In common with most countries in Western Europe, it is increasingly difficult to get people under the sound of the gospel in this land of France. Assemblies are getting smaller, and in a prosperous materialistic society few people have any time for God. The preacher of the gospel enjoys neither prestige nor respect (not that he seeks it) but is often considered to be a member of some unorthodox cult and experiencing what it means to “go forth therefore unto Him without the camp bearing His reproach” (Heb 13:13).
Over a number of years, during the summer months, we have held series of gospel meetings using a small tent with a seating capacity of about 45. This has enabled us to reach into different towns and villages in the South of France with the message of salvation.
Given the few scattered and very small assemblies, it will be understood that very often the writer has had to labor alone, getting the tent up, sleeping in a small trailer alongside it, and visiting the district with invitations during the day. Thus the help of young brethren from different countries during the summer weeks has been invaluable. A number have been with us from Northern Ireland assisting with the distribution of invitations and Seed Sower texts. However, we have found that it is no easier to get souls into the tent than to bring them into the Gospel Hall. But there are two advantages: firstly, the tent is very visible, and, secondly, with a P.A. system, the preaching is heard at some distance from the tent.
While I was having meetings in a town near the port of Toulon, a woman came into the tent and sat up at the front next to the table which serves as a pulpit. Every few minutes she would lean over and place small pieces of paper next to my Bible on which she had written something of her problems, but as you can imagine it was a little difficult to preach and try to read what she was writing. It turned out that her husband was in prison, she had all sorts of problems, and she had gone out that hot summer evening not knowing where to turn. She came into the tent and discovered her need of salvation. Shortly after leaving the area we learned that she had started going to the assembly in that town, had professed faith in Christ, been baptized, and received into fellowship.
We are often handicapped by the high winds frequently experienced in this area. At times it is impossible to preach as the walls and the roof are flapping so much. On one occasion we had to take it down as the wind had actually lifted the whole tent two to three feet off the ground. Damage to the material is virtually always due to violent winds requiring continual maintenance. Surprisingly, we have almost never had any problems with vandalism, although a few years ago, during meetings in Cannes, I had neglected to chain up the portable electric generator, and during the meeting suddenly the lights went out and the microphone cut out. Some young men driving by in a car, stopped, one of them jumped out of the car, wrenched out the cables and made off with the generator before he could be stopped.
Once while I was in Marseille, which the French call the Chicago of France because of its reputation for violence and crime, during the two weeks on a site in the heart of the town, the police would call in each morning to see if I had been attacked! I told them to send me some good “honest” criminals for me to preach to! There are times when I have had to share the site with some traveling circus and on more than one occasion we have had lions, hippos, and camels as near neighbors. Their “perfume” is not always very conducive to the effective preaching of the gospel.
This year, in a small town called Elne, just south of Perpignan where we have had several series of tent meetings in the past, instead of erecting the tent, we obtained permission to hold a nightly open-air meeting in the place where we usually put the tent. The value of the experience was inconclusive; a number listened from a good distance away, but only on one evening did one man come and sit on a chair through the meeting.
We see little in the way of visible encouragement, but we feel we should press on in the gospel, leaving the results with God. Some say that tent meetings are a thing of the past, but going into a locality, setting up the tent, visiting every home, and preaching each evening can be rewarding despite the indifference, for by this means we are bringing the message of salvation to the people in their own town or village. Is not this the duty of every preacher of the gospel? We are always glad of the help of young brethren in this service for Christ, so brush up your French and think about spending a week or two with us next year. You will be more than welcome.