God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
The Lord reminded me of these words when our cherished city was attacked. This same Psalm greatly comforted me when I really needed it in New York on 9/11 when the towers came down and the city fell into disarray. On the 13th of November Paris’ youth were slaughtered and her heart was broken.
These tragic events come on the heels of a national debate that has polarized the country on issues of national identity and the place of religion in society. The President of France has said: “I want us to know one community: the National community. I want us to know only one religion: the Religion of the Republic.” He was applauded by Parliament and the sentiment is approved all over France and in Paris especially. Recently, on the social network you might have seen the logo Pray for Paris. The French didn’t quite like it. One young person replied: “Friends from the whole world thank you but we don’t need more religion! Our faith goes to music! Life!” Religious expression is unwelcome.
How do we reach out to those who are hurting, but closed?
Through the Word of God. Throughout Paris one can see the phrase “not afraid,” nonetheless the apprehension is palpable to any who walk the city streets. I learned something in New York that helped me in January during the Charlie Hebdo attacks and is still true today, “It is not the absence of danger that brings safety, it is God’s presence.” Psalm 46 speaks to that. We have put it up in our office display, on our Facebook page, on our website and at the monuments to victims all over Paris as well as in the tracts we hand out.
We feel led to pray for Parisians, but how can we pray for those that don’t want prayer? We have been ministering for years in the 11th district where the recent attacks took place. So our team went to the Bataclan venue and paid homage to the victims, and then sang worship songs in front of city hall and at the Place de la République that you’ve seen in much news footage. We hoped that the songs would reach some and that we might get an opportunity to pray for those that crossed our path.
At Place de la République, my colleagues Karl deSouza and Chantale Onona were singing “Amazing Grace” when all of a sudden a young woman stopped and began weeping. “What is the name of that song?” she asked. She didn’t want to be prayed for at first but after some story and witness she finally asked for prayer.
We don’t know how the terrorist attacks will impact our ministry in the days and weeks to come. Everyone is speaking about the “dark times;” may the light of the world shine through and heal Paris’ broken heart. As of today, the people of the city have not yet turned to God for “refuge and strength,” but are still seeking. Many seek refuge among friends crowding around the many Paris coffee houses. May many Parisians open their hearts to Jesus, for Jesus loves Paris and is mighty to save.