There’s a growing spiritual openness among French people both inside and outside the church that was clearly visible during a short visit in late April, 2011.
I sat beside a French woman on a train from London to Paris who ended up sharing her life story and faith journey with me. It turned out that like me she'd been a serious rock climber. But she'd had to stop climbing 4-5 years back due to restless leg syndrome. After telling her about an inmate who God healed of this condition last month during a Bible study, she wanted me to pray for her, and expressed true openness to Jesus. Spiritual hunger among ordinary secular French people is spurring French Christians to seek more training and empowerment for ministry.
I arrived in Paris to attend a two-day course on deliverance that drew a crowd of people from across the city, eager to experience breakthrough. The course was excellent, and I was also able to check out an apartment for our family and schools for Anna (16) and Luke (18). Gracie and I are now preparing for a special ministry assignment in France through Tierra Nueva beginning September 1, 2011. For one year we will be based in Paris with two of our children. Our Tierra Nueva leadership team will run the ministry here in our absence.
Gracie and I attended seminary in France from 1989-1991, completing our MDivs there. Our oldest son Isaac was born at the end of our stay and Bob completed a doctorate in theology from Institut Protestant de Théologie in Montpellier in 1997. For the past 20 years we have maintained our relationships with friends and faith communities and with Eglise Reformée de France pastors and seminary professors. French versions of Bob’s two books have been published and he has been doing regular speaking in churches and training of jail chaplains in France for the past 7 years.
We have been invited to minister and teach with a church in Paris that is experiencing rapid growth and is serving as a theological and ministry training center to equip and empower French Christians. Our desire is to deepen our knowledge and experience of inner healing, deliverance and discipleship so we can bring these desperately-needed skills and knowledge back to Tierra Nueva and beyond. Because of our years of involvement we are uniquely prepared to bridge divergent streams in the body of Christ through a growing ministry of reconciliation.
We appreciate your prayers as we prepare to leave and work with our Tierra Nueva leadership to arrange for our specific tasks here to be covered in our absence.
Integral Mission Roundtable Highlights
Just before the train ride to France I spent four days in the England with 25 Christian leaders from around the world at a roundtable on Integral Mission organized by Tearfund-- a Christian charity in the UK.
The leaders had been called together by Jenny Flannagan, a previous WTC mission student of mine who now works with Tearfund. The hope was that like-minded leaders could clearly identify global mission challenges and priorities, signs of God’s advancing Kingdom and hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. And this certainly happened.
It’s hard to summarize the many rich discussions, presentations and times of worship. I return home more convinced than ever that followers of Jesus must humbly learn from each other, seeking unity and collaboration rather than each building their own organization & name. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 shows his conviction that oneness brings the world to faith in Jesus’ being the Father’s sent one
“That they may all be one; even as you, Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21)
Here are some highlights for me from the roundtable.
Melba Maggay from the Philippines shared how loan officers are trained to naturally share their faith, bringing microfinance and evangelism together in a dynamic approach. Women on the margins are being empowered by economic opportunity and over 30,000 people are coming to faith every year.
Claudio Oliver from Curitiba, Brazil critiqued notions of progress that applaud Brazil’s economic growth as one of the Big Four, or BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as idolatrous. He emphasized how critical it is for integral development groups to remember that Jesus’ kingdom radically differs from dominant notions of economic and material progress that make the Western lifestyle the destination.
Ash Barker of Urban Neighbors of Hope shared about his ten years living with his wife and children in the heart of a Bangkok slum, where 80,000 people live in a 2 sq. km area. He pointed out that 1.2 billion people live in slums, and that 2 out of 3 slum dwellers live in the 10/40 window where there are the least number of Jesus followers. He referred to a recent survey where 80% of Christian respondents answered “yes” to the question “did Jesus spent time with the poor,” but only 2% answered “yes” to the question “do you spend time with the poor?” His call for Christians to relocate into places of darkness and need echoes the witness of Servant of Asia’s Urban Poor, Servant Partners, Word Made Flesh, InnerChange as well as Iris Ministries, Tierra Nueva and many others.
Jenny Flannagan talked about more and more Christians in the UK are discovering the imagination to live differently, go against the culture in some way, not getting on the ladder. Sign of something else being visible. Network of people trying to live in estates, building relationships with neighbors, rooting ourselves somewhere. Going against what parents expect. Another compelling logic.
Here are some highlights about what people heard the Spirit saying to the churches:
* Our responses to disasters bring people to faith—little churches working alongside people, with compassion over the long time—this leads people to believe. Need concrete things: signs of the kingdom, acts of compassion, otherwise we’re pie in the sky. But also we need a vision.
* The destination is outside of our control--- in Christ. Our destination is Jesus, who takes us to the Father.
* Need to repent of our confusion between the kingdom of God and development. Need to redefine success.
* Sign of the kingdom: putting the name of Jesus, rather than our own names in the highest place. Losing our name & perhaps our funding… to find our true identities.
* Must be ready to bear witness to the hope that lies within us.
* Call to discern what God is doing in a place, who God is doing it through, how can I support them.
* How do we trust God rather than in methods, knowing what’s God’s role and what is ours. Need to create the space, and trust God to do the supernatural part.
* Feeling the challenge to let go of competing, and presenting our ministry as robust. Let’s live instead in the vulnerability… fragility. Need for demolition sometimes. In Jeremiah 1:10 there are four verbs of demolition followed by “build” and “plant.” We’re good at saying: come do this. But not good at “stop that.” We need to learn how to agree with what needs to be broken down, demolished.
* Importance of bridge building. Reminding ourselves of “inside influence.” We all have networks. Need to expand those networks. Especially in media, business, church. At the end of the day: who gets the credit? We have models that says “we do.” But in the kingdom if poverty is being alleviated, if Good News is being preached to the poor… that’s what’s important.
* Two individuals from two separate small groups both received the words: “Shut up,” “listen,” [let’s not be] “lukewarm,” “stop” [doing what Spirit isn’t calling us to do].
* The term “Visitor” on our Tearfund badges was underlined as a reminder that Jesus Kingdom is not of this world and we are “strangers and aliens” even though we anticipate “on earth as in heaven.”
* Season of networking and journeying together. Building each other up.
* Need to avoid standardization at all costs. Need to keep the diversity. All the fruits are different. Fruit salad.
Just two nights before the big royal wedding in London, Andy Flannagan took four of us into the British Parliament where he works in an outreach to MPs (Ministers of Parliament) who are Christians. We were able to pray for God’s Kingdom to break in our own intercessor lobbying efforts right in the lobby between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, (where the very term “lobbyist” began).
I return home excited to see Tierra Nueva moving forward in our corner of the globe, pursuing God's kingdom of mercy and love among prisoners, gang members, immigrant and people in recovery. At the same time I can see God's call on Gracie and I to carry the riches we've gained in the trenches of ministry across lines to other camps, leveraging what God has taught us to raise up leaders across the body of Christ who eager to learn from Jesus, the poor and from each other for the advancement of God's reign.