For more than three decades CMS missionaries Paul and Sandra and CMS supporters have been praying for gospel-poor peoples in France. While it often seemed the barren spiritual ground of France was too hard to crack, through persistent prayer and long-term partnership in ministry, God is doing the unimaginable.
Mission involves partnership. It is first, our humble partnership with our Heavenly Father. While he certainly doesn’t need our help, God has chosen to invite us onto his team. We may sow and we may water, but God gives the growth. So we partner with him through prayer.
Mission also involves partnership between Christians. Together we make the name of Jesus known to our neighbours, our city, our country and to the ends of the world. Together we reach out to those around us through prayer.
Praying for France
During the early 1980s, at a mid-year conference for university students, Phillip Jensen taught about mission. As he spoke about God's plan to save many from death and judgement through Jesus, he asked the questions: Who will put aside careers and comfort so that people may hear of this marvellous news? Who will go and tell people in Australia, in other parts of the world, in France?
Some of us were surprised by this thought – that few people in France knew the gospel. We thought France was a Christian country. So the French Prayer Group began, with the aim of learning about the spiritual state of Europe and to pray specifically for France. Over a period of six years, we invited missionaries to come to speak, we read magazine articles, we enjoyed French meals, we made contact with the French university ministry group – les Groupes Bibliques Universitaires (GBU) – and we prayed. It became clear that France was a gospel-poor nation, as were many countries across Europe. In fact, at the time only 0.5% of the French population had a living relationship with God through Jesus. We continued to pray for God's mercy on France, and wisdom for each of us in the group about our place in God’s plan for France.
From this group, some people went to France as missionaries with CMS. Others continued to be faithful prayer supporters. Some committed their time to support CMS in Australia. Others went on to full-time ministry in Australia and other parts of the world. And we believe that through this prayer group, many missionaries have since been sent into Europe to work alongside the local Church in telling people about Jesus. You can see, I hope, that when you sign up to pray, God acts and signs on the bottom line!
Prayer partnership with you
It's hard to express what a privilege it is for us to be part of this mission partnership with you through prayer. Each time we return to Australia to visit churches who partner with us, I am struck by people’s commitment to world mission through thankful and intercessory prayer. It is humbling to meet people who have been praying for Jesus to build his Church in France, when most have never even been there. I am urged on as a Christian, as I meet people who have been faithfully praying for France for one year or for many years.
Some prayer partners are so convicted about the need for all nations to hear the gospel that they are eager to “boost” their prayers. Over the years, as well as receiving monthly prayer points from CMS, churches have set up Skype meetings with us. Another church writes to us for prayer points to include in their prayer bulletin. Sometimes supporters write to let us know what they are praying for us about, while others pray without us even knowing. All of these prayers are so important.
Let me share with you some answers to prayer as God works to transform the dying Church in France.
Over the past 25 years – and still today – French church leaders are united. Churches are being planted. Evangelists are being trained. The Bible is being taught. People are becoming Christian. Praise the Lord for this. When we arrived in France, 0.5% of the population were Bible-believing Christians. Today is it 0.7%. The Lord is building his Church. But the challenges of atheism, materialism, and individualism remain, and we pray that the Lord would open more eyes.
There is gospel vision and Christian unity within the GBU. Praise God that the GBU is growing and has such zeal for evangelism. Over the years the GBU students, graduates and, in particular, the French staff have welcomed us Australians (even with our strange accents and impolite jokes!). They have listened to our ideas and taken some of them on board because they, like us, want to progress in our mission for the Lord Jesus.
English education for our three children was available in Strasbourg. As our children entered high school, we didn't know how they could learn English so they could fit back into Australian life. In God's kindness, there was an entire school system in Strasbourg, adapted for people from different countries. This was an answer to prayer! So we have been able to stay in France long term.
As missionaries we are still continuing on in our journey with the Lord. Of course you won't be surprised that this is a prayer point. We all need the Holy Spirit in order to walk with the Lord. Aren't we all surrounded by temptation, stress and discouragement? It is God's grace that keeps us running the race with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Praying for the unimaginable
Here is where I get most excited about answered prayers! As we pray according to God's merciful and perfect will, we pray knowing the BIG plan. This mind-blowing plan of salvation – God, becoming man, dying to pay the ransom for our sins, and then coming back to life to rule forever – is far beyond our imagination.
In the same way, God will continue to answer our prayers in ways that are beyond our imagination. Ephesians 3:20 assures us that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. So while we thank God for the many answers to prayers in the past, let us continue to work together with God and with each other through prayer, so that many will bow their knee to Jesus in love and adoration. This is praying for the unimaginable.
Your partnership with CMS – through prayer, generous giving or in other ways – will enable more gospel-poor people to hear the marvellous news of God’s plan for their salvation. To make a financial gift that counts visit cms.org.au/give.