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Bordeaux Church

The centre of Bordeaux is a grid of stone apartment buildings that form one of the most beautiful city centres in Europe. Expensive shops and street cafés jostle with the best restaurants, and crowds of tourists come to savour the atmosphere. Bordeaux’s excellent tram system snakes its way between the buildings, though you won’t see any overhead wires as it runs on a live rail (it should be explained that the rail is only live when the tram rides over it – a remarkably effective and unobtrusive system).

200,000 people live in this grid of streets in the centre of the city, and yet there are only a couple of evangelical churches serving this part of the city. Most of the twenty five evangelical churches are out in the suburbs. So who is going to reach the city centre? Add to that the fact that Bordeaux has 80,000 students, many coming from other countries, and you realise that this city badly needs the gospel.   

One answer to this need is Bordeaux Church. This is a bilingual church-planting project set up by UFM missionaries Alan and Pat Davey. They meet in a restaurant in a back street near the river, and when I was there in March the place was packed. GBM’s James Hammond has joined them, bringing his experience of reaching young adults with his home church in St John’s Wood in Central London. James preaches once a month, and spends a good deal of his time doing one2one discipleship Bible studies with those who come.

Alan says

‘He has been very happy to link in with us, and that has brought to us firstly a degree of stability. We are no longer so alone in the work. James and I get on very well. He brings also a certain touch of youth as most of our people are considerably younger than me (like half my age!), so James is very useful in bridging that gap. He’s been a tremendous help and a huge encouragement.’

On the evening I was there, I was invited to preach, and it is interesting to see how a bilingual church operates. Everyone sits around tables in the café. There were about a dozen nationalities there, many from the Francophone world but others from China, Latin America, the US and Canada. All the songs are printed out on the sheet in both English and French, as is the Bible passage. When it came to singing, I found people near me were singing one verse in English and the next in French – it was all very interchangeable.

Then we came to the preaching. I preached on Acts 2:1-11, which seemed appropriate in the context, and Alan translated. But rather than translate sentence by sentence, we both had a full set of my notes, and I preached a full paragraph in English after which he preached a full paragraph in French. At one point Alan forgot where I had stopped, ploughed on into my notes preaching in French, and when I resumed I expertly translated him into English! The evening finished with small group prayer offered up in the spirit of Pentecost as each person praised the wonders of God in their own language.

Why go to the trouble of being fully bilingual? Across Europe there are international churches that operate entirely in English, and gather people from the diplomatic corps and multinational companies, together with migrant workers from the Anglosphere. That is one way to plant new churches, but it makes very little impact among the indigenous population. In France it is essential to reach the French through French. They are deeply suspicious of anything that smacks of cultural imperialism. Bordeaux Church will feel like a French church to anyone who comes, yet a church which is working hard to incorporate people from across the world. Because it is bilingual, Erasmus students studying in Bordeaux can improve their French at church, and others are encouraged to grow in their use of the French language. This makes them much more useful as Christian disciples and witnesses in the local culture. Already, Bordeaux Church runs two house groups, and James leads one of them.

Please pray for James, and for Alan and Pat, as they lead this creative and innovative church-plant in Bordeaux. It highlights the need to plant indigenous churches in the increasingly secular city centres of Europe. This will be a theme we focus on at GBM’s Annual Mission Day in Solihull on 24 October this year. Come and join us for ‘A Light in Every City’ and find out how you can join the work of planting churches across Europe.

Jim Sayers

Jim’s visit to Bordeaux was featured in the March edition of our monthly prayer bulletin Prayer Waves.

If you would like to receive Prayer Waves regularly to use in your church, please contact GBM Mission Centre here.