Feature

City of the Light

A Catalyst of hope in France

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Early in 2010, my wife, Rachel, and I had just arrived in the City of Lights after a quick change of direction in our first ministry assignment in France.

“Look,” said David Kennedy, our teammate and friend, “there are more than one million young adults in Paris and less than 0.4 percent of them know Jesus. Have fun!”

That was very exciting—and extremely overwhelming. Where does one even begin?

Since David was then serving as the interim pastor of Trinity International Church, God led us to a great partnership with that congregation, which already included a number of students aged 18–30. We decided to create a small group for these young people at Genesis, a renovated jazz club in the heart of Paris that Trinity uses for outreach and other events. So, in the fall of 2010, we launched Catalyst, a ministry with students in mind.

French Spoken Here

Our first meeting drew about 10 young adults. To be honest, I didn’t know where this was going. How could 10 students influence this city of 10 million people? Paris draws people from many countries who come to work or to study for a time and then leave. The lives of students, especially, are so transient that it was hard to imagine making a long-term impact.

How could God use our limited resources to do something lasting? But He is faithful, and as usual, does the biggest things when we take the most illogical risks.

The group doubled by Christmas. Students from all over the world attended, but we began to see more French students. God kept bringing new young people to us, and several gave their lives to Jesus.

In February 2011 I suggested that the Catalyst meetings transition to a more formalized French-speaking gathering to impact the city at large. The idea was met with some excitement but also a bit of resistance. We were operating in English and French at that point, and the bilingual environment was interesting and comfortable. But I realized that if we were going to really make a difference in Paris, we needed to go “all in” in French, even while maintaining the international spirit of the group.

However, at the end of the 2011 school year, a number of our core students and young professionals left to begin new stages of their lives elsewhere in France—or even in other countries. How could we move forward after having lost people we had grown to love?

God is faithful. A number of young people who regularly attended Catalyst came to me in late August. “OK, Tim, it’s time!” they said. They were ready to take the risk and launch a French-language gathering even if we had just lost members.

Our first Catalyst gathering of the school year was sparsely attended, and I was a bit hesitant about the language change. But my young friends were full of faith. Four guys, all 24 years old and fluent in French and English, are the core of the group and the future of its leadership. They all said, “Let’s go!”

Needing More Room

We realized that if God answered our prayers, we needed to rent a larger building to use in addition to Genesis. We put money down on a place across town with a capacity of 70 people. In the United States that might not sound big, but in France, Trinity’s main congregation of 150 people is considered a “mega-church.” To prepare for a small group from that church to reach 70 is a big step of faith.

Our first meeting at our new location drew about 30 young people, already nearly half the space’s capacity. All of the students engaged in prayer and worship, claiming the movement of God in this city. On our second Friday night we had a pretty good crowd for our first French-language gathering, where we had a discussion about a loving God and suffering, sang newer French worship songs and viewed two original videos made by our young people, all in an atmosphere charged with the expectation of God’s movement.

I honestly don’t know what to expect in the future, but I know one thing: God is faithful. He wants us to move out in risk, especially in places like France, where the odds are clearly stacked against us. In one of the most beautiful cities of the world, where so many are searching for the deepest answers, God is ready to draw people to himself. He is just waiting for us to have the courage to take big risks for the gospel.

French Connection

Fred, one of Catalyst’s core members, has been a Christian for less than two years. He is inviting a number of his coworkers from his architectural firm to Catalyst and is excited about what God is up to.

Like many people in France, Fred was raised in a non-Christian home and knew no one who followed Jesus. However, he began dating an American, who introduced him to the Lord, and they attended Trinity Church together. Ironically, it was then that he began to struggle with his faith. “My girlfriend, people from Trinity Church and I prayed God to help me believe,” Fred says. “Jesus deeply changed my heart, and I finally took the leap of faith!”

Right after that, Fred’s girlfriend had to continue her studies in another city of France. Since she had been with him all the time when praying or going to church, Fred felt that he was suddenly “by himself.” It was a blessing from God that Catalyst started at the same time. Being in Christian fellowship and making new friends was a great help and encouragement to Fred. Through Catalyst, he became an active member of the church and got involved in several ministries.

Catalyst also encouraged Fred to venture out of Trinity Church’s “comfort bubble” and meet people from other C&MA churches in France. Last year, Catalyst went on a retreat with several young adult group from the Paris area. “I met this guy who really reminded me of myself at the time I was struggling with my unbelief,” Fred recalls. “God used me as I was asked on the last night to share my testimony in front of everyone. That night, I felt great joy when I saw the guy surrender to Christ!”

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