We spent hours in prayer and worship amidst our time in Villeneuve knowing that without it our time would be wasted. Ministry, especially cross-cultural, must be seasoned with prayer before, during, and after. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” —James 5:16b.
“Today we labored in prayer for hours in Villeneuve, did door-to-door evangelism, and had a coffee table for conversations. In Villeneuve, there is a large hill I’ve prayer walked on before. Today, I stood atop the hill and read the Sermon on the Mount aloud over the neighborhood.
Villeneuve is the sixth most dangerous neighborhood in France. Largely immigrants from Muslim countries, there are few Christians and much violence. As I sit here now, I hear the sound of construction rebuilding part of a school radicals set ablaze this past week. Amidst the strong Muslim presence here, 18 African churches are present in this neighborhood. This sounds great until you find out all of these are prosperity-gospel churches where the pastor is simply making money for selfish pursuits. Apart from these, there are no African churches or Arab churches. The racial tension between those people groups is large due to Arabs hating Africans.
Amidst all this, over one hundred non-profit associations are present here. This is a blessing and a curse. Many are doing great work equipping the people and meeting genuine needs. But many others are feeding into a cycle and culture of dependence for the immigrants upon the French government.
Lord, you know the needs and brokenness in this neighborhood. Meet needs, bring an end to the gentrification present, and bring genuine followers of Jesus into this neighborhood to plant churches that are Christ-centered and to stay for the long-haul to see genuine heart-change.
Bring peace through Jesus, visions and dreams of you through the Holy Spirit, and a thirst for God that can only come from an intimate relationship of children with their Father.
In Jesus’ name,
I wrote this last week as I sat in Villeneuve reflecting on a week of outreach and ministry in the neighborhood. This is the reality for so many immigrants in new cultures. They leave either as refugees fleeing war or immigrants seeking better opportunities to provide for their families, but many never find this. Instead, they are trapped in cycles of violence and poverty in neighborhoods that don’t adapt to majority culture and where locals rarely come.
These are neighborhoods where hatred breeds, Islam reigns, and radicals are brainwashed.
Cultural understanding is essential for cross-cultural ministry. We can’t effectively connect with people from a different background until we try to understand life from their worldview. For us, learning the basic tenants of Islam and ways to share Jesus with Muslims was an important step before entering Villeneuve.
Neighborhoods like Villeneuve are not isolated to far-off countries where refugees are being accepted regularly. They’re in our cities—our backyards. Whether it’s a difference of ethnicity, social class, or religion, we build walls of separation and cut ourselves off from anyone different from us. Whether it’s by explicit bias or implicit prejudice, we categorize people into “us” and “them.”
Villeneuve, like many neighborhoods, are painful reminders that we can’t read a book by its cover. Behind the bright colors of Villeneuve’s apartment complexes hide dark pasts, victims of abuse, and broken families.
But as the Gospel so clearly illustrates, the love of Jesus reminds us that there is no wall of separation and no division between “us” and “them.” We are all one in Christ Jesus. He is our identity and when we recognize that as our foundation, we begin to see the interconnectedness of all people.
We often write people off assuming they will be hostile to the Gospel so we justify our hesitancy to go to them. But who are we to say this? Could it be that neighborhoods like Villeneuve are not hostile to the Gospel but are rather rich for the harvest simply waiting for someone to come share with them? We can’t know until we go.
Even when we think we have nothing in common with some people, simple activities like soccer are great ways to connect with youth and build relationships.
To truly understand the Gospel—Jesus is Lord—is to realize that in His Kingdom there is no “us” and “them.” Prayer walking through Villeneuve this summer and a week of long hours within Villeneuve’s apartment complexes reminded me of this beautiful truth. While my time in this Villeneuve is coming to an end, I know I’m moving back to my own Villeneuve in the United States.
While many French people avoid troubled neighborhoods like Villeneuve, people like Phil see Villeneuve as a mission field ready for the chance to bear fruit. Phil lives in Villeneuve, and uses his free-time to build relationships and share his faith with locals.
Let’s find our Villeneuve’s. Let’s go without categories of prejudice. Let’s love our neighbors not just next to us but also across the city from us. Let’s bring the light of Jesus into the darkest parts of our world.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
—1 John 5:1