Feature

Googling for God

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It’s not easy for a French person to call a church out of the blue nor step through the doors of one on a Sunday morning. It’s maybe even more bold to open up to someone who speaks with a foreign accent and begin to talk about your search for God.

So it was surprising and even refreshing to us when Emmanuelle called and began asking questions like, “I’m looking for a church near my home, but I can’t come every week because of my autistic son’s needs. Is it OK if I visit your church? Do I have to be baptized to come?”

The young church in Mérignac, a suburb of Bordeaux, France, is a group of 40 or so who gather on Sunday mornings in a hotel near Emmanuelle’s home. As we got to know her story, it was evident that God had been drawing her to Himself, and our church entered that story midway.

Disappointed and hurt from a dysfunctional relationship, alone as a single mom of a special-needs son, she hit bottom but cried out to God from that desperate place. Immediately, a sense of being loved and of newness replaced the despair, and she began to seek Christian teaching on the Internet.

She knew she needed to find a church but didn’t want to return to the traditional religion of her youth, and she didn’t know much about evangelical churches. Also, she couldn’t go far from home. She searched “evangelist” and came across the name of a street evangelist in Bordeaux who knew of our church, and she got our phone number.

Public Confession

One of the first Sunday mornings she joined us, my husband, Todd, was preaching on baptism. He asked who wanted to take that step of public confession of their faith. To our surprise, Emmanuelle raised her hand. But I came to see this was how it was going to be with her: the Holy Spirit calling and her responding right away, like jumping into His arms.

Soon after, I went to see Emmanuelle at her home. Her 22-year-old daughter, Aurelia, was there as well. I asked if we could read the Bible together, and we went to John 1 and 3. They had never read God’s Word before, and as we took turns reading, I was struck with how extraordinary the experience was: reading the words of Jesus with two French women who were hearing it for the first time. Where would this go?

All Things New

Emmanuelle and I began to meet regularly to explore what the Bible says about a relationship with God in Christ, assurance of salvation, and holy living, as she prepared for baptism. I started to see just how radical the change of direction was for her as she accepted His forgiveness and He began to transform her. Also, I learned just how long and deep were the hurts of the past—an alcoholic mother who died of overdose, two abusive marriages—but also how wonderfully new He was making all things for her and in her.

Emmanuelle has become an active member of her church (shown here) by hosting a weekly prayer meeting in her home. (Photo by Stephanie Reindel)

The church family welcomed her and reached out to her children. In my mind’s eye is the image of her 16-year-old autistic son, fiddling on the cello of one of our musicians at the end of a service. Or playing soccer with several others at a church picnic. Or the small group that gathered in her home on a Tuesday night when she began to host our weekly prayer meeting, lovingly ignoring the involuntary noises made by her son, who also has Tourette’s syndrome.

The power and ministry of prayer has been key in her transformation, such as seeing a significant change and grace from God to bring calm and help to her son at crisis moments. One woman meets with her regularly in a growth group, and another is walking alongside her in developing a ministry of prayer for our church.

Emmanuelle’s transformation has naturally spilled over into the lives of others around her. Aurelia was hesitant at first about what was happening in her mom’s life but couldn’t deny the changes for the better she was seeing.

The first time Aurelia came to a church event, she left midway. Something touching her heart felt too deep and overwhelming. But some months later, this young woman agreed to come to some dinner discussions about faith then started reading the Bible with two others, and now she too has put her faith in Christ.

God Knows

One day Emmanuelle and her son were distraught because their beloved cat had gone missing. She walked up and down her street calling him and decided to knock on one neighbor’s door. Coralie answered, and when she said that no, she hadn’t seen the cat, Emmanuelle’s response, “God knows where he is,” took her by surprise. Coralie asked, “Are you a Christian? Do you know where there might be a prayer group or something around here? I’ve been having dreams about God and am searching for Him.”

Emmanuelle invited her neighbors Coralie and Fabrice to church, and now they too have put their faith in Christ. (Photo courtesy of Terri Althaus)

That chance meeting “happened” to be a few days before the first prayer meeting at Emmanuelle’s home. The encounter led to Coralie and her husband, Fabrice, coming to faith in Christ, being delivered from deep darkness, and with their children, becoming a part of our church family. They were baptized last October.

New Churches

The spiritual ground in France is hard and resistant, but the Holy Spirit continues to call people to the Father. We’re seeing a new movement of God here. We’re seeing it among people whose desperation makes them conscious of their separation from God and need to be made whole and who, like Emmanuelle, cry out to God and respond to Him.

The presence of a local Body of Christ makes the message of God’s love and experience of it in community accessible to those who are far from Him. Many more towns in France need a local church. The latest statistics for our region indicate there’s one church for every 40,000 inhabitants, and for some, they would have to drive 30–45 minutes to find a church where they would hear the good news. But new churches are being planted!

Believers in France, by some estimates less than 1 percent of the population, are no longer just trying to survive as a tiny minority, but they’re coming together with the common goal of one church for every 10,000 people. There is a renewed vision and vigor to be present for people like Emmanuelle.

1 response to Googling for God

  1. We recently moved to MN. From the GLD.

    I love how we are all called as followers of Jesus and to proclaim His name with boldness. Pray, give, send!

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