I am writing to you from Albertville, France, where my husband Jeff and I, along with our four courageous kids, are currently living and going to school. Albertville is a quaint town in the French Alps surrounded by snow-capped mountains and alpine meadows, with a world-class bakery on every corner. Despite the lovely surroundings, I wake up every morning and ask myself, "What am I doing here? Why did we move our family to France? How are my kids going to handle all of this transition?"
The answer that always pops into my head, "France is a stepping stone, be patient." The definition of the phrase "stepping stone" is: 1) an action or event that helps one make progress toward a specific goal; or 2) raised stone(s) used to cross a stream or muddy area.
My husband Jeff and I are in France learning French so that we can work more effectively with our Togolese and Malian partners, and thus make a greater contribution to GPiH's commitment to establishing clean water sources and providing access to sustainable and consistent medical care in Francophone West Africa. The language school we are attending specializes in teaching French to missionaries very rapidly and effectively, so that after 2-3 semesters of language learning, they are able to move to French speaking countries and begin their mission work. We have to constantly remind ourselves and each other that we are making progress toward our specified goals. Many times that progress is so painfully slow, like at the grocery store when you tell the guy with one item he can go behind you instead of in front of you in line, or you think you nail your best French at the sporting goods store only to have the clerk say, "That's okay, I speak a little English." Wait a minute, how did he know I speak English? I was speaking to him in French!
I do want to be clear that stepping stones are not the waiting room at the DMV or the line at the post office. There is much in life to experience and much to learn about while in a season of stepping on stones. There have been so many rewarding aspects of my medical career in family practice including working with the underserved in rural Colorado and refugees in the Denver Metro area that have also been stepping stones on the path to West Africa.
In my refugee practice, I had many French speaking patients from Democratic Republic of Congo and Central Africa Republic who helped me a little with French, but more importantly helped me to understand how little humanitarian aid goes to Francophone African countries. The women I cared for had the most compelling personal accounts of the danger and detrimental effects of the long walks to get water, and the fear, loss, and grief associated with birthing in a hut without a trained birth attendant and losing children to illness and traumas that could be easily treated.
I am happy to be working with GPiH and their host country partners to bring clean water and access to medical care into areas that need it most. Language school thus far is a "stepping stone" for Jeff and I as used in both definitions. It is not only helping us to make progress toward our goals, but also providing a safe place to step as we cross a stream into the purpose driven path that lies ahead for our family. We thank you for your involvement with GPiH.
Dr. Angela Haas
Director of Medical Education