Fan the Flame!

by Alyce McKenzie on Monday, February 11, 2019

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you- unless you have come to believe in vain…” (1 Corinthians 15:1,2)

Some years ago I got a call from Milton Gutierrez, then the pastor at First UMC, Allen where our family attends worship weekly. “Alyce, there is a young pastor visiting this week from Cameroon. His name is Jean Daniel Belong. He is a native French speaker, but also is pretty good with English. He is the director of youth ministries for the United Methodist Church in Cameroon. Would you take him on a tour of Perkins School of Theology one day this week? He thinks he would like to study there someday.”

“I’d be happy to,” I told Pastor Milton. “I can subject him to my high school French on the drive to SMU,” I said, in what I meant as a joke.

I made some phone calls and set up visits with Dean William Lawrence, the Admissions office, and the library staff for a library tour. I picked Jean up bright and early Monday morning at the church. After the greetings, once we were buckled into our seat belts, he said with an eager smile, “Pastor Milton tells me you speak French. This makes me so happy. I have been in the US for 3 weeks and not been able to speak my language. I look forward to today.”

“Oh, no,… it’s been many years.”

“It will come back to you. Please, let us converse.”

So I made a leap, not exactly of faith. I started talking. When you haven’t spoken a language for more years than I care to reveal, you tend to forget some really basic things. Like nouns. And adjectives.

I am not sure what all I told poor Jean on the half hour drive from Allen to SMU.

Thinking back on it, I think I told him that Dean Lawrence was a very pretty man.

I think I told him that I had three husbands, two female and one male,  one who lived in an apartment near my home,  one who was a senior at SMU living with four college women in a house in Dallas, and  a seventeen year old boy who still lived with me.

I discovered that I did remember numbers pretty clearly.

He asked me how old I was and I told him — 35.

After a long day of meeting the Dean, tours of the library, and meeting with the Admissions staff Jean and I returned to the church in Allen and I delivered him back to Pastor Milton.

“How was her French?” Milton asked.

I cringed, thinking “Please don’t tell him it was great,” because who wants a pity compliment? “But please don’t tell him how badly I butchered one of the world’s most beautiful languages.”

Jean thought for a long moment, then he gave the perfect answer, the truth.

“It is like in my village the women tend a fire. It never goes out completely. There is a glowing underneath, ashes on top. One must push the sticks together to get the fire going again. Pastor Alyce has a good foundation, but she needs practice.”

That is a good word for us preachers! We need practice to get and keep the fire going in our preaching ministries, practice at prayer and study, practice at observation of daily life for relatable images and scenes. The month of February is host to Valentine’s Day, largely a Hallmark Holiday, but still, a good opportunity to express our gratitude to those we care for, keeping the flame burning in our friendships and family relationships.

I was browsing in the Valentine Card aisle at Kroger. I found cards for the people I am grateful for. But there was no card that thanked God for the gift of preaching, by which God continues to communicate challenge and hope through frail, flawed human beings. I guess the best way to thank God is to follow Paul and Jean Daniel’s advice: “Pastor Alyce has a good foundation, but she needs practice.”

Fan the flame, and blessings on your practice of preaching in the months ahead!


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