Standing outside Purdue University’s Elliott Hall a half-hour before morning worship July 12 at United Church of Christ’s National Youth Event, pastor Jean-Luc Cremer raised his left arm halfway, glanced at his watch, looked up and smiled.
"When you say, 'Meet us at 9:15,' they are here at 9:15," said Cremer with a French accent, pointing to the 18 French youth headed in his direction. For the group that Cremer and pastors Nicolas Baud and Hugues Girardey of the Reformed Church of France are chaperoning this week, the time had come for an exciting international experience, via NYE.
Minutes before entering the auditorium to hear J.R. Martinez’s keynote address, the French delegation – some from Grenoble, others from the Lyon area – were happily becoming acclimated to their immersion.
"For now, we don't do too many things," said French youth Bendji Roger, speaking in English and sporting a Dodgers baseball cap. "We just got off the plane not long ago. Now we are here, and our first discovery of America is just here."
Others, speaking in their native French, began to express their sentiments. Cremer, translating into English, captured their essence. “‘The feeling is very exciting here,’ they are saying,” Cremer said.
Music and motivating worship are two of the biggest NYE take-aways for the French delegation.
"I love the gospel music," said Raphael Tenaud in English. "Before this, I had never heard it. Yes, it's a new experience."
On another musical note, sisters Diane and Lucila Zola and Claire Bourguignon said they took part in a gospel workshop. "They made us feel like a family altogether," said Diane Zola. "We felt welcome here."
The group also said it was moved by Lolisa Gibson’s speech at the July 11 evening plenary, discussing her brave battle with HIV/AIDS.
Nearly two years in the making, the French connection was secured in large part by the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel, pastor of Evangelical Reformed UCC in Frederick, Md.; and two other Maryland UCC churches in the UCC’s Catoctin Association –– Faith UCC in Frederick, Md.; and Glade UCC in Walkersville, Md.
"Next week, when we do our trip to Washington, D.C., the other area churches working on this are going to a baseball game with us and also to Gettysburg," said Daniel. "Not only are we welcoming our French friends, but we're also learning a lot more about our UCC friends."
In addition to the D.C., journey, the group will visit New York City and participate in a work camp in West Virginia.
The Catoctin Association, along with Global Ministries, helped fund NYE registrations for the group, said Daniel. The Association also underwrote a large portion of transportation costs, and a grant of $6,000 from Global Ministries also was received.
And the fun won't stop there: Cremer said the French are already looking forward to hosting their Maryland friends next summer at Le Grand Kiffe – a youth event held every four years and typically drawing 1,500 to Lyon, France.
"The young Americans will be our guests next July during our Reformed Protestant Church youth event," said Cremer. "The title of it will be 'You are the light of the world.'"