Moving hearts, changing lives
Nick and Anne Vanwingerden serve as missionaries in the country of France. They are involved in a vibrant student ministry in Grenoble and are seeking to begin a church on the east side of the city. There are permits and permissions and zoning issues to be resolved. The issue becomes even stickier because the mayor of the town is strongly communist and has actively opposed anything of a religious nature coming into town.
The group of believer’s who are starting the church found a property they could rent but needed to go before the mayor’s office with the proposal. Nick was worries about what might happen. You might remember this story from The Common Life Book, week 9, Five Faith Stories, Nov. 11-17.
The Continuing Story
People all over the world have been praying and God did some amazing things in the heart of the authorities there in Grenoble. Nick went with the president of their church association, Christian Lenne, to meet with the deputy mayor and the head of the urban planning service on October 9, 2018.
Here is what happened in Nick’s own words.
“Christian was pleasantly surprised by how warmly we were received. Very early in the conversation, he explained that we were a Protestant Evangelical church in search of a meeting space for our Sunday services. We both expected the tone of the conversation to shift dramatically at that point (as we have experienced in other contexts and conversations like this one in the past). But to our surprise, the tone remained cordial and even warm throughout the meeting. The deputy mayor even seemed enthusiastic about several components of our plan to use the locale as a multi-purpose community center. She asked if she could come and visit our food distribution in the near future. Both she and her colleague expressed appreciation at the end of our meeting for the investment that our associations have made in the neighborhood, and they encouraged us to keep up the good work.
However, to our crucial question (Can these facilities be re-zoned to allow us to use them for church services and a diversity of non-commercial activities contributing to the life of the community?) we received a disappointing answer: the township had only days ago signed off on a new urban plan that locks the present zones until the Fall of 2019. And the mayor's office was unwilling to make any promises concerning future changes to the urban zoning plan.
We thanked the deputy mayor and her colleague, shook hands, and left the mayor's office with mixed emotions: surprise at how pleasant and positive the conversation had been, and disappointed in what was clearly a refusal to commit to any change in the status of this commercial property.”
They weren’t sure of what to do next or what the Lord was doing. But they still were sure the Lord wanted them to plant the church there. It just wasn’t easy to see how that would happen."
"The next afternoon, Nick wrote “I received an email from the urban planning service at the mayor's office. Our project has been authorized and a commitment has been made to modify the zoning for this building next Fall (2019), enabling us to use it both for religious services and for community development activities. The email makes specific reference to the authorization to use the space for church services which is simply extraordinary given the thirty-year history of opposition to all things Christian from this town hall.”
It is a small beginning but the members of the church recognize this email and the decision it represents as bordering on the miraculous. Everyone has expressed their commitment to persevering prayer as they continue this journey one step at a time.
- Pastor Jim Panter