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.
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.
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.
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!