The Road to France
A Young Missionary Family’s Quest
By Michael E LaRiviere and D E LaRiviere
Following a dream sounds exciting, pursuing a fantasy sometimes sounds absurd, and chasing rainbows is usually a sign of immaturity. To each of us, the path to our dream is something different, a result of our upbringing and life choices. Like everything in life, there are those who stand on a path that others cannot understand and may even ridicule. Such is the case with Bartlett couple Brandon and Michelle Burch.
Consider, if you will, the call of Almighty God to rid one’s self of nearly all worldly possessions, say goodbye to family, relatives, and friends, and pack up three small children and travel 4,550 miles away from everything you know and love. Think about what it would be like crossing the Atlantic Ocean to begin a life in a country where English is not the primary language. To do so takes courage, confidence, and a commitment to that call and an absolute assurance that God’s call was clear and right. That is the path that will soon be taken by the Burch family.
Brandon Burch, was born and raised in Memphis where he attended Craigmont High School. At age 16, he surrendered his life to Jesus at a youth camp hosted by Bartlett Hills Baptist church. He later went on to graduate from Rhodes College in 2004.
Michelle was born in Texas and her family moved to Memphis when she was five. Her father, Doctor John Finley is pastor of Bartlett Hills Baptist Church where he has served for over 25 years. Michelle graduated from Craigmont High School and then Union University in 2004. She gave her life to Christ at the age of five while at home with her parents.
Michelle and Brandon dated through high school and college and were on the path to marriage when the dream about what God might have in store for our lives began to materialize. Brandon had majored in religious studies and was open to the idea of going into full-time ministry while Michelle studied to be a French teacher.
Brandon and Michelle speak freely about God working in their lives early on and they wondered how He might use their experiences and studies. Brandon admits that the couple never really discussed the foreign mission field as an option, outside of maybe Canada, but they knew two things: they wanted to make their lives count for eternity, and wanted to go somewhere that had a great need and generally did not know about the gospel.
Just after graduation from college, following a great deal of prayer and counsel, Michelle accepted a position in a year-long program to teach English in French elementary schools. Brandon and Michelle were married in September of 2004, and a week later they moved to France.
It was during that year that they both realized that God was revealing His master plan for their lives. It turned out that Michelle was placed in the least churched region in France. Nevertheless, the newlyweds found an evangelical church in their town. On their first visit to the church, and American missionary, David Lohnes, was speaking. David and his wife, Kathryn, had been serving as church planters in France for over 25 years with an organization called World Team.
As their friendship with the Lohnes’s grew, Brandon and Michelle had the opportunity to see firsthand what being a foreign missionary was really all about in the French context and from the French perspective –and they began to imagine themselves in that role.
In their own words, “Finally, with much fear and trembling, Michelle and I acknowledged to each other that we felt this was the very thing God had been preparing for us to do all along.”
Upon completion of that assignment, they returned home committed to take the necessary steps to return to France as church planters with World Team. Brandon enrolled at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary located in Memphis, and pursued a degree in Missions.
While enrolled in the seminary, the two attended World Team’s candidacy school in the summer of 2007, where they were further acquainted with the inner workings of World Team and how they could best serve the agency. The feedback they received was formative and challenging, and they departed feeling reaffirmed that World Team was the organization that God had in store for them. They were invited by World Team to become appointees and an invitation to join the team in France soon followed. Finally, Brandon graduated in 2009, ready to serve.
It has been over seven years since the two returned home that first trip to France and the process of returning to France in full time Christian service has been more challenging than what they ever imagined. But, in their own words, “God has been faithful and we simply have not been able to shake the fact that God called us and prepared us to go and make disciples in the nation of France. And here we are, planning and preparing to move to France as soon as the fall of 2013.”
Most religious sending agencies qualify France as a place of great spiritual need, with only one evangelical church for every 80,000 people in the region north of Paris.
Throughout much of the United States, churches can be found in every city and small town, especially in the “Bible Belt.” But this is not at all the case in France. While Catholicism is still the predominant religion, few take their role in the Catholic Church seriously or believe in its teachings.
In France, Christianity seems to be the source of some valued traditions but has no deep relevance for daily life. Even the large cathedrals function more as art museums and cultural centers than places of worship. Without the strong influence of the Church, France has become dominated by atheists, agnostics, members of the occult and a rapidly growing Muslim population. The majority of the French people have never opened a Bible and many equate Evangelical Christians to cults. France severely lacks the number of Bible-teaching churches needed to disciple the people of their world.
Interviewing this young and vibrant couple discloses a deep seated gratitude that God has led them to be a part of World Team’s effort to evangelize France along with the rest of their projected areas.
World Team is an interdenominational mission organization with a history of over 80 years of service and over 350 members serving in 28 different countries. The organization emphasizes teamwork within World Team as well as with other organizations and national leaders and works diligently to enhance the humility it requires.
The World Team strategy is based on believing that God produces greater results when we combine our efforts, gifts, and talents with one another. They emphasize discipleship, going beyond conversions and intentionally pursuing and cultivating growing relationships with God resulting in the development of national leaders.
And the goal is always reproduction and multiplication of believers and churches so that the work of reconciling the lost to God continues gaining momentum and influence for the glory of God. This is the only way to achieve the God-sized goal of planting 50 new churches in 20 years that World team is praying and working towards.
The Burches have three young children who will grow up in a cross cultural setting and will develop a broad sense of understanding and tolerance of other nationalities. The family is united in this effort and longs to be able to soon join the World Team efforts in France. Their desire is to move in time for their children to enroll in French schools at the opening of the fall semester.
Brandon, Michelle, and their children are currently in the partnership development stage as they seek to garner prayer and financial support for the work. They have raised more than 50% of their one-time moving and set-up costs and have nearly 50% of their monthly living and ministry costs pledged to date. They have established a target date of the fall of 2013 to depart for France.
To find out more or to receive updates you can visit the Burch’s blog at www.michelleburch.blogspot.com. The Burches are open to speaking to groups, conducting fundraisers, and working with community organizations to raise awareness of their mission. If you would like to make a donation to their mission, please do so by contacting them through their blog site.
As the authors of this article we are donating a portion of the proceeds of our book sales to the Burch family’s mission effort. Please visit www.shadowwolfpublishing.com to see book offerings.