Showing posts from 2004

France and the gospel

John Calvin was a Frenchman and his great work, "The Institutes of the Christian Religion", was addressed to the King of France to inform him of the true nature of the reformed faith. France was extensively evangelised during the reformation period, and many cities in France became strongly protestant. However, this was seen as a threat to the unity and the peace of the country ("Une foi, une loi, un roi"), and war broke out, including scenes of horror like the St Bartholomew's Day massacre and the siege of La Rochelle. Many protestants left France, and gospel Christianity became limited to certain areas in the south of the country like the Cevennes, parts of Aquitaine and Savoy. The rise of secularism following the 1789 revolution, and the prominence of atheistic philosophies in the country made France difficult soil for faith to grow in and the Catholic church declined dramatically. Paradoxically, the occult, alternative therapies and esoteric philosophi

France facts

France includes over 500,000 sq km of land and it has just over 60 million people. About 20% of them live in or near Paris. Life expectancy is 75 (men), 83 (women). France is a secular democratic republic; the monarchy was removed in 1789. It is the largest country in Western Europe. It has almost the same population as the UK, but more than twice the area of land. France has a Celtic past and many French place names come from a Celtic root. Then the Romans came and brought their Latin language. Later the Franks invaded from the north east and it was their influence that gave the French language its characteristic sound. Since then people have come from everywhere to settle in France! France has a long Christian heritage, with such notable people as Irenaeus of Lyons, Martin of Tours, Bernard of Cluny, Bernard of Clairvaux, William Farel and even Calvin himself. The papal court spent almost the whole 14th century at Avignon , and the enormous papal palace can be seen to this day.

Another kind of call!

We just attended the UFM autumn weekend at Nantwich, when people who are seriously considering cross-cultural mission gather for encouragement and information. There I met a couple I know from one of our North Wales churches. They have a remarkable story to tell. They had been considering buying a second home in Turkey ready for their eventual retirement. They have spent holidays there. So they went to Turkey again to find somewhere to buy. While there they found all sorts of useful conversations developing with the local people about the Lord Jesus Christ. Their grasp of the language was increasing. They began to wonder whether their retirement would become an overseas mission engagement instead. And they found an apartment to buy. On their return they spoke to their pastor about what had happened. He was thrilled and spoke to the director of the mission. And so on.. All in just a few short months! Pray for them and also for the small church they belong to here.

What's it like applying to a mission?

In a word, rigorous. I had never experienced such a rigorous process, though I had three different jobs in commerce before entering Christian ministry. There are large application forms to complete - covering personal and doctrinal matters. Also there are personal and doctrinal interviews, based on the forms. Then there is the medical and psychological assessment, conducted in London at Interhealth. Up to this point, Pat and I had separate forms, examinations and interviews. Finally there is the Council Interview, when you appear together before the Mission Council. (This was made slightly less daunting for me because I knew almost half the people there already.) At the conclusion of this interview you know if you will be joining the mission team. Considering the number and size of forms, and the number of interviews and examinations, I am quite surprised that it all got done in less than 8 weeks! We were welcomed into the mission on July 8.

Spying out the land

Bordeaux has the virtue of being relatively accessible from North Wales - at least compared to, say, Papua New Guinea or Patagonia. So in July 2003 I went to spend a few days looking at the place. I am not sure if this was a good idea or not. Well, yes it was, really. I saw the evident spiritual need. The masses of young people (about 100,000 students at last count). The affluence and style of the shopping streets. The narrow back streets where people live. The suburbs, which looked like ... suburbs. Some outlying towns. But we live in a really pleasant, quiet kind of place. Bordeaux is big and busy - and at the time I went it was ONE BIG BUILDING SITE. They were putting in the tramways. I wondered if it was right to take my family from our pleasant home and nice school and from Cymru annwyl to live down some alley in a big southern city in France. Some hard thought and hard prayer. And yes, we decided it was right. And we won't necessarily end up living down an a

More about why

There's more to say about the mission call. (and how!) Mission societies have been saying for some time that we ought to send our pastors for overseas mission. Some church members say similar things ;-) Now we are not the most experienced pastoral couple in the world - 13 years is not a lifetime. But it is 13 years. And it has been interesting and encouraging to know of several "settled pastors" uprooting to serve overseas. It is really important for every Christian to consider where they may best serve the Lord Jesus Christ. I have been very impressed by the way that some pastors consider each year whether they are best serving the Lord Jesus Christ by remaining in the church where they are settled. Should they consider serving overseas? I didn't used to think like that each year, I admit! It took rather more pushing than that! So once we got over the shock, going to serve in France seemed the most reasonable and sensible thing in the world to do. The church

so what did we do about it?

please remember, none of this is recommendation! And I am not saying I would do it the same way again, either.. In fact, I hope never to have to do it again at all!! Firstly I spoke with a friend who knows me, knows the church and knows UFM. I "confessed" to them my thoughts about working in France, and also my misgivings and concerns (was I mad or bad...) They were supportive and encouraged me to think further, to pray, and to talk to them again when things had moved on further. Only after that did I talk to Pat about it. Pat had the power of veto, but she was very supportive. We went together to some conferences to find out more. Some months later I spoke to the elders of the church here. Neither of them was surprised - one had thought we would end up working in Spain, a thought shared by others in the church we later found out. I visited Bordeaux to "spy out the land". This raised some matters that needed talking through in the family and with friends

so what does a mission call feel like?

Books have been written about the call, and the call to mission. I don't want to add to them! But it may help someone if I tell you what it was like for me. (I hope Pat will add her point of view some time!) It felt logical. There was the need. There was the possibility. There was the willingness. It felt like an obsession. I became obsessed with France. Every time I prayed - France. Every time I drove - France. In the back of my mind all the time - France. It felt emotional. Now I'm Welsh, ok? Welshmen get emotional. My father used to find Lassie films moving. I got emotional at the Banner of Truth Conference whenever continental Europe was mentioned. (Just a sigh or a tear - not loud convulsive sobs.....) It felt like I was going mad. There was no real reason to leave North Wales, and every real reason to stay. Was it a mid-life crisis? Was I simply barking mad? It felt constant. This was going on for two or three years before I even talked to my wife about it.

Why Bordeaux?

especially when we could go and work in beautiful, celtic, rural Brittany..... Bordeaux is a major city. There are some half a million people living in "greater Bordeaux", and it is the capital of the Gironde region. Something like 100 thousand students study at Bordeaux' universities. Bordeaux has churches, pastors and Christian workers. But nowhere near enough. Pastors can be overstretched simply caring for their congregations, and there is little manpower to spare for student work. However, this student work is vital for the churches of Bordeaux and of France. France needs strong Christians, ready to roll up their sleeves and be workers in the churches. We hope to contribute to this by working in the city and the region.

Why UFM?

UFM is the Unevangelised Fields Mission, The church here has had a long relationship with UFM, and we have prayed for UFM missionaries for many years. Carol Liddiard, now serving in Bordeaux, has been one of "our" missionaries since she served in Cote d'Ivoire some years ago. I came to the church here in 1991 to be assistant to the then pastor, Peter Milsom. In 1997 he became the director of UFM. Our link with the mission grew closer. UFM has recently begun building a team to work in France, and we feel very privileged to become part of that team. At present UFM has workers in Brittany and in Bordeaux.

Why France?

I love my work. I love my church . I love the AECW . I even love chairing the Regional Council and sitting on committees . Of course, all these things often do my head in, but I love them. So why think of leaving this behind to go to France? It all started 11 years ago with our honeymoon in Spain. The needs of continental Europe came home to us with a thump. I began to learn Spanish, and to take a keener interest in mission to Spain, but with no sense that we should go to work there ourselves. Then about 5 years ago we visited France for the first time. If Spain is needy, France is very needy! Lots of factors became important in my mind. 60 years ago British people fought hard for France's political freedom. But what of her spiritual freedom? Shouldn't we work harder and more sacrificially for that? I seem to be able to learn languages. Pat is plucky and adventurey and is willing to go. The kids are young enough. We have n