Published: July 15th 2012July 15th 2012
And so the exciting, busy and intensive week of Bouge Ta Ville began - to explain simply, it's a week where about 200 young people get together every two years to transform and manifest the glory of God to their city. The concept began in Mulhouse, the city where I was doing it last week and is beginning to spread to other cities across France which is VERY exciting....
It all kicked off on Saturday afternoon at a huge church of around 2000 people in Mulhouse. I was relieved and excited to hear other English speakers when we arrived at the welcome part (I had been worried that I'd be the only English speaker and that I might not understand or be able to participate in everything.)
I had put my name down to work with children (there are a lot of different projects to choose from depending on your tastes and talents, from working with old people to picking up litter) and so after the time of worship and prayer and a powerful message by Tony Anthony on evangelism (thank you God for an English sermon!) we got into our various project groups - I was luckily with three other girls from my church so I at least knew some of the people.
Once we'd introduced ourselves (I was rather pleased when I got a few surprised expressions in reaction to me being English, having successfully managed a convincing French accent), Aurelie, our team leader explained a bit about what we'd be doing. The project/organisation is called Quartiers Libres and was taken from Bill Wilson's idea of Metro Ministries so people from the church basically go out to children in large housing estates to do games, crafts and other creative stuff with them.
After the debrief we returned to the room and we would have had the chance to enjoy another Tony Anthony sermon but me and the other people from my church had to leave for a baptism at our church.
The following day we had to be at the church at 9 o'clock for the service, whilst other teams went off to various other services. It was the first time for me to attend a Sunday service at this particular church and I was pretty overwhelmed by the size of it. The message was Tony Anthony giving his testimony which was really amazing and at the end he explained about heaven and hell, what Jesus had done for us on the cross etc. And then when he asked everyone who had lied, hated/murdered, stolen etc. to put their hand up, I began to feel like a dirty, condemned, guilty sinner and so when he gave the cue for those who wanted to give their lives to Jesus to stand up, I felt a huge urge to do it (in actual fact, I did stand up because I wasn't sure that he'd been talking about those who wanted to convert - when I finally realized this, I quickly sat down, feeling a bit like an idiot, not that it would have mattered I suppose if I had gone to the front along with the others and re-committed my life to Jesus - God sees my heart at the end of the day and the thirst I had for Him at that moment was intense.) That moment for me was also the beginning of a re-adjustment of my focus onto Jesus and the basic yet mighty power of the cross and the significance of what He did for me. It's hard to explain but I think I'd become too focused on what God could do for me to satisfy my needs, my relationship with the Holy Spirit, and my own spiritual growth and Jesus was simply calling my attention back to the simple and powerful truths of my faith and my relationship with Him.
After an unhealthy yet oh so yummy lunch of chips and BBQ we started our training for the project. We were split into little groups of five or six which would then do a rotation of the three different suburbs.
Once the games had been explained to us, we had to prepare a little story in the form of a play. It was difficult to find ideas and when in the end, they decided to perform it by improvising, I was immediately excluded because of the language barrier and made to be the clucking chicken who sang to herself in a corner of the room. I was felt frustrated with myself and the team leader who as soon as I had mentioned that I was English, decided that it would be better if I was the chicken. I had gotten this far without language being a problem but that night after praying about it, I knew I just had to swallow my pride and self-pity and be the singing chicken, remembering who I was doing it for.
Monday morning included another powerful message by Tony Anthony, as well as another practice for the dance we were going to be doing at the big social evenings to come.
In the afternoon we finally got to go out to work with the children. We were all responsible for a game and heading out of the church grounds in a fleet of minibuses, it felt like we were heading out on an exciting military operation, our mission: go shine the light of Jesus.
I was happy to find that all my previous experience of working with children made it easy for me to approach and chat with the children I met that afternoon, whereas before, I would have found it really difficult.
Luckily the group of children wasn't that big and I was able to chat and engage with the children as we played the game. And I tried to remember that I was there to show them who Jesus is, this was easy the first day but by the fourth day I was finding it harder and harder.
In the evening we headed over to another church in the city to have a prayer meeting - I wasn't really in the mood and the baptist church we ended up in felt weird and lifeless and the elderly preacher wasn't exactly bouncing with energy. But I did get to meet a Canadian girl in my prayer group, whose sister had been to Aberdyfi and loved it! On the way to and from the tram we gave out invites for the two free BBQs which had been organised for the public as part of the week - we got a lot of funny looks as we paraded the streets in our bright blue t-shirts with 'I Love Mulhouse' scribbled across them. But it felt great to be so united and at meal times and during meetings this same unity was felt and everyone seemed so friendly - people that I didn't even know would smile and say hi to me and at meal times you'd just chat with whoever was sat next to you.
Tuesday morning was pretty much a repetition of the same thing and in the afternoon we headed out to another suburb but this time, it was to help another group. I was surprised that so many of the children are muslims or from immigrant families but it also made me realize how important it is to do this kind of work with children and it was refreshing to be able to break free from the Christian bubble which I've become enclosed in since being here and to be able to touch French children who don't know Jesus.
That evening, we got to enjoy a children's show with singing, dancing and a story. But I began to wonder if it might have prefered to do something other than children's work - after working the whole year with them, it can get tiring and it would have been good to have a change but after the great week that I had in the end, I don't regret anything.
On Wednesday, the preacher was a guy called Pascal something or other and he spoke to us about values and convictions - it was a great message and it really spoke to me.
The suburb we visited that afternoon was my least favourite - when we got there it was so windy and things kept flying everywhere, there was dog poo on the play area, the man I had to work with kept telling very clearly the children who lost the game that they'd lost (which is strictly against Quartiers Libres training - never tell a child they've lost or give them zero points - the whole point is to encourage them and boost their confidence) and at the end, our story got completely messed up by a drunk man cutting across the scene and one of the props failing to work as it was supposed to). Oh well......
And then there was the FREE BBQ!!!! It started at 18:00 and finished about 10. We had to queue for ages but then what do you expect when it's free...we also got to perform our flash mob a couple of times on the small and rather inadequate stage and then me and my friend Aurelie scanned the crowd for potential 'victims'. No, I'm joking, we just wanted to do a bit of evangelism and talk to people. It was hard and scary to approach people and the language was a bit of a problem for me sometimes but we managed even so. It was annoying though to see so many of the other Bouge Ta Ville young people just standing around not doing anything when the whole point of the evening was to evangelize and Tony Anthony's messages on the subject had been so powerful, that I don't know how they could ignore them. But of course, it's not for me to judge other people......
Thursday was our last time to go out into the suburbs and it went well, even if there were a lot of children and all of them wanted to do my game at the same time (there were sweets as a reward). I was so tired by this point but I did my best to keep smiling and loving the children one by one.
And so the second BBQ took place in the evening, with again a lot of people and a lot of walking up and down on mine and Aurelie's part, trying to find people to talk to and give tracts to. My feet and legs were killing by the end but as I kept telling myself, it's all for Jesus. From what we heard from other people, they liked what we were doing in the city and there was a great atmosphere at the evening events.
And so the week finally ended on Friday morning with another great message but this time, by the organiser of the event, a youth pastor. At the end he showed us a really moving video of an olympic runner called Derek Redmond (or something like that...) who tears his hamstring halfway through the race but he doesn't give up and his dad comes to help him - WOW. I was like totally blown away by that film clip and afterwards God really spoke to me of the challenges and mountains I face.
So I left the week, really encouarged (and exhausted) and trusting in God's power to do the impossible in my life. Bring on the next Bouge Ta Ville!! :)