On Easter Sunday, Châtenay-Malabry Mennonite Church in Paris was filled to standing-room only. Singing familiar hymns, but in French, I felt so blessed to be worshiping with such a diverse and vibrant church with members that represented 14 different nationalities!
It was only a few days prior that this congregation welcomed my learning tour group with a communion meal and foot washing. Every person washed the feet of someone from another cultural background – truly a vision of the kingdom of Heaven.
I visited the church during a learning tour with Stanley Green, Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network, and eight other supporters. For nearly three weeks, we traveled Europe to visit and learn from Mission Network's international workers. I knew it would be an exciting experience, but I could not have guessed just how powerful it would be. As it turns out, it's one thing to get prayer letters from a worker, and another thing entirely to meet with them where they work and live. It's one thing to support a church that is overseas, and another thing entirely to worship with them in their own language.
We did all the things that one would expect from a trip to Europe – climbed the Eiffel Tower, gaped at the beauty of La Sagrada Familia, and ate more cheese and bread than was really good for us. However, the most memorable parts of the trip weren't found overlooking Paris, or working our way through a course of tapas.
My fondest memories are about people, like after a church service in France, one of the women on the tour bumped into a group of the people she had worked with in Paris 40 years ago. Their laughter and tears of joy at their reunion lifted all our spirits.
And how could we not be encouraged by observing the passion of youth? At a youth convention in Burgos, Spain, more than 200 youth were gathered in the main square of their town to witness and give testimonies! They proudly announced their faith to passersby, acknowledging the power of Christ in their lives. The next morning, the church in Burgos was almost overflowing with youth, and I was blessed to worship, this time in Spanish, with an energetic community.
Moments of significance also came in Switzerland as we toured Anabaptist heritage sites. To come around a street corner, and suddenly be standing at the banks of the river where Felix Manz was drowned, was incredibly sobering. [The] Anabaptists' [faith] has suffered so much over the last 500 years, through martyrdom and displacement. My ancestors fled Europe as refugees, escaping Switzerland to start a new life in the United States. As I reflected on my own family history of persecution and displacement, my mind was overwhelmingly pulled into the 21st century where the story continues today, only through different people groups and circumstances.
Flying back over the Atlantic to my home in Kansas, I was reminded that despite the fact that we can video conference with people from the other side of the world, there is still no substitute for sitting in the same room with another person. Through doing so on this trip, I was encouraged once again by the God we worship, who surprises us with experiences, people, and the ways that the Holy Spirit brings us all together. I feel blessed to be a part of a diverse church, which continues to bind our salvation stories together.