To reach the people of rural France, in their thousands of villages and tiny hamlets, with the gospel of Jesus Christ; to see living, growing, multiplying communities of Jesus-followers established in those countless villages; is surely unrealistic? Not sensible? A mad idea? Impossible? Not for God.

Hudson Taylor saw the impossible turn into the difficult and then done. In God, the establishment of those living, growing, multiplying communities of Jesus-followers in the villages is… DONE!


Pain Au Levain

We’re temporarily in London… and I’m missing real bread! Sorry, but having got used to wonderful bread from great French boulangeries I just can’t face British supermarket bread.

I do have a bread machine here, so that certainly helps. But it’s not quite the same. I like using it to make dough for rolls, which are great, but different.

A lot of bread in France is made not with yeast but with levain, or in English leaven. There are various types of levain, but something very simple to use is a piece of dough from the previous baking which has been allowed to develop and ferment slightly.

By the way, when you read English translations of the Bible and you come across the word yeast, it’s wrong. What it should say is leaven. If you think about it, for example the parable of the leaven, it makes sense when you think about leaven, but not when you use the word yeast. Anyway….

So I decided to revive and try and improve a recipe I’d worked out a while ago for pain au levain, or old dough bread. Note that leaven (in the sense I’m using it) is not sourdough starter, although it’s related. Also I should say that many keen bakers will complain that my recipe is not truly pain au levain. Fair enough, but I was deliberately trying to come up with something that was simple to make. I make no claims to be an expert baker either!

The photo at the top is the end result. Here we go with the ingredients:

250g piece of dough saved from a previous mix
460g bread flour*
400ml tap water
1.5 tsp salt

*What flour? You could just use strong white flour. You could use a little bit (maybe 50g) of rye flour (very French). I like to use mainly white flour and about 100g of malted flour (Granary, or Dove’s Malthouse, etc). With wholemeal flour you may need more water.

Now for the method:

1. When saving the old dough, put it into a bowl (large enough to allow for doubling in size) and clingfilm the bowl. Leave it in the kitchen at room temperature overnight, for up to 24 hours. When ready it should have visibly risen and smell slightly fermented.

2. Put the flour, salt and water into a bowl. Mix with a hard spatula until all the water is mixed in. Cover bowl with clingfilm and let the mix rest for 1 hour to autolyse (which means that enzymes in the flour begin to break down the starch and protein in the flour, developing the gluten, resulting in an eventual dough which is easier to work and gives better results with less kneading).

3. Add the old dough to the mix in pieces and mix with the hard spatula as much as possible. Note that the amount of water is deliberately on the high side, since a wetter dough seems to make better bread.

4. Turn the mix onto a floured board and knead for 15 minutes. Add flour as needed to keep the dough workable – it will be very sticky, especially at the beginning, but just persevere. The aim of the recipe is to keep the dough as wet as possible: adding a bit more water than really needed at the start then adding flour at this stage to make it kneadable. At the end, it should ideally be possible to stretch the dough into a nearly see-through”window” (don’t worry if you can’t get it to this stage).

5. Form the dough into a boule shape and put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and let it prove for 3 hours at room temperature until it is at least doubled in size. Yep, 3 hours. More might be even better! The idea is that long proving develops flavour and texture, and also makes the bread easier to digest, so it’s better for you.

6. Knock the dough back and then remove a 250g piece for the next loaf (see stage 1: this can be put in the fridge if not being used the next day).

7. Shape the dough (into a boule or baton). There are techniques for this, search online for dough shaping for more details. Place the loaf onto a strong baking tray covered with baking parchment. Cover lightly with oiled clingfilm and prove for 3 hours at room temperature.

8. Heat the oven to 250 degrees C (“normal” heating, not fan); this will likely take up to 20 minutes. Slash the top of the loaf deeply a few times with a very sharp knife. Throw half a cup of cold water into the bottom of the oven to create some steam (which helps develop a good crust), then put the loaf in.

9. After 5 minutes turn the oven down to 220 degrees C and bake for 20 to 25 minutes more or until well browned and hollow when tapped.

Here’s what mine looked like:

Snowdrops: God’s School Of Multiplication

snowdrop1In many parts of La Somme just now the ground is carpeted with these beauties: snowdrops. Galanthus for the horticulturally-minded, un perce-neige in French.

As we’ve been continuing with our plan of visiting and praying in as many of the villages and towns of La Somme as we can, we have seen many many of these incredible white flowers.

As well as being beautiful, these plants are also a really good lesson from God on how His Kingdom can grow, how spiritual multiplication can happen.

There are various ways that snowdrops can spread. They grow from bulbs and year upon year new little baby bulbs (bulblets) grow underground, nourished from the mother bulb, and eventually split off to become independent plants. This process is called bulb offsets.

This is how you get to see a few isolated snowdrops become big drifts like this:

snowdrop3In God’s Kingdom, Christians are designed by God to naturally multiply. New Christians are rather like bulblets: nourished and encouraged, discipled and mentored, by a more mature Christian they are then able to stand alone and have their own bulblets (spiritual children).

That’s great, but if that is all that happens then all the snowdrops will only be where snowdrops have always been. The drifts will get immense, maybe thousands of bulbs. It will look truly amazing, but is of no use to the places further away where there are no snowdrops.

Which is why snowdrops have those gorgeous flowers, which produce seeds. The seeds blow away, or are carried away by birds, animals and water, to entirely new places. The seeds germinate and form entirely new drifts of snowdrops.

snowdrop2The Kingdom of God needs seeds to be carried away too, to new places, to germinate and form new communities of Christians where there are none.

As we’ve travelled round lots and lots of villages and small towns here it has become very clear that the overwhelming majority of places and people are completely, totally, untouched by God’s message of love and forgiveness. They have no way of hearing the Gospel because they never come into contact with a Christian. At the moment, there is (humanly) no prospect that they will be able to hear God’s message, either.

Multiplication is not happening.

If you are a snowdrop in a big drift, you look around and all you can see are other snowdrops. Wow, it’s amazing, there are so many of us and it’s fantastic being together. As Christians, it’s easy to look round our lovely warm, comfy Church and think how great it is to be together — which is fantastic and entirely right.

But if we never think outside of our nice warm Christian community, how will others hear?

Think back to the early Church in Jerusalem. Wow, was that growth stupendous or what? Three thousand people became Christians the day the Holy Spirit was poured out, and then it became five thousand and more and more… What a time to be a Christian!

So what on earth was God thinking when He allowed a time of great persecution to arrive? Did God want to kill off this wonderful new thing?

No, of course not. God wanted the Church to multiply. This is exactly what happened when Christians were scattered all over the known world: they took Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness with them and planted new Churches wherever they ended up.

For us, what would be best? Would it be best if God allowed severe persecution to break up the cozy, comfy big Churches? Or would it be better if we volunteered to take the message of the Gospel where it is not being heard?

This is a time when Christians all over the world, but very definitely us here in France, need to be willing to be mobile for God:


Are you up for it…?

Around Amiens

Here are some photos of our new home town, Amiens, actually taken last year on our two visits.

amiens-landmarksThese are the two most striking landmarks in the town. On the left is the Cathedral: the largest gothic cathedral in the world and completely amazing. Inside it is a lot lighter than many such buildings in France, making it rather more appealing to me.

On the right is La tour Perret (the Perret Tower), which is a mix of office space and flats. It was designed in 1942 by Auguste Perret but not completed until 1952. It currently tops out at 110m, which is carefully under the height of the Cathedral spire at 112.7m!

You can see these two buildings from quite a distance and each has its own appeal.

amiens-gareThe station, above, is quite an impressive building, close to the tower. At only an hour or so from Paris by intercity train, the town is well connected.

amiens-centre1 The town centre is attractive, with a long pedestrianised area. The shops do suffer from the competition from large out-of-town shopping areas where choice tends to be better.

amiens-centre2The river, La Somme, flows through the town and is a pleasant place to wander or to eat.

amiens-riverThe statue in the middle tends to change his clothing depending on which student has most recently got out there to dress him!

Amiens does have many different facets: the charming old centre, the modern University and Hospital areas in the south, the narrow streets of terraced brick Amienoise houses just out of the centre, the huge modern-ish tower blocks of the north.

A final facet is the Zone Industriel Nord, which we drive through on our way in. We top a hill and there before us is this huge industrial sprawl of factories and huge belching chimneys: very different to the Cathedral area! The industrial area is declining, which is part of the reason for the high unemployment rate (about twice the national average).

Searching, Searching…

Just in case you thought we were here in La Somme on a nice little winter holiday… we have been busy searching for long-term accommodation: an unfurnished flat or house in or very close to Amiens.

While being here in the countryside is lovely, it does mean we are about 45 mins drive from Amiens and 15 mins drive from a reasonably-sized supermarket (in Flixecourt), which means we do a lot of driving.

We began by researching all the local estate agents (agences immobilières) and trawling lots of websites. After looking at some places and finding a house we really liked, within budget and in a good location, we quickly had a big reality check. Because we are volunteers and not employees, to rent through an agency we basically need a guarantor (or garant, in case we stop paying the rent), which we don’t have.

So on the advice of various friends we then turned our attention to websites which connect you directly with a landlord/owner, not to an agency (le Bon Coin being the most useful): sometimes it is possible to find a property owner who is willing to rent to people like us, who can show we can afford the rent even though we don’t have an employment contract or a guarantor.

Here we are, then: searching, searching… for a miracle in reality!

Bien Installé

Well we made it back to France fine on 2 January, with just a little delay at the tunnel but not much, and a very easy drive down to the valley of La Somme. We settled into our gîte (holiday cottage) very well, warmly welcomed by our lovely hosts.

gite-frontYes, that really is a tennis court in front of the building! We don’t expect to be making use of it during our stay, though…

We are in the depths of the countryside near Domart-en-Ponthieu. Since we arrived it has been cold. I mean cold: minus 7 degrees C first thing in the morning, with a “feels like” of minus 17 (with wind chill). This is a panorama from the back of the gîte:

gite-pan-backAnd over nearby fields:

gite-nearThe countryside is achingly beautiful and very quiet. We can hear several owls in the evenings in different parts of the valley and the stars are just incredible.

A couple of days ago we were immensely privileged to see a female wild boar and ten (yes, ten) young ones, running through some woodland in the valley, all in a big long line. Beautiful creatures!

So we are incredibly blessed with our temporary accommodation, which is also beautifully warm. As the French would say, we are bien installé, meaning well settled in.


Be encouraged by this great song from Casting Crowns, entitled Thrive:

Here are some of the lyrics:

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry

So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire

Just to know You and
To make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

Joy Unspeakable
Faith Unsinkable
Love Unstoppable
Anything is possible

In the worn and weary land that is France, God is calling His people together, to make Him known and to lift His name on high, He is calling His people to be what He made us to be: those who THRIVE!

We are so looking forward to getting back to France on 2 January, because what God is doing is so exciting! This is God’s time for France, time for His kingdom to move forward powerfully. It’s time for us as His people to take our stand against the darkness in the all-powerful name of Jesus and to see the darkness run and hide as the community of God grows and grows. Wow!

Because God loves every person in France