Tuesday, March 18, 2014
For the past six years, Pastor José Monteiro and volunteers from four Nazarene congregations in Paris have been reaching out to the many hungry people who populate one of Europe's most sophisticated cities.
As Monteiro told me, “this is the best way we’ve found to connect with people in Paris.”
In 2008, Monteiro started a service project with the teens of his church: distributing hot meals one day a week in their congregation’s neighborhood, the 18th arrondisement of Paris. The 18th has a high concentration of immigrants and poverty. Since its inception in 2008, this ministry has grown to the point where food is given away six days a week, even utilizing two different buildings on Saturdays. While Monteiro and church member Soeurette Villasson oversee the ministry, Monteiro commented that the 30 or so volunteers are so committed and organized that the ministry runs smoothly without much input from the two leaders. Volunteers come from Paris First Church, Paris Second Church, Paris Third Church and and the Church of the Nazarene in Paris 14ème.
A French grocery store chain, Carrefour, entered into a partnership with the food ministry in 2009, donating their food that has recently passed the sell-by date by a day or two. Each morning, a volunteer drives a van around to six different Carrefour stores, picking up about two van loads of food. The food is then sorted into crates and eventually taken home by recipients in grocery bags. About 25 families are allowed to pick up food twice each week -- representing around 200 individuals in all. The amount of food varies a bit from day to day.
The food is collected and distributed in an old Lutheran church building, which is home to an aging and shrinking congregation that is grateful to have non-Sunday activity within its walls. In 2008, the 10 members of the existing Lutheran congregation joined with a Lutheran congregation comprised of about 40 African immigrants, which has brought life and diversity to this congregation that meets in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church building. Monteiro’s congregation occasionally joins the Lutheran congregation for Sunday worship as well. As inspiring and creative as those combined worship gatherings must be, I’m pretty sure the highest energy level in that beautiful old building occurs between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each weekday.
I asked Monteiro how difficult it is for immigrants with very few resources to live in a city as expensive as Paris. He informed me that the city offers some subsidies for housing and utilities, helping to ease the financial burden for the city’s impoverished, but that the city’s grocery stores are also expensive. So where the government is unable to provide support in helping feed people, these four churches have stepped up to fill that gap. Monteiro said that since the government provides so much for the poorer people of society, there is often a sense that people don’t need God or the church, but with this food ministry, these Nazarenes have found their niche.
Monteiro went on to say that “in a secular culture like France, it is necessary to first love people before being able to introduce them to the source of that love.” People benefiting from the food ministry often participate in worship services, Bible studies or informal spiritual discussions.
-- Donnie and Erin Miller are Mission Corps missionaries serving in Versailles, France. Reprinted with permission from their ministry blog.