Jean-Claude Souillot, managing director of Evangelical Press Missionary Trust (EPMT), describes recent ministry and further plans for extending the gospel into the French-speaking world.
At the end of January 2016, I flew to Cotonou, Benin. Philip Hynes, who is the other preacher here in Chalon, France, came with me to take part in the ministry. He had not been to Africa for ten years and was excited at the prospect of meeting up with many brethren there once more.
Philip is a fine preacher, who studied at the London Theological Seminary and has the work of the gospel on his heart. The main purpose of our visit was to attend the yearly Grace Conference for French West Africa.
The attendance was a little down on last year (about 80 participants), but the quality of the ministry and fellowship were very good. Philip took as his theme the union of the believer with Christ.
There are too many people who have only an intellectual understanding of the truth. True union with Christ always produces a transformed life for the true believer. At the same time, it is crucial not to make it a salvation by works. Philip did very well and many approached him afterwards to interact with him.
I took for my theme the failure of (any) religion to please God, and the burning heart of the Saviour for the salvation of his people, preaching and teaching from Matthew 23.
Togo, Benin, Cameroon
We also went to Togo, preaching in churches in Lomé and Kpalimé. Paul NGoran and Vincent Dua, our colleagues from Ivory Coast, joined us there. On the Sunday morning, we were able to disperse into five churches to preach the gospel.
On Sunday afternoon, a man opened his home for a meeting, and about 30 were there including many younger people (in their 30s). The time went well beyond the message preached, as they had many questions to ask. Our host, Florent, is a blind man who has recently been impacted by the radio programmes (short Bible studies) we broadcast from a local radio station.
We also went north to central Benin, visiting a church in Parakou and a Bible school in Soudé, a small village out in the bush. This was a blessed opportunity to teach the message of the free grace of God in Christ.
One of the features of this trip was that most of the places we visited do not usually hear this message. So it was a real blessing to have these doors open to the truth.
After about two weeks, Philip flew back to Europe, and I went to Cameroon. This followed an invitation by our distributor there to come and preach the message carried by our books. He had prepared a full schedule, and many places where the message of free grace is not commonly heard were opened to us. I was also able to speak every day on the local radio for about 30 minutes.
All in all, the trip was blessed and intense too, with little time to relax. For the first time in 20 years, I got sick and had to be taken to a local clinic (quite an experience in itself!). Fortunately, the friends reacted quickly and took good care of me, so I was soon back on my feet.
Congo and Haiti
Last August, I spent several weeks in Brazzaville, Congo. This was divided between time spent with Gildas, our local colleague, looking at our book distribution and future plans, and visiting a good number of churches in the city.
Again, it was another blessed time declaring the truth of God’s sovereign grace in Christ in places where it is rarely heard. I had several sessions with young adults from various congregations and these times were productive, making people realise that we need to follow the Scripture rather than mere denomination-specific ideas.
One young man phoned me after one of these meetings, asking a particular question. Then he added, ‘What you taught this morning blew me away. I really want to know the truth and burn the rest’.
I was able to preach three times in the local jail house — quite an experience! On the first occasion, another organisation brought free Bibles for distribution. So the yard was packed. I was asked to speak first, so everyone had to listen! Most of the inmates came in order to get a free Bible, which they could quickly sell afterwards!
Since then, the country has been experiencing tensions, as the old president has insisted on running again for another term. May the Spirit continue to work in the hearts of those who have heard the good news of salvation in Christ!
As the political situation has been unstable since last summer, I decided not to go to Haiti last autumn as I usually do. The country seems to be in a state of near chaos right now, but it is difficult to know exactly what is going on. There is a lot of violence — even more than usual in a place already renowned for it.
The result of this is that the local currency has lost about a third of its value against most western currencies, and you can imagine the consequences for the prices of books.
Titles old and new
Over this past year, we have been able to reprint 16 titles, including Spiritual depression by D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God by Jonathan Edwards, Lectures to my students by C. H. Spurgeon, Ministering like the Master by Stuart Olyott, Scandalous by D. A. Carson; and to publish one new title, Does God desire to save all men? by John Piper.
After several years of not being able to produce any books, this is a very welcome development, which is the result of the generosity of some friends in France. Sales have been helped and we have already had to reprint three of these titles. All these are distributed in Europe and Canada.
Over the past few years, we have faced a great difficulty in sending books to Africa, with mounting costs and logistical problems. In the past few weeks, the Lord seems to have opened a new door which will enable us to send books regularly to Africa and also have them distributed in several countries where we have not had a presence before.
This is a great opportunity and we have recently reprinted seven titles and also printed the new John Piper title for Africa. We are also in the process of preparing for republication several older books that have been out of print for a long time.
At the same time, we are considering the publication of several new titles if finances become available for that. Hopefully, this will enable us to feed the shops and our colleagues in Africa with good books once more.
The coming weeks will be mainly used for the preparation of the republications mentioned above. We also need to see how our new distribution set-up in Africa will work, and strengthen the existing operations with our colporteur friends in West Africa and Cameroon.
I plan to visit Ivory Coast in August 2016, to attend the Bible camp organised by the Gagnoa church, where Paul NGoran is pastor, and to attend the Bible camp in Benin. I hope also to visit Brazzaville, in order to see how the distribution of books can develop there, and I will visit a number of churches, if at all possible.
In all these things, we are looking to the Lord to provide and open doors for his gospel. Thank you very much to all who pray regularly for the work of spreading the good news, of salvation in Christ alone, in the French-speaking world.