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Church takes root in Paris apartment

EDITOR’S NOTE: Recently the International Mission Board released its 2008 Annual Statistical Report, which provides information on God’s work around the world during the previous year. This story is part of a three-week series that looks beyond the numbers in the Annual Statistical Report to the lives being changed by Southern Baptist workers and their partners.

PARIS (BP)–When God sent Frank and Diane Shaw* to start a house church, they had no idea what they were getting into.

In their late 40s, the Ohio natives quit their jobs and sold their home to serve overseas as Southern Baptist workers. Drawn to a North African people known as the Kabyle Berbers, Frank and Diane soon found themselves in Paris, home to the world’s largest Kabyle population outside North Africa — more than 500,000 people.

Meeting in the Shaws’ two-bedroom apartment, the church began in June 2001 with only a handful of Kabyle believers.

Within six months the church’s attendance jumped to 50, 60 then 70 people. Like the classic circus gag where a seemingly impossible number of clowns enter and exit a tiny car, Kabyles packed the Shaws’ 250-square-foot living room every Sunday.

It’s a powerful example of the record church growth taking place around the world through the work of Southern Baptists.

According to the International Mission Board’s Annual Statistical Report for 2008, Southern Baptist workers and their national partners saw the number of overseas churches climb to the highest level in history in 2007 — nearly 182,000, surpassing the 10-million-member mark for the first time. Of that number, 27,000 churches were newly started. Baptisms topped 565,900 — an average of about one baptism per minute.

“They [the Kabyles] started bringing people in,” Frank recounts. “They brought friends. They brought non-Christians — maybe atheists, maybe Muslims. Some had never been baptized. Some had never really made a commitment to be born again, but they were open to the Gospel.”

So hungry for God’s Word were the Kabyle believers they decided to meet Mondays for prayer and praise, Thursdays for Bible study and Sundays for worship. Baptisms were held in the Shaws’ bathtub.

“That was their idea,” Frank says of the full schedule.

Sundays began with an hour of praise and prayer, followed by an hour of preaching, then communion, then lunch. Afternoons were reserved for fellowship.

“I got to the place where around a quarter of 5, maybe a quarter of 6, I’d finally say, ‘Last coffee call,'” Diane remembers.

A self-professed “Martha” (a reference to the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10), Diane took it upon herself to feed the droves of Kabyles flooding her home. For months she cooked full meals for as many as 40 people three times a week.

“Most of our Kabyles were refugees that were in France illegally,” she explains. “They had to work the black market and had no idea where they would be living from week to week…. The time they could get food was the time they came to our apartment.

“I finally hit a wall when I couldn’t do it anymore,” she says. “I told God, ‘You either have to give me peace or give us a place outside this apartment.’ Next Sunday the only thing that changed was I was singing with joy. God can give you peace in the middle of incredible hardship.”


By the spring of 2003 the church had reached critical mass — there simply wasn’t enough room inside the Shaws’ apartment. The congregation got permission to meet in a nearby church and named themselves The Kabyle Evangelical Baptist Church.

Meanwhile, attendance continued to climb into the 80s and 90s, but the number of church leaders wasn’t keeping pace. “We were growing at enormous rates, faster than we could handle,” Frank says. “With the Kabyles, we sometimes had people getting involved [in leadership] before they were even baptized!” he adds with a laugh.

There were other growing pains, too. Only a few of the church’s members were tithing. Not out of disobedience, Diane guessed, but ignorance.

“It wasn’t that the church needed the money, it was that people needed to give,” she says. At Bible study one evening she asked the church to read and pray over Malachi 3:8. “‘Ten percent tithe is mine,’ says the Lord,” Diane told them.

“We started receiving incredible amounts of money from people who have no money,” she says. This totaled about $61,000 over the next several years.

“That kind of giving from people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from is one of the reasons God has so blessed that church,” Diane says.


If all this sounds easy, don’t be fooled. Though the church quickly took off once the Shaws hit the launch button, Frank and Diane spent years laying the groundwork.

They built relationships with Kabyles wherever they could find them. They visited cafes and set up street-side Bible stands. Through a series of divine encounters, they reconnected with contacts they had met in North Africa who had since moved to Paris.

“When we realized what was happening we contacted a couple of strong Kabyle brothers who we thought might be interested in ‘prayer warrioring’ to start a Kabyle church,” Frank says. “God just put it all into place.”

But if you ask Frank and Diane, they’ll tell you none of this was their idea — they didn’t even want to go to Paris.

When the Lord sent them overseas, they knew He’d called them to work among the Kabyles. What God didn’t tell them was that they wouldn’t be doing it in North Africa. Suddenly it became impossible for them to work within the nation they were focusing on because of restrictions there. Frank and Diane were devastated. They questioned their calling — they even questioned God.

“Through several months of anguish and prayer, God showed us our call hadn’t changed — the place we thought we were going simply wasn’t His will,” Frank says. “He allowed us to visit the country to see it, to meet the people and then He brought those people to us in France.

“Even though you’re living through disappointment, if you keep trusting in the Lord, in His time He will reveal His plan when you’re ready to use it for His glory.”


After 16 years on the field, the Shaws’ work among the Kabyles has come to an end.

Now 66, Frank and Diane are retiring this fall. But they’re not worried about the church they’re leaving behind in Paris.

“It was never Frank and Diane’s church,” Frank says. “It’s a Kabyle church.

“That’s the role of a Southern Baptist worker. It’s not to own anything. It’s not to say, ‘We’ve got the answers.’ It’s to facilitate. It’s to allow things to happen through God’s timing and His will. Yes, to train; to disciple, to form; to build up leaders. That’s what we tried to do.”

Today — more than seven years after its start — The Kabyle Evangelical Baptist Church is still growing. Now fully under the leadership of Kabyle believers, the church continues to reach out to the thousands of Kabyle immigrants and refugees living and working in Paris.

“You feel so blessed when God has used you and you have fruit,” Diane says. “It’s kind of hard, during those other times, and there are a lot of people who live that way their entire overseas experience … tilling the ground and planting a seed and watering, and they never see one green sprout, not one.

“To be blessed to see God grow a church is too wonderful to explain.”
*Names changed. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.

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  • Don Graham