There is a perfectly normal house in the city of Grenoble, France, a tranquil place on Jean-Richard Street with two stories, brown shutters, and a wide gravel driveway.
Except this house is on fire. In fact, it’s been burning for years.
You won’t see flames or plumes of smoke as you pass by. Much less would the prosaic looking place even provoke a second glance. Yet it is ablaze, and a large sign hanging beside the front door will tell you as much with one boldly printed word: “FEU” – or in English, “Fire.”
This simple house in Grenoble is one to remember. To step inside its four walls is to step inside of a movement that is spreading quietly yet unmistakably across France. The arsons responsible for this growing spiritual fire are students: young people from all walks of life and nationalities who are passionate and active in their Christian faith in the midst of a highly agnostic, often atheistic, postmodern culture. And this house on Jean-Richard Street, called the FEU – or Foyer Evangélique Universitaire – is one of the ministries at the heart of that movement. Perhaps you didn’t know about the deep spiritual needs that exist right now in a first-world nation like France. Maybe you didn’t see France as a place ripe for spiritual renewal. If so, what you find in that house on Jean Richard Street may surprise you. Because those at the FEU have lit a spiritual fire in France. And they hope to do the same in you as well.
Whenever the topic of spirituality in France is broached, terms like “secularism,” “agnosticism,” “atheism,” and “post-Christian,” are sure to arise. It is true that over the years, France has developed the unfortunate reputation of being highly secular, and skeptical, if not antagonistic at times, toward organized religion. Such views are bolstered by some highly publicized statistics, such as a 2010 survey of European countries that found France has among the fewest total citizens that attend religious services of any kind. Yet, quietly, there is a different picture beginning to take shape in France. Slowly but surely, the fire of a growing spiritual movement is beginning to swell. More than ever, a new generation of French are searching for answers to questions that secularism cannot seem to satisfy. And for many, that search brings them to the open doors of the FEU.
Over the past 40 years, the FEU has grown and matured into a dynamic and vibrant ministry to university students here in Grenoble and beyond. With three major universities at the heart of town, Grenoble is filled with roughly 60,000 students from around the globe and the resulting ministry opportunities are endless. Whether it be through evangelistic campus outreaches, Bible studies, service projects, or discipleship training, the FEU strives to equip and inspire students in the gospel and connect them with the local church. Nick VanWingerden, the current director of the FEU in Grenoble who serves with International Teams, is passionate about this idea of raising up a new generation of Godly leaders in France. “I think first and foremost the FEU is a training ground for young people,” he says, with a smile and a glint in his eye. “It’s not just about evangelism, social justice work, or putting on an event. You’re training college students for kingdom work.”
Juan, a 22-year-old student from Bogota, Colombia is just one that has been deeply touched by the kind of work Nick talks about. “The FEU has really been incredible for me,” says Juan, who spent the past year studying engineering here in Grenoble. He smiles and shakes his head as he remembers. For him, the FEU was a kind of home away from home, a place to connect and grow with students that inspire him in his faith. The FEU changed his year and his life, he says. And as he talks about his dreams for pursuing engineering and ministry back in Colombia, you can tell he means it.
The FEU is now well on its way to becoming a national association, named FEU de France, with offshoots growing and flourishing in four different cities across the country. From Lille to Marseille, the FEU has seen an explosion of student interest over the past few years that Nick sees as evidence of real spiritual renewal across France. “Definitely the most exciting thing about France right now is what God is doing in the hearts of young people here,” says Nick.
But growing a vibrant ministry does not happen overnight. To truly appreciate the energy at the FEU today, it is essential to understand the rich legacy of ministry that kindled the sparks before. And few people in Grenoble today understand that legacy better than Henry Bryant.
“I remember those early years,” says Henry, leaning back in his office chair at home in Grenoble, the stacks of biblical commentaries and lexicon references around him revealing the scholar that he is. “Those early years were a time of ferment on campus here.” And Henry would know. He and his wife, Alice, were among a small group of people in the early 1970’s that first had the vision for developing a vibrant student ministry in Grenoble. Now in his 70’s, Henry remembers the past 30 long and wonderful years of student ministry in this city. Years of consistent campus evangelism, discipleship, and biblical training that slowly helped pave the way for the FEU’s fruitful ministry today. What’s more, Henry was the chief laborer responsible for the renovations back in the early 1990’s that made the FEU building on Jean-Richard Street what it is today. Perhaps Nick VanWingerden said it best when he described the man’s personal legacy that Henry himself tends to leave understated. “He’s Grenoble’s quiet warrior,” says Nick. “Just a man who faithfully preaches the word.”
But it is the legacy of people that Henry cherishes most. “There are quite a few students I worked with over the years that still live in the city,” he says. “One of the elders at our church was one of the first students that was saved at the FEU.” What’s more, a handful of students at the FEU today are the children of parents who were blessed by Henry and the early ministry years ago. Those memories, along with the evidence of a growing spiritual movement among French youth today, leave Henry encouraged and hopeful. For one who has spent so long tilling the spiritual ground here in Grenoble, it is rewarding to now see the fruit from those years. “There’s a much greater sense of openness than when we first came to France,” says Henry with a thoughtful look. “I think it is in part simply because more people in this city have been touched. It’s a kind of snowball effect.”
Today, the FEU’s legacy continues, as always, in the students themselves. They are the arsons and it is their initiative and dedication to ministry that makes up the heart of the FEU. You may glimpse it in the many students that choose to dedicate a night or two per week to spackling walls or tiling floors as part of a massive renovation project at the facility. Or perhaps you will see it in those individuals that start a community Bible study or plan a campus outreach event. And how can you not see it when the students step up to preach the Word to one another. In all of these small yet significant ways, the uniqueness and the vibrancy of the FEU begin to shine brightly.
Nick encourages the students to take the lead in these kinds of ways and own the ministry for themselves; a challenge they have more than met. “It really is student-driven ministry at the FEU,” says Fred Pfister, a 23-year-old student from Strasburg who was a leader this past spring. Since February, Fred has been part of a core of students at the FEU who help plan outreach events, participate in the teaching, and receive discipleship coaching from local pastors. “It’s all about trying to make disciples out of the students,” says Fred. “It’s always a challenge but that’s really the vision at the FEU.”
Perhaps the most striking thing about the FEU is the lasting desire for active ministry that it seems to inspire in the students. In looking ahead to a new year of ministry in the fall, many students are eager to spend more time and effort reaching out to the needy and the gypsies in Grenoble, not only as a way to serve the poor, but also as a strategy for inviting non-Christians along to allow them to see the gospel at work as they help others.
Many students have also explored ways to spend time participating in short-term missions work abroad through organizations like Operations Mobilization or ITeams France. Theirry Mirone, the operational manager of ITeams France, says he has seen dramatic growth in the number of French youth, many from the FEU, eager to participate in God’s work around the world. “I can really see it. Revival is coming in France through the youth,” he says, the excitement evident in his voice. “The idea with these trips is to train up and develop leaders… and these trips really have a huge impact on people.” The FEU also has close ties to a small Bible college in Geneva, Switzerland called the Institut Biblique de Genève, a place where many students from the FEU have gone on to earn a degree in biblical studies to equip them for any level of future ministry.
Looking ahead, Nick sees many opportunities and needs down the road. He is eager to spread the word about the FEU in the hope that college students who are passionate about their faith and student ministry may want to spend a year studying in Grenoble, in large part to dive in as a leader at the FUE. He also says there is a great need for a couple or family willing to move to Grenoble and help be a part of the ministry by hosting students. Even short-term teams can make a huge difference, Nick explains, along with prayer and financial ministry partners.
“As I look back on this year, I just see all these names and faces of students,” says Nick. “Students we’ve been walking along side all year and seeing grow in their love for the Lord.” For Nick, it all comes down to that: the relationships built, the disciples that are made, and the spiritual leaders that will carry on the work of the gospel, in France and beyond.
Perhaps there is something for everyone in that simple house on Jean-Richard Street, the one with brown shutters and a wide gravel driveway. The work that happens there and the movement it is a part of reach beyond just the FEU, or Grenoble, or even France. They are part of a global testimony. One that tells of Christ’s continuous and miraculous work in all nations, from the slums to the suburbs. The fire at the FEU was never meant to stay on Jean-Richard Street, or anywhere else for that matter. It was meant to be carried. And today, the heart of a nation is slowly changing simply because of students who are answering that call. The question that remains is what will you do with that same fire? Will you carry it? Those at the FEU certainly hope so.
Please pray for the FEU, that the Lord would continue to bless the ministry as a whole and give wisdom, patience, courage, and perseverance to all its leaders. And pray for France, that the Lord would raise up a new generation that loves Him with passion and conviction. Also, there are many opportunities and needs at the FEU. If you feel led to find out more about how you could be a part of the movement, please feel free to contact us here any time!