Missionary Diary: a cardboard box of exquisite treasure

Kate Morris reflects on nine years in France, living for most of that time in the city of Lille, working for the gospel with her husband and three kids. They have now returned to Australia for the foreseeable future.  

Icy flecks of frozen rain melted into shivering droplets on the cardboard box I carried as I dashed out of the frigid cold and up the stairs to my apartment. The click of the turning lock sent excited children and guests to greet me – did I have it? Yes! Someone took the the box and we all hurried to the bench to look inside. I’d been to Méert, a patisserie in Lille over 300 years old and famous for its exquisite desserts. The box was opened to reveal five edible works of art: wonderful treasure in a cardboard box. Twisted tempered chocolate, caramel orbs, vanilla custard with praline, flaky pastry, sugared nuts: every element was perfectly crafted – France knows desserts. But I can’t tell you much about the cardboard box they came in – it was the bearer of the treasure, not the treasure itself.

God has shown me time and again that I am a cardboard box he has mercifully used to carry his wonderful treasure. The treasure is the words of eternal life, a message that is not about me but about Jesus. There were times I’d find myself caught up in questions of how I looked and sounded, thinking I needed to be something special to win people over. But 2 Corinthians 4:1-10 has always been a helpful corrector, particularly verse 10: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay (or modern cardboard food boxes!), to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” When I was acutely aware of my weaknesses, my inabilities, I needed to remind myself that I don’t drag down the treasure I speak; indeed my weaknesses and inabilities mean the power and wonder of the gospel can be on full view. I’ve seen this in my life and the lives of brothers and sisters around me.

Mark, who was a member of our church in Lille, was great at living this, always ready to speak this wonderful gospel. He joyfully shared the gospel with anyone who would listen. His smile did not fade and his conviction did not waver, even as cancer began to ravage his body. He knew that it did not matter at all if his own body failed and faded; it was just the clay jar. The strength and beauty of the gospel were eternal and untouchable. Through cracked lips, body held up by weakening muscles, he told his nurses of this treasure. Our last conversation with him was a week before he died last year. He encouraged us to keep pressing on, bearing this beautiful treasure wherever we go, never being discouraged.

… she trusted that her own abilities would not hinder the gospel, that God is pleased to use us feeble humans in his mission.

I think of Susannah, a young student in high school not far from where we lived. She deeply understands the value of the treasure. She’s not distracted by her own weaknesses. Like many French Christians, she’s the only one in her whole school of many hundreds of students who is a Christian. There are so few Christians in France; many youth across France are in a similar situation. Susannah decided to start a weekly Bible study that she could invite students from school to. Scripture is banned in public schools and religion or religious content is banned from public media, so many of the students have no idea what the Bible is about. Although she is the only Christian there, she was not afraid that friends might ask tough questions that she couldn’t answer, was not afraid that there may be concepts that would be hard to explain, she trusted that her own abilities would not hinder the gospel, that God is pleased to use us feeble humans in his mission. She knew that she didn’t need to wait until she’d had years of experience and training to speak the gospel; she knew it’s not about her. 2 Cor 4:5 and 7: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake … We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

There were times when we really did not feel up to the task of working in France. Early on, we felt all our language and cultural mistakes. We would remind each other that God used a donkey to speak his words once! When language was no longer a hindrance, we were still exhausted by life, faced sickness, cared for newborns (two of our children were born there), went through Covid lockdowns and suffered burnout. But the gospel inspired us to press on and also reminded us that we were never asked to be super-human, that our human limitations are, in fact, part of God’s plan to show the wonder of the gospel.

When we decided to leave France, it was hard to let go and leave. There is still so much to be done. Many of our non-Christian friends have told us they don’t know other people who are Christians by more than just name, whose lives have been changed by the gospel. It’s easy to think God needs us there for them. Then there’s our brothers and sisters in Lille and across France who work so hard for the gospel and we leave them short-handed. It’s easy to think God needs us there for them too. Yet it was by God’s mercy and kindness that he did use us there, but our absence certainly won’t restrict his powerful gospel!

God is not restricted by the few workers in France, he will have his word spoken! But we do pray for more workers to join the work there.

God works wonders to bring his gospel to his people, with or without us. A friend at our church in Lille told us how the gospel came to his family. When his grandfather was young, he was a hairdresser and he travelled to Paris for some time for training. While there, he met a missionary who shared the gospel with him and gave him a Bible. He took it back to Lille and shared this great news with his local priest. The priest burned the Bible in front of him! Not discouraged, he asked the missionary for another Bible the next time he was in Paris. Again he returned and again he asked his priest to read it with him. Again the Bible was burned in front of him! A third time he went to Paris and was again given a Bible, but this time he read it alone. He found treasure within as God taught him of the wonders of the gospel. He taught this to his family and friends. God wanted to bring the gospel to this family so he used a worker in another city to do his work! Even now, two generations later, God is using this family as workers for the gospel in Lille; they’re hard-working, faithful Christians. We know God is not restricted by the few workers in France, he will have his word spoken! But we do pray for more workers to join the work there.

The Morris Family

Daniel and Kate Morris with their children: Emily, Hannah and Ethan.

And so we leave France full of thanks to God for his treasure, full of thanks that he has placed his word in the mouths of his people and uses us to speak it. Words that don’t rely on how we look or speak. Words that don’t need to be adjusted to make us look better or to make them sound better. Words of power and hope. Words we can speak in France or in Australia or anywhere. Words that should always take the spotlight, not us. We have the great privilege of being a cardboard box filled with exquisite treasure to offer wherever we are in this world.