“Before we left for Europe, I asked God for one thing,” said Jonathan, one of the TREK participants on the all-male team of four that spent seven months in France, “that I would be able to make close friends with people who lived there. God answered that prayer in a magical way.”
But it took time. When the TREKers first arrived in Paris, they were told that their ministry would require a lot of initiative on their own. And it did.
“In the beginning, things didn’t run very smoothly for us,” Jonathan recalled. “We struggled with a new language and new culture.”
The four young men battled insecurities as they tried to communicate with people who were totally foreign to their way of life. There was no denying the feelings of uselessness and hopelessness on the team as they looked ahead to months of a nearly empty social calendar.
“I had this idea that we would hit the ground running,” said Jonathan, “that we would be quickly put to work doing all these things that were waiting for us to do. But it wasn’t like that.”
Though the initial transition was bumpy, as the four TREKers started to make new friends, they saw God at work in those relationships and began to learn how to jump into the activity of the Holy Spirit. It was no coincidence that, on the exact day that the TREKers arrived into the city, a group of young North African men of similar age also arrived. They responded to a flyer that the TREKers had distributed in the local marketplace about evening English classes that the TREKers were offering. The flyers read: “Keep Cool and Learn English.”
The two groups of young men began to meet together in a basement classroom on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and, as all of them were new to the city, the bonds of friendship formed quickly.
“They were hungry for relationship,” Jonathan said. “In a city that can sometimes be depressing, these guys were very lighthearted and fun.”
Jonathan found it very easy to talk with his new friends and to share about his faith in Jesus. But he also found that his friends were eager to talk about their Muslim faith.
After the first session of classes, an idea was birthed. Along with one of the long-term workers, Jonathan asked their new friends if they would be interested in a book study. The North Africans eagerly agreed to read from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. They met weekly to read together, discuss vocabulary, grammar and features of the story but also to consider the spiritual themes in Lewis’ writing. The club enabled the North Africans to continue learning English while also building relationships with their new friends.
Despite differing views on matters of faith, both groups of young men quickly acknowledged the common ground of believing in a God that created the world. As they read, they searched together for the fingerprints of God within the story. The weekly meetings weren’t about preaching or arguing, but about sharing and trying to see the world through one another’s perspective.
“We definitely had differences of opinion,” said the long-term worker who worked closely with Jonathan. “Our own faith was questioned and tested, but those differences pushed us to work out our own convictions.”
Through the book club, Jonathan began to feel God’s heart of love and compassion for his Muslim friends, although he also realized how essential the work of Holy Spirit would be to open his friends’ eyes to the truth of God’s character. He desired for his friends to experience the love of the true Aslan, a God who is not distant or unattainable but rather personable, present and full of love for them.
“I want them to know Jesus and the truth of who he is,” the long-term worker said. “I want them to experience his presence, his love, his grace. My reason for being here is less abstract when I have friends that I want to introduce to Jesus. These guys seem to be striving hard to attain their salvation but never know if they have achieved it. They don’t think God speaks or moves.”
As Jonathan and others prepared for the final Narnia evening with a movie and celebration, they had a strong sense of purpose. It was their hope and prayer that God would use the conversations with their friends to stir their hearts and help them find freedom in an intimate relationship with God.
For Jonathan, there was also a sense of sadness. It seemed that his time in Europe had quickly drawn to a close just as his relationships really started to deepen.
“That final party was a celebration of friendship,” he said. “Those guys knew that we loved them, and we knew that they loved us in return. We’ll definitely keep in touch.”
As Jonathan left Paris and said goodbye to his friends, he took encouragement from the fact that the long-term worker would continue meeting with them. There was even talk of another book club.
“I learned a lot in France about taking initiative and being creative with how I used my time. That was daunting at first,” said Jonathan. “But this new group of friends and our experience with the book club – that was a special opportunity. That was the answer to my prayers.”