The day our lives changed forever

The Brexit will change many things but our life as a family didn’t change on 23rd June. It changed forever on 14th June 2016. I was due to a routine health check. I went healthy and I came out with a serious illness.

Following a routine blood test on Tuesday 14th June, I was contacted by our GP the following day. The level of white blood cells was unusually high and he wanted me to have further checks with a consultant. He had already taken the initiative to contact an Hematologist at the hospital. I had an appointment for the following morning, Thursday. Our GP suspected a chronic form of leukemia.

I went to the hospital, talked with the consultant, a tall young man with a strong Italian accent, and had another blood test. The results came back the next day and he confirmed the initial diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL).

Our bodies naturally generates white blood cells and they die after a while. In my case, some type of white blood cells are multiplying and not dying. This results in unusual levels of white blood cells in my blood and could lead to complications. Most patients with CLL are elderly people and live without treatment. They need regular checks with the consultant, once or twice a year. In some cases, there will be a need for a light chemotherapy. But there is no known cure. It is a slow process and we have to learn to live with it. In my case, I am young and it is likely that I will need a treatment at some point in my life. It could take many years before it happens. No one knows. I will see the consultant in a few months time.

Apart from that, we are doing well. I am healthy and intend to continue to climb mountains on a regular basis. The family is also well.

We are grateful to the Lord for the timing of this health check. On the same day, I met another missionary, planting a church in Aix Les Bains, and I met the Roman Catholic priest of Cognin, the town where we live. I had a good conversation with a Franciscan monk who knows nothing about Protestants.

We thank God for our GP who reacted very quickly and for the consultant who agreed to take me the following day (due to my young age).

We thank him for the gospel. This diagnosis has given us a fresh perspective on the brevity of life and the on the gospel.

Thank you for your prayers, we hope to see some of you in Aberystwyth this summer for the Welsh conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.


Book review: Why Bother with Church ? by Sam Alberry

Here in France, church commitment is a real issue. Most people see church as something optional. Church is a voluntary based organisation. It doesn’t really matter if I don’t attend, and when my local church doesn’t reach my expectations any more, I find another one.

In many churches, a minority are faithfully committed to the church but the majority isn’t. They will attend most Sundays unless they have something better to do, or feel too tired to go to the service. Most will never bother with a midweek meeting. In one church I know, it seems that some members only attend services when they are on duty like preaching or leading the service.
“Why bother with church ?” is a helpful little book. In a few pages it gives compelling reasons why believers should bother with church. It concludes with the question “Why on earth would I not bother with church?” There are only 6 short chapters and it is an easy read. The first chapter is a quick introduction to Ecclesiology: “What is church?”. The other chapters answer various practical questions: why do I need church? What makes a good church ? There is also a chapter on church government. The last two chapters: “How do I survive church ?” and “How can I be a good church member? are especially helpful.
I liked that the author doesn’t push his own ecclesiology (he is an Anglican), but at one point, he wisely tells his readers that if they want to go deeper on a specific issue, they should talk with their pastor.This little book is practical and pastoral. You will understand that the reason you find church boring “has to do with the mindset with which we arrive week by week.” So instead of coming to get something out for yourself, try to think how you can serve others.Read “Why bother with church”. Use some of its arguments in conversations. Get a few copies and hand them over around you. Make sure that young believers read it and understand it. Personally, if I were to use it, I would take each chapter heading and make a series of sermons. Actually, I wonder whether it started as a series of sermons.

The French version of the Island says a lot about our culture and how it influences the church

In recent weeks, we have watched the French version of the Island. It gives a good insight into our individualistic culture, and how it influences the church. French church life is strangely similar to this show.

The Island is a reality TV show where a group of 15 men or 15 women are left on a tropical Island with minimal equipment and knowledge. They must survive for 28 days. Each member of the team can choose to leave when they want. It is not a competition where the strongest stays at the end. The goal is that the team works together and finishes the experience.

A rejection of all forms of structures

One thing that struck me is that the teams refuse all forms of structure. Each time someone comes out as more competent than the others to lead the team, he must quickly face the rebellion of some members of the team: who are you? Who appointed you as our leader? Very quickly, factions arise. The men’s team separated in two groups a few days after the start of the experience. The women are a doing bit better, but not much.

French Christians also are suspicious of leadership and structures. Even when someone’s gifts have been recognised by the church and the person has been elected by the majority, his authority will be constantly challenged by some who wish the church was some kind of utopia where there is no structure and everyone lives at peace. If you are a pastor or an elder, you have to make sure you do not lead. The diversity of church backgrounds make it difficult to lead anyway. You often find conservative evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics in the same church, and each want to push his/her own agenda, regardless of the others. I suppose it keeps us humble. But in the meantime, not much gets really done, and there are few conversions.

Church is a voluntary organisation

People join the Island on a voluntary basis. Members can opt out whenever they want. On the men’s Island, a young man left after a couple of days. he couldn’t cope with the hunger. On the women’s Island, one of the team members decided that she didn’t want to continue after a couple of weeks. She was healthy, competent and helpful. But the experience didn’t match her expectations. She secretly contacted the production so that she could be picked up the next day.

French people also see church as a voluntary organisation. You choose to join a church, and you choose to leave it if the experience doesn’t match your expectations. It is all very subjective. If you don’t get on with someone, you don’t try to work it out. You simply walk out of the situation, and join another church, or not.

Probably the French administration system is unhelpful here. To be a church you must form an association. You have all sorts of associations in France, all of them voluntary organisations. You can join and leave freely.

And there is that one guy

Then there is the guy who is so proud to say that he speaks his mind. He is selfish and proud. He creates havoc in the team by making all sorts of comments. He thinks it is always helpful to point everything that he thinks is wrong. But it isn’t. The only thing he manages to do is to to isolate himself from the rest of the group. He ends up on his own. The others are wrong, he is right. In real life, he a social worker who works as a mediator, arbitrating conflicts.

I find it disturbing to realise the impact of our individualistic culture on our church lives. The participants of the Island are not Christians, yet, if you look at a church, you find the same worldviews, the same tensions, the same problems.


70 years of marriage

Today, I went to visit an elderly lady who lost her husband last week. They had been married for 70 years. He was 94 and she is 90. They lived all their life in the village where I grew up. They were discreet and hard-working. Whenever you would turn up, they would stop what they were doing and offer you a cup of coffee or tea.

Going into their house is going back 40 or 50 years in time. They receive you around the kitchen table. There is an old wood stove, still in use, as well as a gas one. A sink, a cupboard and a fridge. No fancy gadgets. The day’s newspaper is on the table.

It was good to be there. I went with my mum who knew them well. We talked about their life, and shared some memories. Their son turned up and we talked about his dad’s work at the cement factory. It was a hard life.

I’ve known these folks all my life. I have plenty of memories of chatting with Félix (we called him Lili) when he was cutting wood near our house. We also used to help every year in his brother’s vineyard. Folks from the village would gather to help and we would work and eat together, collecting the grapes and pressing them into wine. I remember his mum and dad also. They were our neighbours. But they died long ago, when I was a boy. Félix’s dad had fought in the great war.

Yet, at the same time, I didn’t really know them. Last time I visited was 1,5 year ago. The funeral was on Friday morning but we didn’t know until after it had taken place so we couldn’t attend.

This made me think. We must spend more time with older folks, visit often, because when they are gone, it is too late. But also, I must read the local paper more carefully and more often.

When we were in Brittany, I learned that the first page Breton people read is the obituaries. It is important to know who has died so that you can send your condolences to the family and go to the funeral to show respect. It is the same here. The first page country folks is the obituaries to see who has died. If I had read the paper last week, I would have known and I would have been able to attend the funeral.

9:30 pm, Sunday night. The phone starts ringing

21:30, Sunday night. The phone is ringing. That’s odd. Who would phone us at this time of the day. (In France, you don’t usually phone people after 9). I’ll answer anyway.
Me: Hello ?
Person on the Phone : Mr Durand ?
Me : Yes
Person on the Phone: This is Chambéry central police station. Do you own a Renault trafic ?
Me: Yes
Police officer : Someone contacted us to let us know that your car is opened.
Me: Ok, Thanks, I’ll go and check.

I went and checked.

A local councilor had spotted that the back door of our van was opened and contacted the police to find the owner. He closed the door and waited for a while to see if I would turn up. He was still there when I arrived.

Silly me had left the back door opened after coming back from a walk with the boys. No one had visited the car as far as I can tell.

At least, I got to talk with one of the local councillors.