Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Thriving Church in Southern France

The history of Marseille, France stretches back to pre-Roman times – at least 2,600 years.  MTW hasn’t been in France quite that long, but has enjoyed about 30 years of cooperation with UNEPREF, a reformed French denomination with roots in the protestant reformation.  Johnny was privileged to visit the region of southern France where most of UNEPREF’s churches are located and meet with the leaders of the church to discuss MTW’s past and future work with UNEPREF. 

It was a great pleasure to meet with French pastors Jean-Raymond, Daniel, and Pierre and with Pete Mitchell and Ken Matlack of MTW.  The Lord has allowed UNEPREF and MTW to cooperate in the planting of several churches and the meeting highlighted our desire to continue this good work. 

Although much of our time together was focused on how to improve our working relationship in the years ahead, there was time for some wonderful fellowship around meals.  We even paid a brief visit to the Musée du Désert, devoted to the memory of the persecution of the French Huguenots in the 17th and 18th centuries.   Most of the MTW team in France showed up for the dinner celebrating our 30 years together.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

Empty Sorrow without Hope

We attended a memorial service for an old friend today.  Following her death, this dear one was cremated and her ashes placed in a plastic urn.  Although she died several months ago, her ashes were kept until the local cemetery held their biannual ceremony for those who die without any relatives to provide for them.  Her friends paid for the cremation and the public burial.  Due to the impoverished circumstances of her life, there were no funds available for anything more elaborate.

This wasn’t the first funeral we had been to in the Czech Republic, but it was the first of this kind.  We were unprepared for the sadness. 

The burial took place in a very pleasant, tiny grass field.  There was a small brass band that played several quiet songs prior to and during the ceremony.  A gentle lady read a poem and then a brief sentence about each person.  These remarks weren’t personal, but general in nature - typically along the lines of, “She is gone, and nothing remains to us but her memory”, or, “He will lie here in this peaceful place forever.”  After these remarks, the lady would call the name of the deceased person and two attendants would pour their ashes into a small hole in the field.  In this manner they buried about a dozen folks in the space of 20 minutes. 

Our great sadness came in the realization that the ceremony held no hope of anything beyond the moment.  No life, no joy, nothing but a flower pot sized hole in a patch of grass - forever.  There is a hollowness, a thinness to an attempt to memorialize a living, eternal soul in this manner. 

But we are convinced of better things about our friend.  She was a lover of Jesus.  And, no matter the words that were spoken over her grave, she now rejoices in bright splendor before him who has forever loved her.  We will see her again, when she comes with Christ at the last trumpet.  This is our hope.