I almost missed it. I’m sure many people do.
After all, one line of plain text hardly stands a chance amid the veritable sea of interactive displays, historical tidbits, and eye-catching pictures that fill the 16th century fortress-turned-tourist-attraction overlooking Grenoble, France. I imagine those who visit the Bastille in Grenoble remember its striking architecture, its history, or if nothing else, the breathtaking mountains that frame the picturesque sprawl of the city below. Somehow, I doubt many leave remembering that one line of text. Yet, as I scanned the displays that afternoon, five words happened to catch my eye. “Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis” read the small inscription on the plaque, below which stood the English translation: “The cross stands while the world spins.”
Those profound words were penned over 900 years ago by St. Bruno of Cologne, the founder of the Carthusian monastic order, which continues to this day, cloistered in the Chartreuse Mountains above Grenoble. But as I gazed out over the city that day, St. Bruno’s words of old seemed to ring with a fresh irony.
It’s dead isn’t it? This notion of the cross being at the heart of a place like France? You might argue that any number of things stand at the heart of French culture these days, secularism being the most likely candidate. But I doubt many would argue the cross. From my birds-eye view of Grenoble that afternoon, I remembered a few of the bleak statistics on religion I had seen the day before. In 2010, France was ranked among the top three most secular countries in Europe and second only to the Czech Republic in regard to percentage of the population that never attend religious services of any variety. A poll conducted in 2006 found that just 2 percent of France’s 64 million people aligned themselves with Protestantism. If anything, it seems one could argue that France is the flagship of a post-Christian culture. Glancing back at the text on the plaque, I wondered to myself what St. Bruno would say if he visited France today.
As I left the Bastille that day and headed for the winding streets of the city below, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth we were in France. What is a Christian to do in a first-world culture that has turned a cold and indifferent shoulder to the cross? Where are the stories of redemption in this climate of spiritual darkness? If you stay on the hilltop of statistics and stereotypes, the answers to those questions seem hopeless, and rightly so. But if I have found one thing to be true in Grenoble thus far, it is this: that there is a spiritual fire growing slowly and quietly on the streets of the city below.
It is a movement, one that has gradually grown and matured in France for decades now. However, it is one that is overlooked and overshadowed by the more dominant narrative of spiritual decay that we tend to hear. Out of a rich heritage of ministry that started in the 1980’s, France is beginning to see a blossoming movement, both in the local church and among youth. “People tend to think of France as this spiritually dark place,” said Nick Van Wingerden, who has worked with International Teams in Grenoble since 2007. “But God is doing something awesome in France.”
It is not a movement you see from above. It’s a quiet groundswell, a flame that is fanned as students gather of their own accord to study the Bible together, church congregations partner to care for the homeless in Grenoble, and young men and women seek out opportunities to be discipled. “God is on the move here in France,” Nick said with a gleam in his eye. “I think we’re on the trajectory for real spiritual renewal.”
Amid the mundanity of every day life, a new generation is rising in France, those who are spiritually thirsty and eager to know Jesus Christ more. There is a fire growing in France and it starts with the standing cross that St. Bruno spoke of so long ago.
It’s easy to miss. I’m sure many people do. But I hope you won’t.
To find out more about this spiritual movement happening in France now, read Ministry Profile: Le FEU