PARIS (BP)--When 19 students from the University of Georgia spent a week in Paris -- the "City of Love" -- they prayed around the Arc de Triomphe, traveled to the top of the Eiffel Tower, sang in subway lobbies and shopped on the Champs-Elysees. But what excited them most were the opportunities they had to meet the students of Paris.
Paris is home to a half-million university students -- 100,000 of whom are internationals. Reaching these students is the challenge embraced by Southern Baptist missionaries Scott and Mentanna Campbell.
The Campbells rely heavily on student volunteers because, as Scott put it, "There is a barrier there. They don't ask us to lunch or give us e-mail addresses. The only way we're going to meet French students is through other university students."
Scott likes to call France the "forgotten frontier." A cradle of Western civilization, sprinkled with cathedrals, Christians assume its residents have heard and rejected the gospel. Scott said they haven't shunned it. The fact is, they've never heard it.
Jenny Key, a UGA junior, and Greg Tanner, a sophomore, talked one afternoon with "Tarik,"* a student from Morocco, and "Omar,"* from Algeria. A survey created by the Campbells helped them start a conversation about spiritual matters.
The survey starts with questions like: "What is the greatest threat to the world today?" and progresses to ask about real peace, truth and Jesus Christ.
Tarik said he doesn't trust anything he can't see and touch. When Omar looks at the world, though, he knows there must be a God.
Through similar conversations, God opened the American students' hearts to understand the needs of Paris' young people. "They call Paris the city of love," said Michele Dalton, a senior theatre major, "but it's an empty love."
One survey question asked, "Is there a God?" A student replied, "Maybe." The next question asked, "What is truth?" The student replied, "There is no truth."
And what about peace? "You can never obtain peace because there's always going to be someone there to mess it up," said another student.
"Hassan,"* a history major from Morocco, was firm in his answers. "I don't believe in God, and I don't pray," he said. "People in France are less religious than in the U.S.A. More people have less religion."
When the Georgia volunteer team went to the campuses, they didn't find students ready to accept the gospel. But, as they talked to and prayed for Paris' university students, they found a surprise: curiosity.
"We were built up with these assumptions that the French people weren't very open -- and I've been totally convicted," Dalton said. "They're curious. God has shown me that through his will the people will be open."
One student said she needs someone to help her understand the Bible. "She didn't care about God; she cared about herself and politics -- and she wants someone to interpret the Bible," Dalton said.
Sophomore Allison Carter and Jamie McClendon, who graduated last May, talked with two French women. The women equated religion to war -- alluding to the Crusades and conflicts in the Middle East.
"Religion is contrary to what it's teaching. If I talk about faith, it's something true and peaceful and real," said one woman.
However, it's this peace and truth that they don't know how to find. When Carter and McClendon asked them about real love and peace, one woman said: "These are difficult questions. I'll have to think about it the whole day."
The Georgia students realized a one-time week in Paris was not enough to make an impact. So they've decided to partner with the Campbells.
During the next four years, UGA's Baptist Student Union -- through a Georgia partnership with France -- hopes to send short-term volunteers during Christmas, spring break and summer break. They plan to send a semester missionary to work with the Campbells each year, and they hope God will call two journeymen through the project to serve two years in Paris.
Before Tanner even left the city, he was planning to return. "I'll make myself available and have the funds, and God will do the rest," he said.
He's hoping to lead a small team into Cergy, on the outskirts of Paris, during spring break, researching campuses and forming a strategy to reach those students.
This summer, he said he'd love to be in Corsica, trekking with a team of University of Georgia and French students, because friendships formed during the venture should lead to opportunities to share the gospel.
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