“Claire and Laurence Küsseling of Gournay, France,” Friend, Jan. 2000, 15
In France, it isn’t unusual to see sleek sports cars whizzing around the streets. But it is unusual to see a large family van driving down the road—with a father, a mother, and seven children squeezed into it.
Many families in France have only one or two children. People are often surprised to learn that Bishop Michel Küsseling and his wife, Pascale, have seven.
The Küsselings live near Paris, in Gournay, a beautiful town of about six thousand people. They are members of the Torcy Ward, Paris France East Stake. There’s a row of child-sized bicycles in their driveway. In the backyard are trees to climb and a slide to play on.
There are four boys and three girls in the family. Julien (13) is a deacon who likes to swim. Jérome (12) is also a deacon; he likes to swim and to play the piano. Next come twin girls (10): Claire plays the flute and likes ballet; Laurence also plays the flute but prefers swimming to dancing. Marie (9) likes to dance and to play the piano. Christophe (6) is learning judo, and Nicolas (4) likes to play ball.
“I always wanted to have a large family, even before I was a member of the Church,” Sister Küsseling said. “I love children.”
“The most difficult time,” Bishop Küsseling laughed, “was when Marie was born, and the twins were only a year old. We suddenly had three girls nearly the same age. They became a little jealous of each other because I had three girls to hold and only two knees to hold them on!”
Large families can have lots of challenges but also lots of blessings. On the challenging side, sometimes the children need to have patience when Mom and Dad are busy with the others. And sometimes brothers and sisters tease one another.
On the positive side, there’s always somebody to play with or to work alongside. “I’ve always had lots of brothers and sisters,” says Laurence. “For me, it seems normal. It’s nice to have older children and younger children in the family. That way, we all learn from each other and help each other.”
And there are plenty of family members to share assignments for family home evening. “We try to give each child a responsibility every Monday evening,” Sister Küsseling said. “Someone leads the music; someone tries to find something for the lesson; somebody makes a treat for refreshments. They all try to participate.” Family home evening is also a time to share things the children have learned or made at church.
The twins love to go to Primary. “I learn about Jesus, about His life and what He did,” Laurence said. “And we learn about Joseph Smith. He translated the Book of Mormon and organized the Church when it was restored. I believe he was a prophet.”
The children enjoy stories from L’Étoile (now the Liahona), the Church magazine in French. They also read the scriptures together and have family prayer. And they love to sing. Laurence’s favorite song is “Love One Another.”* Claire’s favorite is “Silent Night.”† “I love Christmas,” she says, “because we remember the birth of Jesus and can all be together. That’s important to me.”
Bishop Küsseling has been a member of the Church all his life. As a young man, he served a mission in New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific. Sister Küsseling, a counselor in the ward Primary presidency, was baptized sixteen years ago and is the only member of the Church in her family. Brother and Sister Küsseling were married in the Bern Switzerland Temple. Claire said that it’s a wonderful feeling to know that their family can be together forever.
Claire is also thankful for many other blessings that come with being a member of the Church. When she was three years old, she became extremely ill and began having seizures. “We were very frightened,” says Sister Küsseling. “Her dad gave her a blessing, and then we took her to the hospital. The next day she was well. She hasn’t had any seizures since.”
Claire can’t remember that incident, but she knows that she was healed through the power of the priesthood. She does remember another time when the priesthood was especially important in her life—when her father baptized her. “It made me happier than before,” she said. “I knew that my sins could be forgiven.
“I have seen my father bless and baptize the children in our family, and bless other people in the ward who are sick or need a blessing. He also gives us blessings when we start a new year at school. When he does, I know I will have a good year at school.”
Laurence said, “I believe that Heavenly Father hears me when I pray. He has answered my prayers. We prayed when our father lost his job a month and a half ago. We all prayed for him to get a new job, and he got a new job in two weeks!”
Both Claire and Laurence like to study math, and both are good students. Although they are the only Latter-day Saints in their school, they have learned to choose friends who have similar standards and values, and they have talked with some of them about the Church. “Since my parents and relatives are not members of the Church,” says Sister Küsseling, “the children often bear their testimonies to their uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents.”
And they try to show by their actions that they are followers of Jesus Christ. For example, they often help their neighbor, an elderly man who lives alone. They help carry his groceries into his house because they worry that he might fall. And they help feed his dog. In return, he lets them eat cherries from his tree.
“I’ve learned in church to be polite,” Laurence said. “The gospel teaches me to be kinder to people around me, including my family.”
Most of all, Claire and Laurence each want to be the kind of mother their own mother is. They are glad to be part of a family that people notice. Some may notice the Küsselings because of the size of their family or because of the car they drive. But more importantly, people notice them for their love for one another and for their efforts to live the gospel.