sometimes to see oorsels as ithers see us.

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