Photo: The Christopher Dock Mennonite High School Touring Choir singing at L’Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité in Villeneuve-le-Comte, near Paris. By Brad Steury Graber.
Connections made with French Mennonites help build bridges.
It’s always fun showing our visitors where we live and introducing them to our churches and some of the youth we work with. We think of it as building little bridges between our community and theirs, making the world and the global church feel just a little bit smaller and friendlier than it did before and introducing both our community here and those who come to visit to a new kind of people and a new way of being in the world.
This month of visitors culminated with a pretty extraordinary visit; although, to our visitors, we must say that they’re all extraordinary to us. But this visit was extraordinary not just in quality but also in quantity. We welcomed Rodney Derstine and the Christopher Dock Mennonite High School Touring Choir to Paris—45 youth and seven chaperones.
The choir arrived in the village of Villeneuve-le-Comte the last Sunday in June. They performed at a lovely old Catholic church, which is much larger than our Mennonite church there, has better acoustics and is better-known by local non-Protestants. The choir performed to a full house, with attendees from all three of the Mennonite churches in the Paris region (some who had traveled hours to get there) as well as many local people.
The concert was great, and the audience loved it. The choir even received a standing ovation. I heard several glowing comments, and received appreciative emails.
It was good to hear that the audience “understood” and “felt the Spirit moving,” even though many couldn’t understand all of the words (none of the songs was sung in French). How incredible that people can communicate not with what they say but in how they express it!
After the concert, students went home with host families from the three Mennonite churches. We met up in Paris the next day for a full eight hours of touring the city.
The best part for me was watching the French youth from our churches, who had volunteered as tour guides, interacting with the Americans. All together, we were around 75 people, though we split into groups of about 10 to sightsee. By the end of the day, it was fun to see how the kids had already connected, despite language barriers.
The second best part was one of the first things that happened. We started the morning all together at the Notre Dame Cathedral. We had gathered for a group picture. Then, Brad, my husband, asked the choir to sing before we started our day. They did, right there in the courtyard of the Cathedral, before what was hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
As the choir sang, tourists slowed down and stared. French folks going about their day stopped. Some got out their phones to take videos. I smiled like a crazy person, excited that the choir was there with us and that the weather was perfect, happy that after all that coordinating, their singing was more beautiful than I’d hoped.
But mostly, I was smiling at their faith, their fearlessness. We asked them to sing on the fly and they did, before a city full of strangers, without hesitating and without complaining.
They sang a song called “God is Seen,” which is about how all the things God created declare God’s presence.
A few of the lines go like this:
“Through all the world below God is seen all around,
Search hills and valleys through,
There he’s found.”
In a post-Christendom society like here in France, people sometimes say that God has been lost. But in that moment, the choir reminded us, our youth and all the strangers (Christian and non-Christian) passing by the Cathedral that morning, that God is never lost but always with us.
And in that moment, I knew that God was.
Brenna Steury Graber, with her husband, Brad Graber, is a mission worker with Mennonite Mission Network in Paris, France. This article is adapted from a blog post from http://bradleyandbrenna.blogspot.fr.
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