God has his people in that city and a new church plant began recently. Naomi Pilgrem takes up the story. ‘Why do we need another church? Our church is small and there aren’t enough of us as it is!’
The person asking that question was genuine and servant-hearted and this was their gut reaction to hearing that we were planning, under God, to leave the church we had been members of for five years in order to plant a new one in a neighbouring borough of Brussels.
In many ways, such a reaction is understandable. The church in Belgium is weak, the ground is hard, trained Bible teachers are few, finances are very limited and evangelicals make up a negligible percentage of the overall population. So the desire to bunker down and try and solidify what is in existence is in many ways legitimate and necessary.
God uses the weak
And yet, over the course of history, we see again and again that our sovereign God chooses to use that which is weak to accomplish his glorious purposes. And when we think that we know the Bread of Life and that two miles down the road, in the next borough, there are 50,000 people dying of spiritual hunger without access to a Francophone church where the gospel is clearly proclaimed, Christ’s love compels us to start asking – how can we get the gospel out there, no matter how weak and insignificant we feel?
Etterbeek is a commune of Brussels (the equivalent of a borough), central and densely populated, with the European quarter in the north and a big university in the south. It has good transport links and is easily accessible for the mobile population. And, just like the rest of Brussels, it is extremely cosmopolitan. However, faithful biblical ministry which reaches out into the indigenous population is desperately scarce, with only one other small French-speaking evangelical church in the commune. Yet French-speaking churches are essential in order to grow a stable and lasting gospel witness in the capital, the country and the wider needy mission field of Francophone Europe.
Preaching in the theatre
On Sunday 24 January, a small team of 12 adults and eight children gathered for their first official church service at the newly planted ‘Eglise Evangélique Protestante Emmanuel Etterbeek’. In a small rented theatre, Johnny Pilgrem, the pastor, preached on Mark 1 and exhorted them to get involved in the glorious work of making Christ the King known.
Johnny and his family came to Brussels in 2010 after four years working for Trinity Church Islington, London, with a view to train at the Institut Biblique Belge (IBB) before serving in some way in Francophone Europe. Over the course of his studies, they had the opportunity to serve in a local church, the Eglise Evangélique Protestante de Bruxelles Woluwe, and gradually became aware of the real spiritual famine there is in Belgium and in Brussels in particular. Such a strategic city, the de facto capital of Europe, and yet so few Bible-believing and teaching churches with a passion for reaching the lost.
And so, with the support and wise advice of the elders at Woluwe church, Samuel Furfari and Stephen Orange, and the backing of the local Association des Eglises Protestantes Evangéliques de Belgique, the planning began for a new plant.
Fast forward to January 2016 and the Lord has provided in ways unimaginable only a few months before. The plant team have been meeting for several months now, every Tuesday, for a meal and prayer and Bible study.
Good news of Jesus
They now meet every Sunday at 4 pm for their regular services and will continue to meet for Bible study and prayer on Tuesdays. With a core team of Brusselites and Belgians, including a placement student from the Institut Biblique, they are praying they can reach those in Etterbeek and beyond with the good news of Jesus. As en goes to press they are involved in a Mission Week, with the help of a team from the Institute, from the 13 – 20 March.
The immediate needs are for a more permanent venue, for the finances for that, and for the team to remain focused on proclaiming Jesus in private and in public, as practically they get used to being a church.
Johnny Pilgrem says: ‘We feel weak and the task ahead is daunting. Yet we rest on the evidence of God’s sovereign power to grow his church, as seen in Scripture, throughout history and even in our own recent experience. We pray that we will faithfully and boldly proclaim Christ.’
James Hely Hutchinson, director of the IBB, comments: ‘At the Institut Biblique Belge we’re giving great thanks to God for the launch of this plant in a needy area and with a strong team. We pray that the church’s clear biblical priorities will translate into significant fruit for God’s kingdom and glory. Thank you to en readers for taking a prayerful interest in this work.’ For more information about the church visit www.eglise.brussels or www.eglisebruxelles.be
Update following the terrorist attacks
In the wake of the bombings in Brussels, Johnny Pilgrem posted this on the Acts29 blogsite:
‘ "A black day - a barbaric enemy." The words of the Belgian Prime Minister on 22 March as three explosions in the capital Brussels left over 30 dead and 200 injured.
'Ever since the perpetrators of the Paris attacks on 13 November were tracked back to Brussels the tension in the city has often been palpable. Days of lock-down and the sense of uncertainty means many have spoken of the feeling of being taken hostage in their own city, with soldiers a daily presence on the street corners. Brusselites have been living with fear and are now in mourning.
'As a tiny church plant just beginning to serve our city by announcing the gospel of Jesus, we’re aware too of the insecurity all around. Our prayers are for those closely affected by the atrocities, and for all of us deeply saddened by the horror so close to home. We’re praying for the authorities, that they may be wise and be able to bring justice to bear (Romans 13).
'This Sunday we will be holding our first Easter Sunday celebration, not very far from the location of the bombed metro station. We pray that we would be able to preach lovingly and honestly about the light of Jesus’ resurrection amidst the dark reminders of death.
'Please pray with us for our city, and for the members of the church plant and all christians here as we talk about the events with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. That we may gently and respectfully share the hope that we have (1 Peter 3.15).
'At the same time, the events have made us want to pray more for our brothers and sisters around the world who face the very real threat of terror every single time they meet. The world’s attention turns to Brussels due to the relative security that we expect of a Western capital, yet today there will also have been bombings and death in any number of places worldwide.
'The newspapers speak of the threat of further terror, and the government has called for three days of national mourning. Pray that christians would lovingly speak of the one who has already beaten death and who calls all to life without sorrow or crying or pain (Revelation 21.4).'