Why start new churches?

Ryan and I are church planters in Paris, France with the international organization World Team. God began working in our hearts back in 2007 and showing us the need for people to work in Europe to help the existing Protestant churches here, and after years of prayer and preparation, we have been here since the Fall of 2013. France is one of the most secular countries in the world and the Christian population is small and struggling. Even with the long Catholic history here, churches are dying everyday, and a lot of these beautiful Cathedrals feel more like museums than vibrant communities. The Protestant population, which we serve, is somewhere between 1-3% (but many studies reveal it is really less than 1%). Studies show just to survive, that percentage must be closer to 10%. So we are here to partner with existing leaders and churches, but specifically with the goal of starting new churches in communities that have none or not enough. The only way to be successful is if these and other churches don’t just grow themselves, but they learn to actually multiply. We want to start new churches that start new churches and so on.

But why are we doing this anyway, why plant churches?

From the very beginning of the Bible, God wanted to create a people for himself through which he would work in the world. In Genesis 12 God called Abraham and said to him, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God chose Abraham so that through Abraham’s descendants God could bless all the peoples on earth. Abraham’s descendants become the nation of Israel, and their entire history is the up and down journey of God attempting to fulfill his promise to Abraham.

At the end of the Old Testament these promises looked stalled. The prophets had been predicting great things for the people of Israel, but the reality was that they had just recently come back to their ancestral home-land and were facing a host of challenges and set backs. It’s into this world that Jesus steps. His mission is to carry out God’s will by taking the plan of blessing forward. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the climax of the story that started back in Genesis. Through his death and resurrection Jesus defeated sin and death allowing God’s blessing to move out into the wider world. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his followers so that they could carry on the mission that he began, which was to bring God’s reign and rule to bear on earth, extending his blessing to the nations.

In Matthew 28 Jesus tells his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus gives his mission over to his followers and continues to work through them by his Spirit even now.

Planting churches is about establishing communities of people who follow Jesus. We plant churches because in so doing we multiply the people who are working to accomplish Jesus’ mission. We multiply people who can share the good news with others, care for the poor, and live out the lifestyle that Jesus lived. We plant churches because in so doing we plant “colonies of heaven” that can extend God’s love, grace and care to the world around them.

This is why we do what we do. And it’s fun, you could join us!

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A glimpse of Christmas in Paris

All the main streets had lights on display
Little bread shop not far from us
Christmas markets throughout the city
Get your onion soup and omelets at this one
The  famous Champs-Élysées
Chocolate shops
Awesome window displays
And animated window displays for kids!
The  famous Galeries Lafayette ceiling & upside-down Christmas tree 
More street illuminations
Each design is different
The lights are paid for by the shops on each street
Peppermint chocolate donuts & countless other yummy treats 
Fun parties with friends and teammates
Christmas Eve candlelight service
Our humble tree 
…and the Notre Dame Christmas tree

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Reflecting on the season

This year marks our second Christmas in France and also our second Christmas away from where we grew up and family. Last year we went to Strasbourg, France right before Christmas which was such a treat to see Christmas lights decorating that beautiful town and to visit all the Christmas markets that lined the squares and streets. This year we are staying in Paris, but we are all settled in our apartment, which feels more and more like home (although home feels like a less clear concept these days). Paris is lovely this time of year. All the main streets have lights running across them, each street’s display is unique in color and design. And there are large Christmas markets the whole month long in several locations. There is mulled wine, bratwurst & sauerkraut, oysters, Champagne, chocolates, and all kinds of gifts. It’s been a pretty full Christmas season, more so than we anticipated, since we have met several new friends in recent months and have been interning at a church in central Paris. Tonight we will go to a candlelight service with some friends, and tomorrow will be a low key day at home as we rejoice and reflect on Christ’s coming, eat good food, Skype with loved ones, and open some presents as well. 

We’ve started observing Advent more and more the last few years and it really helps me to remember each day what it means that Christ came and what it means that he will come again. This year the word Immanuel or “God with us” has been my focus. Tim Keller’s message on God with us was really helpful for me. The message is about: “The meaning of Christmas is that the Creator of the universe has become a human being. It means that the terrifying God who appeared in the Old Testament as a whirlwind and a fire has become a vulnerable baby in order to be close to us. What, in turn, will we do in order to be close to Him?” It is really worth a listen if you want to better prepare your heart this season or if you just want to better understand what Christians believe.

Merry Christmas and may God’s loving and merciful presence draw you closer and closer to him. 

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My first French Association

‘Associations’, or clubs, are a vital part of life and culture here. Not everyone, but many people, are involved in one or more association. And you can find an association for just about anything; sports, art, activism, cooking, choirs, wine, hiking, the list really goes on and on. In just our section of the city, there are hundreds of different groups. To help people choose a group, each September there is an Association Fair where many clubs get a small table to promote their groups. Ryan and I went with our friends in September and we were excited but nervous. Although we had prepared beforehand (which took hours to look at hundreds of groups and their descriptions in French) and knew which groups we wanted to talk to, when we arrived there was so much activity, we couldn’t find any of the groups we had planned to search out. 

The Association Fair, booths were lined both outside and in the Mayor’s building
We saw a few weddings finish up as a few newlywed couples
exited the building to loud cheers from their friends and family

After an hour and a half or so of exploring and talking with different club representatives we were starting to reach saturation point, when I noticed a very simple and discreet table with a small sign that said “new community garden in the 15th.” I had thought about a gardening association and had even noted a few that I was looking for, but this one was brand new. So I worked up the courage to go over, and waited patiently as 2 or 3 others pushed their way in front of me (this happens a lot to me, I am often too timid in situations like this). But once I made it up to the front, I had a nice chat with the woman, the President of this new association, and she said I was in luck as they still had space available and the garden was just a couple minutes walk from where I lived. I just had to write a 1 Euro check to the association to reserve my place. So I joined! 

A couple weeks later, I went to the first ever meeting for the association, and tomorrow, I will go and get a key to the garden. It is in an enclosed park space, but it will be open for the public to enjoy a few afternoons a week, and also when any of us are there to garden, we leave the gate open so nearby neighbors can come check it out. It will be a team gardening approach, so for each plot, 3 people will work together to plan, tend, and one day share in the harvest. I am still a little nervous, but mostly eager and excited to both get my hands dirty and to get better acquainted with several others who live nearby.

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The Summer of 2014

Today’s post is just a short and sweet “let’s get back on the blogging horse” post. Things have been going well. Summer in Paris was beautiful and very different than at other times of year, especially during August, when most of the city’s residents left for vacation and were replaced by tourists from around the globe. We enjoyed the slower-paced Paris and watched free movies in the park, visited other parks, read several books between us, and put several afternoons into decorating our place. We also went to Budapest, Hungary in August for a European Conference with our organization. It was refreshing to drive there and see a bit of Germany and Austria along the way, and it was fun to explore a new city for a couple days. The conference was on leadership development and we took home a lot of new skills, which should serve us well. 

As soon as we got back, it was “La Rentrée” in France, which is the kick start to the new year here (both scholastically and professionally as many families returned from their month-long vacations). It felt like “La Rentrée” for us as well as we jumped into an internship at a French church, started a (much lighter) course load of French classes, and began meeting with our ministry team to start discussing all the BIG ?’s like the why, what, when, and how we plan to start a community of believers in our neighborhood. But all these activities are going well and as we dive into the activities of the church, where we are interning, we are starting to build some relationships and feel more settled. We also have had the chance to get to know some of our neighbors a bit better too which has been great. 

But more on all of these topics soon… maybe?! Summer photo montage time…

Free movies at Parc Villette
Exploring Paris parks, there are so many great ones 
Ryan having fun climbing giant rocks at Fontainebleau forrest
Kids playing in fountains at Parc Citroen, 
totally ignoring the sign saying it’s forbidden
Visiting our first medieval castle in Pierrefont 
Paris Plage (beach along the Seine for 1 month in summer)
Walking around the St German de Près area
Parliament building in Budapest
Tour of Budapest
Nightlife in Budapest

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Language School Wrap-up

It is hard to believe, but our full-time language studies have come to an end. We will continue to study and work on our french until we feel fully confident and comfortable in the language, but not with the same intensity as these first 10 months. We’ve now experienced and seen how important it is to be very strong in the language if we want to invest in France long-term. Not feeling fully confident can add extra pressure and stress to both the little and the not so little things we do everyday. But we can say with confidence that in these 10 months of intensive study, we have learned a lot and improved a ton. There are days when our french just flows and we have no problems, but there are still days that we struggle to find the right words or sentence structures. It is such a cool thing though, to learn another language, and so far it has been very rewarding. 

We are so thankful for the school we attended and the amazing teachers who passionately taught us with patience and perseverance every day.

The place where we studied, laughed, cried, and even lived for several months
Our amazing teacher Régine whose passion and humor made learning a blast
Our class (1 of 4 classes, with around 50 students each year)
Our class, throughout the year many others came and went as well 
The learning environment 
The phrases we learned well and still use a lot!

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Our Paris Kitchen

In a post a couple weeks ago here, I mentioned that we were doing some work on our kitchen. In France and other parts of Europe, it is still fairly common to get an apartment with next to nothing in the kitchen. When we got our place, our kitchen had one very old cabinet with a huge sink and a gas range… and that was it. So we had to get appliances, and we decided it was worth it to replace the base cabinet and add a few other cabinets for more storage. The kitchen has a lot of interesting angles and old external pipes that made planning a little bit tricky. But with a little planning and the help of friends, teammates, and a trip to IKEA, our “petite cuisine” or little kitchen became a whole lot more functional. Here are some pictures that capture the process. 
The before shot
We got a great deal on our oven and fridge from a couple who was moving 
Our kitchen still in boxes
Demo day, we had to clean behind the cabinet and the pipe needed re-sealed
Ryan and our friend Andrew assembling all the elements 
The day of installation
Two of our directors worked for us for the day, what an incredible gift!
And here’s our kitchen now, this is the first time we’ve ever had a dishwasher,
or a washing machine. We feel truly blessed and maybe even a little spoiled. 
If we get a microwave, it will go where my cookbooks are, we still
need to add a new backsplash and touch up the wall a bit
The other wall
So if you come and visit, I will make you dinner

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Day 6 (Last but not least): Pray for Magny

The view in this area is just breathtaking. 

The church in Magny is in a similar place as the church in Meru. Most of the initial church planters have stepped back from the church to allow the French to take over leadership. This can be an exciting but also challenging time for the church. Please pray for: 

  • The French pastor and elders who are now leading this church
  • A consistent meeting space to be found
  • More and more spiritual growth and maturity among the members
  • The body to catch the vision to share the love of Christ with others

This is the final day, tomorrow the conference wraps up and everyone heads back to the States, please pray also for safe traveling and that these prayer champions would go back to their homes and churches advocates for what God is doing here in France. We’ve said it many times, but we are just one tiny piece in what God wants to do here. We need many more to come, to give, and to pray for this work. Thanks to everyone who followed along and prayed with us this week!

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Day 5: Pray for the Gospel Café

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King.”  Psalm 98:4-6
The Gospel Café uses music as an outreach to build connections with French people and create an environment to talk about spiritual things, with the goal of starting bible studies and a new church. Please pray for:
  • Consistent funding to rent spaces and pay musiciens
  • Direction and wisdom as to the ideal location for concerts
  • For the word to get out to more and more people, and especially people who are open to learning more about the Christian faith

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