What Will We Be Doing in Paris?
We are moving to Paris this summer. You may wonder: What will we be doing in Paris? Why would we leave close loved ones and friends in the United States? Our pull to Paris is not what you would expect.
What does Paris offer?
Paris is nicknamed the city of lights. It is the center of French economy, culture, and politics; a city of tourists – nearly 40 million a year; a city of romantic dreams; a city of exquisite food and fashion, a city of soaring architecture and historical art.
But it’s also a city with 3 million native or fluent English speakers; one of the most secularized cities in Europe; a city of protests – currently about a pension overhaul; a city struggling with terrorist threats; a city of immigrants – 40% of people under 20 have at least 1 immigrant parent; and it’s a city of loneliness despite romantic glosses by Hollywood. We are going to Paris for the second list.
Aren’t those reasons to stay in the United States? How are you going to meet those needs in Paris?
We are not simply going to Paris to live. We are going to help start a new church, intending to be part of a family of churches across the city. The need is great in Paris. We have planted a church in the “Bible Belt” of Jackson, Mississippi, where you can find a church on nearly every street corner of a small sized US city. Paris is a stark contrast – it is an enormous city with very few churches. One may think of Paris and France, and be reminded of historic churches such as Notre Dame or the cathedral at Chartres. Such buildings are now more museums than places of community and worship for Christians. In fact, Paris and France, like much of Europe, has few professing Christians.
To give a few numbers, there are 70 million people living in France. Out of 70 million people, 650,000 regularly practice their Christian faith. Across all of France, there is a sparse 2,500 local churches. Protestants make up around 3% of the population. For those who like statistics, you can read more here. In Paris itself, there are 12 million people, including 3-4 million native or fluent English speakers (this includes native French who are fluent in English). Although the need for French speaking churches is great, Paris has become a more international, global city, filled with expats and immigrants – from Nigeria, Ghana, China, India, South America, South Africa, various parts of Europe and more. The need for churches to connect with both internationals and nationals has grown, a need we hope to begin to fill.
The need for a gospel centered church is significant. Yet Paris is a spectacular city. France is a wonderful country. The people possess a joie de vivre. They love food, family, conversation, art, color, beauty, and as one good friend said to me, “The French just know how to live.” Our desire is to move into this country and truly incubate into the culture, highlighting and encouraging all that is good about it, yet helping build new communities – all flowing from the local church – that can offer people love, connection, spiritual depth, and pastoral care.
One might still ask, with all that is offered in Paris, why is there the need for a church? Can’t one just celebrate what is good about the culture and live into it, and even enjoy it to the full? Yes, however, we believe the church offers something that no other organization or relational network can. We celebrate the goodness and beauty of all creation, and the church should do this. Yet the church also acknowledges that in every human heart, there is a void that will never be filled, unless it is from something outside of this world, unless it’s a gift we can never give ourselves. The church offers a deeper, spiritual community centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. For some of you, even the mention of Jesus or church triggers negative connotations, possibly for good reason, but we hope you keep reading.
A church that lives out gospel truth offers people grace to come as you are, without judgment. It offers the love of God to all. It proclaims every human being is made in the image of God and that He has a purpose for every life. It actually speaks to the greatest need of the human heart – for love, connection with God, connection with others, and a mission to go out to cities and nations for their ultimate flourishing. People need this everywhere. It’s why all Christians go to help establish such places. They’re called churches.
We believe church begins and grows, not simply in a gathering for worship, but in being present with others, at the sports fields, in artistic venues, at work environments, to form relationships with others and grow a unique community. Churches also celebrate what is good, offering wisdom and instruction for life’s journey, giving people a sense of mission that their days are vital and that each human being can make an impact – physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually to others. Churches have always been started to serve the communities and cities around them, to bless them, to care for the poor, to help nurture families, to be citizens of heaven as the citizens of the cities on earth.
Church is to be something different, that others can see and those involved in them can witness: the greatest beauty of God’s love for this world in offering His Son to them. We cross the Atlantic to help others see it, and discover it, either anew or for the first time, in this unique community called the local church.
When is your departure date? What will be your everyday life once you arrive?
We are planning to leave by Summer 2020. People have asked, “When are we coming back?”. We are planning and preparing for this move to be an indefinite move. We would like to reach our partnership goal by this summer, so we can avoid interrupting our children’s school year cycle. Once we arrive in Paris, we’ll have a “year zero” where we’ll be adopted by an existing international church to incubate and acclimate to Parisian life. This year zero gives our family time to adjust properly – to kids’ schools, to the best location in Paris for our family, and to language immersion. With an indefinite stay as our goal, we want to be wise with our transition year, so we can be fully equipped & ready to plant a new church within 1 year.
The first year will entail learning the language in all aspects – from French itself in intensive language courses, to city travel by metro, bus, and rail, to serving in an international church in the city. An average day will look like French language immersion, traveling to and from our adopted church, making sure our kids are acclimating to school and activities, stumbling upon fascinating treasures of French culture, and forming newfound friends.
How do you feel leaving Mississippi and other friends in the United States?
We have built a life here, comprised of many significant relationships. I’ll carry this home with us as a new home awaits. Ultimately, even though it’s very cliche, home is where the heart is. Therefore, our hearts can be in multiple places at once, even as our lives are led in one physical space.
Still, to leave our house, our backyard, our neighbors, our church, and the schools we have invested in brings feelings of unsettledness. This has been a special place. From watching our boys grow, to unending coffee at Broad Street Bakery, to sporting events, I grieve the inevitable departure. Thus, I’m trying to be present every day, to really see and feel where I am at the moment. I’m trying to take it all in. This ability, to be present where you are, in and of itself, is a gift.
I don’t always like to regard our departure as leaving either. I like to consider our departure as building. We are trying to build both an ecosystem and a pipeline. An ecosystem of partners and networks that will continue to go with us, as we share personally with our 200 partners how we will begin again in Paris. A pipeline where people can come and see, experience, and feel what we are doing in Paris. In this way, we are trying to create something new, not only for ourselves, but for others in the United States – students, teachers, friends, neighbors, and even those who are curious, to be part of something bigger than the corners we inhabit. Is this possible? Yes! It takes intentionality on our part to invite, to share, to show, and to encourage others to take a step, not only to see our new home in Paris, but to welcome them into it.
I am excited. As a third culture kid who grew up abroad, my home has always been where my heart is. That means you can find my heart in Indonesia, the Netherlands, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City, Vietnam, and yes, Mississippi. Every time I move, I reflect how each community has changed me. I have poured 15 years of my life into Mississippi, a time of very intentional relationship and bridge building. I leave with a wealth of friends whom I never thought I would share anything in common, let alone laugh and cry with. It’s hard to leave some of these friendships. These are people I will desire to see face to face when we make periodic trips backs to the United States.
So much of Mississippi seems the antithesis of my childhood & college years. Yet it’s remarkable when you put aside stereotypes & dig past an artifice, there are honest, intriguing people scattered throughout the Magnolia State. I will always champion parts of Mississippi that are lost when its richness is compressed into a negative soundbite. The culmination of my experiences will be packed with me to Paris. As John Hugh has said, we hope to keep our 200 partners abreast of personal details of our transition.
We are connectors at heart – both of us. We have grown tremendously in our marriage. We love to build bridges that people walk across – across to meet Jesus, across the Atlantic to see Paris, across the world to see how big our God really is. We hope you will continue to follow us even as we get ready to leave in Summer 2020.
Private Blog Post
What scares you the most about moving to Paris? How are you handling the announcement and all the emotions that come with it? How are you preparing your children emotionally? “I try, like many others do, to say, live, and act, like I have no fear. Yet that’s not the truth.” “What scares me the most about moving is actually the fear that is changing me.” This private blog post is for our 200 partners. You are welcome to partner with us here.
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