Shining as Illuminators in the City of Light
Fluctuat nec mergitur, or “She is buffeted by the waves but she does not sink,” is the motto of the city of Paris.
LIKE a ship, over the past 2,000 years, Paris has braved countless foreign storms and internal mutinies to stay afloat. Now one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Paris is loved for its grandiose architecture, leafy boulevards, and world-famous museums. Some think of it as the haunt of poets, painters, and philosophers. Others savor its gastronomic delights and admire its haute couture.
Historically, Paris has been a bastion of Catholicism. Two hundred years ago, because of its crucial role in a European intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, Paris came to be called the City of Light. Today, knowingly or not, most Parisians are more influenced by philosophy dating back to that period than by religion.
Man’s wisdom, however, has not illuminated people’s lives as expected. Many today are seeking enlightenment from a different source. For some 90 years now, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been “shining as illuminators” in Paris. (Philippians 2:15) Like deft mariners, they have had to adjust constantly to changing currents or events in order to take aboard “the desirable things of all the nations.”—Haggai 2:7.
A Challenging City
Back in 1850, Paris was a city of 600,000 inhabitants. The present-day population, including the suburbs, is well over nine million. Such growth has resulted in Paris becoming France’s most diversified city. It is a world center of higher education, has one of the world’s oldest universities, and is home to some 250,000 students. Some Parisian suburbs, having many high-rise housing blocks marked by delinquency and unemployment, represent Paris’ darker side. Undoubtedly, it takes skill and adaptability for Jehovah’s Witnesses to present the good news in an appealing manner to all sorts of people.—1 Timothy 4:10.
Over 20 million tourists visit Paris each year. They may excitedly go up the Eiffel Tower, stroll along the river Seine, or linger in sidewalk cafés and bistros, absorbing the ambience. Yet, the daily pace of life for Parisians can be quite hectic. “People are always rushing,” explains Christian, a full-time minister. “When they get back from work, they’re exhausted.” Talking to these busy people is not easy.
One of the biggest problems faced by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Paris, though, is contacting people in their homes. Some buildings are equipped with an intercom. With crime rising, however, apartment buildings often have coded entrances, and access is impossible. This no doubt contributes to the fact that in some areas, there is a ratio of only 1 Witness to 1,400 persons. Telephone witnessing and informal witnessing, therefore, are increasingly used. Have Jehovah’s Witnesses been able to let their “light shine” in other ways?—Matthew 5:16.
Opportunities and places for informal witnessing are abundant. Martine saw a woman who seemed distressed standing at a bus stop. The woman had just lost her only daughter. Martine gave her a brochure containing the Bible’s comforting resurrection hope. Then she had no contact with her for a few months. When Martine saw the lady again, she was able to start a Bible study with her. Despite opposition from her husband, the woman became a Witness.
Fruitful Informal Witnessing
Paris’ public transport system is one of the most efficient in the world. The celebrated Metro carries 5,000,000 passengers daily. Paris’ central underground station, Châtelet-Les-Halles, is said to be the world’s largest and busiest. Opportunities for meeting people there are numerous. Alexandra takes the Metro to work daily. One day she chatted with a young man who was terminally ill with leukemia. Alexandra gave him a tract about the Paradise hope. A Bible discussion was held at the same time and place each day for six weeks. Then one day the man stopped coming. Shortly thereafter, his wife telephoned Alexandra and told her to come to the hospital, as her husband was in a critical state. Sadly, Alexandra arrived too late. Following his death, the man’s wife moved to Bordeaux, in southwest France, where she was visited by local Witnesses. What wonderful news it was for Alexandra to hear one year later that the widow had become a baptized Christian Witness of Jehovah, with the hope of seeing her husband resurrected!—John 5:28, 29.
An elderly Christian woman spoke to Renata on a train traveling from Paris to Limoges, in the center of France. In her native Poland, Renata had studied theology, Hebrew, and Greek for five years, but she had lost faith. Three months before, she had prayed to God. Although not really interested in what the elderly sister had to say and not thinking she would hear from her again, Renata gave her her telephone number. The sister, however, was persistent and made sure that shortly afterward Renata received a visit. When a Witness couple came to see her, Renata thought, ‘What are they going to teach me?’ Despite her seminary training, Renata was humbly drawn by Bible truth. “I understood it was the truth straightaway,” she explains. Now she is happy to share the Bible’s message with others.
Michèle was taking driving lessons. Other students in her driving theory class started talking about sex before marriage. Michèle voiced her disapproval. One week later, the driving instructor, Sylvie, asked her: “Are you one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Sylvie was impressed by Michèle’s Bible-based viewpoint. A Bible study was started, and one year later Sylvie was baptized.
The numerous parks and gardens in Paris provide a beautiful backdrop for conversing with people. Taking advantage of a break, Josette went to the park, where an elderly lady, Aline, was taking a walk. Josette explained the marvelous promises to be found in the Bible. A Bible study was arranged, and Aline soon progressed to the point of baptism. Now, at the age of 74, Aline is a very productive regular pioneer minister, happy to share Christian truth with others.
Light for All the Nations
Witnesses in Paris do not need to sail to far-off lands to enjoy rich cultural diversity. Almost 20 percent of the population are foreign. There are Christian congregations and groups in some 25 different languages.
Flair and imagination often contribute to good results in this special evangelizing assignment. One Filipino Witness created her own special territory. While shopping, she has been able to start numerous Bible studies by striking up conversations with other Filipinos in stores.
It pays to take the initiative in preaching. In December 1996, upon learning that a world-famous circus was coming to town, Witnesses in one foreign-language congregation decided to try to contact the performers. One evening after the show, they were able to speak to the artists who were returning to their hotel. This initiative resulted in the placing of 28 Bibles, 59 Christian books, 131 brochures, and 290 magazines. At the end of the three-week stay, one of the acrobats asked: “How can I become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Another declared: “I’ll preach in my country!”
Hidden Treasures to Be Found
Wherever they look, visitors to Paris discover delightful architectural treasures from bygone eras. More precious things, however, are still waiting to be found. Aniza came to France along with her uncle, who is a diplomat. She regularly read the Bible at home. One day as she was leaving the house hurriedly, a pioneer gave her the tract Why You Can Trust the Bible. An appointment was made for the following week, and a Bible study was started. Aniza received a lot of family opposition. She progressed in her study to the point of baptism. How does she view the privilege she has to share the truth with others? “At first the preaching work was hard because I’m shy. Still, when I read the Bible, it galvanizes me. I can’t rest, doing nothing.” That attitude characterizes many Witnesses in Paris, who have “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:58.
Bible truth also shines into the housing projects on Paris’ outskirts, revealing other “gems.” With a view to borrowing some recordings, Bruce went to visit his friend, who had just become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Finding his friend discussing the Bible with some of Bruce’s acquaintances, Bruce listened to the conversation. He accepted the offer of a Bible study but had some problems. “I was very well-known in the area. My oldest brother was always fighting, and I organized loud dance parties. How would others accept the fact that I was becoming a Witness?” Despite persistent requests to organize parties, Bruce stopped that activity. One month later he started preaching: “Everyone in the area wanted to know why I had become a Witness.” Soon afterward he got baptized. In time, he had the privilege of attending the Ministerial Training School.
Searching for treasures can take great effort. What joy, though, when the work pays off! Jacky, Bruno, and Damien were bakers in Paris. “It was impossible to contact us because we worked all the time and were never in,” explains Jacky. Patrick, a regular pioneer, saw that there were some small rooms at the top of a building, and he figured that at least one was occupied. His persistent efforts to reach the occupants reaped dividends when one afternoon he finally contacted Jacky, who was staying there temporarily. The result? The three friends became Witnesses and were able to find other work that allowed them to have a fuller share in theocratic activity.
Calming the Storm
Recently, some of the media in France have portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as a dangerous religious cult. In 1996, Witnesses wholeheartedly shared in the distribution of more than nine million copies of a special information tract entitled Jehovah’s Witnesses—What You Need to Know. Results were most positive.
A special effort was made to reach everyone. Many officials expressed their appreciation for the Witnesses. One municipal counselor wrote: “Jehovah’s Witnesses have done well to distribute this tract. It sets the record straight.” A doctor commented: “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time!” One man from the Paris area wrote: “I read Jehovah’s Witnesses—What You Need to Know by chance. I’d like to know more and take advantage of the offer of a free home Bible study.” Another wrote: “Thank you for your honesty.” One Catholic lady told the Witnesses: “Ah! You’ve finally responded to these lies!”
A special joy for many young Witnesses in the Paris area was the preaching campaign organized for the Catholic World Youth Days in 1997. Although the temperature was over 95 degrees Fahrenheit [35° C], about 2,500 Witnesses took part. In the space of just a few days, they left 18,000 copies of the brochure A Book for All People with youngsters from all parts of the globe. In addition to giving a fine witness to Jehovah’s name and sowing seeds of truth, the campaign galvanized the young Witnesses. One young sister, who cut short her vacation so as to have a full share in this special effort, wrote: “Jehovah has a happy people on earth who use their strength to praise his name. These two days, so full and rich, were truly worth all the vacations of a lifetime! (Psalm 84:10)”
February 28, 1998, marked the 65th anniversary of a decree issued by Hitler that resulted in the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. Witnesses in France used that date for public presentations in rented halls of the video Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault, which details the persecution Jehovah’s people suffered. Over seven million invitations were distributed. Historians and former camp inmates gave moving testimonies. In the Paris area, almost 5,000 attended, including a significant number of non-Witnesses.
Many in Paris greatly appreciate spiritual light, and they are glad that Kingdom publishers are shining brightly as illuminators. It is as Jesus declared: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) The determined spirit of Jehovah’s Witnesses in overcoming the challenges of preaching in the city has made Paris a City of Light in a special sense, to Jehovah’s praise.
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Sharing the Bible’s message with busy people wherever they are to be found