We came here with the intention of ministering in French, mostly to French people. That's why we went to language school to learn French to a level where you can speak in French to a group of people for about 1/2 hour and reasonably expect to be understood, to hold the attention and convey something worth saying.
Not easy. It was hard work.
We were aware of the opportunities and need for ministry in English and we're very willing to do that, but that isn't why we came here.
So it is that I found myself last weekend (for an example)
a) Doing the Alpha course talk on "Why Jesus died" in French to a group who were largely French.
b) Doing the Christianity Explored study on "Grace" in French to a group of mainland Chinese.
c) Preaching in French to a group from all over the world.
d) Preaching in English to a group from all over the world.
I love it. While I sometimes get deeply confused and very frustrated, I am very much where I should be and I know it. My life is like a Bible crossword puzzle. And it's very exciting !
For example, let's think of the Chinese.
When we arrived in 2005 there was a nice little Chinese group here in Bordeaux. Over the years various people have arrived to the point where there is a group of almost 30 students meeting regularly with three men of various and complementary gifts leading the group.
They have a real heart for evangelism and God has blessed so that there are a handful of people wanting to be baptised. We encouraged the group to talk to the Chinese churches in Paris. The Chinese churches in Paris encouraged them to talk to us.
So the group is coming closer to the church here and has asked us to look after the question of baptism and also to teach the group. Hence Christianity Explored, so that those seeking baptism can be taught to trust the grace of God wholeheartedly. Soon we'll start to preach systematically for the group.
But I don't speak Chinese, and neither does Dik, the official denominational pastor here. Both of us are French learners and neither of us is about to add Mandarin to our linguistic salad. It's already fruity enough !
So what are we doing, preaching and teaching in French to Chinese students who have only just started their studies in French themselves and who sometimes struggle to understand ?
We're training Christian workers for China, that's what we're doing.
I can't go to China and I can't learn Mandarin. But these folk are learning about the God of grace and learning to love and trust and serve his Son with all their hearts. And they're Chinese, and they'll go back to China and they'll live and speak of the grace of God wherever they go, with cultural sensitivity and a good Chinese accent.
I translated the Christianity Explored Easy English handbook into French for them. It was not easy - I am not a good translator, I'm a better interpreter. Samuel, my French friend, checked the translation for me and I printed out and stapled the booklets. It's a real brainteaser trying to explain things in the simplest French possible, but also being faithful to Bible truth. When they ask questions I have to listen really hard so I can understand them.
It's hard graft, I can tell you. But I LOVE it !