As a history lover it shames me to say that I never knew much about the French – South African connection. When Olivia and I felt called to France it felt very random. If you asked us about France we could have told you about the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon and croissants, but that would pretty much have summed up what we knew about the country. It was only as our hearts began to grow more and more for the French people that we began to learn more of their history, and we have been nothing short of enthralled with the story.
This space won’t do any justice to the rich history of France but to briefly summarise one aspect, we were fascinated by the history of the French Protestant believers known as the Huguenots. These believers faced such tremendous persecution in France for their faith that they eventually fled the country, many of them to South Africa. They settled in the country and many of the Afrikaans families in South Africa today can trace their roots back to these Huguenot refugees.
I am a Vorster and Olivia was a Pretorius, Swiss-German and Dutch roots respectively so we were never aware of any French connection. It was only as we began to look into our family trees that all the names began to jump out, Joubert, Du Plessis, Du Preez, Viljoen, all Huguenot ancestors, all grand mothers to great-grandmothers (or great-great, etc) who are a part of our line. This has intrigued me for sometime so it has been a dream of mine for several years to visit the Huguenot museum in Franschoek and learn a little more. This dream became a reality for us last month and we loved the experience. Among other things, one thing caught my attention. We noticed that some of the Huguenot families had come from Grenoble and I said to Olivia, “Let’s see who”. I was astounded to see that one of the Viljoens had originated from there, someone who was a direct ancestor!
Now I want to pause here and hold two things in tension. The first is that Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and tells Timothy to instruct them “not to devote themselves to endless genealogies”. So I want to make it clear that this isn’t the focus of this post. The tension is that while we don’t want to devote ourselves to endless genealogies we also want to recognise that we serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A God of many generations. A God who was and is the same yesterday, today and forever.
God made a promise to Abraham that was only fulfilled hundreds of years later in Christ. In fact there are numerous accounts of this in the Old Testament. God making a promise that only gets fulfilled by the generations to come. Even blessings and curses had generational implications. In scripture there are several places where God asks that we remember what He has done, in Joshua 4 He instructs the Israelite's to build a memorial of twelve stones that "These stones be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Why is that? All I can think is that when I face something today where I wonder if God will come through, I can remember that He came through yesterday, and the day before that, and always as far back as I can see which renews my faith that He will come through again today, tomorrow and always.
When I look at the history of the Huguenots I can only imagine what they must have felt as they fled their country. Did they wonder what would happen to France? Was there a sense of hope or assurance that one day France would again embrace Christ or did they feel hopelessness and despair? It boggles my mind to think that almost 400 years later, in the 500 year anniversary of the reformation that descendants of those who fled Grenoble (and many other cities in France) now return with the Gospel kept alive abroad while France largely rejected it. It is fascinating to see that there are many Huguenot descendants in the last few years who suddenly feel a drawing from the Lord to return to France.
These thoughts cause me to realise again and again that God has a much larger plan for the nations than we are ever aware of. It gives me hope that when we receive promises from Him that they will come to fulfilment even if what we see in front of us right now might seem very different. It humbles me when I reflect and realise that each of us plays a small part of a much larger whole.
It takes me to the place of confession where I can say,
“God has a plan. He is in control.”
Above: Luc and Henri outside the museum in Franschoek.
If you want to learn more about the Huguenots, check out our ministry page. UPFSA has produced an outstanding resource which they have allowed us to share.
1. When I became we
2. Step on to the water
3. This little light of mine
4. Luc, I am your father
5. A light to our path
6. Next to a stranger
7. Empty cupboards and croissants
8. Musings after the monument
9. Baby steps
10. Through the window
12. Crossing the road
13. Who am I?
14. Sticks and stones
15. Lost and Found
16. A Fixed Point
17. Les Poux
18. Pain au chocolat
19. Notre Dame
20. The temple to all the gods
21. The Palace
22. Dead Emperor, living King