Monday, July 18, 2016

Nice—no longer such a nice place to vacay

I was asked to write an article on the recent terrorist massacre in Nice from the perspective of someone who lived just a few hours from there for over two decades. My article was first published in Assist News, so feel free to read it directly there -- especially if you want to see more photos that I'll publish here. It is also published on CrossMaps. Otherwise for the basic content, read on.

As terror strikes France again killing 84—including ten children and two Americans—and wounding over two hundred people, many fears and questions arise. As onlookers enjoyed Bastille Day celebration fireworks on July 14th (similar to America’s Independence Day), a van full of explosives and ammunition charged into the crowds at the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, southern France wreaking chaos.

This deadly massacre came just eight months after the deadly terror attack at the Bataclan in Paris (see my article here: and was preceded by the deadly January 2015 Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack. Earlier this year, Belgium was struck with terror, not to mention many other parts of the world, including closer to home in Orlando at the gay Pulse nightclub last month (and in San Bernadino, California in November 2015). The rapid escalation of these massacres is alarming.

But what is it about France that particularly allows such heinous acts to creep in?   Let’s look more closely at what happened in Nice and try to understand.

First take a look at the killer. Tunisian born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was a career criminal known to police. He was also a radicalized Muslim. According to Col. Allen West’s recent article, Bouhlel was heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire on officers. France’s prime minister Hollande says that Bouhlel was radicalized very quickly.  He was known as aggressive and a loner who became depressed when his wife left him. But none of this suggests why someone to open themselves up to radicalization so we need to look at it in its context. France.  

As a former missionary ministering in France for 22 years, I will share my experience. Many people we met were charming, but few knew God. And it was nonethless not uncommon to meet people who were also agressive, lonely or depressed. No doubt, an education system which propogates that God does not exist didn’t help; it offers no hope.

We lived in a village between Nimes and Montpellier (where we founded a church and the Nimes Theological Institute). Many of our neighbors were Muslims. Among them, several were violent, and threatened to beat up kids in our church. In our 22 years there, few Muslims received the Lord in spite of our reaching out to them. Only one girl in our Bible college, Naima, was a former Muslim. (She had escaped from Algeria where her life was in danger because she had received Christ via a radio broadcast.)

Our strategy to reach the Muslims was no different than the way we hoped to reach everyone else:: prayer, friendship (where possible), evangelism.

We often rose early to walk around the village and pray for souls. Many people from our church joined us. Then, every Saturday night, together with people from our church, we would evangelize in Nimes, Montpellier or even Marseilles—a port city about 1½ hours from where we lived, which is reportedly 40% Islamic. And, one of my favorite activities, on Saturday afternoons, we held a Bible club for kids living in the Zup (aka project areas). Many of those children came from Muslim families. We would ask the mothers (we rarely saw any fathers) if we could take the kids for a few hours to play games, enjoy a yummy snack and—wait for ii—teach the Bible. Perhaps the prospect of getting rid of their kids for a few hours was too much to resist; many let the kids come.

But here’s the cruncher. Contrary to French people who average one child per family, sometimes two, Muslims have many children. They are encouraged to proliferate and thereby take over nations. So we typlically had, for example, Achbed, Rachid, Mohamed, Karim and Moustafa—all from one family. This was between 1981 and 2004. Thus, all those children are adults today. To my knowledge few are going on with Jesus today, but all of them who attended regularly heard the Gospel. When things get rough, let us hope they will remember who the real God is.

But what about all the Muslims who never hear the Gospel? When we lived in France, there were reportedly only ½% evangelical Christians in the nation. No wonder we never came across another church or Christian evangelizing. Such absence of the Gospel message leaves a vacuum. And together with a sense of hopelessness, vacuums can open doors to dangerous ideology. 

It is worth noting that France, like the UK and Germany, has opened her arms wide to refugees and particularly those from Muslim countries for decades. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the Front National MP for Vaucluse sees this as a link to terrorism. In a video posted on Facebook, she recognized that terrorism is the killers goal, but suggests that it is fostered by excessive immigration. "Those also responsible are those who each year allow a number of immigrants equivalent to the size of the city of Bordeaux, to legally enter France" states Maréchal-Le Pen. She also tweeted, “If we don’t kill Islamism, it will kill us.”

Whether we agree with those statements of not, it seems that France has reached a tipping point. And it came about progressively, slowly, like boiling a frog. And while the influx may have begun in part because France feels bad about colonizing Algeria in the 1800s, it is now a way of life and will probably not be stopped. So what can we do? I do not pretend to have all the answers but here a biblical response. Let’s pray for laborers to go into the harvest, for churches to actively live and preach the Gospel. Let’s pray for souls and evangelize.

Who knows. God might put someone on our path who doesn’t yet know Jesus but who, like my husband and I, may end up church-planting and evangelizing in France. Some sow, some water. Everyone has a part to play. What is yours?

Janey DeMeo M.A.

Copyright © July 2016

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