News Articles

WORLDVIEW: The solution to France’s immigrant violence

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Hope is getting hard to find these days among many of Europe’s millions of immigrants, especially Africans and Arabs who don’t look or sound “European.”

Anger and despair often rush to fill the vacuum hopelessness creates. There’s no shortage of either in France, the uneasy home of some 5 million Muslims — mostly from North and West Africa. They comprise the largest Islamic population in Western Europe.

Hopelessness is one explanation for the recent weeks of violence in France. The trouble started in Paris’ immigrant suburbs in late October when two teens trying to elude police were accidentally electrocuted while hiding in a power station. Rioting and burning spread to at least 300 other French cities and inspired copycat violence in several neighboring European countries. The unrest has subsided –- for the moment –- but the causes behind it still smolder.

French analysts and news media have offered numerous reasons for the explosion of destruction. Some cite aimlessness among immigrant youths, out-of-control gang crime, lack of decent education and jobs (unemployment in many immigrant communities tops 40 percent) and simmering Islamic extremism. Others point to racism, neglect of immigrant ghettoes, a rigid and declining economy -– and failure to assimilate the millions of newcomers France has welcomed from its former African colonies.

In a televised address to the nation Nov. 14, French President Jacques Chirac said the riots “bear witness to a deep malaise … a crisis of direction, a crisis in which people have lost their way.” He called for a return to law and order, but also for a new struggle against the “poison of discrimination” in housing, education and employment. Meanwhile, anti-immigrant anger is growing, along with calls for closing France’s doors to immigrants altogether.

It all adds up to a bleak future for several generations of immigrants who arrived with dreams of a better life.

“African immigrants looking for work see Europe and the United States as paradise,” says Southern Baptist missionary Craig Kendrick, who ministers to West Africans in Paris. “But when they get here, they find it hard. They see it as racial. They say, ‘I’m not educated enough, so I can’t get a job. Nobody looks at me like I’m somebody.’ Life’s tough here, man, so they resort to just about anything. They’ll do the meager jobs that French people don’t want to do, and they have three or four of these jobs.”

Illegal immigrants –- and there are hundreds of thousands of them -– face even tougher prospects.

“We work with a lot of young men out of Mali and Senegal and Mauritania,” Kendrick says. “It’s extreme poverty there, so they come here. Some get sucked into drug dealing and other things that make quick money, but they lose their life when they sell their soul to that. The majority work in the black market without (residence) papers. If they finally do get their papers, life is never much fun because they’re working three jobs. Their kids never see mom or dad.”

Some immigrant men working in France leave their families in West Africa even after they get papers. They don’t want their children exposed to the temptations of Western culture, Kendrick explains. Yet they see Europe as the only way out of an endless cycle of hunger in their homelands.

What’s the answer?

“You have arguments from the left and the right, but nobody’s really giving any solutions,” Kendrick responds. “From my point of view, the solution is for people to know God.”

African immigrants who are hungry and desperate don’t respond well to evangelistic sermons, however. To “get into their world,” Kendrick looks for practical ways to help them move out of poverty and hopelessness. Maybe they need some clothes, or food or help learning French to get an education and a job. Maybe they need help obtaining legal residence papers.

Toguy, a young man from Cameroon, began to grow in Christ through Kendrick’s friendship.

“He wants to be a part of a church that will help meet the needs of people,” Kendrick says. “I love hanging out with him and just seeing what God’s going to do. He’s helping me meet West Africans and understand their culture so we can be the hands and feet of Christ to the West Africans here.”

Ibrahim, from Gambia, is “on the verge” of accepting Christ as Savior through what he’s seen in the lives of Toguy, Kendrick and other believers.

“Ibrahim watched the JESUS film and cried,” Kendrick reports. “Every time I tell him about Jesus after I meet a need in his life, he cries. His father is a (Muslim leader) in Gambia, so I’m praying that through Ibrahim his father will be saved –- and through that testimony that Gambia will be saved.

“The biggest thing for all these guys is they need legal papers; they’re here illegally. But they’ve seen that Jesus meets needs, that His church meets needs, that He can change their life. That’s how we’re going to change the next generation.”

Kendrick also challenges French churches to reach into immigrant communities with the love of Christ. Muslims now account for about 10 percent of France’s population, while evangelicals comprise less than 2 percent. The task is large and urgent, but it won’t happen overnight.

“It’s going to take a few years,” Kendrick admits. “But this violence is a clear picture that (a secularized French society) doesn’t have the answer and doesn’t know how to find the answer. Until they really see the church stepping up and doing it, they’re not going to change.”
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges