Bordeaux is one of the most agreeable towns in the world to live in. You should be very happy to live here. You are in Paradise.” Such was the rather effusive praise that designer Philippe Starck gave to the city when he visited recently.
Paradise? Bordeaux is certainly a very beautiful city. It is also clean, safe and easy to get around, thanks to its modern public transport system. And the food! Well beyond any doubt, Bordeaux has the best food in the world.
But Paradise? Really? As the city’s mayor replied, “We have our problems.” The cost of living is high, especially accommodation. Jobs are hard to find and easy to lose. While the city is generally safe, there are still dangers. Last year 6 students died after stumbling from nightclubs into the river. Homelessness, drugs, broken homes; we have all the huge issues of any modern city.
Then there are the problems you can’t see so easily. Streets full of people with no reason to live, no sense of purpose, no hope, no thought for their eternal destiny. Here, too, “Unnumbered souls are dying and pass into the night.”
Our calling is to reach anyone and everyone with the gospel, and by God’s grace, to establish a Bible-focused congregation in the heart of the city of Bordeaux
Bordeaux is one of the least evangelised cities of France. Large suburbs have no evangelical witness whatsoever. The heart of the city has largely been abandoned by the churches, seeking better sites in the suburbs, places where families can park their cars. Pastors and evangelists work hard, but the task is enormous, the fields are vast and the labourers are few. For example, Bordeaux has approximately 100,000 students, and the GBU (Christian Union groups) number about 20 members in total.
At different times over the past 8 years, our ministry has been divided between outreach to students, supporting a French church plant, encouraging a small historic French church 30 miles north of Bordeaux, ministering to a group of international English-speakers in our home and supporting a Chinese Christian group. After a spell of burnout we took time to reflect, to survey the Bordeaux scene, to walk, to talk and to pray in the city. How do you respond to needs so great? What can you do?
In the future our ministry will focus on two areas of service. Firstly the English-speakers. Our English Service is becoming Bordeaux Church International. Our services are now broadly bilingual and have moved to a charming little Franco-Chinese restaurant right in the middle of the St Pierre restaurant district of Bordeaux. The congregation come from countries as varied as Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK, the USA and, of course, France. Our calling is to reach anyone and everyone with the gospel, and by God’s grace, to establish a Bible-focused congregation in the heart of the city of Bordeaux. The restaurant can accommodate more people than our home could, thankfully, but if we grow beyond about 40 people we’ll need to move again. A city-centre church has offered the use of their building, so there’s scope.
The second focus of our work will be with the Chinese. If French is hard then Mandarin is something else! But notwithstanding the language, our ministry to the Chinese will be to preach and teach via interpretation, to give pastoral care, but mainly to encourage and train future leaders, using materials available in French and English (and also in Mandarin where possible). We will also continue our involvement with the Christian bookshop, just yards from the cathedral.
In the meantime, the French church plant is advancing with a newly appointed Interim Pastor and the future of the student outreach is being discussed. Our response is inadequate. All we can do is inadequate. Oh for twenty lives to spend reaching the people of Bordeaux! But time and again God shows us in his Word that, despite our sense of inadequacy, he delights to use us to achieve his great purposes and glorify his Son.