To Congo Via France

A letter from Martha Sommers in the U.S., leaving for language study in France prior to service in the Democratic Republic of Congo

August 2015

Write to Martha Sommers

Individuals:  Give online to E200526 for Martha Sommers’ sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507157for Martha Sommers’ sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Bonjour mes amis,
Aujourd’hui je vai en France.

I begin my six months of French study in Besancon, France, on Monday!

As I do last-minute preparations, my mind goes back to the first time I traveled to Europe to study, 30 years ago. I remember standing alone in line at the British Airways counter and realizing I had one too many bags. What to do? I had neither money to pay for excess baggage nor someone to give my extra bag to, to take home. So I decided to strap my small backpack to the top of my large backpack so they would together count as one piece of luggage. This worked, although there was a mishap along the way. When I put this large awkward sack on my back, I fell backwards. Although not hurt, I found myself on the floor of a very busy O’Hare Airport, like a turtle on its back, scrambling to roll over.

Visit to local museum with Karen Gill

Visit to local museum with Karen Gill

As I awaited my very delayed flight, I made a delightful friend, Ellen, who I would later visit in Scotland; and my sister Mary and her husband took the train out to the airport to meet me, creating a festive atmosphere until boarding time.

My lessons to take with me from this memory: Inconveniences sometimes lead to comic stories if I remember to laugh at myself. There will be new friends to meet along the way. Celebrating is good.

Great chats at send-off party

Great chats at send-off party

My sister Mary continues to festively send me off. This past Sunday she organized a delightful party for me with her daughter, Greta, and friend Rhona Jacobs. She, and many of you, are great at reminding me to break my task-oriented “to do” list with play and fun. I love how so many of my church visits during mission interpretation have combined prayer, discussions, play, and other activities as we journey together.

I am a little nervous, and very excited, to be a student at Centre De Linguistique Applique. I am hoping I can concentrate for the five hours in the classes each day; I already know that exams are motivators for me. I have received welcoming notes from Claudie, whose home I will be staying in, and look forward to meeting her and her household. The plan is for me to start with basic French, and then progress to medical professional French, which I will need for my role as a medical education consultant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Centre De Lingustique Applique has ties to the medical community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Some of you may know the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and of the many heroes of the Reformed Church of France during the Nazi occupation. During this challenging time the small village of Le Chambon and the surrounding area provided refuge for 5,000 Jews. I became aware of this example of humanity at its best through visiting PC(USA) churches with ties to France and through the family stories of Rutgers Presbyterian Church elder Christine Gorman, whose family history includes amazing heroism in this region of France during that time. The distance does not look so far on the map from Besancon, so I hope to visit. This will allow me to honor, celebrate, and perhaps gain understanding of how these Christian communities, often discriminated in their own country, joined together to protect the persecuted.

Great Falls with Burke friends

Great Falls with Burke friends

I also hope to enjoy the food, wine, and meeting new folks. I plan to limit my English communication during this time, so that my mind will be focused on absorbing French, yet I will still be writing my prayer letters in English…with a bit of French.

I am so grateful for all of your support and financial gifts that make this opportunity to learn French possible. As I begin this new journey of faith, your prayers, your emails and your financial gifts are a constant source of encouragement.  If you are not already supporting this ministry, please consider becoming part of my support team.

Will sign off for now, as is done on the videos of “French With Alexa,”
“Au Revoir, Salud, Bisou Bisou…”


The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 156
Read more about Martha Sommers’ ministry

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?