Alain jostled his way down the streets of Rouen, Normandy, keeping his head down, braced against the cold. Of all the people he passed, he doubted any of them were born again believers braving the cold to go to church this Sunday morning.
He brushed past a woman going shopping with her two small children, a businessman talking rapidly into a cell phone, and a young couple very much in love. As a new Christian, Alain burned with the desire to stop each one of them and witness in the middle of the sidewalk.
He held his tongue and kept walking.
Not one of France’s major religions, Christianity was considered an American political movement at best and a dangerous cult at the worst. These people wouldn’t listen, Alain was sure.
* * *
When he arrived at the small home-group church that he attended, the tense atmosphere oppressed him. He slowly unwound his long scarf and shot an inquiring glance at the American missionary whose house they met in.
Mr. Voss squeezed Alain’s shoulder and said softly, “It’s Simone. She could really use our prayers right now.”
“What’s wrong?” He turned to the pretty redhead, who smiled regretfully.
Simone was always smiling these days, ever since she was saved. Never had Alain seen such a complete transformation in a person as he had seen in her. Just two months ago, she was separated from her husband and being treated for depression; now she was overflowing with joy and contentment.
“My husband called the police,” she told him. “He’s angry that I joined this church, and now he’s telling the government that it’s a cult that took advantage of my ‘psychologically unstable condition.’”
“Will they press charges?”
Apparently, Simone wasn’t the only one in need of prayer. What if their little group was arrested for this? Alain licked his lips nervously.
“It’s possible. Oh, I’m sorry for getting all of you into trouble.” She looked especially at Mr. Voss when she said this. “What if you’re extradited from France?”
“Then we’ll know we’ve been doing the right thing here,” Mr. Voss replied. “We’re in a spiritual battle, you know. When we fight the devil, he’ll fight us back… It’s the times when nothing’s going wrong that we have to take a close look at ourselves.”
“You mean: this is normal for Christians?” Alain asked.
“Well, opposition isn’t always this extreme, but it’s usually there.”
Thoughts of persecution filled his mind. He had been timid enough when faced with ridicule, but now he had legal troubles to deal with as well. Could this new faith land him in prison? “I… I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Of course you can’t! Not alone. But remember that God will always be there to give you strength.”
“And we’ll be there for you, too,” Simone added, “just like you’ll be there for me. That’s what a church is for.”
Alain nodded. “Will you excuse me?” He hurried home again to pray and think and pray some more. Even as he walked, he could feel a peace flowing through him. Somehow he knew that his fellow believers were praying for him at that moment, as Mr. Voss was no doubt opening the service.
* * *
Alain entered his apartment building to find his elderly neighbor struggling up the stairs with a load of fresh laundry.
“Let me help you with that, Mrs. Chanel.”
She groaned and straightened her back as she handed off her burden. “Well, I didn’t expect to see you home at this time of day. Aren’t you usually away… somewhere… on Sundays?” She didn’t want to mention the church.
“You’re right; I should be with my friends now.”
“What friends?” She was interested in spite of herself, perhaps relieved at the seemingly mundane explanation.
“They’re like a family to me,” he said with a wide grin. Then he paused. “In fact, I’d like to tell you about the greatest One of all.”
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