The coffee and tea are ready on the back tables, chairs have been lined up in our rented Catholic youth center, and cords run over the cement floors. Amps are plugged in, and greeters are stationed at the door. Another Sunday worship service begins.
Our worship leader adjusts his microphone, pushes back his dark bangs, and strums a chord on his guitar. He looks around and smiles at the faces gathered before him, and we swing into, “Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness . . .”
As the worship leader closes his eyes to sing, it is my turn to look around the room and smile as well. Six months ago as I looked out at the congregation, I wondered if I would ever know everyone’s name. Today, I can name probably 60 percent of the worshippers, who have come together in France from Benin, Brazil, Germany, Peru, China, France, the United States, Ireland, Gabon, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Bulgaria, Korea, and more.
If I were in an American church, I would feel guilty for not recognizing the other 40 percent, but in this church, it is not an unusual day. Each service is a first-time experience for 20 percent of the attendees; they are visitors from out of town, have lived here for only a month or so and finally found us, or they have always lived here but have come today mostly out of curiosity about the church.
Another 20 percent have been here once or twice. I might have met them at some point in the past six months. The 60 percent I do know arrived between one month and four years ago, and only a few can say with relative certainty that they will still be here in another month, year, or two years.
In one of the most secular regions of the world, our international church plays a key role in pushing back the darkness. Trinity International Church is a community of believers from many backgrounds, worshipping Jesus as they draw into Kingdom life their neighbors and friends who are searching for meaning.
International churches have been compared to a metro, an urban train that stops often to let people on and off; the doors slide open people come and people go. A river, with streams flowing in and out, also has been used to describe what this church constantly experiences.
You get the idea-international students, business people, and diplomats from other countries; transient military families; couples in bicultural marriages; locals with out-of-country experience; those restlessly seeking new adventures or hobbit-like creatures of comfort who are unhappily relocating-we all are a bit surprised to be here and unsure exactly how long we’ll stay.
What is it we are looking for? Why did we step in from our platform this morning? And by the time we step back off this particular metro, how will God have matured us, pruned us, and used us in this place?
Faces in the Crowd
A family in the front row catches my eye. As happens each week, the father juggles an energetic, blond three-year-old toddler. While the mother carries the baby in a front sling, another blond, giggly son sits beside her with several little friends. Elle and Francois, a local French couple, just became Christ followers early last summer.
God moved them into a new house next door to one of Trinity’s typical families-an American who grew up in South America who is married to a French woman with international experience. The two families struck up a friendship, and the Christian couple ministered to their new neighbors, who had recently lost a child. Their conversations were deep and God-centered, and Elle and Francois found the God of comfort and hope.
Although Elle and Francois could not speak much English, they came to church to grow. God took the seeds planted in the soil of “good and honest hearts” and helped them through biblical preaching and a loving community. After nine months as church members, Elle and Francois find themselves moving precipitously to Africa for an employment opportunity. We all are praying for a church that will nurture these young believers. They leave here with a firm foundation in truth and a real picture of love as the Body has reached out to nurture them in spirituality and practicality. They have begun their journey toward being conformed to Christ, living like Him in faith and fruit.
A Step Closer
Just behind them sits Sabine, a young northern European woman who is dressed and coiffed with precision. She was invited to the church by friends with whom she works locally. Sabine is still grieving the loss of family members several years ago, trying to control her life so that tragedy will not mar it again.
Sabine knows that there is a Father who cares for her, but she is not yet at the point of accepting that there is also a Lord who is asking her to give up control. We all pray for her to find that joy and release someday soon. She is here, searching; if she leaves, she will do so a step closer to the God of the Bible, having seen what life in His Body looks like. Sabine is on her way to becoming more like Jesus in faith and service to others.
The Jesus Student
Across the aisle toward the back windows sits Luc, a local master’s student. He spent some of his undergraduate years in the Midwest of the United States and found Jesus there, with the help of Asian students and their church. He came back to France, looking for that kind of community again.
Today, Luc is involved in ministry to Asian students here as well as being discipled in a home group. When Luc graduates next spring, he will leave with more biblical truth in his head, more selflessness in his heart for having served, and more love given and gained through the church-more like Christ.
The Faces of Maturity
On the right side toward the back sits a couple my own age with their son, a local family who met Jesus in Paris after several years of searching for meaning in Buddhism, the biker lifestyle, and whatever else they could explore. They are mature Christians now, living lives of faith before coworkers and neighbors. In their year or so at Trinity, they have had opportunity to encourage all of us with their lives of trust in God, and they have seen more of God’s Kingdom in the church and in the world. They are growing more like Jesus in faith and humility.
Everyone Has a Story
Scattered behind me are more individuals with their own stories. I see a young man from Peru with gifts in theology. He will leave here soon for Bible school in another country, having been gently challenged and encouraged in his enthusiastic ponderings. Nearby is another man from Benin, who, having just recently begun his journey within this community, is struggling with God about why He has not provided employment and conflicted about his family background, which includes witchcraft.
I wish I had time to tell you how the French military man is stronger for having been here, how the South American MK received rest and a place to use his gifts, how the Irish lawyer understands her faith in the real world more fully, and how the American space engineer has had a place to bring her Indian and Asian classmates.
Another Stop along the Journey
We come, needing truth, wisdom, and salvation from God; we need guidance from our brothers and sisters, a place to worship, tasks through which we can express God’s love, and a community in which we can explore who God is and what He offers and requires.
When we leave, we move out those “sliding metro doors” a bit more like Christ-trusting our Father, serving Him in His Body, loving, knowing, and telling truth. We leave with more gentleness, joyfulness, and with His peace, ready for His next stop.
The church together sows the seed of God’s Word and the love of His community. Sometimes we see harvest; many times we see only a small step on our friends’ journeys, either before or after they find Jesus. Either way, we rejoice to live our lives of faith and love together.
“So here I am to bow down . . .” I have sung “Here I Am to Worship” in other languages and other countries, and roads from France east to the Balkans and China are in my head as we sing. It is easy to imagine the many, many roads in others’ minds, connecting us to all continents. May God use His church in this town-beautiful and lost-to make Himself known here and around the world as we come and go.
used with permission from: http://www.cmalliance.org/news/2010/05/28/kingdom-faces/