PARIS As in other capitals around the world, missionaries sometimes are challenged in finding people to teach in the bustling city of Paris.
"The work is going along; there are plenty of good French people out there," said France Paris Mission President Lynn J. Bennion, "but we need members to help in the finding."
Grateful that local leaders "are doing a great job of focusing members on their missionary responsibilities," President Bennion noted that there is always good member support for the amis, or friends of the Church, the more felicitous term used in France for investigators. Parisian members of the Church participate in a number of missionary-oriented activities, including the occasional soccer match with amis, members and missionaries.
Asked why soccer matches, Elder Benton Paul of Highland, Utah, explained that part of their mission is to strengthen the members' efforts in missionary work. "What's the point of baptizing them if they fall away?" he asked. "Our goal is to get them integrated into the ward or branch. Football is a great way of integrating members and friends of the Church." To this end, the mission president has approved different kinds of activities. For example, they also sponsor family home evenings on Monday nights for single members and amis.
President Bennion also noted the excellent work of missionary couples in the Paris Institute of Religion, well-placed based in the heart of the city, adjacent to the Palais Pompidou and only a short walk from the City Hall and the famous Notre Dame Cathedral. "More and more non-members are visiting the institute," said President Bennion. The elegant building, which also houses a branch of the Church, is used by missionaries as an exhibition center to interest non-members in aspects of the gospel.
One young woman who takes her missionary responsibilities to heart is 18 year-old Rebecca Magre of the Torcy Ward, Paris France East Stake.
One of four daughters and a son raised in the Church by their second-generation member parents, Thery and Pamela Magre, Rebecca feels strongly about missionary work. "I have prayed to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord," Rebecca quietly confided. "I've prayed to find people who are ready. I feel that we are not members for nothing."
As a pupil at a school operated by another Christian church, Rebecca had been forbidden to mention her faith. "I prayed much to the Lord that He would let me speak openly about the Church." Remarkably, when she moved to high school at age 16, she found another member of the Church in the same class. The two took strength from each other and when they introduced themselves to the class they spoke boldly about the Church. Afterward, students and teachers began to openly ask them about the Church. This resulted in several missionary experiences for which she enrolled the assistance of her family to fellowship her friends and their families.
Evidence of Rebecca's success as a missionary was a young man blessing the sacrament at the Torcy Ward on a recent Sunday. Also at school with Rebecca, he asked her about her faith. She invited him to her home, where he noticed a "For the Strength of the Youth" booklet and was touched by the images he saw. Later, he was invited to institute, where he felt the Spirit from the lessons and the members who befriended him. He took the missionary discussions in the Magre home. Although he was 19, he had deep respect for his parents and wanted their permission to be baptized. Rebecca and others fasted and prayed with him; permission was granted.
Brother and Sister Magre are proud of the missionary success of their daughter and her friends. "Others are amazed that they don't smoke, drink or swear. They are sowing seeds with others about the Church," said Sister Magre. "Members are often frightened to ask others about the Church. There is much fear of sects in France and the Church is often classed as a sect." Rebecca's experiences, she explained, have encouraged her other daughters to talk about the Church.
Other members in Paris are convinced that member involvement is a key to missionary labors. Fabrice Rafidiarimandas, first counselor in the Paris 1st Ward and a teacher of French at the University of Valencienne, joined the Church with his wife, Claudine, some 15 years ago. Although their first contact was with missionaries, local members played a key role.
"What was important in our conversion," he explained, "was integration with the local members. Our first day at Church we were welcomed by a brother at the door." Inside, they felt the love emanating from the members. While Brother Rafidiarimandas felt the Spirit as the sacrament was administered, a testimony convinced Sister Rafidiarimandas. "A missionary bore a very simple testimony." She recalled. "He just said that he knew that the Church was true. That testimony touched me. I knew then."
A work assignment brought Paris 1st Ward Mission Leader Todd Hamblin to Paris. A great-grandson of Mormon pioneer and noted missionary Jacob Hamblin, he moved to Paris 14 months ago with his wife, Alisa, and their children, Jacob, 7; Tess, 5; and Benjamin, 2.
Brother Hamblin has noticed a renewed emphasis among local members since talks on missionary work at the April general conference. "It's important for members to trust the missionaries and to trust in God. If we keep that in our minds, I believe God will put people into our path and He will fill our mouths with what to say," said Brother Hamblin. He explained that full-time missionaries are meeting with each active family to encourage them to set a date by which to introduce someone to the Church.
Sister Hamblin added, "I've been thinking more about missionary work because the missionaries have asked us to pray about a situation where we can share the gospel," she said. "Moving to Paris has kept me alert about the gospel and we have been praying as a family to find someone to share the gospel with." Brother Hamblin explained, "My wife has not had missionary experiences before. Now she has a lot of non-member friends. This is true of most members here because we are so few and there are so many people in Paris. We have many opportunities to talk about lifestyle and beliefs. It's just getting the courage to open our mouths."
Former French missionary, bishop and now a high councilor in the Paris France East Stake, Michel Kusseling, a director of finance for an international bank, is an example of the coming of age of the Church in France. Raised in the Church as one of five children, he served a mission to New Caledonia. He and his wife, Pascale, have seven children. Julian, the eldest, is preparing to depart on his mission in September. "We have always been a missionary family," said Brother Kusseling, noting that 17 of his mother's 19 grandchildren are Church members and three have served missions. He feels it is not difficult to find opportunities to talk about the gospel, particularly about the Word of Wisdom. He observed, "Not smoking in France is one thing, but not drinking, that is something very remarkable in France!"
Trade specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, Charles Defranchi served his mission in the France Paris Mission and has retained close links with those he helped bring into the gospel.
"Meaningful experiences in their lives have become meaningful experiences in my own," said Brother Defranchi. "I've been blessed with being able to find some outstanding people." He recalls that his mission president taught the missionaries that they would be more effective member-missionaries because of the skills they learned as full-time missionaries.
Speaking of the maturing of the Church in Paris, Brother Defranchi said, "Our kids are exposed to all kinds of wrong influences and yet you feel that a lot of them have very strong roots in the gospel. Somehow, there's an immunization of our children; they remain largely unspotted from the world. They come back from Church activities and want to put their lives in order, and go on missions for the right reasons," said Brother Defranchi. "This world is much more challenging, but we have stronger children than in my day. There are overlapping effects on the next generation. I feel very positive about the Church in France. It really is in good shape."
Those thoughts are echoed by Matthieu Destribois, a 23 year-old returned missionary from the Ukraine Donetsk Mission and law student at the world-famous Sorbonne in Paris. Raised in the small branch of Le Havre on France's Normandy coast, he is well-placed to comment on the growth of the Church in Paris. "The Church is beginning to grow more here and is better recognized. My fellow students know that I am a member of the Church and respect my faith. Whenever there is media attention about the Church it is usually negative. My friends, however, ask me about the beliefs of the Church," said Brother Destribois, who recently gave one of his university friends a copy of the Book of Mormon and was on the field playing football with missionaries and amis.
John Meletor of Lilas Ward, Paris France Stake, left, assists Elders Todd Lamreaux and Patrick Mitchell in teaching a friend, Violette Kilajian, in her home.
Members of the Torcy Ward, Paris France Stake, extend warm greeting to those attending Sunday meetings.
Scene in Paris.