Madame Talent: A Remembrance -- By: Gilbert Bilezikian
PP 28:2 (Spring 2014) p. 23
Madame Talent: A Remembrance
Gilbert Bilezikian (ThD, Boston University) is Professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus at Wheaton College in Illinois. He is the author of The Liberated Gospel (1977), Beyond Sex Roles (1985), Christianity 101 (1993) Community 101 (1997), and numerous articles. He was a founding leader of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the fastest-growing and most innovative churches in the nation.
To a young boy living in Paris during the German occupation, every day was a struggle for survival. Because of the scarcity of food, hunger had become a relentless torment. Almost daily, older people in our neighborhood were reported to have died of deprivation. The lack of fuel to heat homes and schools rendered lethal the exceptionally harsh winters of 1941 and 1942. Adults went about gaunt and listless. Children did not learn to play, to run, and to laugh. Tall strangers in green uniforms paraded around under the display of their twisted, satanic cross. Their heavy steel helmets, the daggers hanging from their wide black leather belts, their rough voices, and their hard faces struck terror into the depths of our beings. Pervasive fear, gnawing want, and hopelessness permeated every aspect of our existence.
Unexpectedly, a tiny ray of light broke through the surrounding darkness. My beleaguered widower father insisted that I attend the Sunday School, which was run by Chapelle Milton, a small Protestant church now defunct that was located just a few blocks away from our home. The church ritual seemed meaningless, but the children’s hour transported me into a colorful world of peace and gentleness that illumined the grassy hills around an ancient lake. The hungry were fed, the sick and maimed were healed, children were loved, and storms were calmed. I was offered a Bible by the teacher of my class. Three-quarters of a century later, it lies open here on my desk as I write these words. I did read it avidly and discovered the man from God at the center of the story. He won my heart and soon became my secret friend.
Among the brave adults who taught us was an older woman called Madame Talent. She was the widow of a French soldier who had been killed in the trenches of Verdun during World War I. There really was nothing remarkable about her that could have justified her name. She was a plain-looking woman with a round face, short and slicked-down hair for simplicity. Hot or cold, indoors or outside, she always wore the same long, dark coat made of some shiny material held tightly together with a vertical row of tiny buttons in front; a black cloche hat that framed perfectly the shape of her face; thin boots, high on the ankles and secured by networks of stringy b...
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