My life is different now, completely….

“My life is different now, completely… My whole family feels it, experiences it, especially my children. They feel much happier around me, in a new place of trust and confidence. Before, my son used to run away from me, but now, he knows that his Daddy is back. I am no longer alone, and I hope I can bring freedom to others. This is why I am here before you and want to get baptized ”

This is how the testimony ends: a story that will be shared this coming Sunday (21st October). The story of a young man who had a fascination with Jesus from a young age, was drawn to Jesus and knew he belonged close to Him. A guy, who following a relationship with a young muslim girl, started exploring Islam, and yet heard a voice saying “you are my son, you belong to me”, and couldn’t take the step. He was shattered as that relationship fell apart, and found himself reading the Gospels. And as he read, the pain of the break-up eased, and he felt at peace, until the pain disappeared.

A young man who got married, and caught up in the maelström of life, of house-buying, of having kids, and turned to drink to ease the pressure. As his marriage broke down, he knew that he needed to sort out his relationship with Jesus first and foremost, found the ‘Church Around the Table’ (Brive Baptist church) on the web, and got in touch with the pastor, a certain Rev. Judkins.

Since that time, about 8 months ago, he has become a different man, husband, Dad. He is living out in community, experiencing peace. He is back with his wife, sharing the good news of Jesus with his colleagues. His life is totally transformed.

We are so grateful to have him, and his wife (also now exploring faith) as part of our small church community, and we value your prayers for them as he gets baptized this coming Sunday. All glory to God!

Simplicity in Community – Street Parties!

‘In the spirit of the ‘Fête des Voisins’ (‘Neighbour’s Party’ – an annual event across France) we will be putting out a table in front of our house next Friday. If any of you want to come and bring some food or drink to share, you’ll be most welcome to come and share some quality time together’.

The boys went round our street, (which is like a horseshoe shape), putting simple flyers into all of the houses’ letterboxes. For some time now, we’d felt that God had laid on our hearts to find a way of connecting our neighbourhood and getting to know some fellow-residents. We had some positive feedback, and were encouraged even by those who couldn’t come, but were genuinely appreciative of the initiative.

So on the given Friday, we were blessed by:

  • Seeing and meeting folk we had never met – around 25 people turned up
  • Enjoying some incredible food and drink! (including some good home-made stuff!)
  • Opportunities to share about God and our ‘experimental’ church vision
  • Hearing some difficult stories, and seeing opportunities to serve.
  • So many expressions of goodwill, and ‘thank-you’

‘It seems to have changed the atmosphere of the neighbourhood to have done that’, said one lady last week.

A very simple idea has led to opportunities to go and cut a neighbour’s lawn, increased conversations when we walk up and down the road, a chance to discover some hidden gifts (one lady’s granddaughter is an incredible singer!), and more of a focus for praying.

So in an individualistic society, building community is such a key aspect of God’s upside kingdom, and food is such a key component of that. We are grateful to God for this new door opening, and pray for wisdom in knowing how best to invest in it.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.” Matt 13:44

The small, the slow and the insignificant…

As a teenager, I (David) stumbled across many stories of God’s incredible moves through history and in different parts of the world, and a ‘pilot light’ was lit in my heart, a desire to experience something similar in my time and space.

Several years later, we have been seeking to see a disciple-making movement established in the South West of France, and yes, our hearts continue to pray and to burn for ‘revival’ or explosive growth and breaking-in of the Kingdom, whatever that may look like here.

But over the last few months, we’ve discovered a new perspective on the Kingdom: the beauty of the small, the slow and the insignificant. When you invest in the lives of others, partnering with the Spirit in bringing eternal change, you become sensitive to the slightest change. And so, at our recent Pentecost Gathering, we witnessed beautiful things:

  • A group of people, worshipping God through song for the first time with confidence (normally, it’s just one or two singing, with a bit of self-consciousness thrown in) and it was beautiful
  • A not-yet baptised member of the community daring to speak her prayers out loud for the first time, and inviting the Holy Spirit to touch her prayer partner
  • Two ten year-olds sitting together, seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit in whatever way He sought best, and experiencing something of a kind, warming presence alongside them

    Pentecost Prayers

  • Seeing how verses relating to the Holy Spirit written on paper ‘tongues of fire’, randomly selected, spoke deeply to the recipients
  • Sharing testimonies of being loved by God and sharing that love.

So, as the sense of family and belonging deepens amongst us, as we celebrated a church member obtaining a professional diploma, we have no doubt that God is at work among us. That roots are going deep, and God is guiding each member in their walk with Him.

We continue to pray and seek a nation-changing move of God that will bring glory to Jesus , but in amongst that, we celebrate and marvel at the small, the slow and the insignificant.

Church around Tables – A testimony

Our vision of the ‘Church Around the Table’ — by a church family

“We arrived in this area of France 15 years ago, and settled down in a village between Limoges and Brive-La-Gaillarde. We looked for a church we felt comfortable with for about 10 years, but didn’t find one we felt we could call home.

In november 2016, after a phone call with one of the leaders, we were invited to come and try out the Church Around a Table at one of the members’ house. We met believers and non-believers, gathered together in one place, and sharing God’s word.

The children were fully involved, and this gave a real meaning to the word ‘church family‘. A strong bond has been forged between the families that want to invest in it, and a real solidarity and support network has grown.

We have at last found a church model that we feel comfortable with, where we can share openly without pretence or hypocrisy, where we experience kindness, and especially with God at the centre. A church that is open to others and empowers us to meet new people and to witness, to share our faith.”

This was a letter recently written by S. and D. who had taken stock of their Christian journey, and wanted to share something of their experience of what God is doing here in Brive-La-Gaillarde. S. was of Christian background, but she hadn’t attended church for a long time. D. described himself previously as a ‘hopeful’, believing in a god, and was baptized among us in July 2017. We give thanks to God for the work in their lives, and how they are shining Jesus around them! 

Everyone has a place around the Table

One of our key values as ‘Church Around the Table’ is providing a space for everyone, young or old, with much or little faith. At our recent first mini-AGM, a gathering where we spent some time together, looking back at highlights (and lowlights!) of the previous year, our finances (!) and values, we were blessed by the sense of unity and family that there is amongst us, even in the disagreements. It was followed, naturally, by a BBQ! (Winter BBQ’s are the best!)

The way this ‘everyone has a place’ is lived out can be illustrated through the following:

  • One recently baptised young man expressed a desire to be more intentional about preparing for, and living out, Easter. So we’ve been reading through the Old Testament in our TABLES (small groups), trying to get a sense of the bigger story, and ‘why Jesus’, as well as following some Lent reading plans;
  • Our last TABLE gathering was totally led by children, from choosing different colour lightsabres to share how our week had been, colouring eagles while reading Isaiah 40 as a méditation, to reading the story and leading question times. Different children took a lead, and it’s exciting to see both their faith, and their leadership growing, empowering them to lead TABLES in the future.
  • Sharing Jesus’ meal with a TABLE member, who is reading the Bible with Claire-Lise, married to a recent baptisee, and journeying towards Christ but hasn’t yet taken the step of baptism, She is responding, in her time, to Jesus’ offer of a new life and values the sense of belonging that she has around the TABLE.

We give thanks that Jesus is the one inviting us to His table, and the privilege of witnessing others taking-up their invitation and taking their place.

Everyone has their place around the Table

How to spot a follower of Jesus…. ?

As we are privileged to be part of this burgeoning community of Jesus-followers in and around Brive-La-Gaillarde, it is good to sometimes stop and take stock of where we are. To be grateful for what we have.

Some necessary medical intervention gave us that opportunity recently, as it affected our daily patterns and routines. Through this, we learnt:

  • That prayer works: God has been faithful and provided safety and good recovery
  • Flexibility: shifting roles, taking on different responsibilities in the house, juggling challenges
  • Others step up: when we, for some reason, have to stop certain things, others have come to the fore in serving, leading, organizing…
  • But especially: that this church we are a part of is characterized by love!! 

Friendship makes things beautiful

Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. And so we have been blown away by the love shown to us, through meals, cards, offers of practical help, childcare, texts, etc…Virtually every member and especially those who as yet do not confess to be Christ-followers, but are very much part of the community have demonstrated love in tangible ways. It is an awe-inspiring thing to behold, and we are grateful for this small band of believers and followers of Jesus who live out their faith in action! We thank God for each and every one of them.

That’s how you spot a true disciple of Jesus!

Ministers’ Gathering in Dijon

…. and no mustard in sight!

From the 6-8th of November, David and Michael were privileged to attend the annual gathering of Baptist ministers and mission-workers. It is during times like these that we appreciate the friendships that we have built-up over the years, and seek vision together.

The keynote speaker this year was Dr Rick Durst, on 21st Century Discipleship. I had also been asked to be part of our round table discussion on “Same Challenges – New Paradigms”, chaired by BMS colleague Christine Kling. So it felt like God (once again) planned everything perfectly, as some of the aspects Dr Durst emphasizsed are at the heart of our discipleship vision at l’Eglise Autour de La Table:

  • Making disciples, not just converts (where orthoPRAXY (ie doing) is as important as orthoDOXY (beliefs)
  • Emphasizing obedience to God’s word rather than just studying
  • Every disciple is can make other disciples (cf Oncken’s phrase: ‘Every Baptist a Missionary’)
  • Overcoming sin and walking in freedom,  ecoming and being an actor of reconciliation .

 

 

Other highlights including reflections on various pieces of art (Raphaël’s Transfiguration and a one-man show based on various interpretations of the Last Super), playing music as part of the worship band (always a privilege!) and deep, passionate discussions about what we can learn from past Revivals that may be relevant to 21st century France (more about that later!).

Michael then spent some time with some teams who are going through a Learning Community, using a framework called M4 (Master, Mission, Multiplication and Movement) to help with their communication and widen the impact of M4 in the Fédération (and France in general).

Exciting to be at the heart of new initiatives, shaping new paradigms, and seeking to live out what God is (still!) teaching us about discipleship.

Serving the city

Love in action

As a burgeoning community of Jesus followers, our desire has always been to impact our town with the good news of Jesus in both words and actions. We are seeking to find a format and model that can easily be applied to any village or town that we could travel to, as a vessel for sharing God’s love.

The question has always been: what does this look like in French 21st century culture, and specifically in Brive-La-Gaillarde, a medium-sized town with a rural mentality?

At first, we investigated some of the more usual forms of demonstrating God’s love through social action: foodbanks, Restos du Coeur, (cafés for the homeless), clothes banks, listening, visiting, litter-picking, etc… But we rapidly discovered that there are literally hundreds of charities that are geared towards helping the poor and complementing the State’s provision. Moreover, many of these charities stipulate that as you are operating in a ‘Laïc’ environment (kind of secular) public space, you shouldn’t put forward your own religious beliefs. And so, while we are definitely not into proselytizing, we felt this would be too restrictive on us, as we would almost certainly always which to point to Jesus!

We have been exploring other avenues, such as art parties, trying to encourage growing artists, as well as other public artistic expressions (labyrinths, story-telling). We have also taken to praying on the streets, and approaching individuals, but this has felt a bit ‘weird’, and at times confrontational.

Serving!

Illustration of the parable of the Good Samaritan with our children!

Lately, it seems that God is simply calling us to ‘do good and share what we have’ (Hebrews 13:16). We want to accompany all that is going on in the town with simple acts of love, random acts of kindness, showing generosity and listening (to God and to others!). We’d appreciate wisdom to know how best to present this and to be available on the streets of Brive-La-Gaillarde. Let God’s love flow through this city, demonstrating his tangible presence, providing opportunities to share Jesus’ good news in words, and bring glory to His name.

 

A multiplying disciple…

At the heart of seeing a movement of churches being planted is the notion of disciples making disciples, or what some researchers call “Disciple-Making Movement” or multiplication.

In my experience, we rejoice at seeing people embark on a journey of discipleship, getting baptized and involved in church life, but then all too often they get caught up in ‘church-world’ and over time, lose connection to their ‘pre-Christian’ world. We all know that young Christians (in the faith!) are the most enthusiastic about sharing their faith, but we struggle to equip them in turn to lead others to Christ (they tend to invite them to church or to meet “the professionals”).

So this is one aspect of church-planting where we are seeking wisdom and asking God for help, in order to see disciples, who make other disciples, who make other disciples. A recent experience gave us encouragement to see how this may begin to take shape:

A friend gives his life to Christ, and gets baptized.
He discerns in a work colleague both ongoing struggles, but also an openness of heart.
He shares with him his own recent journey and what difference faith is making to him.
He invites him to meet The Pastor (‘Fraid so!).
We meet together, chat, and following that, pray for his colleague (who at this stage professes not to believe in God).
After prayer, he receives considerable improvement in a neck condition, which he is ready to attribute to either divine intervention or coincidence!
Following that, the colleague expresses a desire to “try out” praying to God for himself, and asks to meet-up with the young believer to talk through his own experience.

We are seeing the beginnings of discipleship multiplication here, and seeds being sown, so we pray for God’s action in his life, and for wisdom in equipping our young baptizee to have faith and confidence in the Spirit’s leading!