Many people struggle to step beyond what can feel like a formidable barrier to talk about Jesus or offer to pray for blessing or healing for strangers in public settings. Since my last update regarding my own struggles to stop, listen to and offer spiritual support to homeless people and others, much has changed.
This past month I’ve stepped over my invisible line, stopping and offering to pray for a number of people on the street. I’ve been surprised and sometimes delighted by people’s responses. Like when I offered to pray for a old hunched-over lady from Romania who begs in front of the Louvre, who kissed my hand and blessed me, and told me how her son is a Pentecostal pastor.
That same day I stopped beside a man from Bulgaria who bowed before those walking by near the Belleville metro, his forehead on the pavement, hands clutching a cup in front of his head in a gesture of extreme humility. When I gave him a two Euro coin he got up and warmly thanked me in broken Spanish. I learned that his name is Petrof and that he’s been in Paris about 3 months. “I don’t like to do this. I am used to working but cannot find a job,” he laments. “I’ve just come from Spain where I worked as a truck driver,” he says, pulling out his Spanish truck driver license. I offered to pray for him and he gladly accepted, telling me he is an Orthodox Christian. I prayed for his back pain and he said it went away. He too kissed my hand and thanked me profusely, giving me his cell phone number in case I hear of work or an address he can use to receive mail.
When we first moved to Paris I had a mental picture of individual French Christians inside big soap bubbles—only a thin, easily-broken barrier between a private and public faith. In fact the ideology of laicité came into being after the French Revolution, when a clear differentiation between the church and the secular state became part of the official French national posture. Many Protestants were glad to have some official limit to Roman Catholic influence, which dominated the nation for centuries. Laicité now functions to prohibit Muslim girls and women from wearing burqas to school or work, holding Muslims back from public expression. While this ideology has not silenced everyone, it is officially illegal for government workers or ministry or other non-profit workers who receive any public funds to talk about their faith unless they are specifically asked.
Many of the nations’ most effective ministries to the poor, immigrants, the homeless and others on the margins were started by Christians. Most of them now separate social service from any public witness regarding faith or anything spiritual. Most Christians I’ve talked with feel pressure to keep their faith private, and yet long to step out into greater freedom, which feels like almost a transgression.
In mid November I was asked to speak in a Reformed church near Valence (St-Laurent-du Pape) on getting beyond blocks/paralysis in evangelism. At the end of my talk an area pastor came to the front, deeply moved & began to really exhort people, at one point yelling out: “Ça suffit! Ça suffit! ”That’s enough! That’s enough! We mustn’t be silent any more.” Many people came up for prayer, including a man who sobbed as he asked Jesus for greater confidence and boldness.
This past Friday night I finished my last night teaching an 11-week mission course at the Service Protestant de Mission Défap. The previous Friday, just after sessions on missional community and prophetic evangelism we had broken into five groups of four course participants and went out on the streets at 10:30pm to pray for homeless people and others. After a final dialogical Bible study on the Angel of the Lord’s seeking and finding Hagar in Genesis 16, sending her back to religious insiders Abraham and Sarah, we debriefed the previous week’s outreach.
Participants reported rich encounters and prayer times with homeless people, and experienced first hand the joy of seeking and finding God’s precious people like the angel must have– and being evangelized in the process by these contemporary Hagars (whom the angel prophesied over and sent back to the “elect”, perhaps resulting in their change of heart). It seems that the bubbles are bursting and people are feeling called to reach out to people on the streets and beyond. Our next street outreach is set for Friday night, January 13, beginning with a time of corporate worship and prayer at the Eglise Reformée du Marais.
Please pray for the many homeless people this Christmas season. The weather’s getting colder and wetter. Pray also for those here in France who are feeling called to reach outside their comfort zone to share God’s love, for inspiration, determination and sensitivity to the Spirit.
Tonight is the official launch of Luke and my blog Homeless in Paris. Take and look and keep visiting at http://thehomelessinparis.