This month I wanted to give you a taste of our village and church life in this unique part of France:
We live on a side street just off of the cobblestone main street that goes through the old town center. This means that I am within a few min. walking distance from a bakery, a pharmacy (important when you can’t buy anything over-the-counter,) and all other essential shops! This is a blessing because parking is a big deal. Every time we need to drive somewhere, we play, “Where’s the Car?” trying to remember where we last parked, as the parking lot facing our house is often full and we have to hunt for a spot “further afield,” as the Brits put it. As winter weather gets more severe, this will become a real character-builder, no doubt!!
Our town is part of a group of 44 towns that lie along a winding north-south road called “La Route des Vins” that is the home of French Rieslings, Pinots, Muscats, Gewurztraminers, and Sylvaners. It is well traveled by tourists, so even small towns, like ours of 7,000, work hard to make themselves attractive for tourism euros. In the summer, bicycle enthusiasts crowd the back roads, and during the Christmas season all of France comes to us to experience the magical (non-commercialized) events staged in these picturesque towns. Right now, our tourism office is offering classes and ideas for decorating our windows with this year’s Alsatian theme, (i.e. pretzels, storks, and heart motifs) and then in Dec. they will offer carriage rides through town for tourists to view them. We’ve got 4 windows right on the street to subtly evangelize with our decor, (i.e. Bread of life? Behold the birds of the air? God is love??) (And I’m not even going to think about parking issues then ;^)…)
Speaking of Christmas, our family has some unique needs and deficits this year with the acquisition of a new home, and so have taken the liberty of adding a wish list to our website for those of you who would like to bless us with a one-time gift for something more specific now or anytime! Options run the gamut from CDs to buckets of paint! Here’s the link – leighweb.com/wishlist.htm
But back to Soultz… We have 3 churches that include a lovely Gothic cathedral that has dominated the town square for 7 centuries and houses a special organ that attracts the best organists for regular concerts. The antithesis of this is the Assemblies of God church squeezed into one room on a side street, practically invisible to passersby. They actually have to drive the children to a private home for Sunday school, and not a single eyebrow is raised! (At least it’s more comfortable than a church in Albertville where the 3-6s had to work on the cold floor of an unheated dressing room in a dance school down the street!)
Unfortunately, this is pretty typical for non-traditional churches, and we were told that politics are part of the reason for struggles like this, just like in overtly atheistic countries: Because these churches are small, they have to rent space. But if the mayor is antagonistic to the gospel, as in Albertville, he can refuse to give a permit to rent something with space and visibility, hence, limiting their growth and ability to attract families with children – France’s future. Here are some other interesting church culture differences:
Our new home church is called “The Joshua Church,” and is closely linked with the kids’ school. Here, God has placed us among French Christians who understand and battle the spiritual oppression over this country with much faith and energy. It is so encouraging to walk with fellow soldiers! At 15, Rachel loves this church as much as we do, and who could blame her- the youth group leads worship most mornings, and she is starting to build some local Christian friendships for the first time! They are also fortunate to have a roomy facility, but lack the funds to furnish the Sunday school rooms or even provide basic supplies! Now that I’m part of the Sunday school team, I can see that my personal stash of creative materials will be quickly decimated, and my first thought was that I should put out a call to all of you who are members of a thriving American church:
Is there a Sunday school dept. out there that would like to partner with us (about 30 kids, ages 5-12)? I have a heart to make this more than an annual donation for supplies and furniture, especially if there is already an awareness of the 40/70 Window of prayer for Europe. (I could facilitate sending/translating group letters back and forth as a cultural/spiritual exchange with my class of 3-4th graders!) If this strikes a chord with you and your church, please send us a reply and we’ll talk details!
Until next month, we look forward to hearing from you!