France is the largest country in Western Europe. Its wines and cheeses are known throughout the world, but modern France also has a strong engineering and manufacturing base. One of the founding members of what has become the European Union, France continues to influence events worldwide through its place on the UN Security Council and its strong links with former French colonies.
68% of the population describe themselves as Catholics, but church attendance has dropped dramatically. At the height of the Reformation, 48% of the population was Protestant, but that figure has dwindled to 2% today, partly through persecution of the Huguenots in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The small evangelical church is sadly divided into many denominations. Growth has been slow but steady since the war.
Over 43 million French people have no real link with a Christian church and only 5% of the population owns a Bible. Intellectualism, individualism and occultism are strong barriers to the Gospel. Many ethnic minorities are largely unreached, notably the large North African and Jewish communities.
OAC has been working in France since the 1960's. Evangelists from Britain and Switzerland organised summer outreaches and training seminars for many years, before British staff became resident in France in the 1980s. The French work of OAC was for years directed through Europe Now, under the local name MEPA (Ministères d'Evangélisation en Plein Air). For a good decade a thriving work was led by Mark and Susan Howe from Provence.
Peter Kent has been based in Paris since 1998 ?? He can be regularly found out in the places of the city with his board, assisting the outreach of various local churches. In addition, he helps groups like Operation Mobilisation and France Mission with summer activities and he has taken over the exciting summer outreach ministry at the Avignon Festival originally pioneered by Mark and Susan Howe. Peter also has a leadership role in his local church.
Open-air evangelism is an effective way to contact people in France. Those who would be afraid to enter an evangelical church will often stop to listen to a clear presentation of the gospel. In the summer it is not unusual for large crowds to gather, particularly in city centres and at holiday destinations.
Often, when people stay after the presentation to talk with us, we find this is the first time that the person has spoken with someone who believes in the Bible. We work with local churches, and also encourage those who are interested to follow a free Bible correspondence course.
A highlight of our year is often the Avignon Festival, which attracts over 120,000 visitors each year. International volunteer teams work in the open air until late into the night, and reach people from all over the world. Thousands of people hear the gospel during the festival through our meetings.