As a French and European history undergraduate student at Cardiff University, I spent the academic year 2011-2012 in Guingamp, Brittany.
This was my year abroad in France. From an academic point of view, its purpose was to improve my language skills and immerse myself in French culture. I was able to fulfil these criteria whilst working for a Christian mission organisation, UFM Worldwide.
Guingamp is a small town in rural Brittany that dates back to medieval times. It has a population of about 25,000. Despite being small, it is well connected, being on the Paris-Brest train line and also being home to a French league-2 football club.
Roman Catholicism is the main religion practised among the people, although I found that most are very secular. I soon learnt that evangelical Christianity is often viewed as a cult. There are, however, two evangelical churches in Guingamp and I worked with one of them, alongside two other UFM missionary families.
I got involved in different aspects of the ‘Eglise Protestante Evangélique de Guingamp’. These included playing the piano during Sunday service and midweek meetings; teaching Sunday school; helping out with a children’s holiday Bible club; attending the youth group; attending the women’s meeting, and helping with evangelism at markets in the surrounding area.
I found it a real encouragement to attend these meetings and have fellowship and work with Christians from the church. It was also interesting to go out on the markets with the Christian literature stand. On the whole, people ignored us; some stopped just to chat, but others were interested and took some literature.
During my stay, I had opportunities to meet other Christians from the surrounding area and further afield. I was able to attend part of a day conference for women from evangelical churches across Brittany, as well as the annual preaching rally for evangelical churches in Brittany.
In June 2012, I went on a weekend away, with some of the young people from the church, to the Centre des Jeunes — a Christian centre for young people, at Saint Lunaire. It was encouraging to meet many young Christians from all over France.
I was also an English assistant at Lycée Montbareil, a vocational school for hairdressers and beauticians. My main point of contact with this school was through one of the teachers of English who is a Christian. This was a lovely touch from the Lord.
I worked alongside the two teachers of English, helping the students with their spoken English and explaining different aspects of British culture. The school was very supportive, as they let me use their resources and provided me with lunch.
The facilities were useful for my two university assignments that I had to complete during my time abroad; and lunchtime with the staff was often an opportunity to get to know people, as many subjects would be discussed, including God, creation and evolution, and the Bible.
During my time in Guingamp, I also did some private English teaching. My pupil was a six-year-old girl and so lessons were a fun-mixture of speaking English, looking through books like Little Red Riding Hood and babysitting.
In order to get to know people and practise my French, I joined a photo club. The people were very friendly and it was a good opportunity to visit the local area, either as part of an outing or with a friend I made from this group.
I found that people, whether met as a one-off in town or those with whom I had regular contact, were curious to know why I was in France. This led me to explain my links with the evangelical church, and sometimes led to a deeper conversation about what the Bible teaches and the differences between evangelical Protestant Christianity and Roman Catholicism. These conversations were a natural opening for sharing the gospel.
I am so grateful to the Lord for the time I spent in Guingamp. It was a blessing to get involved with the church, to share the gospel as well as to get to know people.
I find, looking back now, that the Lord prepared this year in a way much better than I could ever have thought or imagined. Even in the little details, I can see the Lord’s hand.
To give one example, the perfect location of my accommodation in relation to the church, school, town centre, supermarket and public transport links. The Lord is faithful: he has saved me from my sins, taught me through his Word, kept and provided for me, given me good Christian friends, as well as this recent opportunity to live in Brittany.
‘Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be glory’ (Ephesians 3:20-21a).