An Englishman in La Manche image

An Englishman in La Manche

While Andrew has been swanning about in New York I've just got back from speaking at Cherbourg Baptist Church. Alongside the things I was expecting to enjoy - singing songs I knew from home, only in French, eating cheese, being at a church with a real passion for the gospel - there were one or two surprises. The very different contexts of New York and Cherbourg are interesting, so here are ten things that struck me about my time in La Manche.

1. There are French apple varieties that are incredibly delicious, unlike the varieties they send over to be sold in British supermarkets.

2. From a Southern England perspective (let alone a Manhattan one), Northern France can be remarkably cheap: £300,000 will buy you a very large house, possibly with attached gite, on a large plot of land, in a very attractive area of Normandy – and Normandy is very attractive; it is kind of Dorset Plus. Tempted to set up a B&B? You betcha!

3. The number of evangelical Christians in La Manche (the region that stretches down the Cotentin Peninsula from Cherbourg to Mont St-Michel) is tiny. Christians number in the hundreds, not thousands, in an area one and half times the size of Rhode Island, with a population of half a million people. Far from 3% of the population being evangelical Christians, it’s probably closer to 0.3%.

4. I have no idea who Collin Hansen, Sean Astin or John Starke are, but Samuel Alonso looks a lot like Jean Reno.

5. Diversity in Cherbourg was greater than I expected. There were people from Ireland, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sweden and Spain in the congregation, and this gives the church an interesting edge.

6. In Dorset terms, parts of La Manche look like home from home, only larger and more interesting. In other words: Cherbourg is perhaps cooler than Poole. You heard it here first.

7. There are actually no large churches in La Manche. Period. For La Manche to have the same percentage of evangelicals as New York, it would need more than another 400 new churches. Gulp.

8. On a related point, although the Christian world has mostly heard of John Calvin, I met no Presbyterians in Cherbourg. 

9. This isn’t only a Cherbourg thing, but anyway: there isn’t any money in church planting in France.

10. Overall, La Manche seems both incredibly exciting and incredibly difficult as a place to live, and to plant and lead churches. It’s only really a goer for those who are fluent in French (which sadly I am a very long way from being) and who are prepared for brutal pioneering ministry in a nation thoroughly inoculated against religion. There are the benefits of the French lifestyle, but genuine cultural integration can be challenging for those coming from the Anglo-Saxon world.

And if that all sounds like your cup of tea (or calvados), I’d urge you to go for it with all your might, connecting with whoever you can, and trusting Jesus for breakthrough in a region that desperately needs to know God’s love and grace!

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