Experiencing the Love of Jesus in the Heart of Marseille
I invite you to walk with me through my week on the bustling streets and in the cafes of Marseille, France. Particularly, the week leading up to the October launch of our church, “Evolution 13,” and its first public meeting at “Le Paradox,” a bar/restaurant in the heart of “Cours Julien,” the arts sector of Marseille.
Monthly Student Dinner
Once a month, we gather with university students for a student dinner at a church facility directly across the street from a dormitory. The facility belongs to a local church that has partnered with us. Tonight, over twenty students, ages eighteen to twenty-two, half French and half international, are gathering to enjoy an evening of food, music, dance and games. Someone from Gabon, Central Africa, gets up to sing a song with some dance moves, so the students join in. Then we play a few games and just have fun in a relaxed atmosphere. A few elders from the church we partner with showed up and said, “We have never had non-Christian students coming to our church, Matt, thank you for coming and asking us to help you.” They were blown away. The students who came said it was the highlight of their week. One said, “this kind of stuff doesn’t exist in France and I just love it.’”
__The students who came said it was the highlight of their week. One said, “this kind of stuff doesn’t exist in France and I just love it.”
Children in France who aren’t in middle school yet don’t have school on Wednesdays. So, this is our family activity day at Chez Rasch, our home on a hill in the suburban Valentine area. It’s a flurry of activity as we take our three daughters and son to violin, dance, and tennis lessons. I also do administrative work throughout the day.
Student Bible Study
Tonight, I’m headed to our Bible study near student housing on campus. A lot of Tunisians live in this area, so it’s like France meets North Africa. On the way to the grocery store to buy snacks for our study, I pass a pizzeria on the corner and greet two Tunisian men who work there. “Bonjour, Matt!” they say, “how are you?” They love me because in the past, I’ve bought over one hundred pizzas from them. We used to meet in their breezeway and sing. They are Muslim, but we would still talk about Jesus, which is a huge deal.
At Bible Study, we mingle over refreshments and then I crank up some music and we sing in French, then in English so the students can practice their English-speaking skills. I give a short teaching, followed by discussion and prayer, and I’m off to the city center again. As I drive, people are stopping in the middle of the road, talking to their friends and blocking traffic. Cars are honking. It’s 10:30 at night, but there are people everywhere, especially in this North African section. Cafes and bars are open, and North African men are everywhere in Muslim garb and traditional Tunisian and Algerian hats. I drop off a few students, then head home.
__If you create a rigid, religious system, people won’t stay, especially French people.”
Discipleship at a local café
I enter the café, look around for my friends, and give them the traditional French greeting, a kiss on each cheek. As we go to the counter to order coffee, we chat about how their classes and work are going. Today, I’m meeting with two students, one who gave his life to the Lord at the end of June.
We start talking about what they’ve been seeing in the news, then arrive at our question of the day, asked by a student: If someone does something bad, but the end is good, does that justify it? They mention a film they saw that raised ethical issues, so I bring the question back to the Bible. We talk about the justice and wrath of God and paying the consequences for wrong choices. And then I ask, “What is the role of a person who is trying to walk with Jesus?” I bring up my own testimony of how I used to go out, get drunk, and do whatever I wanted. But I had to pay the consequences. Then Jesus revolutionized me and set me on a new path. Finally, I bring the testimony back around to them giving their lives to Jesus, and one of them has.
Evolution 13 launch in the Art Quarter of Marseille
We show up at 2pm to set up inside “Le Paradox.” Once inside, however, problems meet us around every corner: the tables and chairs were all upstairs, the cleaning lady was mopping under our feet, etc. But the event went well. From families to college students, we had a total of twenty adults and kids. The message was a word of encouragement from Genesis about all of us being on a voyage together, like Jacob. He didn’t know God personally at the beginning of the story, but became intimately acquainted with the Lord by the end. We ended with fellowship. The owner of “Le Paradox” lowered his space rental price by fifty euros, so we were all smiles.
Thank you Jesus, we are already starting to make headway.
Why Evolution 13?
Churches here can be boring and rigid, so we wanted to create a place that, by contrast, is warm, friendly and inclusive. If you create a rigid, religious system, people won’t stay, especially French people.
When a French person hears the word “evolution”, they often think of the broader meaning of the word: Development. Change. Becoming. Transformation. And, as Christians, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re all growing and becoming more like Christ. None of us are perfect or have arrived, so at Evolution 13, we invite others to come on a journey with us as we discover our great God, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The word evolution seemed like a good fit. And we threw in the number of Marseille, the zip code, just for fun
My philosophy of evangelism in this context is extremely relational. It’s not about having the right tract in my pocket or having a Gospel presentation ready to go. Certainly, it’s crucial to know God’s Word and be able to explain the Gospel, but my agenda when meeting with people is to love them where they are in life first. Conversations always come around to the Lord. If you come in with an agenda, people smell that from far away and say, ‘I don’t know about all this’ and they turn away.
Evolution 13 is a place for our atheist, agnostic, and Muslim friends, who we’ve been loving for the last two years, to feel like “Hey, I’m welcome here and I like these people, so I want to come every week.” We want to create a community where they’re welcomed and loved as if they were Christians already, because that’s what Jesus did. He loved people where they were.