I felt a bit like the jailer in Life of Brian: “Crucifixion? First door on the left. One cross each,”. Instead, I was standing at the chapel door in Meribel each Sunday welcoming people and you could sometimes catch me saying – “Anglican service in English? – Do come in.” “Catholic service in French? That’s a 10-minute drive down the hill to the church in Les Allues”. Luckily many French chose to stay and join us, and we felt really blessed to have them.
One such couple, slipped into the service late, so I hadn’t seen then come in. At the end of the service, led by Patrick Malone, from St Peter’s Battersea, they came up to us with tears in their eyes. Not because they’d been bored to tears, but because they felt God had spoken directly to them. They explained that they were Catholic but had doubted the existence of God since the suicide 7 years ago, of their adult son, who had been a highly respected surgeon. They were on their way to the Catholic church service in Les Allues, when they felt the need to come into our chapel instead (both services run at 6pm on a Sunday). Patrick was leading prayers, and in mind of Lara praying for her friend who’d lost her daughter, Patrick said a generic prayer about parents mourning the loss of their children. It spoke directly to this French couple, and the tears began to flow as they sensed God was there for them. After the service, Patrick prayed with them directly. With the beauty of God’s provision, Patrick, having worked in a church in Paris for several years, was able to pray in perfect fluent French. The tears flowed more, and you could see a burden lifted. It was this lovely couple who described our little service as “vivant” – living – they had encountered the living God. We had the privilege of spending time with them later in the week and meeting their two grandsons.
Even though we were running English-speaking services, we had so many lovely meetings with French holiday-makers. To be honest, when they arrived at our door, they decided they couldn’t be bothered to drive 10 minutes down the hill, so many of them stayed, and it was wonderful to see them relax, and chat with them after. One lady expressed surprise, asking “Is that the priest?” whilst pointing at our chaplain Gordon, in woolly jumper, woolly gloves and Dr Who scarf. She was expecting a more priestly outfit I suppose. And that’s what we’re about – changing perceptions about what people think of church, Christians, and of Jesus. It doesn’t have to be boring or dry – after all, we want people to encounter the living God. Another French lady kept saying this was “un grand moment” – a big moment. And was so enthusiastic for the work we were doing.
Perhaps my favourite French encounter last season was with Benoit. I was standing at the door, welcoming people as usual, when a burly and very surly man walked in to the chapel, straight past me without acknowledging me and went and sat down in one of the pews. I sensed he was French, and thought I’d better approach him and politely explain that he was most welcome to stay, but that the service would be in English. His thunderous glare made me nervous, but I went up to him, smiled weakly, and said that this was an Anglican service in English, paused to see if I’d hit a nerve, and assuming he was Catholic, I quickly followed it up with “But it’s all the same God…” His frown broke into an enormous smile, and I discovered that he was indeed French but he had worked at a church in England, and he spoke excellent English. He stayed on afterwards chatting for ages over drinks and nibbles. He came to our Apres-ski drinks on the Tuesday, and I met him again later in the week, before the end of his holiday. As if God was nudging me tonight whilst writing this blog, I received a message from him an hour ago – the first contact since he was here in February. I’m hoping he’ll be back in Meribel next season.
We were further blessed by Lindz’s visit when he contacted us a few weeks later to see if Freddie wanted to work for his charity Light, as a trainee videographer. This was a massive answer to prayer and is a dream job for Freddie. We feel that by taking the initial step of faith and bringing our family to Meribel for the season, we have been so blessed by God as a result.
There were so many blessings throughout the season – like when a man who’s been to heaven came over to our place for dinner. I’ll tell all in the next blog.