We began our family trip to France by spending some time with our very dear friends the Hayters.
They have lived in Rennes – Brittany’s ‘capital’ city – since they were based with us in Guernsey for the majority of the 1990s. Paul is a teacher and taught at (what has now become) St Sampson’s High School and Mandy is a qualified nurse, although for most of the time they were with us she was kept fully occupied with their sons who were quite little at the time (some of them still are… sorry Sam!) Paul also served on the pastoral team with us during this period and indeed was a full-time member of the church staff during the year before they slipped slightly southwards into Brittany.
Paul now runs his own Language Training & Translation business, and serves as one of the pastors of the Newfrontiers church in the city. Mandy has just begun nursing again part-time, similarly to Judith.
Church planting and growing is spiritual warfare – and there are often casualties – but despite the fact that they have lived through tough times it is great to see this family so healthy in Jesus, in their sense of calling, and in bringing up four boisterous boys so consistently to love and follow Jesus so passionately too.
Paul and I used to travel together regularly when he was based in Guernsey, especially in France – seeking to support churches and pastors, provide assistance and encouragement, looking to foster fresh friendships and trying to discern where God wanted us to plant new churches in this mighty nation on our doorstep; a nation with fewer practising Christians (in percentage terms) than India. Together with liked-minded others Paul and I have spent hours in prayer and sometimes tears over the spiritual state of many areas we visited. However at the same time we began to see that there were small ‘sparks’ of renewal and growth emerging in various places, particularly as we discovered that (not surprisingly) God was calling others to get back involved with mission in France.
One of the key factors in all this was endeavoring to break down barriers of mis-trust so that leaders would get together to pray, work in unity, and bless one another. There was so much “you in your small corner and I in mine” mentality. We often found a group of born-again believers in one town who knew nothing about another group of similar Christians in the next town less than 5 km away! Often when they did know of another fellowship’s existence they were fearful of any contact because they thought they might be heretics or false teachers!
Fear certainly was one of the main issues we had to face up to. I remember on one occasion we were speaking with the evangelical ‘pastorale’ (pastors’ fraternal) of Brittany, encouraging them to take part collectively in the global ‘March for Jesus’ which was to take place in a few months. They listened somewhat cautiously until one leader jumped up stating “What do we want to go into the streets for? Why can’t we just pray and sing in our own buildings?” “That’s right!” cried another “We’ve battled for years to get our places of worship, we shouldn’t be walking on the streets – people will misunderstand us” “Yes!” shouted another, taking up the ’cause’ “People will mistake us for a Gay-Pride march or Moslems. We mustn’t create problems for ourselves!” Then finally, waving a piece of paper in is hand one stalwart dealt the death blow to any united praise march that year by stating “… in any case it’s not legal for us to march, it says so in the constitution – so we’d never get permission!”
And that was that. For that year at least. Thankfully attitudes did change gradually and a united March for Jesus was held a few years later through the streets of the city of Rennes, supported by the majority of churches. But even that is very few. When we started working into Brittany in the early 1990s we discovered that there were about as many evangelical churches in Guernsey (40 km², population 60,000) as there were in the whole of Brittany (34,000 km², population 4,000,000) and definitely more Christians in them (the Guernsey statistics may well have changed now – but that’s another story!)
It was great to spend time with a couple (and family) with whom we have lived through many spiritually testing and emotional times, and with whom we share so much (although not necessarily politically! Suffice to say Paul and I enjoy a good debate, and if they ever bring back capital punishment, then…) We have holidayed numerous times with Paul and Mandy and their boys (with whom I take liberties to make up for my lack of sons) and who get on just great with our girls, like brothers and sisters. Actually, better. In fact we spent a week with them just this last Easter – at Center Parcs in Normandy.
We had a horse of a time (sorry, private joke).