On 21 October, I received the dreaded text from a friend in Paris: “Come now. Danielle is in bad condition.” Danielle, the woman I called “my French mom,” was at the end of her battle with pancreatic cancer; Jesus was calling her home.
Due to financial constraints and work responsibilities, I had not been to visit her in over a year. I felt guilty and prayed that God would allow me to comfort and encourage the woman who had so many times before encouraged me.
I flew to Paris from NYC on 25 October and went straight to her home in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. I had been with my grandmother and then, years later, with my uncle in this most frightening of life’s moments. I knew the feelings of helplessness and anger one felt watching a loved one pass into that existence known as eternity. But I also knew death would not be victorious, not ultimately.
Five days after I arrived, Danielle went to be with her Creator. Her funeral was held at l’Église Évangélique Baptiste, Paris, and attended by nearly hundred friends and church family. It was a special honor to give testimony of Danielle’s impact on my life. Below is the English version of my testimony of love for a woman worthy of much love:
Danielle was beautiful in life and in death. She was a woman of extraordinary faith and generosity. She considered her home God’s home, and her life a sacrifice and offering to God. Though she had no children of her own, she birthed many in Christ and helped many other to grow up in the Lord. I stand here as a representative of the many women, and indeed men, who saw her as a mother.
I was first introduced to Danielle in 2007. I went with a mutual friend Lila, a doctoral student from Brazil, to the prayer meeting in Danielle’s house. I didn’t understand much French. I was a new missionary to the tennis players and I only stayed in Paris for a few weeks at a time. But, Danielle welcomed me and accepted me immediately. She had no concern that I couldn’t speak French. All that mattered to her was that we were family in Jesus.
When Lila and her family returned to Brazil in 2009, Danielle opened her home to me. My mission work was very difficult and there was not always a clear way to minister to the tennis players. Often, I returned to Danielle’s apartment in tears after a long day at Roland-Garros or Stade Coubertin. Danielle, in her beautiful way, would make me tea and then open her Bible. In those moments, she would feed me with the Word of God and my perspective would be changed. And after we prayed together, the mission work would not seem so difficult, and my heart would believe again that God would change hard hearts, even the most resistant hearts.
Danielle was beautiful not because she wore the right clothes or the had the right hairstyle. She was beautiful because the Holy Spirit dwelt inside her heart. The love and the mercy that she had for others was from God. She loved because God loved her. Her heart was big because God had made it so.
All of us have been blessed by Danielle’s love and all of us have had some darkness chased away because of the light that was in Danielle. To sit at her table, to eat the food she had prepared, to pray with her, to receive an email or a phone call from her, was to have the light of Christ shine on you.
When I arrived last Thursday at Danielle’s home, I did not know what condition Danielle would be in. I prayed for one more moment with her. God was good to grant this wish and more. I entered the apartment and immediately, Danielle called me to her bedside. She could not sit up but she wanted to hold my hand. When I took her hand in mine, she began to pray. SHE gave thanks to God for His goodness and love, prayed for me! It should have been me praying for her! But such was this beautiful woman of God. Always she thought of Jesus and other people.
May we all shine like Danielle in this dark world and give of ourselves and of our homes, even asking strangers to eat with us. This is how we know love and experience love by giving like Danielle gave, and like her Savior Jesus gave…without hesitation or thought of self.
The Love of God is Danielle’s legacy. And her children, her sisters, her brothers…her husband will go on blessing others around the world because of her life of sacrifice lived by the power of the love for God.