Vincent and I wish you much love and joy for the New Year! May God give us the capacity to SEE all of the ways that HE is at work in us, through us and around us, despite the many struggles we face...
I wanted to give you a little update from our year-end Christmas Camp! A group of our College students and older High School students joined us in the mountains for an intentional time of discipleship and teaching. A perfect mix of outdoor adventure, joy, reflection, scripture, serious conversation and life together. If you haven't seen it yet, the TV series about Jesus' life "The Chosen" was my personal highlight of our camp! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed watching season 1 and it provided all of us with inspiration and a fresh view of the many new testament stories that we know so well. I highly recommend it!
Mahdi, who studies Chemical Engineering at La Sapienza in Rome, one of Italy's most prestigious universities, turned 19 and we celebrated his birthday together at camp. Unlike the majority of the kids we work with, Mahdi did not grow up in Grasse, his family lives in Toulon, a town on the coast about 2 hours away. He and Laith became friends in the dorms in High School, and Laith started bringing Mahdi home to Grasse for the weekends, because it was too far and too expensive for Mahdi to visit his family regularly on the weekends, so when he didn't come home to our house, he was stuck alone in the dorms at school for the weekend. So four years ago, Mahdi began regularly spending time with our family and Parfums de Vie.
Mahdi comes from a traditional Muslim family and has two older sisters. As a child and younger teen he was sent to a very strict Koranic school in Morocco, North Africa every summer, where he was forced to memorize the Koran and was beaten for any mistakes. By the time Mahdi and Laith met in High School, the years of religious oppression and abuse had caused Mahdi to lose all faith and interest in pursuing God. However his ideas were turned upside down by his friendship with Laith, who openly expressed his love of God, and yet was free from the religiosity of Islam. Mahdi was intrigued by Laith's faith which appeared to bring freedom rather than oppression! He began asking questions, reading scripture for himself and expressing a hunger for more, he has been pursuing Christ ever since!
Mahdi's parents are now divorced but still live under the same roof (for economic reasons) in their tiny apartment in a tower block on a housing project in Toulon. Ever since Mahdi left home in 10th grade to begin his scholarship at the CIV, whenever he goes home to visit, there is never any family time together - no family meals, no games nights or family movie night. Food is scarce, the atmosphere is tense and everyone is isolated, there is no communion, no sense of belonging or community or purpose, each person in their own corners on their phones.
Mahdi told me this week that being with our family and with Parfums de Vie has changed his life because he has tasted and seen a different way of doing life, a different way of being family and that this is what he wants for his life: to eventually create a home of his own where there is purpose, belonging, faith and healing. He told me that having something to look forward to for the Christmas holidays this year made all the difference for him during his term at university - compared to last year when he didn't come home and spent the holidays alone in his room, studying for his exams. I could barely hold back my tears when this smart, articulate, amazing young man told me that this year was the first time EVER that he had looked forward to a vacation - because of Parfums de Vie! And it was the first time ever that he had celebrated Christmas!
Mahdi's story, one way or another, is the story of all of the children and teens we work with. A story of dysfunction, neglect, abuse and poverty, mixed up in the religiosity of Islam. Mahdi's words remind me of the importance of this work and the eternal impact. Kids and young people need to experience something different from their home lives so that they can begin to imagine something new. Mahdi knows that family life characterized by health, grace and faith is possible, because of his experiences over the years in our home. The simplicity of including him in our lives and welcoming him to Parfums de Vie began his journey of following Jesus. Now he has hopes and dreams that are filled with purpose, vision and faith. Will you pray for Mahdi as he prepares for his exams and returns to Rome on January 12th?
Please also pray for Vincent and me - School is back today and we re-open our ministry center this afternoon and all the daily activities recommence! After our camp and the hard work of having all our College students home for the holidays (everyone is here for one or two more weeks) we honestly begin the New Year tired! Pray for us as we learn to find rest, solitude and renewal in the midst of the daily demands of Parfums de Vie and those we are called to serve.
with love and profound gratitude,
Nicole & Vincent