Part Thirteen in the Derailleur Series
Perhaps some order is in order. The chronology of my mission went like this: Mons, Belgium – three months; Seraing, Belgium – a week; Brussels – three months; Nancy, France – three months; Tourcoing, France – three months; Charleroi, Belgium – three months; Reims, France – three months.
Seraing was short-lived for reasons due to a missionary snafu in Brussels. Rumor had it that a certain elder woke up to find his companion levitated above his bed. That elder later called our mission president to tell him he was going home, from La Guardia Airport in New York City, so I was part of the shuffle. In Nancy, I was part of a zone leader companionship where we traveled to surrounding areas to work, including Luxembourg. While we lived in Tourcoing, France, we actually worked in Mouscron, Belgium.
I died in Reims with the best elders and sisters I’d come to know in the Belgium, Brussels Mission.
Despite the quotidian rejection in Mouscron, every Wednesday brought along a bright spot, and her name was Suzanne. I know, but it’s not what you think. And like Pierre and Karren and Isabelle, Suzanne is not her real name.
About a year before my arrival to Tourcoing and my luggage’s scattering amongst the tribes of France, the elders working the district of Mouscron tracted her out in a wealthy and established quartier. Suzanne and her husband and children had been tracted-out before.
My spell-check is telling me this might not be a term with which you are familiar; tracted, tracting, tracted-out. It’s how we as Mormon missionaries proselyted in Northern Europe, and much of the world for that matter, duly being constantly confused with Jehova’s Witnesses working the same M.O., door-to-door, shoulders to the wheel, engaged in the work of the Lord. This particular quartier was very active given the area’s agitation with religion, wearing down, I’m sure, the manners and politeness of Belgium’s better-healed civilians, not the least of which was Suzanne’s husband.
Upon leaving Tourcoing/Mouscron, Suzanne gave me a little red book, her story that she had written for me, in long hand, bound by thread with a photograph of the author at work attached to the last page. It was an account of her meeting the missionaries, first rebuffed by her husband, and then excused from their door a number of times, though not without something to warm them up.
Suzanne’s conscience worked on her – if she was, as she claimed, a Christian, her refusal to listen to the Americans was no indication of it, so she tracked them down to their address, 100 rue Carnot in Tourcoing and happened to stop by on the one and only day they’d be there in the afternoon, on P-day, the P standing for preparation – a day for shopping, laundry and diversions, like playing Risk.
She invited them to her home and they showed up the following week. Her husband wasn’t keen on their visit having come home to the remnants of the meal she prepared for them and expressed his opinions against the Americans and having them in their home. Suzanne wasn’t about to tell him they were returning the following Wednesday.
And they did, again and again, and through their visits and challenges, Suzanne felt, incredulously she adds, that what they were teaching her was true. This brought about her dilemma, because as much as she felt convicted about the restoration of the gospel, she could not join its church because her husband would not allow it, and the church would not allow it if he didn’t. So, Suzanne lived as if she were a member, but without the advantages of membership – she paid tithing and fast offerings, she followed the church’s health code abstaining from coffee and alcohol, tobacco not being a vice for her. But, as one can imagine anywhere in Europe, denying coffee and wine bordered on the absurd.
She read scriptures daily and prayed, and at the writing of her little red book, was at the anniversary of doing so, a year as a dry Mormon. She maintained her visits with the missionaries and I was lucky enough to become one of them, invited into her home every Wednesday for steak and frites, the best meal of the week.
It didn’t take long to love Suzanne in a way of awe, respect and admiration. The weekly steak and frites didn’t hurt, but once you felt inside her circle, you knew your place was safe and valued. She had extraordinary children, reflecting her gentle and smart ways. She had a disposition of cheer and grace that always made it difficult to leave her home.
I never once during that time thought it odd the Suzanne couldn’t join the Mormon Church of her own accord. It never bothered me that she needed permission from her husband to do so. It was simply an unfortunate condition of her mortal circumstances, leaving it all to that magical time when things will get sorted out in the end.