Reaching out during lockdown
Posted on: 17th March 2021
CMS missionaries Colin & Cath Puffett are serving in Nantes, France with a view to establishing a new church. Part of engaging with the community has involved caring for university students. Cath describes this part of the ministry here.
When COVID-19 initially hit France in mid-March 2020, the country went into a strict lockdown. The announcement was for two weeks of restrictions. You had to stay in a one-kilometre zone from your house with a couple of exceptions—groceries or medical help. Only essential workers were allowed to go to work, and schools closed. So too did churches and parachurch activities—they all ground to a halt in the face of these measures.
Two weeks isn’t such a long time. But over and over this initial two weeks was extended. Another two weeks until it was a month, a month and a half, and eventually ended at one month and 25 days. For some this extended lockdown was particularly difficult.
Locked down and locked in
For most of us in Nantes, life became the Zoom meetings we are all so familiar with, and one-to-one meetings were possible again from mid-May. But for international students this was a particularly challenging time. Those who lived in dorms were unable to meet with others, common areas were closed, and students were encouraged to live within the four walls of their rooms. This time was really tough, but sometimes constraints push our creativity.
One of the local ministries that Colin and I are involved with is Amis des Étudiants du Monde (Friends of Students of the World or AEM). AEM are in four different locations in France and help international students learn to speak French, learn about French culture and understand the gospel. Motivated by Christ’s welcome and biblical hospitality, the focus is on meeting physical and spiritual needs. Colin and I have been working with this ministry since we arrived in Nantes in 2018.
One of AEM’s main activities is their Friday night social, with language learning, which often attracts more than 100 people. Under lockdown this was totally out of the question.
Finding new ways to connect
New ways to connect take time to find and implement, and that was the case for AEM.
Over the European summer as restrictions eased, AEM developed a new outreach, Saturday morning brunch using food rescued from the bakery nearby (a measure towards zero-waste legally encouraged in France).
When France went into a second lockdown, AEM were ready to go with the contacts from the bakery for brunch. This was transformed into a visiting ministry to student dorms, offering free food and a listening ear.
Over the last 12 months this ministry has changed shape radically, but its vision to see students welcomed to France, and to meet Jesus, has remained consistent. Colin and I have both had the privilege of accompanying AEM staff in visiting students to see firsthand how this ministry is now taking shape.
At the time of writing, we are out of a second confinement, and now under a curfew while cautiously hopeful of avoiding a third lockdown. But despite so many everyday things stopping, this ministry is thriving. We have had the privilege to support this ministry in some of its different forms, and now we are also learning from them as we work to plant a new church on the Island of Nantes.
God is opening doors for us to be quiet eco-warriors and save food, but more importantly to build relationships, genuine relationships. Relationships where we too can share about our solid hope in Christ in a time where our mortality is ever-present, and loneliness a reality. Please pray with us that God would guide us to those people ready to hear the good news of Jesus in Nantes, and that we would be able to holistically serve our new local community.
Pray for Colin and Cath as they build relationships with their community and share Jesus’ love. You can subscribe to their prayer points and keep up to date with their ministry here.