By Terri Althaus, an Alliance international worker serving in France
From its beginning five-and-a-half years ago, the Mérignac Alliance Church has ministered to persecuted Christians. One Sunday each month we hold a special prayer meeting for the persecuted church, and recently we have expanded that to the refugee crisis.
About a year ago we asked how God wanted us to provide for the refugees’ needs. As a young church with 35–40 people, no building of our own, and a location that is not often the first stop for displaced people, it wasn’t obvious how God could use us.
This fall, however, two people contacted us who knew of families seeking asylum in France. They had recently been placed in Mérignac by the French government.
One of these families had fled their country because of religious persecution. As we’ve gotten to know their story, we have seen how God uniquely wove it into the story of our church.
Seven years ago, Mariam* gave birth to the couple’s second child, Hooman, who was born with Down syndrome. Living in a context where disabilities were seen as a curse, she and her husband found themselves and their child despised, alone, and discouraged.
One night Mariam had a dream. She saw a bright light around her son and heard a message that Hooman was a gift from God, not a curse.
The next day she was in the park with her son, despondent and hopeless. Her attention was drawn to another family with a young child. Mariam suffers from Stargardt’s disease, rendering her legally blind, yet she recognized that the other family also had a child with Down syndrome.
They seemed happy.
She began to converse with them and discovered they were Christians. Mariam and her family began to explore the Christian faith and the Bible. They trusted in Christ and became involved in an underground house church that met on different days of the week, singing praises quietly.
Eventually Mariam and her husband were both baptized in a bathtub.
Last January the government found out about the home group and arrested several of its members, including Mariam’s husband. He was blindfolded, beaten, and released, then arrested again and subjected to the same treatment. The family fled, knowing their lives were in danger.
Two Stories Collide
We met them in October. Immediately our church members pitched in to help in various ways—translating from English to French at doctor’s visits and government offices, helping them learn French, and driving them to church on Sundays. It seems God had planned from the beginning that Mariam’s family would become part of our family here.
I asked the couple if they would prefer a larger church, and they said, “No.” The intimacy of a smaller congregation reminded them of their underground family.
In the past we’ve encountered many families with children who have disabilities, like Mariam’s, and seen the absence of support for them. Repeatedly we’ve prayed, Lord, is this an area You would want our church to minister in?
Mariam became an answer to this prayer. At our Christmas service she shared her story of how the gift of Hooman taught her who God is and brought her to Christ. Several visitors and another family with a disabled child were there to hear this message of hope.
The size of a church or its resources doesn’t matter when it comes to welcoming the displaced. Our believers are seeing firsthand how God cares for His people in difficult circumstances. Not only have we loved and supported Mariam’s family but their trust in God is also proclaiming that love to others.
How You Can Help
You can be a part of the outreach to refugees like Mariam and her family when you give to the Alliance Year-End Offering. Watch this video and visit the Year-End web page to learn more.