Missionary Diary: The power of pause in France

Kate Morris serves with CMS (Church Missionary Society) in Lille, France, with her husband Daniel and their three children. Kate works in various roles in the community and church, while Daniel is a staff worker for the Christian student group Groupes Bibliques Universitaires (GBU).

The weather out my window seems perfectly matched to a hot cup of tea. It’s summer, but here in the north of France, summer makes up its own rules: rain, cold winds, clouds are all no surprise. This morning brings rain but the sun might emerge later.

It’s the long summer holidays here, school goes back next week after two months off. A friend of my eldest child is coming to play soon, in fact, she’s a friend to all 3 of my children, a friendly personality with warm kindest in her interactions with them. Like many people here, she’s from a practising Muslim family. Her mother and I have been friends for years now. I’m open about my faith in the saviour Jesus. We both appreciate that our friendship is a place where faith can be freely spoken about, that prayer is a normal part of life. For many French people, religious beliefs are deeply personal and strictly taboo. Time to do the dishes before they arrive!

My mind drifts to Daniel, my husband, who’s away at a conference this week. He works with the French organisation called the Groupes Bibliques Universitaires (GBU) and this week students and staff from across France gather to spend 7 days together in God’s word. It’s the largest conference of the year, their national conference, with around 90 students and staff. Daniel is giving the talks each day, he’s chosen to speak on Hebrews. This is my own diary entry, but given his exciting week, I can’t help but include it. The kids and I have been to this conference too a couple of times (pre-pandemic!) and felt very encouraged.

At a GBU conference in Grenoble, France

This year’s GBU conference in Grenoble, France

They’ve retreated to Grenoble, which is down in the lower third of France, where France hugs Italy. Tucked in a rocky wrinkle on the side of a mountain is a conference site with everything they need for a great week. If I were writing a movie script, I’d cue a montage here: Sleepy conversations over baguette and hot chocolate at breakfast; the conference hall with voices swelling in song, barely muffled by the masks; prayer together; announcements mingled with silliness; a sermon; lunch outdoors backed by the stunning mountain vista; free-time games; thought-provoking seminars; Bible studies in groups; dinner (3 courses, of course); then a programmed session of either seriousness or silliness. The montage ends with scenes of the quiet-time students are encouraged to take alone during the day, students are dotted around the lush green square or perched on old rock walls overlooking the mountainscape, one lounging at the top of a slide, all taking the time to pause and reflect or challenge themselves and talk to God.

The week is packed, but it brings such joy to see students looking exhausted but happy, with new-found friends. Some come from parts of France with a blossoming Christian scene but many tell us each year that in their city they don’t know any or many other Christians their age who want to open the Bible, who want their faith to impact their lives. Many people in France use the name “Christian” because of family tradition or perhaps because everyone in their city has always identified as Christian. We know a couple who call themselves Christians but don’t believe in God, and this is not uncommon. So for these students, it can be life-altering to come away for a week with students who want to be Christians, who want their lives to be shaped by their faith. Some students come along and become Christians; others were already Christians. All are being encouraged to trust Jesus, to cling to him, to walk like him, to allow his lordship to shape all aspects of their life, and to press on in the mission of bringing Christ to whatever corner of France they are from.

Today Daniel gave talk three, which was on chapters 5-6, with warnings and encouragements about the necessity of finding salvation in Christ and the certainty of salvation when our hope is placed in him. Many people from around the world are praying for the students as they spend the week together.

The onslaught of usual activities begins next week and I’m reminded that as I launch in, I need to take care to cling to Christ.

Back in Lille, I’ve finished the dishes and we head to the bottom of the apartment to wait for the friend. They’re fashionably ten minutes late, which is polite here (and always a necessity for those last few dishes!). The kids play, and the mother and I chat. School begins next week and our children all feel the usual nerves around the newness of a new school year. We both agree that we are not in control of what the school year holds, that God is in control, but we differ on who God is. I think of the Hebrews talks Daniel is giving at the conference. God has revealed so much of himself, I pray often for this family, that someday they would come to know Jesus, his revelation of God and his saving work.

The day ends and the kids are asleep. Summer holidays are strange – my usual activities are on hold, but the calm of the break always serves as an effective time of rejuvenation for me. I feel more ready to face the new academic year. It’s been encouraging and challenging to delve into Hebrews with Daniel over these past few months as he prepared the talks. I hit “play” on the recording of his talk. I’m so glad I can listen to them even though I’m not there. The onslaught of usual activities begins next week and I’m reminded that as I launch in, I need to take care to cling to Christ: the things I’m involved in and my public image are not my salvation. And as I care for those around me, I need to remember that above all they too need Christ, more than anything else I can offer them. Let the new (academic) year commence.