Since November 1994, I have been working with the UK-based Grace Baptist Mission, training men for Christian ministry in the French-speaking world.
This work is currently centred on the city of Lausanne in French Switzerland.
Our ultimate aim is to plant new Evangelical churches and consolidate small established churches in French-speaking lands.
So we are working in a Western European country once famous for its Christianity, but now strongly influenced by postmodernism, new age thinking and secular humanism.
Having started as a Modern Languages teacher, I was set apart for missionary work by Kempston Evangelical Church, Bedford. My preparation was through a church-based training scheme called ‘The Divine Relay’.
The ‘Relay’ is a four year, part-time, theological training course. We have now ‘exported’ the course from Bedford into the Swiss context and adapted it for use in Lausanne Evangelical Baptist Church.
The aim is to sharpen the skills of preachers so that they can communicate the Evangelical faith clearly and faithfully, with a contemporary edge.
The biblical pattern for this approach is 2 Timothy 2:2, where the apostle Paul tells Timothy, his younger fellow-worker: ‘the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others’.
Paul clearly envisaged inter-linking successive generations of pastor-elders – like athletes passing on the baton in a relay race.
New trainees must be ‘reliable men’ – who will, in turn, be qualified to teach others.
The faith ‘once for all delivered to the saints’ is being passed along a human chain of men equipped by God with the necessary gifts for ministry.
The aim is that new churches that love the doctrines of grace will be planted through the ministry of newly-trained and faithful preachers.
After a preliminary year, the Relay in Lausanne kicked off properly in October 1995 with two modules – ‘Systematic Theology’ and ‘Preparing the Message’.
Once a month, trainees meet for a four-hour discussion session on key themes. Set texts are read in the intervening weeks and relevant books indicated for further study.
Written assignments take the form of essays or sermon outlines. Trainees are encouraged to preach in participating churches and thus put their attainments into practice.
The Systematic Theology course covers the Bible, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, Man in sin, the free offer of the gospel, the humanity of Jesus, Redemption accomplished and applied, union with Christ, sanctification, elders and deacons, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and eschatology.
Year two of the course studies the Old and New Testaments. Year three tackles ‘Defending the faith’ and evangelism. Year four deals with Christian ethics and pastoral theology.
In 1997 the Lausanne elders met to consider church-planting in Vaud and Valais. Vaud is a Protestant canton, and Valais Roman Catholic. Both are French-speaking.
The Lausanne church had grown significantly under its then pastor (Stuart Olyott), and there was increasing scope to use Relay students in various new situations.
As a result of this conference, in summer 1997, the Troughtons moved to Martigny, Valais, to help pastor a small church there.
Under the current Lausanne pastor (Olivier Favre) a monthly Bible study group used to gather in Neuchâtel. This group has now become a young church, meeting in Payerne. It is hoped that indigenous leadership will emerge from within its ranks, and it is still being supplied by Relay preachers from Lausanne.
Two Frenchmen, who have completed the Relay course, have begun a small Reformed Baptist church in Gex near Geneva.
Other students labour in a variety of situations. Joseph Kwami and Anthony Chopard of the African church in Lausanne hope to return to Christian work in the Ivory Coast.
Currently there are four men doing the Relay course. Please pray for more students to join.
In our church in Martigny about 40 – mostly young families – meet regularly for Sunday worship.
Getting to know people takes time and energy, and progress sometimes seems minimal. Our biggest challenge is often just to keep going in the face of indifference to the gospel.
So we pray for strength to ‘carry on carrying on’, doing what we know is right and honouring to God.
Please pray with us for Lausanne, Martigny, Valais, Vaud, the ‘Relay’ and all French-speaking Switzerland.