Flashback: The Woman In The Forest

I’m going to use posts with Flashback in  the title to share things from the last couple of years which are relevant to our story and what God is doing with us. Every now and then God gives me things in the form of a story. This is something from 6 September 2013.


A woman is lying on the ground in a grassy clearing in the woods. The ground is white with frost. The woman is pale, very thin, gaunt even. She is shivering with cold and moaning quietly, moaning from hunger and pain.

The woman is a Church.

After a while a man comes along and sees the woman, lying on the ground, shivering. “Hello,” he says, “I see that we are family.”

The man is a Christian.

“I’m sorry you are cold,” the man says, and sits down on the ground next to the woman. After a while he picks up one of her hands and holds it. The woman smiles, weakly. The warmth from his hand stops her fingers from feeling quite so numb.

“Well, then,” the man says after a short while, “I need to get going. I hope it works out for you.” He gets up and walks away into the woods.

The woman starts shivering more dramatically and tries to call out. “Help. Please, someone help me.” Her voice is quiet because she is so cold and weak.

A teenage girl comes by. When she sees the woman she begins to cry. The girl gets down onto the ground next to the woman, takes off her coat, hugs the woman close to her and puts her coat over both of them.

The girl’s own body warmth begins to warm up the woman, who gradually stops shivering. The woman smiles. “Thank you so much” she says, “I was getting very, very cold.”

“Can you stand up?” the girl asks. The woman tries to get up, but her legs give way and she falls back down onto the cold hard ground. “I’m sorry” she says, “I’m just too weak and hungry. Do you have any food at all?” “No, nothing I’m afraid” replies the girl. “Wait, I’ll ask my friend to come.”

The girl pulls out her phone. “Oh no, there’s no signal!” The woman’s face drops. “No, don’t worry, I’ll go and bring help, I’ll find my friend” the girl responds. She leaves her coat with the woman and runs off into the forest.

It’s late afternoon, the light is beginning to fade. Snow begins to fall gently. Despite the girl’s coat, the woman begins to shiver again. After an hour or so, she stops shivering. Hypothermia is beginning to take hold. All she wants to do is sleep, but she knows that if she sleeps she will die. Desperately she tries to keep awake.

Dusk is beginning to merge into night. The woman is close to death now; her vital organs are gradually becoming colder and colder, she is almost unconscious. The snow lies without melting on her face, so very pale.

Suddenly, there is light in the forest. Sound. The brightness of voices and the crunching of dead twigs underfoot. A group of people emerge from the forest, carrying torches, led by the teenage girl. Five, no, ten of them. Several have rucksacks, which they quickly drop onto the ground.

As one, they gently pick up the woman and hold her, softly but firmly, in a group hug. Warmth, life and hope flow from the group into the almost-lifeless woman.

Rucksacks are opened, a tent is put up in an instant, out comes a warm sleeping bag, a huge Thermos flask of hot cocoa and a bar of chocolate. Several of the group crowd into the tent to add their heat. The cocoa helps to warm the woman up, the chocolate sends energy through her body.

The moment of desperation is past. She will live.

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How Did This All Begin?

Some years ago we had a holiday in France, towards the end of which I said to Joanna “It’s a nice place for a holiday, but I don’t think I’d want to live here.”

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God certainly has a sense of humour! But how did we get from looking at France only as somewhere to go on holiday to being convinced that God wants us to live and work there for Him?

In the Autumn of 2012 there was something of a crisis in our Church, the upshot of which was that I became part of a small group tasked with transitioning the Church to a new Eldership team. As part of the work of that group, I began researching how we could move forward as a Church.

The research I was doing was in the New Testament and also into the experiences of other Churches and movements. It seemed that the useful information I turned up was within Bible passages, documents and so on which were mainly to do with Church planting.

“Odd,” I thought, since there are a great many Churches in South East London and new ones are popping up all the time. I’m not saying there is no need for new Churches, but it’s not the first thing you think of in such a Church-rich location.

Well, the group did indeed transition the Church to a new Eldership early in 2013. A new full-time Elder was appointed, and God is moving! Although at the time it was rather painful, in retrospect God did a lot of very necessary work in us as a Church at that time.

Fast-forward to the Autumn of 2013. God had seemed to be putting on my heart an increasing burden for Joanna and I to be able to make more of a difference in the Kingdom of God. More than we could make just by carrying on with our work in our local Church, whilst I continued my secular work and Joanna her work in the voluntary sector.

As I prayed about this, Church planting seemed to be what God was putting on my heart, which made sense of the stuff God had been leading me to in late 2012 and early 2013. OK, so where should we go? It seemed too late in life for us to start learning complicated languages like Arabic or Japanese! What about the UK?

When I looked at the needs in the UK, although there are places where there is a real need for more gospel work, the nature of the need did not really tie in with the kind of Church planting that God was talking to me about: pioneer planting in locations where there are no evangelical Churches.

We thought about Ireland: there’s a great need, we could start with just English (though learning some Gaelic would be handy of course).

We both learnt French at school and had used it a bit since then: it would be possible for us to improve our French (a lot!) and work in, say, Belgium or France. So we began researching France.peoplestreet

What happened then was rather like falling in love. There was a time when we felt “Yes, France would be a logical place to go, there’s a clear need, it seems a suitable place for the kind of Church planting God is talking to us about.” All very calm and rational. As we researched, we moved from that condition to one of “We must go to France and be involved in planting Churches; somehow we just have to do it, whatever it takes.”

God put a real passion for the French people into our hearts, which has grown stronger and stronger over the months. Which is why we’re moving to France…

 

 

Why Breakthrough?

So what’s with the title of this blog? France is a Christian country, right? Why should there be a need for a spiritual breakthrough?cafe01

As I write this, the population of France is estimated at 66 million (by INSEE). Evangelical Christians account for only 1% of the total (see the Joshua Project). These people live in over 36,000 communes (administrative districts).

The CNEF (Conseil National des Evangéliques de France, the French equivalent of the UK Evangelical Alliance) list a total 2,190 evangelical Churches as of today. You can see that the overwhelming majority of communes do not have an evangelical Church. OK, so a number of these communes are quite small, but even allowing for that, there are a very large number of towns of 5,000 to 10,000 people with no Church and no Christian witness.

But the Church is growing, isn’t it? Oh yes, God is moving in France! There has been encouraging growth in recent years. New Churches are being planted. Young French Christians, especially, have been growing in passion for Christ.

However, as of today, the CNEF’s data website (here) shows that within the last 2 years just 5 new Churches have been planted. I know of another that is not yet officially registered, so that brings the total to 6. Maybe there are more: it could be a total of 10.

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It does not take much mental arithmetic to work out that this rate of planting new Churches is not enough. Not anywhere even vaguely near enough. Not to take away anything from all of those who have been working faithfully for many years, of course: praise God for each one!

But we need a breakthrough. France needs a breakthrough. The people of France need a breakthrough. Some how, some way, we need to see God moving in great power in France. For the rate of planting of new Churches to increase by an order of magnitude or more.

God’s heart is breaking for the people of France; He loves each and every single one, He wants each one to know His love, to experience His forgiveness and be overwhelmed with His joy.

Will you pray for a breakthrough for France?