Just as planned, I spent my 4th year (1997-98) as an English Teacher in Paris, France at an inner city middle school with a high Muslim immigrant population.
Until recently I would have said the difference between Aix-en-Provence in 91-91 and Paris in 97-98 was that I only went to church once in Aix but my faith exploded in Paris. But that’s a little unfair.
I couldn’t find a church in Aix where I could actually understand what they were saying. But God provided real life “church” in the love relationship with the Vivaldi family.
Paris , on the other hand, was extreme in all ways. I started the year all wrong. The city was so big and exciting and temptation was everywhere. I was still partying and sleeping around. Where was my determination to change? Before I arrived I had vowed o start fresh with God.
I should have known I would have to fight through adversity for my faith. The first week I was there two women died. Two women I greatly admired for their leadership in focusing the eyes of the world on the needy. Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.
The first week my students, their parents, 2 of Agnes’ fellow English teachers, and my new Principal all tried to get me to go back home. My supporters told me their colleagues were afraid my students might be significantly more successful than theirs. So they set out from day one to sabotage me in Paris and at home. After I cried I prayed. After I prayed I got serious about Jesus.
I found a church where I understood the words but also the worship and the call to discipleship. Paris is where I realized that when we accept Christ the journey is just beginning because it takes time, experience, and often adversity to become like Jesus. I had finally come to see how much of a babe in Christ I was and how much I needed God. I began to realize I could only be happy and at peace by living out His plan and purpose for me.
Things never got easier that year. In fact, in December my exchange partner Agnes threatened to come home after only one semester. She admitted she had been ill and had expected a change of scenery in an easy exchange. SC high school students are definitely not easy. Friends in the US and I convinced her to stay but our relationship never improved.
Eventually after getting advice from other teachers my performance teaching English improved. I had never before had to make up my own lesson plans and materials, homework, and tests from scratch. For 6th-10th graders! In a foreign language!
Then a month before the end of the exchange disaster struck. I had several problem students who were pretty much forced to be at school and took out their frustrations on me. The worst was a girl who was already repeating 7th grade.
Embarrassed and uncomfortable in her own skin she lashed out at me daily. I often sent her away early to the Principal. She had even accused another teacher of hitting her a few weeks earlier but the other students testified to his innocence. This particular day I ejected her from class, sending her to the principal.
She showed him a bruised and said I had given it to her. He called me that night and explained her accusation. Then he forbade me to return to the school. I was undone. I was angry and embarrassed. I couldn’t believe I was being punished with no inquiry or opportunity to defend myself.
I learned from one of the other teacher that everyone knew I was innocent. The PE teacher had seen the child bruise herself in a fall earlier and the other students in my class testified to my innocence. The Principal had been looking for a way to get rid of me and this was his excuse. See, in France, Principals are held accountable for their students’ academic successes and failures. He was afraid I would cause him to be censured or punished if my students tested poorly at the end of the year.
No charges were ever filed and I was so hurt I didn’t insist he take me back.
Really I was just too worn down to fight for myself.
Agnes influenced my employers. I received my contract but it didn’t indicate a placement. I knew then they were trying to get rid of me based on the rumors and lies they had ‘heard’ from Agnes colleagues. So I found myself alone, jobless, homeless, and emotionally destroyed in a foreign country.
I clung to Jesus like never before. I had been attending Mass daily for months.