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Head, heart and hands

CMS has had several decades worth of involvement in mission in French university ministry, with an ongoing focus through the Relais programme on training leaders who will train others. CMS missionary Caroline Evenden gives a sense of how gospel growth will continue through locals even after the departure of some of those long-term CMS workers.

In the context of long-term mission in France, it has been wonderful to discover and be involved in actual personal examples of how the gospel is passed down from generation to generation.

In my time as part of the French university ministry Groupes Bibliques Universitaire (GBU), I’ve discovered numerous two- and three- generation examples of passing on the gospel in student ministry.

  • Former CMS missionary Libby Leach trained Marion. Marion then trained Laetitia, who is now the national coordinator for many high school bible groups in the organisation GBL.
  • Yohann trained Mickaël. Mickaël is currently training Mikaël, in his second year of Relais in Clermond-Ferrand.
  • Paul & Sandra King (also previously CMS missionaries) trained Isabelle in Strasbourg. Isabelle then trained Timothée last year in Nancy. This year Timothée is in his second year, working with Emmanuelle in the Mediterranean region. At the beginning of the new uni year in September, Timothée will replace Emmanuelle as regional coordinator.

Since its beginnings in 2001, God has continued to use GBU France’s training programme Relais to raise up full-time ministers of the gospel. Begun while the first Australian CMS missionaries were here, Relais is now coordinated by Emmanuelle, with CMS missionary Daniel Morris helping with a lot of the administration of the programme. Fifty-four young French men and women have completed the first year of Relais, and ten of them did a second year. Before joining the GBU staff team, most of my colleagues were Relais trainees. A few other trainees went on to church-based ministry in France, and many are working in their professions, better equipped to follow Jesus and proclaim the good news.

Meet the inspiring Joanna

This year I have the privilege of walking alongside Joanna in her first year of Relais in Toulouse. Joanna grew up in Tours and last year completed her Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts there. Throughout her five years as a uni student she was involved with the GBU, first as a bible study group leader and then as the regional student leader. She says, “The GBU motivated me to read my Bible more and grow in my relationship with God. The various responsibilities entrusted to me helped me mature personally and spiritually. I decided to do Relais to give back a bit of what I learnt as a student, to be involved in the GBU longer and be trained in ministry.”

Joanna and I had met each other briefly once or twice at national GBU meetings before she moved to Toulouse in August 2018. Our weekly Tuesday meetings included lunch, at my place or hers—and occasionally trying out a new café for the lunch part. They have provided lots of opportunity to share life and ministry. In line with Paul’s letters to Timothy, in the Relais programme we want trainees to grow in Christian character and conviction based on God’s word. We also want to give them lots of opportunities as the year goes on, to grow in their ministry skills. In other words, we pray to see growth in Christian conviction, character, and competence; you might say we are looking for ‘head, heart, and hands’ working together.

Joanna is very disciplined in reading the Bible each day. One of the things we’ve been focussing on as we read together is taking the time to think about how the passage applies to our lives in concrete ways, so that it doesn’t remain only at an intellectual level. It’s exciting for her and me to see God’s Spirit at work growing her in particular aspects of her character and convictions. These are things that she’d identified, in our first couple of meetings together, as things she wanted to grow in. We also spend time praying for the students, praying for each other, and preparing for what’s coming up in the GBU.

Amongst other goals for her Relais year, we decided on some ministry skills it would be good for Joanna to do for the first time: a workshop at the regional weekend away, teaching students to prepare and lead bible studies, and GBU advertising stands on campus. The latter is not her favourite thing, but as she says, “I’m now less afraid of this way of doing evangelism… and it’s great seeing how God uses it in people’s lives!”. This semester she’s learning more about delegation as she leads a team of students organising a couple of Veritas evenings (evangelistic dialogue meetings). She is loving seeing God at work in the lives of Marie and Lisa as she meets with them one-to-one.

Like all Relais trainees, Joanna dedicates a day a week to studying theology. There are no colleges close enough to attend classes, so she sets aside Thursdays to do the distance programme at her own pace through Vaux-sur-Seine, an evangelical theological college near Paris. She studied Jeremiah in first semester, and the gospels this semester. In February she did a two week residential intensive at Vaux. She’s loving being stretched theologically, and growing in knowledge and love of God and his word through it all.

What’s next?

In these last few months of her first Relais year, the focus of the programme I’ll tailor for Joanna will become pointier. Why? Because after prayer and in discussion with the GBU leadership, Joanna has made the decision to do the second year of the traineeship, with a view to being the next South-West regional coordinator from September 2020! Together we’ll do the first few months of her second year of Relais before I return to Australia in late November. The rest of the year, Mickaël will train Joanna from where he lives in Clermond-Ferrand, and we’ll find someone in Toulouse for her to meet with to read God’s word and pray. Please ask God to provide the right woman for this pastoral responsibility in Joanna’s continuing journey towards full time ministry with the GBU.

I wonder who Joanna may go on to train in years to come? And Timothée in the Mediterranean region? And Emmanuelle in her new role as local staffworker in Strasbourg? Who will be the 4th generation Relais-trained GBU staffworkers who in their turn entrust what they’ve learned to a 5th generation? God is faithful in raising up workers for his harvest field, from one generation to the next, for a France that knows Jesus.

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