God is on the move in Paris, France. In the is week’s video podcast, I sit down with my good friend and missionary Joe Schlie.
Joe is an American who has been living in Paris and doing full-time ministry for ten years with his wife and three children. He’s the City Leader for Agape France Ministries. For more information about the ministry, check out www.agapeparis.org.
According to Joe, while France is world famous for its cathedrals and art pieces reaching for the sky, seemingly in honor of God. Therefore, the French people must be by-and-large Christ followers with such a rich history of reverence toward God that they still appear to value today. However, today’s statistics reflect that there are actually very few people throughout France who practice Christianity in their daily lives. Of the seven million people living in France, only about six percent claim to follow Christ. In fact, nearly a quarter of them view themselves as atheists.
The Church in Paris isn’t persecuted today, in that people are not being thrown into prison for sharing their faith publicly. There’s simply nothing within the French culture today that encourages somebody toward God. It’s the very model of a secular culture, meaning that there is very little influence of the Church or religion in society. Therefore, to be viewed as a Christian is simply not very highly thought of or esteemed.
Joe shares a story of a student who had accepted Christ and was practicing her faith throughout her daily life. She was preparing to go on a retreat with some fellow students to learn more about the Bible, but her parents were aghast! In their minds, this was the absolute worst thing that could happen to their child – she was reading the Bible, attending church, and even attending a Christian camp.
But the truth is that a large part of this apprehension towards Christianity is merely birthed from an entire society’s lack of knowledge when it comes to the Bible and Jesus Christ. By and large, they have a particular perception of what it means to be a Christian, but their perceptions are skewed. They assume that Christians are uninteresting, legalistic, unthinking, and drab fun-killers.
And this is at the root of one of the goals of Joe’s ministry – to reach out so that Parisians will know at least one Christian and to correct the misconceptions of who Christians are.
Legally, the only real hurdles Joe tends to run into are “space issues”. There are regulations that his team (and any religious team, for that matter: Muslim, Buddhist, etc.) must remain 50 yards or so away from public schools or government offices. Outside of those restrictions, however, they are free to hand out Bibles, water bottles, preach or whatever they like.
The real obstacles don’t come from the law, but from the culture. While they can hand out tracks to strangers, the Parisian culture puts much more value on relationships, so the message and truth of Christ is more easily communicated in daily personal connection than street evangelism. In fact, in most cases, if someone who is not a friend were to hand a French person a tract, they would approach the missionary with such skepticism that they probably wouldn’t be able to hear the message at all. Contrast that to hearing God’s truth over time through a friend, and the latter is revealed as the preferred way to do ministry in Paris; especially since many Parisians view the Bible as archaic and not relevant to today’s modern life.
Yet, the culture today is much less hostile toward Christians than it was 15-20 years ago. Joe has found many fellow parents curious about what he does and even open to the idea that going to church might be a good thing for their children. So, as Joe look at God being “on the move” in Paris, he very clearly sees a shift from the prior negative perspectives of Christians to a neutral or even positive view toward the Gospel.
One interesting aspect of French culture compared to American, is that successful business capitalists are not held in as high regard as state officials or the government in general. Therefore, the French people tend to value the models and opinions coming fro the state more so than modeling the habits of individuals who, in America, may be viewed as successful. You see, since the French Revolution, equality is held in a much higher regard than ambition (which is often viewed as greed). Therefore, the influencers of the culture tend to be those in the government, not individuals in the proletariat. So, Joe and his team are constantly praying for inroads to the government officials and that God’s word would be reflected by those who influence the French people at all levels.
Now, the heart language of Paris is largely spoken through the arts: painting, sculpture, music, film, video, fashion, beauty… and food. Therefore there’s a sense of refinement and presentation that is highly valued even down to serving lunch. This also affects how Joe reaches out and shares the Gospel with his neighbors. He has a group of Christian artists, photographers, painters, sculptors, etc. who are putting together expositions and art shows centered around Biblical influences and scriptures ranging from Ecclesiastes, the Beatitudes, the analogies of the Vine and branches, and the Potter and the clay.
But, the key approach to Joe’s ministry is through the city’s students. In many cases, their parents have rejected the church and have taught their children absolutely nothing in regards to the Bible or it’s message. So now, these 15-30 year olds are at the stage in their lives where they are wondering what their lives are all about. Now, they may not be at a point where they are eager to go to a church to find the answers to their questions, but overall they are much more open to what the Bible says and how Christ can affect their lives and eternities.
All this to say, that Joe would really love the support and prayers of stateside believers. God is really on the move in France, and He appears to be responding to these prayers in unique and powerful ways.