God loves the outcast
One of the little known moves of God in the last 50 years has occurred among a marginalised people in a wealthy European country that is proud to have kept religion out of public life and which regards any Christian group that is outside of the Roman Catholic church fold as a cult.
I speak of France and the revival that has taken place amongst the gypsy or Romany people.
The development of this revival is largely unknown outside of the French speaking world yet it is possible to draw some valuable lessons from what has occurred that can be applied to another rich country such as Australia where public expression of religious faith is often frowned upon and where as in France, the predominant culture sees no value in godly living and is mostly interested in enjoying the things of life.
Gypsy revival in France
A transcript of an interview on Radio Reveil with Clement le Cossec, the man who devoted much of his life to serving among Romany people, gives not only details of how the revival started and grew but also something of how God moved in the heart of a somewhat reluctant pastor to do what God was wanting to accomplish amongst people that no-one else was particularly caring about.
The transcript can be found in full at http://www.clement-le-cossec.org/index.php?p=1_7_Epop-e-missionnaire but for those who do not read French I will summarise some key points from it, before drawing some lessons I learnt from what God has done and is continuing to do among the Roma people.
Healing the sick
Clement le Cossec was the son of a lighthouse keeper in Brittany who became a pastor with a desire to reach his own people, the Bretons, with the gospel.
However, while in Lille on the other side of France, serving as a pastor of a small church he was asked by a young Roma man to visit and pray for the young man’s mother. She was healed and the son testified of what God had done for his mother but after about a month the gypsies left town and moved on. The pastor forgot all about them.
About four years later a Christian itinerant evangelist was in Lisieux, Normandy handing out gospel tracts in the town square. A gypsy lady took a tract and read it and on the back was the address of a church in the town. A few months later her son fell ill and the doctors advised her that there was little hope for him, he was dying.
She remembered the tract and the address at the back of it and in tears came to the church and stood weeping at the porch. The pastor asked what was wrong and she told him about her son’s condition. As the church began to pray, the pastor went with the lady to the hospital to visit the son, prayed for him and the young man was healed. The entire family came to faith in Jesus Christ as a result.
Two years later the pastor met some members of the family again in Brest, Brittany. They were upset that the local pastors there would not baptise them in water, although satisfied about their faith in Jesus Christ, because the gypsies were not legally married according to French law. The problem was that French law requires that the couple getting married should live for 21 days in the local government area where they are to be married.
Unfortunately the police would often force the gypsies to move on within 48 hours of arriving in their caravans in a local government area. One gypsy man explained that because the pastors would not baptise them, he went with his wife, Pounette, to a river. He couldn’t read but he knew that whoever believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and was baptised would be saved. So he baptised his wife in the river and in turn, she baptised him.
Pastor le Cossec found himself unable to resist their call for help. As a few more gypsies became Christian he readily baptised them in the sea. His act of kindness and willingness to identify with the gypsies in their difficulty seemed to release something of the power of God and within a year there were several hundred new gypsy Christians.
Pastor le Cossec had come to Brittany, where there were two evangelical churches to reach the three million Bretons with the gospel. Instead he found himself with hundreds of new nomadic gypsy converts who could not read and who were asking him to be their pastor. He decided to follow the Apostle Paul’s example with Titus and train up some fellow workers and focus his discipling on them in order that they in turn could train others.
Four young men volunteered to become pastors so he took them, taught them to read and gave them practical studies in the Bible. They in turn worked enthusiastically among their own people and, being powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit, they saw many wonderful healings.
After six years, in 1952, there were 3,000 gypsies who had become Christian and the demands for discipleship were placing increasing demands on his time. He gave up his pastor’s role at his church in Rennes, the provincial capital, and went on the road with the gypsies.He found that he was entering into a new world with a different culture, values, language, where family was important, and with family spread all over the world. Evangelising in France was going to have a global reach wherever gypsies had scattered.
In a western society like France, the gypsy mobility had been a disadvantage; but in the spreading of the gospel it became a huge advantage because in one family a new Christian could reach his cousin in USA, his nephew in Spain, his brother in Germany, his parents in Buenos Aires or Stockholm.
Pastor le Cossec had visited 44 different countries in his ministry amongst gypsies.
By 1996 when the radio interview was conducted there were over half a million gypsies in Europe who had come to faith in Jesus Christ with over 6,000 gypsy pastors. Indeed the gypsy church in France and Spain is larger then the combined non gypsy French and Spanish Pentecostal church.
There are large and fast growing gypsy churches in United States and in India, the original home of the gypsy people, and where over 40 million live today.
What can we learn from this revival?
God loves the outcast and despised people of society and it is often easier to experience miracles healings and the supernatural amongst a simple, believing people than an educated, sphisticated people.
We may have our own agenda about who we want to reach with the gospel but we need to be open to be guided and changed in direction as God brings situations into our world. Pastor le Cossec could have missed a great revival by being insistent on being only a servant to the Bretons when God was calling him to the gypsies.
When there is a need – be prompt to respond and meet it.
My conclusions on revival can be summed up thus:
- Revival can start anywhere and often starts among the most unlikely people.
- Most revivals are attractive to extremists who will attempt to waylay or discredit the work
- Revival is transferable e.g. Rev. A A Boddy received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Azuza Street LA in 1906, started his own revival meetings in Sunderland England that influenced the Jefferys brothers and Smith Wigglesworth and many others. Pastor le Cossec used this principle in training up his young pastors.
- There will be more people saved in the aftermath of the revival than during the intense phase which usually only lasts months or a few years.
- A new move of God can have a strong influence for up to 150 years (4-5 generations)
- The loudest critics of a new move of God will be from the movement that sprang out of the last move of God – in other words revivals have a long term tendency to end with legalism.
Acts 5: 14-16 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.
And a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
These things are happening today among the gypsy people in Europe and elsewhere.
In Cabramatta over the years we have given out many gospel tracts in Freedom Plaza. Who knows when there is going to be someone with a need, who comes from an insignificant nation, that God chooses to release a new wave of revival?