In the midst of a pandemic, it’s easy to see the hardships, the struggles, the trials. But if we look with eyes to see and ears to hear, we might just see God at work. He is always working.
In southern France, for example, a long-established café culture exists. Almost everywhere, you can find small, individually owned café-bars where people congregate on a daily basis. In a culture where the church hasn’t been at the center of the community for centuries, this café culture is at the heart of French daily life. It brings a natural connecting point for people. At cafes and restaurants, people can find a sense of community and a source of encouragement.
Our Communitas missional staff, François and Julie (names changed due to the nature of their ministry), have participated regularly in this café culture. They have developed and invested in friendships with many French neighbors and business owners. The recent prolonged closure of these truly “essential” community gathering spaces, coupled with a 6pm curfew, and the increase in people working remotely, means that many of their friends are suffering from increased loneliness and isolation. In the midst of that though, François and Julie are seeing people searching for friendship, community, strength, and guidance.
Several months ago, François and Julie decided to be more purposeful in reaching out and inviting people into their home for meals. Julie comments, “Normally, the French are suspicious of Christianity, and they don’t have a category for people with a lifestyle centered around serving others; so many French people hold us at a safe distance, based on their misgivings about the church.” Over time, however, because of their courage, gentleness and faithful commitment in ministry, the Holy Spirit has regularly pierced through people’s preconceived ideas. This also has led them to a truer understanding of the Gospel.
This past year, especially, due to Covid lockdowns, a significant shift has happened. Many people truly want to have more meaningful conversations. François and Julie are finding that whenever they run into their friends about town, people want to talk. They want to talk about how much they’re struggling, about how lonely they are––right there on the street corner!
People’s walls are falling.
They wanted to share more, go deeper. Julie mentions, “It feels like the very reasons that caused some people to exclude, reject, or judge us (their negative opinions about our faith) were now the very same reasons that were causing them to open up––namely, the knowledge that we are people of faith who are trustworthy, willing to listen, and able to provide a safe space and hopeful answers.”
Providing a safe space for others was key. Not only relationally but physically as well. People were coming over for dinner at François and Julie’s home. And due to the curfew and the risk of hefty fines if stopped by police when going home, they have even invited them to stay overnight in the rooms of their rental Villa. Through the pandemic, people are finding a safe space through François and Julie’s ministry. (And if you are interested in finding out about the Rental Villa for your own enjoyment, click here!)
Before Covid, not only in France but around the world, many people sensed little purpose or meaning in life. Because of the prolonged lockdowns–many of which are starting anew in Europe right now–many have been separated from family, friends and normal social activities. This has led people to be more aware of their emptiness and lack of hope.
The world is craving truth, hope, and love amidst a pandemic. As followers of Jesus, you and I have an opportunity, more than ever, to offer them the Hope of the World! God is at work. Let’s continue to partner with Him.