In 2013 our ministry was at red traffic lights. I was burnt out and, unknowingly, depressed. Pat had watched, concerned, as the storm clouds gathered.
Finally, I realised something was wrong and, helped wonderfully by the mission, our denomination, our home church and marvellously caring friends, we embarked on a new adventure: a sabbatical of nine months to rest, recover and to pray the way forward. “At last”, I thought, “a chance to embark on some solid theological study with a Masters at the end.” Well that gourd was swiftly blasted and we began to walk the streets of Bordeaux, to visit churches, to talk, to think and to pray. Bordeaux is a beautiful city in South-West France, popular especially with tourists and students for its rich gastronomy, its mild climate and the renewal brought by its dynamic mayor. We observed that, like in many cities, church life was increasingly suburban and the 220,000 Bordelais, who live in the heart of the city, were even more unreached.
An observation became a concern, which became a prayer, which became a burden, which became a sense of call. To church plant? At our age? An International Church? In the heart of Bordeaux? It seemed stupid, doomed to failure. But if not us, then who? and if not now, when? We looked at our assets. Woefully inadequate. We had a wonderful group of about 10 – 15 who worshipped in English at our home. We shared with them the vision of becoming an international city-centre Church. Yes! But we had no place to meet. This is a huge problem in France, and even more so in the big cities. Then a friend suggested that we consider meeting at their restaurant, Dan, which was always closed on Sundays.
“A Bible Church in the heart of Bordeaux to glorify God, to strengthen Christians, to reach anyone and everyone with the Gospel of Christ.”
We went along for lunch one day and I surreptitiously counted the chairs. 30. That would do for now but it didn’t give much scope. However, it was in a super place. What about personnel? Church planting needs “a couple of couples”. Well, that we didn’t have, but we trusted God to open all the doors in his time. Then our ministry needed to be on a better financial footing if we were to imagine a long-term project in France. We sold our house and rented a super little flat. Meanwhile some supporting churches worked with the mission to review our finances to the point that we could embark on another ten years in France.
We discussed together the principles on which we would work. The focus would be on prayer, Bible truth and meaningful fellowship. The goal would be to present everyone perfect in Christ. We would welcome anyone and everyone. With God’s help we would be “a Bible Church in the heart of Bordeaux to glorify God, to strengthen Christians, to reach anyone and everyone with the Gospel of Christ.”
At Easter 2014 we began a trial run up till June. There were limitations. No room for a piano or to move the tables. In that case we’d sit around tables and sing to MP3 files or to guitars. There were challenges. Some folk came whose English was very limited. So we began to worship bilingually, singing and reading in both languages and giving short summaries of the major sermon points in French. At our review in June 2014 everyone was convinced. Bordeaux Church was permanent.
In September 2014 a Canadian missionary arrived in Bordeaux to work with university students. After reflection and prayer, James Hammond settled with us and has become a great help in the work. Since then another British couple, Peter and Alison Kennelly from Open Air Campaigners, have arrived in Bordeaux to do street evangelism, and they are also a great help. Other developments have included English conversation classes held just before the service, and each time some people stay to hear the Gospel preached.
But the work isn’t without problems. We’re often full! We started looking for alternative meeting places. Meanwhile, we asked people to pray that Dan would be so successful that they would have to move to larger premises. Then just before Christmas 2015 our friend came to the service and said, “We have something to tell you. We have decided to open a second restaurant, much bigger, in the next street, so even more people can come.”
Challenges remain. A stable membership. Elders. Registering as a church (Law 1905). But all in good time, step by step. And in all that has happened thus far we have had the impression of simply being deeply committed observers of something that Jesus himself is doing, just as he promised, “I will build my church.”