Julien left the Jehovah’s Witness movement, hungry for spiritual truth – one of a number just like him whom we’ve been amazed to see the Lord bring us into contact with in recent years. Then there’s Hassan, a refugee from a Muslim background, whose heart has been touched by biblical truth.
These are the small numbers of disparate people we have seen come to faith in this coastal French town with a football stadium that holds more than twice the city’s population! The baptism of these two men last summer was a highlight of 2020.
A testimony of grace
It has been a joy to see Hassam’s spiritual growth and heartfelt response to biblical truth during one- to-one Bible studies with Emmanuel in preparation for his baptism; and Julien too, has a real hunger to study God’s Word and share the gospel.
“Is it OK if I bring 12 non-Christians to the service?” is not a question we get asked every day – in fact, it was definitely a first. It came from one of these men as we prepared for their baptism service. However, in the context of social distancing, we were limited to just 16 people in our church premises at Guingamp. Thankfully God enabled us to use a larger church building 22 miles away where we could have a congregation of 34. As with our weekly Sunday service, we also filmed using Zoom so that others were able to participate.
It was a joy to hear the very different testimonies of both men that day. Hassan gave a moving testimony of God’s grace in his life and his joy at being part of the family of God.
Trusting in God’s sovereign power
These strange times have challenged our plans, and our trust in the power of God to bring about his purposes. 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the official constitution of the Guingamp church where we serve. We had discussed a list of ideas to mark this – a great opportunity for witness in the area: a conference, concert, or open day. And then there was coronavirus …
Another outreach project has also been affected by the lockdown. We had just celebrated another milestone, a year of monthly Sunday services in our young church plant at Plouguernével (30 miles South). The project followed years of contacts and outreach programmes in the area. Christiane, one of our church members, lives in the nearby town of Rostrenen and for many years we have held a monthly Bible study in her home. At first, occasionally, some of her neighbours came along. Over the years, the number of contacts grew, and we felt that the Lord was leading us to begin a regular Sunday service.
The area that we aim to reach here has a population of around 21,000 with no evangelical church. Last year we averaged around 18 at services, half being members from Guingamp who had come to support. However, since lockdown, local authorities remain hesitant about renting the room, so we need to look for other possibilities for this small, young church. We are glad of the technological means to support church activities, however, and hope to develop these further.
Although we may have been stopped in our tracks, we know that God is sovereign and, therefore, never taken by surprise. His work is ongoing, and his Word will always accomplish his purposes. (Isaiah 55:11). Please pray with us as we seek to witness in what feels like very hard ground around Guingamp and in Central Brittany. We live in a post-modern French society, where old cathedrals mark the landscape, yet for many, religion is seen as being of little or no value.
*Some names and identities have been changed.
Emmanuel & Maria Hartiel work in church ministry and evangelism in Guingamp, Brittany