A cuppa with …. Joy French

I am really excited about today’s interview because she has been an unintentional positive influence on the way I view motherhood and mission.  Please do read on and I will explain why at the end!!!  (P.s. if you missed last weeks cuppa with michelle pannell catch it here)

It’s really nice to meet you – please introduce yourself to us all!  
Hi there, I’m Joy. I turned 40 last year, but in my head I still think I’m 22. I’m a trainee pioneer vicar, which means that I’m learning how to lead churches that think outside of the box. I’m the only girl in a house full of boys. As a result, I only allow female pets and Godchildren! (2 hamsters, a puppy and 5 God-daughters so far…)

Where do you live and what do you like/loathe about it?  
We live in Sheffield and we’ve been here for 21 years now, since I came as a student in 1995. People often think that Sheffield is an industrial city, but the thing that I fell in love with is how green it is, and how many parks there are. We also have the Peak District on our doorstep, which is a massive bonus.

How many kids do you have? 
I am Mum to Isaac, who is 16, Caleb, who is 14 and Moses who is 7. I love them all to bits, and they have each taught me so much. People often talk about the teenage years being a challenge, which they can be, but I love teenagers. I love watching them grow into who they are going to become, and I love laughing with them and being able to be more real about the complexities of life than you can be when they are small. Having Moses alongside the teenagers is lots of fun – he absolutely loves his brothers and their friends. He is a real character and is always making us laugh. As a three year old, we were in a queue for a slide at the swimming pool when he out of nowhere kissed the butt-cheek of a rather large lady ahead of him in the queue. Just last week he announced whilst in the shower that he wanted to learn the bagpipes…There is never a dull moment with that boy!

What is the best thing about motherhood for you?
The absolute best thing about being a mum for me is watching my children grow into totally different characters, and seeing their unique gifts, abilities and ways of seeing the world develop. I enjoy getting to know each one of them as an individual and helping them to pursue their passions. I love it when I get the chance to spend quality time with them doing things that we both enjoy. We are all big Coldplay fans in our house, and I took Isaac and Caleb to their gig recently. I knew they would want to stand near the front rather than have seats so we went for it, and stood for 6 hours! It was an amazing night that we all really valued. We’ll really treasure those memories.

And what is the worst thing?! 
I think the worst thing about motherhood for me is those times when life is stressful and relationships are strained. One of my children was very seriously ill a couple of years ago, and it was an incredibly stressful time. It was during this period that I realized how much I struggle with conflict – I love to be surrounded with harmonious relationships, and my family are quite into banter and happy to have loud debate and conflict. I’m wired differently, and I find it a real challenge. Also, realizing that I’ve passed on some of my bad habits – like my terrible skills with time – to my children is a real bummer! 

How do you try to help your children connect with God and the bible?
Over the years we’ve done this in various ways. When my big boys were small, we ran a cell-group for a while with some of their school friends, many of whom weren’t from church families. We’ve also been involved in church ministry for a number of years, so our boys were involved in helping us to lead – either doing the PA, or being involved in some of the grunt-work of putting out chairs or tidying up. We’ve always tried to be real with them about our faith journey, and not to hide those times when we’ve had questions. We encourage them to be honest and to ask questions too. More recently, we were running a youth group for a couple of years for our kids and their friends. In many ways, it’s not ideal to be running your own kids youth group, but it seemed to work for us. In the group we ran Youth Alpha, and taught the kids to pray for one another. It has been a huge privilege to be allowed to share in this way with our kids and their friends.

What is your “mission-field” at the moment? 
Over the last year, our family has been in a period of transition as we moved from the church where we had both served on staff and are now part of a new church as part of my vicar training. This means that we’ve needed to disengage from mission that we were very passionate about in our previous church, and this has been a real challenge. In my new church, I’m about to initiate a project that uses donated food from supermarkets to make a community meal once a week. The project hasn’t started yet, but I’m excited to see who we gather and how relationships develop in the community. 

I also like to use social media in a missional way. I was recently at a party where a lady I hardly know said “I don’t know you, and I don’t believe in God, but I like everything you write on Facebook and I want to talk about why you believe what you believe.” That was a great way in to a conversation about faith! I think it’s good to use social media intentionally – not to curate this idea of a perfect life, but to thoughtfully share from the heart things that we are passionate about. 

What causes or activities are you particularly passionate about and why?
I have been massively impacted by the refugee crisis. So much so that I kind of accidentally set up a project in response to the pictures we were seeing in the news of destitute children. I began Project Paddington (www.projectpaddington.com) last September as a way of enabling children to respond with kindness to the refugee crisis. The initial idea was for children to send one of their teddies with a personal note to a refugee child. When I started it, I thought we might send a couple of boxes of teddies to Calais. In the end, we sent over 20,000 teddies to Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon and raised over £60,000. I have handed over the reins of the project now so that I can continue my training, but Project Paddington has continued to raise money for refugee children and their families, and they are running an art and writing competition for refugee week on the theme of “From Scared to Safe” (More details on the website). Running Project Paddington was a huge challenge, but it taught me so much. One of the things I learned is that however unqualified and out of our depth we may feel, it is possible to have an impact, albeit small. As Mother Theresa is reported to have said, we may feel that what we are doing is a tiny drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be smaller without that drop! 

Thanks so much for having a cuppa with me!
Joy is also the co-author of one of my favourite books – “Ordinary Mum, Extraordinary Mission” which I reviewed here on my blog a couple of years ago – read the review and please do buy the book!

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