Moving from France to Guinea with Nicolas Thebault (Margins 2 Mic: Season 2)

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Between 2003 and 2018 Nicolas lived in Conakry, Guinea with his wife Elaine and their five children. From the beginning of their marriage they felt God calling them to work cross-culturally and with the poor. As their family grew, they began working for their church in Paris with Nicolas serving as lead elder.

Once during a prayer meeting for France, two ladies from the West Indies shared their hurt for the way that their ancestors had lived as slaves there. Nicolas is from the city of Nantes, which benefited greatly from slavery. He remembers praying in that meeting that God would use him to give back to the parts of the world that his ancestors had done so much wrong to. One of these ladies pointed at Nicolas and said that God had heard his prayer and answered it. 

At this time the church was increasingly thinking about meeting the needs of the poor in Paris, and in 1998 Nicolas also went to Guinea to help with refugees there. He felt out of his depth, and he saw so much suffering. Increasingly he worked with his church in Paris to send resources to the church in Conakry. During another trip in 2003, he visited Sierra Leone and realised that he had faith to take their children to Africa, and that maybe they could live in that part of the world. From here God began speaking to him about taking his family to live in Guinea, which was a difficult decision to make. 

They received many confirmations of this, including a job offer and a house in Conakry. Nicolas also recieved a dream in which he was standing in the place of the church there, and saw the houses all around it being destroyed by an earthquake. He felt God say that something major was going to happen which was going to take lots of work to rebuild, and it would have to be rebuilt according to the values of the church. 

Upon moving in 2003, their mission for the first year was to enjoy it. All the time they were trying to build a team with their children, who were aged between one and thirteen. Life was very different, and they moved there with few possessions. They were keen to be self-supporting since there was so much poverty there. Even the one bag of possessions that each child took was much more than anyone else in the church had. It was difficult to be confronted by this difference. At this time Nicolas was working part-time as a sports teacher in a local French school, so they didn’t have very much money. They lost weight in the early months as they weren’t able to afford food, but they still had much more than everybody else. 

After one year, they asked their children if they wanted to continue. They said yes, on the condition that they had a little more money to buy milk and cereal. Elaine found a job, and they continued for another two years. At this time things in the church began to not feel right, and they realised that the dream of the earthquake was not for the country but for the church. There were problems in the leadership, but they committed themselves to them, because all the time their vision was to work for Africans and not to build something for themselves. Everything had to be rebuilt from scratch. Before this crisis they had built good relationships with those that would become the basis of the team working for the church and the school. They worked things out together, since they never wanted to bring in Eurpoean values to Guinea but to seek to understand their culture. Before we seek to use our giftings to serve another culture, we must take time to learn and understand that culture. 

They learnt to always take someone else with them when they did anything, to always ask if they had done the right thing, and to listen before acting. Even preaching can be different: in Guinea silence is not a value, half of the population is under the age of fifteen, and the French that Nicolas spoke was not their first language. But together they shared in one another’s cultures, and learnt how to enjoy living in Guinea with their children, despite life being difficult. They did all that they could to understand the culture without losing their identity, especially with their children. They were never on their own, which is a biblical principal. Even just to get a donkey, Jesus sends two people together! 

They lived on the same street for fourteen years, and would regularly come home from work and find people seeking help. Sometimes they would call a doctor back in France and ask for advice because the medical system was not well established. But they could not replace a complete social security system. They saw terrible situations, and sometimes the only thing they could do is cry and be witness to the suffering. But this is important. 

When this crisis happened in 2006, they had to begin everything again. They started the school with just under two hundred children in a small house. Some of the classrooms were outside. The children loved the school, but there were still tensions, and added to this was a large demonstration in the country calling for democracy. This was met with the government shooting protesters. Officially 250 people died. The school had been working with the poor and those without access to education from the beginning, and the church had grown to around fifty to sixty people. As they got stronger and things became more settled, this second crisis came. The president died in 2008, followed by a coup, and in 2009 the opposition locked people up in a stadium to kill them. Nicolas worked for the French government who decided that the family had to leave the country, despite his lack of desire to go. At the same time, their older children were leaving to go back to France to study. It was a painful time. 

They returned to France for ten months, and the church in Conakry continued. When they returned, as Nicolas preached the gospel in this largely Muslim country many people became Christians. When people came to faith, they would invite friends to their baptism. People would come, be touched by the presence of God and become Christians themselves. The church was growing and went from 50 to 250 in a few years. They continued to have challenges: the growth brought so much work, and as the church expanded it was becoming poorer. 

Since Nicolas and Elaine left Guinea there has been another church planted and plans for another. The school has a new building. Like the apostle Paul said, when you preach the gospel somewhere, you don’t have to worry about it, beacuse it will carry on. The gospel is a message of life that is going to turn over everything.