This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Southern France with my Sojourn College team. The two week international trip was the final leg of our summer ministry scope program in which we served and participated with our local church, a Sojourn Network church plant, and with missionaries in France. During the trip we visited both Marseille and Toulouse, France and experienced things we will carry with us for our lifetime. Each city entailed entirely different opportunities and challenges as we approached the very literal foreign territory. Prior to leaving, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard France had fantastic bakeries and that French culture runs deeply in the blood of the locals, but beyond that, I had very few presumptions about the country itself.
As we arrived in Marseille, a southern coastal town, we embarked on our first mission teaming with a project to distribute Christian materials to North African Muslims in the community. If that sounds like a difficult task, it’s because it is. The work we did was nothing short of the daily evidence of God’s miraculous grace and power. North Africa, a predominantly Muslim area of the world, restricts evangelism and the distribution of Christian materials in many of the nations. Fortunately, many North Africans live in France for better opportunities which provides the perfect opportunity to legally evangelize to them and extend the gift of God’s word.
Each day for nine days, we partnered with other team members in four hour shifts and took to the streets, intentionally encountering people with the hope our Savior has given us. The physically and spiritually strenuous work taught us that the work of the mission field is not our own. Each individual who took the distributed materials did not take it because of how well we’d recited our French phrases; they didn’t take the packet because of a well posed argument against Islam we presented; the Lord had his hand in these people’s lives and we then had to trust that he would faithfully use that packet for the perseverance of his Good News.
A key passage that provided immense comfort and confidence was Isaiah 55:10-11 in which the Lord promises that His word shall not return to Him empty, but it shall accomplish that which He purposed and shall succeed in the thing for which He sent it (verse 11). So many instances in Marseille challenged my trust in the Lord and stretched some spiritual muscles I didn’t know needed to be stretched. Serving people who share an entirely different culture, background, belief system, and language than yourself requires the eyes of our Creator. They are image bearers first and foremost and the Lord longs to call his sheep home.
Moving from the more modern city of Marseille, we traveled on to Toulouse to recoup with our Sojourn families residing in the city. Toulouse was a mosaic both of European architectural elements and diverse cultural expression. We had the opportunity to get a deep and intimate look into the lives of the families sent by our church, and what a blessing it was. Reflecting on the five days we had in Toulouse, the most striking and moving thing I remember is the Christ-like humility of each member in France. They were an embodiment of the Acts 4 church sharing in the blessing of parenting, the emotional and spiritual weightiness of abiding in the unfamiliar, and sacrificing so that no one lacked anything. Their joy and steadfastness, despite the obvious trials that comes with uprooting your life in the familiar to a land of unknowns, beautifully reminded me of Christ’s willingness to leave the comfortable and put on flesh in order that we may know him.
A distinct memory from Toulouse was our prayer walk of an area of town in which our Sojourn team was serving. I walked with a French woman who’d befriended one of our Sojourn families at their church and another woman doing mission work with her family in Toulouse. As we walked through an apartment complex, I greeted a woman sitting on a bench (with the little French I know) and she struck up a conversation with the other women with whom I was walking and praying. Unable to understand what they were talking about, I walked with my group as Sonya—the woman I had greeted—showed us around the apartment grounds. She spoke excitedly and joyfully drew us in. All the while I asked that the Lord would allow Sonya to be a connection we gained in this neighborhood in order to share the gospel with the locals. I asked for an invitation in and by the end of our conversation with Sonya, she asked for our ladies’ numbers in order to have them over for tea. The Lord moves and works, and He is faithful to provide even in the midst of language barriers. I knew only enough French to greet Sonya, but the Lord had much larger plans!
Our time in Toulouse was restful and filled with blessings. We had the chance to explore the city and get a taste of French culture (and food). Enjoying the culture of the French spurred our hearts to love the people around us all the more. Watching the miraculous ways the Lord worked on a daily basis while as we traveled through the Southern cities gave me hope for what I so often take for granted as the mundane and normal back home. The God who was present and faithful on the field in France is equally as abundant and present in the classrooms, office buildings, and homes of Louisville, Kentucky. Our experience in France caused multiple team members to say “I see myself doing this…” The Lord did a good work in me over the two weeks of our trip by softening my heart for the Muslim community and uprooting the unintentional, yet present, stereotypes I held against them.
Serving the North Africans in France cast a beautiful picture in my mind of the coming day when all of the Lord’s saints will come together to be with him for all of eternity. John’s vision in Revelation 7:9 is one I will cling to until the day our Lord returns: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”