“I love Paris, oh why, oh why do I love Paris? Because my love is there..” sang Ella Fitzgerald, and she was right – here he is!
Last week I got to travel with the husband, which was exciting, and not just because Paris is the city of love, or because it was also the city of brilliant sunshine during our stay (both of which helped)…but because of what we were there for. We spent three and a half days at the L’Eglise Reformee du Marais, a beautiful old church right by Place de la Bastille where there is some amazing and beautiful work afoot.
We were invited by our friends Bob and Gracie who are living there for a year. They’re an inspiring pair themselves. They used to live in community in rural Honduras alongside campesinos, where they taught sustainable farming, preventative health and led Bible studies. Then they’ve mainly lived in Washington State since then, working with Central American Immigrants, prison inmates and people who are homeless. (Check out Bob’s excellent blog) But they’ve moved to Paris for a year because they’ve been so inspired by what Gilles Boucomont and his team are up to at the church.
I love France. I love the wine and the cheese and the baguettes. But I have rarely heard anything especially exciting or inspiring about the modern day church in France. There is of course the amazing priest Jean Vanier who set up L’Arche (people living in community with those with a mental disability). but after him I get stuck for inspiration.
But what we experienced was amazing. And I’m trying to work out how to describe it because it’s totally un-pc and irrational. They pray for people to be delivered from all kinds of things that lock them up. Addictions. Cancer. Abusive relationships. Generational patterns. Curses. And they have incredible stories of people’s lives being completely changed. We met people who had been healed of brain tumours, and others from deep emotional wounds which were defining their whole lives. The team pray out evil spirits, like in the Bible, but not in a hyped up, scary kind of a way; or a ‘quick, he’s gay, he must have a demon, cast it out’ way; more in a compassionate, unforced, down-to-earth ‘we think this stuff is real and so we’re going to confront it’ kind of way. And starting with the Jesus-like question – do you want to be free?
I’ve been around some of that stuff in poorer parts of the world; I’ve heard it shouted about a lot by Americans; but in Western Europe, the heart of rationalism and secularism, it was more unexpected.
This is a bit different to previous blog entries. It’s easier to write about less controversial or overtly spiritual things. But these things we heard and saw in France genuinely give me hope, even in spite of knowing plenty stories about how this kind of thing gets twisted and misused. I think that there’s more to humans than our appetites, our education level or even our relationships, and I think profound change affects more than just individual lives, it affects families and communities and societies. I’m not about enforcing something spiritual on people, but I can’t write off the enormous change I’ve seen in people which has come about through seemingly inexplicable supernatural means (well, I guess it’s only inexplicable if you don’t believe in God).
I don’t think just praying for people is the answer, any more than I think just feeding them or giving them computer lessons is. Change is complicated. But I think the French team we met, and the thousands of Christians working in similar ways, are seeing extraordinary and wonderful things happen – things which have left me feeling more full of hope and faith than anything else for a long time.
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” John Wesley