Friday, April 13, 2012

Toulouse Under Attack / France in Pre-election Crisis

Greetings from Toulouse. We've have a crazy-busy March and early April, but it is encouraging time of ministry--new pre-believers coming into our relational networks, a successful short-term ministry team visit (photo; student team from North Central University in Minneapolis), the Gospel being proclaimed in word and deed, signs of growth and transformation among young beleivers. We praise the Lord for the honor of serving him in France!

Since my last entry Toulouse has been traumatized by the first terrorist attack in France in 15 years. A number of you wrote us, concerned about the violence in and around Toulouse and whether we had been caught up in it. Many of you were praying for our safety and that of our team. Thank-you! Our city has been profoundly shaken by the assassinations of seven people, including three young Jewish children (and the father of two of them) and of three uniformed French soldiers. While the 'killer on a scooter' was still running free, the streets of Toulouse’s normally bustling centre-ville were relatively empty; Toulousians were too frightened to go outside. Through a massive police hunt a young North African background French citizen, radicalized by Muslim extremists in Pakistan, was located in his apartment in Toulouse’s east side, just across the street from the Eglise Evangélique Réformé, a church where I have occasionally preached. After the killer barricaded himself in his apartment, police used the church as their HQ while they negotiated with him to surrender. After over 13 hours without any further communication, the police decided to storm the building. What followed was a 5 minute firefight and the young man was finally killed by a sniper (shooting from a window in the church) as he tried to escape from the window of his apartment. Toulouse heaved a collective sigh of relief. But a few days later gruesome videos that the assassin took while he was slaying his victims were posted from a Toulouse postbox and sent to major TV news agencies (all, to their credit, refused to air the film)—several days after he had been killed and while the assassin’s brother was in detention for questioning. So the concern is that he was not acting alone and others still free in the Toulouse area. Now France is asking itself, 'How many others are still out there--radicalized young French Muslims who are capable of carrying out such horrific atrocities ?'

Since that time President Sarkozy has ordered police raids on suspected Islamic militants in France. A further dozen people have been arrested in Toulouse, and in other cities, and a number who were foreigners were directly repatriated to their home countries (in the Middle East and Turkey). There is a lot of political intrigue in all of this because France is in the midst of an intense and bitter presidential campaign. There are five main candidates in the running, including Sarkozy who is hoping to be re-elected for another 5-year term for the center-Right UMP party. The other candidates include the Socialist (Hollande), the far Left (Melenchon), the far Right (Le Pen) and the Moderate (Bayonne). Sarkozy’s poll numbers went up due to his skilled and sober handling of the Toulouse attacks. France has a two-round election process; the two top vote-getters in the first round move to the second round two weeks later. The first round vote happens on April 22nd. However, the candidate who comes in third may ultimately be the spoiler. At this point third place is a tossup between the far Right and far Left candidates. There is also an outside chance that—as happened in 1997 when Marine LePen’s father knocked the Socialist candidate out of the race, allowing for an easy victory for Jacques Chirac—a candidate on the extreme Left or Right could win enough votes in the first round to advance to the final round.

Much is in play in this year’s election. The moderate candidate has little chance of getting to the second round—it seems the French are not much into moderate politics these days, given the on-going financial crisis, anger over the European Union bailout for Greece, concerns about immigration, and now the threat of home-grown terrorists. The candidates seem to avoid the current accounts (budget) crisis that is looming and which could further threaten the Euro and European Union solidarity. The Economist magazine is predicting that unless swift action is taken by the next Président de la République, France could find itself in a fiscal crisis that would be a far greater threat to the European economy and the Euro than Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy’s respective crisis have been.

On our team we have a guideline that we avoid discussing with our others (or even amongst ourselves) politics or political parties, whether American or French. We are called to be Ambassadors for Christ and we advocate only his Gospel. But we do pray for our adoptive country even as we realize that France is facing currently some very difficult challenges, as well as some hard choices in the not-so-distant future. The impact of an extreme politic in the country is worring. Tough talk about immigration on the Right makes many of our ethnically-diverse friends (including quite a few believers) nervous, as it does for us. (Could Americans eventually also be considered 'personne non grata'?) Despite the seeming stakes in this election, we know that ultimately the Lord is sovereign over the affairs of men. We will continue to pray. If you wish join us, please pray that voices of reason and moderation will prevail in France. Pray also that during these uncertain times the Lord would be drawing some to the peace only he can offer.

Reachglobal- Europe Summit, Minneapolis MN

Just a reminder that if you if you are close to the Twin Cities you might wish to join us for the upcoming RG-Europe Summit . EFCA ReachGlobal-Europe International Leaders will be sharing the vision for Europe and the connection between global and local missions; other RG Europe and local staff will be taking place in the dialog and discussion. Emilie and Michael will be sharing at the April 17th evening of the summit at the EFCA national office (901 East 78th Street; frontage road I-494). We will be exploring the questions Why global and local missions? and Why Europe and why now?; times 6:00-9:30 pm on April 14, 17, or 18. RSVP for dinner and dialog to: or 952-232-5357. Or you can contact us (we are in the US for a week, until 18 April) at (763) 516-7345.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Poppy fields and contrairian thinking

Here I sit in a McDonald's restaurant in south Toulouse, listening to a guy talking much too loud on his cell phone, with an almost incomprehensible toulousain accent, to his maman, while I sip a very good French coffee and make use of the free Wifi to catch up on some e-mail. Not a very inspiring setting to come up with something intelligent concerning ministry in France. But there have been some ideas turning in my head for some time, and so it is high time to put them down in writing in my much neglected blog. (BTW, the photo I took in a small town north of Toulouse--nothing to do with anything; I just think it's a brilliant photo!)

Anyone who knows our Reachglobal mission knows also our mission's main focus, our mantra so to speak, is "Develop, Empower, Release." The perenial challenge that we, and other workers in France fact is this--how to do D-E-R among the small Evangelical population whose leaders do not always appreciate the idea of being "developed" by an American, and doing "Empower" in a culture that generally shuns risk-taking ("Let's leave it to the Americans to take the risks--we'll wait here to see if it flops..."), and doing "Release" when there are few opportunities or means for a future national worker to receive practical ministry training (unless he or she is willing to go to Anglo-Saxon lands, the thought of which is not very appealing to most French given that few know English well) so that we can be assured we are releasing truly called and equipped national workers.* So with that rather pessimistic introduction I will now proceed to explain how our team has been slowing figuring out what D-E-R looks like in our own ministry context of Toulouse, France.

We've been learning over the past five years in Toulouse (and 7 in France) that French believers need to just "venir et voir" ('come and see'). When we tell French believers in area churches what we are doing--building relationship networks as the primary forum for sharing the Good News (instead of door-to-door or handing out tracts), by volunteering in local secular associations, by doing holistic ministry with the motive of 'seeking the welfare of our city,' and by gathering believers and non-believers in cultural events where 'Gospel gossiping' happens naturally--we usually get looks which seem to communicate, "Vous êtes fous" (you're crazy) or "ça ne se fait pas!" (it's not done like that!). But once some French believers actually 'come and see,' they are usually amazed at what they observe. However, some say, "Ah, it's because you are not French that you can get away with this...we French could never do what you're doing." Nonetheless some longtime observers have become convinced, and a few have even started working alongside. We are starting to hear from others that, just maybe, that unorthodox Reachglobal team is onto something. One evangelical pastor recently told me that we are doing a lot of good, creative things and it is obvious the Lord is doing something in our midst. Que cela soit ainsi. (That it be so).

You might surprised to hear the Americans and French have a lot in common. I'm not the first one to observe this. An American commentator has said that one of the reasons American and French don't always get on is because we are so similiar--we are each proud of our heritage, of our place in history, of our independent thinking, and of our contributions to humanity through our many achievements (in science, philosophy, architecture, literature, etc.). But there is one area where Americans and French differ significantly. One author described French society like a field of poppies. It is the tallest poppies that get picked. So it is better to keep a low profile... "Don't put yourself forward. Do not offer too much (or you might end up doing more than you want). Don't risk too much. Better to let someone else try and fail than do risk all and end up humiliated." Americans are known as risk-takers. Not every American is a risk-taker, but this is a trait that those from other counties admire, or not, about Americans. I used to get frustrated with the occasional lack of willingness of believers here to 'step out in faith' for the Lord. But I'm learning how to work around this... "Just come and see..."; "You know, you could do this too!" Someone once told me that part of our ministry as expatriate workers is to challenge convention and to inspire others to step out in faith. Even if this is just a small part of our ministry in France, I think it is a significant part. Please pray for some local believers who are thinking about stepping out, and for those who are praying about joining our ministry! (*NB. There are some excellent Evangelical seminaries in France, for which we are thankful. But there are far fewer options for those wanting to have something less than a full 3-5 year seminary degree.)

Let's turn to another subject--the growth of Evangelical believers and churches in France.

Get ready for some contrairian thinking about the spiritual state of France. You might be inclined to think that this is a rather sober topic. However, I think you may be surprised. What would you say if I were to tell you that the growth of Gospel-proclaming churches in France is among the fastest in the Western world! This might go against your preconceived ideas about religion in France. But consider these facts:

The number of Evangelical Christians in France:

1950: 50,000

1960: 100,000

1990: 300,000

2012: 460,000

The Evangelical population is now about 0.73% of the total population of France (63M). We tend to make the mistake at looking at the tiny percentage (less than 1%, lower than in many countries in the Middle East!) and forget to look at the rate of growth. Some of this growth can be explained by immigration, but the rate of growth of the number of evangelical believers far outpaces the rate of immigration, and exceeds the growth rate of believers in most developed counties! I'm not so great at math, so check my calculation here--if my mind and calculator are working properly the numbers above indicates a 90% increase in the number of Christ followers since 1950 to today--in a country known as being the most secular in Europe and having among the highest number of self-proclamed athiests in the world. Comment ça c'est possible?! Still unconvinced? Check this out...

Le nombre d’églises évangéliques en France (The number of Evangelical churches in France:

1950: 249

1970: 769

2012: 2068

Barring any dodgy math on my part, I believe this is a 8.3 fold increase in churches since 1950, and a 2.7 increase since 1970 (I can remember 1970--that wasn't so long ago! :-). Imagine applying these numbers to the US--what would 2.7 times more evangelical churches since 1970 look like there? (Imaging a small US city of 50,000 with 15 Evangelical churches forty years ago; today there would be 41.) Moreover, a new church is being planted every 10 days in France! Are all these so-called evangelicals truly Christ-followers, and are these so-called evangelical churches all preaching the true Gospel? As in any country, only the Lord knows who are the true believers and which are the spiritually-healthy and biblically-aligned churches. What is pretty clear is that there is a fast-multiplying Gospel movement happening in one of the most Post-Christian, anti-religion countries in the world--la France! How's that for a contrairian observation?!

Despite the odds (high church multiplication in a country where the historic religion is in rapid decline), despite the (premature) rumors of the demise of Western European Christian faith, despite the logic--that one of the fastest growing evangelical movements is happening in the most thoroughly post-Christian and Postmodern counties in the world, and despite our preconceptions about the hardness of the French to the Gospel, the Lord is doing something amazing in this country. Au Seigneur soit la gloire! (To the Lord be the glory!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Engaging Culture is Critical to Mission

Secular European culture can be a scary place to do ministry. Ministry in a post-Christian, Postmodern world is perhaps not for the faint at heart. On second thought, this rebellious and cynical world is where the Lord himself served, and he has has called upon his disciples to follow his example. He even prayed for us in this endeavor: "I do not ask that you take them from this world, but that you keep them from evil." (John 17:15) We believe our ministry involves more that constructing 'Christian outposts' in our city where a few can flee to for safety. Rather, we are about engaging and challenging the dominant culture, involving ourselves in the life of the city, and seeking the welfare of our city in order to allow our light to shine before men and women. Our ultimate goal is to see new Gospel-centered communities established in the city which resemble the diversity of the city, proclaim the Gospel to the city, and serve the city.

Our team is engaged in doing what more and more North American evangelical ministries are doing-- we have steered away from an 'attractional approach' of doing ministry--people in France are simply not attracted to the 'church' in a post-Christian and Postmodern milieu Instead, we regularly "go into their world." Secular people do notice that true followers of Christ are different-- when we are doing what we are called to do. When we love each other and love others, skeptical people notice. When we seek the welfare of our city, secular people notice. When we strive to protect victims of social and moral injustice, atheists and agnostics take note. When we affirm human flourishing (not only in the spiritual but also in social, intellectual, and emotional aspects of life), our enemies are taken aback and are forced to reconsider their ideas about people of faith. Most have never before met a true disciple of Christ. We are literally the Gospel to many people in our city. When we open our homes not only to our family in Christ, but also to those on the outside, we communicate our interest in and concern for others. So hospitality is also a key element of our ministry in Toulouse.

When we invest our hours and our lives in institutions and associations of our city (rather than trying to create a Christian version of everything), we end up rubbing shoulders with people who have never before met a Christ follower, and they are fascinated that people of faith can also be thinking, socially conscious, and caring people. And they begin to ask us questions about us, our team, our beliefs, our God.

Chinese beleivers and their Turkish friend

[photo: new Chinese believers (Michael married this couple last August) and their Turkish friend (not yet a Christ-follower) share a light moment in our home. Hospitality is essential to incarnational ministry! ]

Presently we have relationships with five institutions in our city, ranging from an after-school cultural centre for adolescents to a women's shelter. Relationships with the staff of these secular institutions have built trust and given us occasions to explain our faith. We are always very up front concerning who we are as Christ's disciples. These secular people see our actions speak of authentic love and a willingness to serve, and this builds bridges in our city. Today, Christians in much of the Western world have lost credibility. We believe that by seeking the welfare of the city we not only build credibility and restore trust, it also is the most effective way to engage meaningfully with those who need to hear the Gospel.

It is encouraging for us to hear that increasingly churches in North America have 'got' this message. Grace Community Church and their pastor Eric Hess states in their church's Philosophy of Ministry: "Engaging Culture--for Jesus started with the incarnation. That is where we need to start...we need to be intentional about going to the people we are trying to reach. This is very different from the more common approach that is based in attractional methods--making it comfortable, contemporary and engaging enough that people will want to come--hoping that once they visit, they will want to return. Jesus never marketed a message that attracted people to him. We must learn how to first live the message we are called to proclaim. We are called to live missional/incarnational lives just like Jesus; ministry and life where it happens--not in a sanctuary. We expect ministry to happen 'out there' as we engage with people in their context who are then invited into a relationship (not a church program)."

Among our ministry commitments is the concept of seeking the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:4-7) even as we live as exiles in our city of Toulouse and strangers in this world. By doing this we have seen multiple avenues open to us for sharing the hope we have in Christ Jesus. If you wish to find out more about ministry, our growing, transnational team, and our multiple-project team ministry, contact us at
Thanks for your prayers for our ministry!