France

May God Bring Beauty from Ashes in France

The mourning began almost in unison with the fire. As the first sparks flew, Parisians stopped in their tracks, trying to believe what they were seeing. Notre Dame was burning.

Hundreds of cell phones streamed images to the watching world. The grief was not limited to the Parisians or to the French, but was felt on every continent. We all sat horrified and stupefied as the spire collapsed in on the iconic cathedral.

Onlookers sang hymns and shed tears. Strangers embraced one another. And people all over the world uploaded photos on to social media of themselves in front of Notre Dame’s western towers. A honeymoon. A semester abroad. A European vacation. Notre Dame is special to so many people from so many places.

Even as 400 firefighters gained control of the fire, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged, “I'm telling you all tonight -- we will rebuild this cathedral together. Notre Dame is our history, it's our literature, it's our imagery.”

As one mourner put it, “Paris without the cathedral is not Paris anymore.” That’s because the cathedral has stood witness for over 850 years, as French generations have come and gone. And, it is the literal center of Paris—it stands as kilometer zero on the map and all other destinations in France are measured by their distance from Notre Dame.

The cathedral is a witness, a true north, a heritage of the French.

Notre Dame is precious partly because it houses history. It sits on the Île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the River Seine, which has been important since the Roman Empire two millennia ago. The cornerstone for Notre Dame was laid in 1163, construction was completed in 1260, and the cathedral was consecrated by the Catholic church in 1345. The shape of the cathedral ebbed with the flow of various Popes and Bishops during the 200 years of construction, making it an expansive landscape of various architectural styles and whims. Restoration projects have been ongoing since after the French Revolution and continue even today.

Notre Dame is also precious because it’s home to many national treasures: France’s largest organ (nearly 7,374 pipes!), immense rose stained glass windows, dozens of paintings and carvings depicting scenes from the Bible, twin bell towers, and a treasury of Catholic relics in the archaeological crypt.

Notre Dame is no ordinary French cathedral. Notre Dame is the symbol, the heart, of a nation.

And it’s not just a Catholic symbol. While Notre Dame was originally constructed by the Catholic church, it later fell into the hands of the Cult of Reason and then into the hands of the Cult of the Supreme Being. The purpose of Notre Dame evolved during the French Revolution, first for the elevation of human reason and then for the worship of an unknown supreme being. Later, Notre Dame even became a storehouse for food before Napolean Bonaparte restored it to the Catholic Church and crowned himself emperor inside its very walls.

So, sentimentality is expected in the face of this fire. Harm has come to the French witness, their heritage, their symbol of both human achievement and faith in God. Heartbreak is warranted and we all weep with the French.

But this weeping over the fire is not really a mourning over the household of God, because that purpose was willingly done away with before. From Catholic Cathedral, to cultic temple, to a storehouse of food, and now to what amounts to a museum visited by 13 million people a year and the site of daily mass—Notre Dame has not been practically consecrated to the Lord for some time.

Here’s what’s true, though: how ever the French have purposed Notre Dame throughout the ages, God has not needed and still does not need a physical home. He was not removed by the Cult of Reason, or by the Cult of the Supreme Being, or by the storehouse of food, or by the millions who visited last year. Because, “the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).

The church is not a building. The church is a people.

French Christians “are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The cornerstone of Notre Dame was laid in 1163, but the cornerstone Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Now, we Christ followers are “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Notre Dame is not God’s house in Paris. Christians are.

So yes, let’s mourn. Absolutely, let’s rightly mourn the destruction of a beautiful building, an expression of human ingenuity, a testament to human will throughout history. A place that once housed and sometimes still houses worshippers of the one true God. It is good and right to grieve the loss of centuries of work and beauty, to weep over the demise of works of art that bear truth from the Word of God. Grief and horror and heartache are all right as we wake up to the charred remains of this exceptional cathedral.

But as we weep, let’s not mourn the loss of the church in the burning of Notre Dame. Because, the truth is, in France, the church has been dying for some time. The truth is, Christianity was rejected in exchange for atheism starting in the 1700s. The truth is, secularism in France has long been codified by laïcité, the French law that forbids the influence of religion on the government. The truth is, the most recent data reveals that at least 29% of the France’s population is atheist and 63% is non-religious. The truth is, today, only 1.23% of the population in France calls themselves Evangelical Christian.

Today we rightly mourn the destruction of a beautiful and iconic building, but have we yet rightly mourned the destruction of the true church? Have we yet rightly mourned the demise of the real temple of God in France? Have we yet wept over the slow, but real, death of Christianity there?

May the videos and images of a burning Notre Dame awaken the global church to pray for France. May the heartache of a nation mobilize Christians from around the globe to “go and make disciples of [France], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). May we be moved by compassion to console a weeping people and lead them to “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Perhaps the Lord will allow beauty to rise from the literal ashes of Notre Dame. Perhaps our weeping will be turned to rejoicing. Perhaps as the cathedral is rebuilt, the true church will be revived. Perhaps our resurrection God will bring life from death in Paris, France.

Jesus longs to bring healing to France and to the entire world. Let’s pray the words of Isaiah 61, echoed in Jesus’s sermon in Luke 4, for the French and for all who have yet to believe:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

    because the Lord has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;

    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,

    and the day of vengeance of our God;

    to comfort all who mourn;

to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;

that they may be called oaks of righteousness,

    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Today, as we scour the internet for footage from France, let’s ask our Father in heaven to bring beauty from ashes. Let’s pray, fast, give, and even consider going in joyful obedience to proclaim Christ in a dark and hurting place.

Our God in heaven is the Creator of France and he longs to be the Redeemer too. He longs to rebuild his church there.

Beauty from ashes. May it be so.

In Post-Christian France the Worship Void Has Not Remained Empty

When a society rejects God, they will worship something else. Or, as apologist Alister McGrath puts it, they will transcendentalize an alternative. The absence of Christianity in France does not mean the absence of worship. 

 

The Current (non)Religious Picture in France 

 

How The French Painted their Nonreligious Picture

The nonreligious commitment of the French people is not a new development, nor was it birthed from a void. The secular national identity was decidedly embraced in the French Revolution (May 5, 1789 – Nov 9, 1799). As the populace threw off the constraints of traditional religion—Papal Supremacy and oppression by the church and the state—they enthroned reason as ultimate. 

Laïcité is perhaps now the god of France. It means secularism and is enshrined in the French constitution. Article 1 declares that France is a secular republic. Laïcité washes over all facets of French life and religion is largely taboo. Religion is neither respected nor spoken of in polite company. Indeed, courts across the country regularly penalize the religious for bringing their beliefs into the public square. 

 

The Rise of the Occult

While the Revolution did away with religion and reason triumphed, the occult was quickly on its heals. Like McGrath said, people will worship something

Numbers are hard to come by, but both the French and foreigners residing there will tell you that the occult is present. Psychics are easy to find—a simple Yelp search in Paris provides hundreds of options. Clairvoyants, tarot card readers, palm readers, and mediums practice across the country. 

Because astrology is viewed to be couched in science and not religion, the occult is not taboo. The void left by traditional religion has been filled to overflowing with superstition and New Age spirituality. Even paganism, with roots in ancient Celtic cultures who inhabited the same geography as modern-day France, is acceptable. 

Missionaries throughout France report encounters with seekers who have either left the occult or are still engaged in practices of the occult. There is indeed a spiritual battle being waged for souls in France. The country stands witness to the truth that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Join the spiritual battle for France through prayer: make supplication for all the saints… that words may be given to [them] in opening [their] mouth[s] boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-19). 

 

Proclaiming Christ Where Pilgrims Seek Healing From Mary

Every year, 6 million people make a pilgrimage to a rural town in southwestern France. Up to 25,000 people visit daily during peak season. Those with both obvious and hidden illness come from all over the world in hopes of healing in the Pyrenees.

Lourdes is home to a cave with a natural spring of what’s believed to be healing waters. The Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to a young girl in the cave in 1858. Today, 160 years later, 350,000 people bathe in the waters every year, 7,000 people have asked the Catholic Church to confirm their healings as a miracle, and 69 miraculous healings have been authenticated by the church. 

 

When the Virgin Mary Visited Lourdes

A young girl of 14, named Bernadette, claimed that on February 11, 1858 a small woman wearing a white robe and blue sash with a rosary in hand and yellow roses on her feet appeared to her. The apparition asked Bernadette to pray the rosary with her. 

Bernadette said the apparition was the Virgin Mary and she appeared to her 17 more times that year. She once asked for a chapel to be built at the place of her appearances and another time told Bernadette to dig a hole in that exact place and to drink and wash in the spring that came up. Locals say a few days after Bernadette dug the spring a woman immersed her injured arm in the water and was miraculously healed. 

After an investigation was conducted by the church into Bernadette’s story, it was determined to be true and she was canonized as a saint in 1933. The Pope officially venerated Lourdes in 1870 and called for a cathedral to be built there. Now multiple cathedrals and chapels cover the grounds near the grotto.

 

Visiting Lourdes Today

Masses of hopeful people come from all walks of life to visit the grotto. Buddhists and Hindus, Catholics and superstitious are there. The wealthy and poor are there. Young and old. Black and white. Western and eastern. They all walk together—unified in their hope and expectation of healing. They fly, drive, and walk far for their chance to be miraculously restored.

Everyday, the diverse throngs of pilgrims wind their way up the narrow streets of Lourdes to get to the shrine. Merchants sell all manner of souvenirs and knick knacks. Everything from mugs, to night lights, to snow globes don images of Mary appearing to Bernadette in the Lourdes Grotto. 

Travelers can purchase empty water vessels ranging in size from pocket jars all the way up to five-gallon vats to take up to the spring. The holy water runs through a system of pipes and out the side of the mountain where people can collect it from dozens of faucets, wash in it, or take it back home with them to a loved one in need.

Also for sale in every shop are candles—from small votives up to massive 5 foot pillars. Pilgrims carry them to the grotto and light them nearby, as a symbol of their prayers for the sick. Thousands of candles bear witness to sickness all over the globe. The larger ones hold the names of loved ones who’ve been prayed for there. 

There’s a bathhouse next to the grotto. A waiting room outside hosts the infirm: children on stretchers, elderly in wheelchairs, men and women with walkers. They eagerly await their once-in-a-lifetime chance to be immersed in the healing waters of Our Lady of Lourdes. 

 

Planting a Church Among a Desensitized People

For followers of Jesus Christ, the atmosphere in Lourdes is dark and discouraging. Christians know that it is “the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26). The determination and expectation of 6 million pilgrims a year feels overwhelming.

The one and only Pioneers missionary there says, “In my town Mary takes Jesus’ place on the cross. People come from far and wide to bring honor to her, to ask her for healing, to pray to her. This is all the locals of this rural town in the mountains know: not Jesus, just millions of Catholic pilgrims from the whole world with their Mary statues, rosaries, and holy water. What should church look like for people who have been completely desensitized to the Gospel?” 

Even now, that question is being answered. A house church gathers every other weekend in Lourdes. A small, but faithful, group meets in the home of the missionary there to worship, hear the Word of God proclaimed, and pray for one another. There is hope. 

Sights are set on a building for sale in the center of town. An empty cafe sits just meters from where trains from all over Europe stop for pilgrims to disembark. The few Christians in Lourdes dream of buying it, renovating it, and bringing life to Lourdes. 

The cafe would shine the true Light and welcome visitors to ponder Him who really heals. It would be a place where what has been used for harm is redeemed—a place where those who expect to meet Mary, instead have an encounter Jesus Christ who is, in fact, alive. A place where those who seek the healing of a physical infirmity, would instead receive restoration for their souls. 

Pray with Pioneers that this cafe would be given into the hands of the church, if that is God’s will. Pray that it would be a place where those who seek temporary healing, actually receive eternal healing. A place to meet and believe in the Son so they may “not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). A place where those who want healed bodies actually get healed souls.

Witness to a savior, may France seek The Savior

As Holy Week commenced last week, the nation of France mourned the loss of a savior. The world knows now that Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame died at the hands of a jihadist in Trebes, France, when he exchanged his life for that of a female hostage. 

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

The jihadist in Trebes had already killed two hostages and was threatening the life of a third, when Beltrame entered the grocery store, unarmed, and exchanged his life for hers. About two hours later, Beltrame was shot and stabbed. He died in the hospital, following unsuccessful treatment to save his life. 

Beltrame’s mother and brother both said they were not surprised by his actions—their beloved son and brother was known for his service to others. “He has always been like this,” his mother said in an interview with the French radio network RTL.

Jesus said, "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). 

On Saturday before Palm Sunday, Gérard Collomb, France’s Interior Minister said on Twitter, “France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice.” 

As France rightly honors this fallen savior, may the nation be drawn to the Savior. May God himself be exalted in this man’s life and death. 

The Evangelical population in France is a mere 1.08%. Further, 29% of the population calls themselves atheists and 63% say they are non-religious

Pray with Pioneers in Europe for France. Pray that as they laud Beltrame’s gift of earthly salvation for one woman, they would seek eternal salvation available to all. Pray for our workers across the nation—for faithfulness and fruit from their labors. 

Pray that the eyes of the hearts of many in France would be opened to the truth that without Christ, they too are held hostage and are in great need of a Savior who willingly exchanged his life for theirs. 

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

 

Photo credit: standard.co.uk 

87 Villages.  7 Valleys.  1 Church Plant.

This is complicated terrain.  From 420m to 3298m altitude, this region in the mountains has no evangelical church.  I'm not in the Himalayas or some obscure country in Africa.  This is Europe.  And yet it seems almost surreal to think that there are places in Europe where there is limited access to the Gospel.

 

These 87 villages and 7 valleys have never been considered reached. Not ever.  Rife with sorcery and occultism and with local traditions & beliefs that run deeper than Catholicism ever will, the Pyrenees mountains in France remains a dark place in desperate need of the Light of the Gospel.  

But how does one reach 87 villages and 7 valleys?  "Les Cairns".  Our loving Father gave our team this powerful image as we founded our church here 6 months ago.  A "cairn" is a small pile of stones gathered on the side of a path, to show hikers where to go.  And so we, the church, are called to be gatherings of Living Stones who show that Jesus is the Way.

Each valley needs a cairn, a gathering of believers that live out the Gospel together in their local community.  And then, once a month all the cairns ("Les Cairns"), join together in celebration.

Right now we are one cairn.  But our prayer is that every valley would have a cairn and every village a Gospel witness.

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."  Matthew 9:37.

Coffee with Mohammed: One North African's Faith Journey in France

“I used to go to the mosque all the time.  I said all the prayers, but they are nonsense.  The guys don’t know what they are doing.  I said the prayers but my heart wasn’t in it,” Mohammed—Momo for short—told a Pioneer over coffee in France a couple weeks ago.

Momo attends a French language class taught by a Pioneer in France.  A Kabyle Algerian (the same as Augustine), Momo attends the class with students from Pakistan, Tunisia, Egypt, Arminia, Angola, and Sudan.  Like some of the others, Momo cannot read or write French, but he can speak it.  Like the others, he never finished high school.  Some in his class have only received a fourth or fifth grade education in their home country.  

The Pioneer finds that teaching French to newcomers is a ministry of bridge building.  Though French is not his native language, he has been in the country for a couple decades and knows that if his students can learn to speak, read, and write French they will have greater opportunities to work and navigate their new community.  He seeks to not only impart the French language, but to befriend his students, encouraging them as they adapt to new surroundings.   

Momo texted his French teacher on New Year’s Day and they met for coffee.  When asked if he reads the Koran, Momo responded, “I hate the Koran.”  Momo went on to explain that, from his perspective, the Arab Muslims in his city impose Islam on the other Arabs.  He called them “Fundamentalist” and “dangerous.”

“When I left the mosque they harassed me,” Momo said to the Pioneer, “but now they don’t mess with me anymore.  They know not to.”  Momo shared that he is actually a Christian now.  He heard about the faith on YouTube.  He has a Bible and when he has questions about what he reads, he uses Google to find the answers.  

The Pioneer hopes to grow in his friendship with Momo.  He wants to not only help him with French, but to begin discipling him, provide him with solid teaching and apologetics, and even help Momo see the importance of sharing his faith with other Muslims.  The Pioneer laments that it can be hard to find teachable hearts amongst those like Momo.  After years of ministering to Arabs and North Africans, he says that the men especially tend to be very independent, they don’t like authority, and when they become believers they pursue autonomy because they have a disdain for those who remain in Islam.  The heart’s desire of this Pioneer is to shepherd his friend, see spiritual growth in him, and—Lord willing—see him share his faith with his own people group residing in France. 

Momo and this Pioneer are not unique—their scenario is duplicated all over France and throughout Europe.  Many Muslims are like Momo was—their hearts are not in Islam.  And many who have come to Christ struggle with pursuing and receiving community in Christ.  

Pray for both Muslims and missionaries in Europe: 

  • That Muslims would awaken to the Truth of Jesus Christ (John 14:6)
  • That former Muslims who are now in Christ would be tender towards discipleship (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)
  • For this Pioneer worker and Momo—that they would start reading the Word together and that Momo would receive encouragement and instruction from his older brother in the faith (Colossians 1:28)
  • That Momo and others like him would be burdened for the other Arabs and North Africans in their city and they would preach Christ to their fellow countrymen (Acts 1:8)
  • That older Muslim-background believers would take on the role of discipler, evangelist, and pastor (Ephesians 4:11-12)

 

  • For more workers in the field—there are countless others like Momo in Europe (Matthew 9:38)
  • That Christians around the globe would answer the call to be bridge builders in France and beyond (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • That missionaries would persevere in their calling to learn French and Arab to reach across cultural and linguistic barriers with the Gospel (Philippians 4:13)
  • That missionaries would have the long view of their work and be empowered by the Spirit in the daily, difficult struggles on the mission field (Colossians 1:11-12)
  • That the Pioneer in this story—and others like him—would “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9)

A La Miracles

From a Pioneers in Europe Field Worker in France

If I said the words “Madonna and Lourdes” you might start thinking about the controversial singer and her daughter.  But did you know that Lourdes is a town in France that is captivated by worship of The Madonna, the mother of Jesus?

Lourdes is a Catholic town with a population of around 15,000 people.  It hosts almost six million pilgrims every year, who come seeking the Virgin Mary for healing. It was here in Lourdes in 1858 that fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw apparitions of a lady who declared herself to be the Immaculate Conception. Nearly 800 years before, the region had been given to the authority of the Virgin Mary. Today the town is filled with hotels and religious souvenir shops for pilgrims, and the entire economy of Lourdes is dependent on the business of Mary-worship.

There hasn't been a Protestant church in Lourdes for more than 35 years.  In 2015, a Pioneers team moved into town.  The team is led by Australian Pioneers worker Lauren, and they have been labouring through prayer and relationship building over many years towards the goal the Lord placed on their hearts: that Jesus would be worshipped by a body of believers in Lourdes.  This has required a battle in the heavenly realms, as they are facing an opposition that is felt, but often unseen.  But praise God, greater is he that is in us! We are excited to share that on the 10th December 2016 the new evangelical church was launched in Lourdes with a Christmas gathering.  Official services will begin in 2017.

Please pray for the new church in Lourdes, as they establish a light in the darkness. They will be coming across much opposition, so pray that their faith will stay strong and that they would be led by God's wisdom.  Pray too for another worker, Hannah, as she prepares to join the team.  She will be gathering a support network to pray for her and support her financially. 

7 Things to Know and Pray for Nice, France

We are waking up this morning to the realization that yesterday’s terrorist attack in Nice, France was not a nightmare.  It was very real.  Here are seven things provided by Pioneers International missionaries in France to keep in mind as you ponder and pray for those affected by the attack in Nice: 

1.  Most people around the world think of Nice as a glamorous beach vacation destination, home to mansions, yachts, and movie stars.  But Nice is also home to a significant Muslim population (France has the largest percentage of Muslims as compared to their total population in the EU). Nice is the second largest French city on the Mediterranean, after Marseilles, which is the most Muslim French city with a 20% Muslim population.  The Joshua Project says that Nice is a “formerly or falsely reached” city.  

2.  This attack follows the Charlie Hedbo newspaper attack (killing 12) in January 2015 and the attacks on the Bataclan Theatre and Stade de France (killing 130) in November 2015.  The people of France are grieving deeply and again

3.  Pioneers International missionaries in France report that people are increasingly afraid and have little faith in politicians to protect them from such heinous, random, and unpredictable acts of barbary.  These events trigger strong feelings of fatalism and despair, a feeling that the world is spinning out of control, leading the secular French to often turn to astrology and sorcery for guidance.  Without a deep faith in the Lord people are filled with fear.  

4.  Pioneers International has a team in Nice ministering to the Muslim population.  Situations like this—terrorist attacks done in the name of Islam—cause many moderate Muslims to question their faith in a supposed religion of peace.  Ask the Lord to provoke Muslims across France to seek God and question their faith.  

5.  There are small churches in Nice who will be assisting those who are grieving.  Ask the Lord to allow these small congregations to be a source of His love and that many would see the compassion of local believers.  Ask the Lord for open doors for the Gospel

6.  Pray that the authors of this attack and the mosque associated with the attacker’s radicalization would be soon identified and respective imams and mosque leaders deported, as that is increasingly how France deals with terrorists.

7.  Pioneers International has 12 other teams in France working in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Bayonne, Lourdes, Lilles, and Nantes.  They minister among other Muslim populations and also agnostics and cultural Catholics.  Operation World reports that France has an Evangelical population of less than 1%.  Pray that they would be able to minister to an increasingly fearful France and that France would turn to the Lord and be filled with a peace that surpasses understanding.