Paris, the City of Lights? (Part II)

Even on the first day I was in Paris, I knew it wasn’t the City of Lights it was boasted to be.

Culture paints the city so romantically: the beautiful Eiffel Tower, the romantic cuisine and the gorgeous Seine River, among other things. And those perceptions aren’t inaccurate — there just such a small picture of the larger city.

The Eiffel Tower gives off the most light in the city.

The Eiffel Tower gives off the most light in the city.

Walk several blocks away from the Louvre, and you’ll see homeless people begging for money, begging for attention. Walk up the steps to the famed Sacre Ceour and you’ll find immigrants from West Africa with rough, war-torn pasts scamming people for money to find a way to provide for themselves and their families.

Even in the so called “light” of the city, there’s a mask painted over the real issues. You see, the recent terrorist attacks weren’t a chance event. It’s been looming for some time. There’s a clear divide in the city between French and immigrant, between the “beautiful” and the “forgotten”. But even the romanticized parts of the city aren’t without flaw.

When I went to a local creperie, the restaurant was pretty empty. I tried to engage the owner in conversation because she seemed lonely. After I ordered, and she was about to walk away, I said, “Vous appelez-vous? (What’s your name?)”. She turned to me, dumfounded, and said “Quoi? (What?)”. I repeated myself and she said “Moi?”.

It was clear she had never really been asked this question. Nobody had ever cared to engage her in conversation, to ask for her name.

She smiled slightly, and shyly responded “Alexandra”.

“Dieu vous bendice (God bless you)” I told her as I paid and left.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. Because the French culture has become so calculated, secular and politically correct, it’s shut out passion, compassion and the true light.

The city lit up at night on the Seine.

The city lit up at night on the Seine.

It had it once, and I believe the city is not without hope. But something needs to ignite the light.

On my last night in Paris, I was headed to do some shopping on the Champs Elysees. However, before boarding the second train, I felt that I should get off at a completely different stop. I couldn’t explain why.

I was walking around for a while and I saw a group of people standing around in a circle, and I knew that they were Christians. I stuck around to see what they were doing, and they were praying for a homeless man who had approached them. I stood by awkwardly, wondering if I should approach them. I knew I had to.

“Excusez moi, êtes-vous christiens? (Excuse me, are you Christian?)”. “Oui,” they responded.

It turns out they are from Hillsong Paris — which was crazy, because when I was in London I went to Hillsong London and they told me that I should try to hook up with the church in Paris. We got to talk and hang out for a while, and they told me more about the church and the city.

Hillsong London serves around 2,000 people for 5 services!

Hillsong London serves around 2,000 people for 5 services!

They have expanded a lot — now they offer five services and a variety of outreach for the city, including ministries for the homeless. I knew when I saw them that these people were the true light of the city.

The terror won’t stop in Paris or across Europe until the people are presented with true light, true compassion, true hope. It’s not found in a building, it’s not found in social policies, and it’s not found in secular, humanist philosophies.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Paris needs more people to let their lights shine, that the Parisians may glorify our Father in heaven!

Paris, the City of Lights? (Part I)

Paris, with the beautiful Eiffel Tower lit up at night almost like a watch tower, has been dubbed “the city of lights”.

The Eiffel Tower sits lit up as a beacon in the night sky.

The Eiffel Tower sits lit up as a light tower in the night sky.

There are always people, always things happening. Yet, isn’t this name somewhat ironic? And it’s not just amidst the recent tragedy.

I was back for my second full day of experiencing Paris, after a full five days in London. And, don’t listen to what people tell you, these cities are altogether different!

As an American entering London, it seems like a cool American city with a very unique culture — the type of city you long to live in, almost like the adorable stepchild of San Francisco and New York.

Well, Paris is from an entirely different family. It’s a gorgeous family, but holistically different.

On the day I arrived, I met up with a group of Christians who are trying to make a difference in the city. Once a week, they hand out Christian literature outside a local market — a truly great resource for those who are interested! That’s the only problem with the French.

You know that time when there’s a guy trying to hand out stuff and you fake like you’re getting a phone call and you have to pick up just so he won’t talk to you? The French don’t have to fake anything. “No! No! Don’t give me that,” some of them say, prancing away.

Blunt and to the point. While they don’t really like talking with strangers, or see why such an idea even merits consideration, with a culture that’s so matter-of-fact, sometimes a good, authentic conversation is soothing.

When we were handing out literature, a Romanian woman came up to us and started shouting in French, “Merci! Merci pour faire le travail de Dieu! (Thank you for doing the work of God)!” We went on to talk with her for a while and I prayed for her, her family and her life. She was very appreciative and it was a huge encouragement to us! It’s not often that you encounter people in Paris who love God, much less even care to know if he exists!

After about 15 minutes of people passing by uninterested, one guy passed by and said, “No, I don’t believe in any of that…” as he proceeded to stand there, waiting to hear what I would say. “That’s okay. What’s your name?”

A simple question led to a 10 minute conversation where he opened up about his background and his beliefs. He was confirmed in the Catholic church, but soon discovered a lot of the corruption and abuse of money. I could see why he was so confused and said he no longer believed. “That’s people though, not God,” I told him. “People may be deceitful and selfish, but that is not the way of God! He is real, I know this to be true, and I pray that he would work in your life!”

“Okay…thank you,” he said, shaking my hand and walking away.

The French people may say they’re not interested in talking about God, but it’s because of things like this. They don’t really know what they’re saying no to! Heck, if it was about old Catholic traditions and Sunday mass and no relationship, I would say no too!

Yet, their hearts are crying out for something more, they just don’t think God is the answer!

“If God is real, then he’s not active in our lives,” said one Parisian.

I approached several of homeless men throughout my day, and one of them really affirmed this. He was asking for money to help feed his children. Sadly, I actually didn’t have any money on me! But I thought of Acts 3 where Peter had nothing, but what he had (the hope of Christ) he gave him.

I told him I didn’t have any money, but I wanted to talk to him, get to know him and pray for him.

His name is Peter and he lost his job. He has a little boy and needs money to provide for him. Just another person, like you or I, who has been slighted by the world and is in need of help. But more than financial help, he needed a friend, a human being who cared about him.

“Thanks for stopping,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better than money, you know, to talk to someone. Thank you!”

The French people don’t care to stop for homeless people. Don’t care to talk to strangers. The culture is individualist to the core, and secularist in its soul. So when they encounter true love, true light, sometimes they don’t know how to react.

I scaled the steep steps up to Sacre Coeur, a beautiful Catholic Cathedral that’s been a beacon of light for 125 years. As I stood on the church steps and looked out onto the city, all I could think about was the darkness.

The light shines so clearly in the darkness. Are we in focus enough to realize what the light is?

The view of the city lights in the darkness.

“City of Lights? How ironic!” I said to myself. The dimly lit buildings and street lights offered a minuscule light source, but the Eiffel Tower was the only real source. “Where is the light of the city?”

Without hope and compassion, the light is gone. And in the midst of terrorism, racism and secularism, the city is crying out for true light. Where’s it going to come from?

Stay tuned for Part II.