Upon arrival in Marseilles we were greeted by Nelly Vos and her daughter, Helen. They gave us a wealth of insight into the spiritual climate in France.
Nelly was born in the northeast of France. She and her family were among the few Christian believers in her small town. She became a missionary and met her husband, David (an American), while working with Operation Mobilization in Marseilles.
They had a heart for the Muslim community, so they moved to Montpelier and began working with Muslim students there. These students were from moderate families in North Africa and the Middle East, and some were receptive. After some years in Montpelier, David and Nelly moved to Lyon where they worked with a team from Mission to the World (MTW).
Sadly, David died unexpectedly of heart failure shortly after their move to Lyon. Nelly continued her work by serving at the seminary in Aix-en-Provence, and then took a position as parish assistant at the Evangelical Church in Marseilles, where she now serves.
Nelly says that less than 3% of the French are believers. Interestingly, Muslims are easier to talk with because they don't mind talking about God. But the French are more receptive of late, and she is surprised to learn of French people who want to "learn about the Bible." Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East tended to be more receptive in the 60s, the first wave of immigration. But lately they have not integrated well into French culture, so they are turning to the Islam of their home culture.
Nelly now enjoys her work with the Evangelical/Reformed Church in Marseilles, where she assists the pastor, Jean-Raymond Stauffacher. They minister to a congregation of about 70.
Just as the gusty winds blow off the Mediterranean against the hills and trees of Marseilles, there are fresh winds of change blowing in France. Next post, we'll meet Jean-Raymond Stauffacher, who pastors the church and also leads a union of churches across France.