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The ‘other’ Paris: gateway to world’s unreached peoples

PARIS (BP)–Everyone knows Paris.

It’s the elegant city of the Eiffel Tower and tourists, the Arc de Triomphe and high fashion, the Louvre Museum and the Mona Lisa, croissants and sidewalk cafes.

Everyone “knows” that Paris.

But there’s another Paris — one you won’t see on the postcards. This other Paris is somber suburbs and complexes of grimy, gray concrete high-rises packed with poverty-line immigrants struggling to survive in an alien culture.

This other Paris is a magnet, not for well-heeled tourists, but for newcomers from Africa and the Middle East chasing work permits and jobs and better lives.

Walk through this other Paris and you’ll see robed North African Muslims wearing their distinctive “hajj” (pilgrimage) hats. And ebony-skinned women from Senegal decked out in long, colorful dresses and head wraps that proclaim they’re of the Wolof tribe.

“I have stood in the marches [markets] and in front of the big ‘Tati’ store complex and counted people from about 35 unreached people groups who are hard to reach with the gospel in their homelands,” says one Southern Baptist worker who serves in Paris.

What a missions challenge for Christian workers.

Consider that Paris has more than 10 million residents — and about a tenth of them are Muslims. Many of these Muslims are from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia or other countries closed to the gospel. And many of these North Africans keep close ties with family and friends in their homelands.

That’s why Southern Baptist workers say Paris is a “Gateway City.” They mean that by reaching out to members of unreached people groups in Paris, they can find a “gateway” to lands in the Muslim world that are closed to missionary presence.

For example, it is difficult to get videos of the “Jesus” film into Morocco. But a Christian worker in Paris suggested two Berber women take videos back to their families as gifts.

“Oh, that’s a great idea!” one exclaimed. Off went the videos to a strategic mission field where every positive word spoken of the gospel is precious.

Hundreds of copies of the “Jesus” film, Bibles and other Christian materials have made their way into North Africa in this manner.

“People from all over the Muslim world come to Paris,” the Southern Baptist worker says. She keeps gospel-centered materials in many languages on hand so she is prepared when she meets someone from an unreached people group.

While witnessing to Muslims in their home countries can be very difficult — even dangerous — it’s easier when the location is Paris.

“People are here out of their element. They are out of their closed family groups, who usually rally around to fight against family members hearing the gospel. They come to Paris, and they’re uprooted, in a state of change. The children are growing up and confronting French culture. There are many conflicts in families,” the worker says.

“All these factors make them more open to the gospel. They’re caught by so many changes. Presenting them with the gospel gives them an anchor, something to hold on to,” she says.

The gospel is not the only force vying for their attention, of course. Still, many immigrants recognize the Bible as a holy book.

“All the children are going to school. Children can read it to their parents,” the worker says. “It’s easier to distribute Bibles here than in North Africa.”

She recently distributed 10,000 New Testaments among Muslim families. As she and other workers went through the towering apartment blocks that predominate here, she was amazed at the diversity of cultures she saw.

Often immigrants come fleeing poverty and searching for the good life in the West. But many have poor language skills and no suitable job skills to compete in Paris. They wind up living in poor, crowded public housing where crime and drugs are common.

The worker tells of visiting a Senegalese family with 10 children living in just five small rooms. Among such immigrants, the worker has found “chronological storying” to be a wonderful tool to teach the Bible. The stories are fascinating to people who cannot read or write, and they also deal very well with objections Muslims raise to Christianity, she says.

Southern Baptist workers in Paris are teaming up with other Great Commission Christians to plan projects that will reach people for Christ. They hope to ultimately send new Christian believers back to penetrate countries closed to the gospel. Outreach and distribution projects are being planned and volunteers are needed.

For more information about helping reach people in the “other” Paris, write: Gateway City Paris, 9113 Lydell Drive, Richmond, VA 23228 USA.

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