LINDSBORG, KS (May 7, 2010) – Bob and Carolyn Easley experienced their own version of the film “European Vacation” when their recent flight from Belgium to the United States was canceled due to volcanic ash that grounded planes throughout Europe.
They also – unexpectedly – gained a better understanding of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s mission work on the continent.
Although the Easleys, who attend Lindsborg Covenant Church, learned in advance that they would not be able to board their scheduled flight back to their quaint Kansas town, they went to airport anyway, where they obtained reservations for a flight scheduled several days later.
“There was no guarantee that the airports would be open even then, but it was a plan,” Carolyn says. After securing their reservations, the Easleys emailed Barbara Swanson, a Covenant missionary in Belgium, for suggestions on how they could occupy their time as well as where they might find inexpensive housing for the rest of their unscheduled stay.
The couple didn’t hear back immediately, so they decided to purchase a train ticket to Paris. As they were saying goodbye to her parents, Swanson called. The Easleys told her they were scheduled to take the 9:13 a.m. train from Brussels to Paris.
“She told us to look for the Covenant Eurovision 2010 group, which was scheduled on the very same train,” Carolyn says. The Eurovision program is designed to introduce pastors and lay leaders to what God is doing in Europe through the work of Covenant missionaries.
When the Easleys arrived at the station the next morning, they were surprised when the conductor instructed them to board an earlier train to Paris. “We pulled our two suitcases – 50 pounds each – plus two carry-ons onto the train and fell into the comfortable cushioned seats.”
The train never moved. “After several French and German announcements, we were the only ones left sitting on the train. We decided to make a mad dash up and down several stairways carrying the 100 pounds of luggage to try to catch the 9:13 train.” (They later learned the Eurovision group also had been on the earlier train and had to hurry to catch the 9:13 departure).
Exhausted, the couple once again collapsed into their seats.
Twenty minutes later, they heard an announcement in French that ended with “Robert and Carolyn Easley,” Carolyn recalls. “Understanding only our names, we proceeded to walk through 11 cars until we arrived at the snack/dining car.”
John Kerl, the Covenant regional coordinator for Europe and Russia, greeted them. He told them the volcanic ash that kept the Easleys from returning to Kansas also had prevented a Covenanter in the United States from traveling to participate in the Eurovision trip. He asked the Easleys if the couple wanted to take his place.
“We were in for quite a treat – not your typical tourist junket – but one which revealed God’s light and love in a city that possibly might have looked totally different to us had we visited it on our own,” Carolyn says.
“Speaking in French, John cancelled our hotel reservation and made a reservation for us at the Defap Protestant Mission house, where the group would be staying.” The group would need their rest.
From 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. the next day, missionaries Francisco and Stephanie Ramos introduced them to two very different ministries.
La Fonderie was started in 2001, with the goal “to assemble artists from a Christian confession; to explore the ties between art, culture and faith, to encourage artists to deepen their spiritual and moral values; to assist the artists while they are in training, studying and practicing their art, preparing and supporting them spiritually for the challenging professions related to their art form; and inspiring them as they work in the Christian community and in the cultural marketplace.”
The ministry includes a weekly discipleship time of testimony, scripture reading, worship, and a meal. A monthly Sunday worship service is held to meet the needs of those who have not found a church home.
It also operates Le Pave, a multifunctional art space. The accompanying photo, taken during a tour of the La Pave facilities, shows (from left) Carolyn, Francisco Ramos, and Bob. The art pieces hanging behind the trio were painted by Francisco.
Le Pave is located in an old church building now used for expositions, concerts and theatre productions. The space is located only blocks from the Musee du Louvre (the Louvre Museum).
They also were able to spend time learning how the Covenant church works with the immigrant population in France, which has grown rapidly over recent years, many coming from Northern Africa. Carolyn says she learned from missionaries that “immigrants are lured by the promise of work and a better life, but with the economic downturn, most have remained poor and uneducated.”
Carolyn adds that she developed a better sense of how cultural differences, when misunderstood, lead to discrimination, conflict, and division.
The Easleys caught a train back to Brussels the next day and were able to fly back to the United States. “On our flight home, we reflected on how thankful we were to be a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which supports missionaries in Europe and all over the world as they go and make disciples of all nations.”
World Mission offers Vision Trips to other mission areas around the world. Trips still available for the coming year are Colombia, which will run from August 20-31, and Japan, scheduled for September 25 to October 4. There are ongoing conversations about opportunities to travel to Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Congo, and East Asia in the future, says Karen Hallberg, World Mission director of mobilization and connection.
“We hope Vision Trips to Covenant World Mission partners will grow participants’ understanding of how God is already at work in the world and give them eyes to see, hearts to serve, and minds to engage in Christ’s kingdom,” Hallberg says. “For those who have traveled, there has been tremendous enthusiasm for the Covenant’s global mission and a new or renewed perspective on how the local church can enter into that work.”