Michael and Rebecca Borde want their children to love God more than anything — so they took a leap of faith and moved away from the only evangelical congregation 26 miles to a region with 80,000 people and one small Bible study.
“What I would like them to feel is that they cannot be a little bit Christian,” Michael said. “They should be completely Christian.”
For the Bordes, being “completely Christian” has meant spending 10 years working with their fellow believers to plant the Protestant Evangelical Church of Pontcharra in Pontcharra, France.
Since the group began around 2000, it has endured suspicion from neighbors, crammed into homes for Sunday services, been blocked from buying four buildings and gone years without a pastor. On September 19, 2015 however, the members celebrated the inauguration of their own building.
With that celebration, they remembered God’s acts of faithfulness, including the arrival of TEAM missionaries Paul and Karan Davis when it seemed every door had been closed.
Whenever the Davises help plant a new church, Paul likes to start by leading a study on the book of Joshua and how the Israelites approached the “impossible” challenge of taking the Promised Land.
Despite its long history of Catholicism, France has become known as a graveyard for missionaries. A heavy emphasis on secularism has convinced most French people that they’ve moved past the need for God, and the belief runs so deeply that the French show not hostility, but an exhausting apathy toward spiritual things.
They listen to, engage in and affirm apologetic arguments and then tell believers it’s simply not for them. As a friend summed it up to Karan, “If I were to believe, I would want to believe like you. But I don’t.”
The only way to effectively reach the French, missionaries say, is to build relationships. And in French culture, building relationships deep enough to discuss spiritual things can take years of commitment.
“One really good point with Paul and Karan,” Michael said, “is that they really love people. … We started again the Bible study and really spent time with people and welcomed people. And more and more people were interested.”
Paul and Karan’s relational investments in city authorities also helped open doors for the small church plant to acquire a perfectly placed building in downtown Pontcharra.
Since the inauguration, the Protestant Evangelical Church of Pontcharra has held worship services every Sunday and packed the sanctuary for a Christmas concert more than 200 people attended. It is a dream come true for families like the Bordes, and for the Davises, it’s a sign that it’s time to start thinking about where they’ll go next.
“From day one,” Paul said, “I tell [local Christians], ‘We’re here to help you have your church, but we will be slowly but surely pulling away from the leadership to let you do it, because there are still 30,000 cities out there that need a church. And as much as we love you and want to be with you, we also feel called to be planting other churches.”
The next five years will be a time of taking on responsibilities for the young congregation and transitioning to a new assignment for the Davises. As Paul and Karan approach retirement, they hope to devote time to mentoring French church planters and walking them through the process of finding their own starter groups: small collections of believers who may not know each other yet, but perhaps already feel God’s stirring in their hearts, asking them to have faith, to persevere and to show their cities what it means to be “completely Christian.”
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