French Baptist Congress: ‘saved for reconciliation’
A powerful and poignant message of reconciliation and peace came out of the French Baptist Congress, in a fortnight marred by terror attacks in the UK, Egypt and Afghanistan
Hundreds of French Baptists gathered in Mulhouse in eastern France for the French Baptist Congress in the last month (25-27 May). BMS World Mission workers were involved in organising and sharing at the event, which featured three days of worship, challenge and encouragement from leaders and churches across the Federation.
Evangelical Christians make up less than one per cent of the French population, and the average church size is 50 people (although many of the Federation’s 120 churches are much smaller). The opportunity to gather as a large body of believers, therefore, and to hear about the exciting things God is doing in France was one that delegates relished.
Mark Deroeux, General Secretary of the Federation, and Thierry Auguste, the Federation’s President, both thanked BMS for its contribution to the work in France in their addresses to delegates, emphasising particularly the roles of Philip Halliday and John and Sue Wilson who are now involved in leading parts of the Federation.
“BMS is an instrument of God’s hands. For French Baptists to be able to have a partnership with BMS is a huge blessing.” -Thierry Auguste, President of the French Baptist Federation
Philip, BMS Regional Team Leader for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, shared with delegates about church planting in the country. Philip is responsible for heading up the Federation’s Home Mission department, and he oversees the 15 Baptist church plants across France – these include the different forms of church plant led by BMS workers Claire-Lise and David Judkins and Christine Kling in Brive-la-Gaillarde, in central France, and Gif-Sur-Yvette, near Paris, respectively.
John Wilson: dancing with frères at my sides
John, a BMS pastor who has been serving in France since 1988 and has recently been appointed to lead the Federation’s Ministry Commission, had the privilege of welcoming the latest recognised Baptist minister to the Federation, and praying for the retiring or ‘emeritus’ ministers, as part of the Congress. He also took part in a dance-off, which he won using moves any British Baptist minister would be proud of.
There was a lot of time for discussion during and between the sessions, with long breaks for lunch and dinner, including mandatory cheese. There were also engaging seminars on the Friday afternoon on a range of topics such as ‘art as evangelism’ and ‘using online theological training’, four of which were hosted by BMS workers.
The keynote messages, which were brought by Mennonite author and theologian Claude Baecher and Nabil Costa, a BMS supported partner worker and head of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), were challenging and inspiring calls to be reconcilers, focused on the words from 2 Corinthians 5: 18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
In light of the recent terror attacks in Manchester, Egypt and Afghanistan, the theme took on a greater poignancy and urgency for all present. You can read summaries of Nabil and Claude’s messages below.
Claude Baecher: ‘On earth as it is in heaven’ changes everything
Claude began the first of his two-part message by talking about war – “weapons win wars, sometimes,” he said, “but they never win peace.”
Speaking about the fact that “God wants to transform us into peacemakers”, Claude shared a powerful and complex message in an animated and easy to understand way. He challenged delegates to remember that the Church is called to replicate what Jesus did, and Jesus died for reconciliation. Therefore, peace isn’t a special spiritual gift given to people like Martin Luther King Jr – it’s for all of us.
To reconcile, we need to act not in anger but in love. Using Matthew 25: 23-24, Claude unpacked how it is our job to be the ones who go and seek reconciliation – even if we feel we are not to blame. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you… go and be reconciled to them”.
“Forget your victim identity, and become an instrument of peace,” said Claude. Admitting that not all situations can be reconciled here on earth, Claude said that we should still take the initiative. We should try. If the person won’t be reconciled, then that’s okay. We have still acted in love.
If we really want life on earth to be ‘as it is in heaven’ we must seek to do all things in love. In France, Claude said that the average person thinks in their subconscious that you must keep the Church out of power, because if you give the Church power, they’ll kill everyone. Our history has often not been marked by peace, but our future must be.
Claude said he has seen the way God can transform others far beyond what we imagine if we are open to reconciliation. Having good relationships with the people God has created is a way of worshipping him.
The challenge Claude left was for the Church: “We need an army of Christians to take on all the conflicts in the world before people use weapons.”
Nabil Costa: ‘Our job is to serve the people who are the source of our troubles’
Speaking about the refugee crisis that has become a huge element of the of the work he leads at LSESD in Lebanon, Nabil unpacked what it means to love Jesus. In the second of his two talks he focused on the passage in John 21 (14-17) where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and, when Peter says yes, tells him to “feed my sheep”.
Speaking honestly, Nabil shared that he would have preferred not to have almost 50 per cent of his country now made up of refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq. “I am so glad God didn’t consult me about the refugee crisis,” he said, though, admitting that he would have told God to send them somewhere else. “Everything that is happening is beyond my comprehension. But the good news is, God is in control.”
The more we love Jesus, Nabil said, the more we will be obedient to follow his call to feed his sheep. “If we don’t have compassion, we can’t help anyone,” he said. “We need to allow ourselves to experience Christ’s compassion in us.”
Nabil shared how refugees often feel that they are not wanted anywhere. Forced out of their homes by war and conflict, they arrive in new countries and are rejected again. It is to the outcast that Jesus sends us.
In the midst of the trouble, Christians in Lebanon are seeing things they’ve never seen before. Their churches are packed with people. “People prayed for the Church to grow. Prayed for Muslims to come to Christ,” Nabil said. “God answered these prayers – now we don’t want it.”
More than one million refugees in Lebanon are from Syria – a country that has historically been its enemy. Yet God has been convicting Christians in the region to love their enemies and to help them. “Our job is to serve the people who are the source of our trouble,” said Nabil. “We can’t keep closing our eyes and pretending problems will be solved. It is our blessing to take part in them.”
Challenging the audience to greater obedience, Nabil asked: “do we love Jesus enough to follow in his footsteps?” Obedience isn’t about following rules or doing the right thing, but about having a heart after Jesus. God’s vision is different to our vision, and his numbers are different to our numbers.
“We may not be convinced and we may not be capable,” said Nabil, “but we have been called to give.”
Please pray for the Church in France.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain comprises almost 2,000 churches, the French Baptist Federation has just 120. They’re small in number but strong in vision – striving to be outward looking. Pray for energy, for strength and for opportunities to make Jesus known.
This story was originally published on the BMS World Mission website and is used with permission.