France Mission supporter Mark Wibberley reflects on an encouraging trip
I’ve been passionate about France Mission since a visit to Paris-Nation church in the early 1980s with Peter Farley, FM’s original UK Director, when we were both members of Minchinhampton Baptist Church. On 31st January 2020, I accompanied Paul Cooke – Peter’s successor since 2010 – on a weekend trip to Alsace, arriving at Mulhouse airport on EU passports.
The visit was a resounding success in several ways:depth of experience and observation (hugely encouraging), relationship-building all ways round, plus wonderful presentations from Paul helping French pastors and church members understand more of France Mission’s work in the UK.
Alsace has a rich history – sometimes tumultuous, of course –and boasts fertile soils under the Vosges where we passed many kilometres of vineyards. A few largish settlements like Mulhouse (population 130k) are surrounded by smaller towns like Saverne and Sélestat, plus tourist-trail villages. Our host Jean-Georges Gantenbein, Perspectives’ Regional Director for Alsace-Lorraine, regularly uses the outstanding Alsatian SNCF trains along the Mulhouse-Strasbourg corridor to visit and support local churches.
On the Saturday, a valuable day was spent at the Perspectives church in Saverne, 40km north-west of Strasbourg. After worship and an introduction from Tom Parfitt – main organizer for the event and church planter in the Orangerie district of Strasbourg(see the article on pages 8-9 in the summer 2019 issue of France Mission Perspectives) – we had an excellent half-hour introduction on the principles of mission from Daniel Liechti, Director of Development at Perspectives and Professor of Missiology at the Faculty of Evangelical Theology in Vaux-sur-Seine. Following that, half a dozen church leaders shared details about their diverse churches. For example,Strasbourg-Gare where there are 67 nationalities in a single district!And deep needs... Food for thought and prayer! After a presentation from Paul about FM, we broke into small groups and considered how we would embark on starting a church in a town where there is currently no evangelical witness: Vittel (famed for its water, of course) was the town chosen for our group, and we were provided with local information about this small town in Lorraine to facilitate pertinent discussion and awareness.
We enjoyed a splendid evening of fellowship in Strasbourg where we met the trio of Jean-Georges’ younger son (Samuel) and two Christian friends (Enoch from Hong Kong and Fabian from Switzerland) just back from serving with the OM ship, Logos Hope! The encounter highlighted how God is working both locally and internationally. All mission matters. And all aspects of mission interweave – praying, giving, and going.
On Sunday 2nd February, we visited Sélestat,a delightful town midway between Mulhouse and Strasbourg. Nestled amidst the medieval architecture we discovered a vibrant fellowship of over one hundred believers… meeting in a former hotel! The building has three floors plus abasement – so, a really useful space for the Perspectives church to exploit as it continues to develop. Sensitive and authentic worship preceded a great opportunity for Paul to share about FM before Jean-Georges passionately expounded from Revelation 1:1-8. We conversed over a fabulous bring-and-share lunch. It was truly exciting and a privilege to meet here. Alongside all the French worshippers, we met one recent arrival from England plus an Albanian family.
We give thanks for precious fellowship, vital experiences and observations, and pray that God’s work might deepen in and through those we met – with special and profound appreciation for godly hospitality by Sabina & Jean-Georges whose home was a haven of peace,rest, and hope.
It was excellent to travel together with Paul (returning via the “other passports” channel!). Visits like this are wonderful for building relationship, mission, and good fruit. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!