After spending three weeks in intensive care, Christian Blanc, president of the National Council of French Evangelicals (CNEF), shared his testimony of healing from COVID-19 in a cover story for French magazine La Vie.
CT interviewed Blanc on how the experience has “incarnated” the Bible’s teachings in his life and his advice for how churches can better serve the sick.
Summarize your medical journey, including why your mother renamed you “Lazarus.”
During February and March, my responsibilities as CNEF president meant I had to make several trips to Paris by train and plane and used public transit to move around, and it was during one of these trips that I contracted the COVID-19 virus. When the first symptoms appeared (dry cough and fever), I stayed home thinking that my condition would improve quickly. But it got so bad that I was in respiratory distress and had to be hospitalized. I ended up in the intensive care unit, where everything got so complicated in the following days that the medical staff were rather pessimistic about my future. A doctor even phoned my wife and told her that I was probably going to die during the night.
However, the very next day he called to say that everything was starting to work again, so there was hope. From then on, my recovery began and continued during the weeks that followed. When I came out of the ICU, I phoned my mother—also an evangelical—who was 300 miles away and thinking she would never see me again. When she heard my voice, she thought someone was playing a bad joke on her. I had to insist that I was indeed her son, Christian, whose health was improving. She replied: “I will no longer call you Christian but Lazarus. It’s as if you’ve risen from the dead!” She wept all afternoon with gratitude and joy.
What sustained you during your hospital stay?
Biblical texts that I had read so often, meditated on, and preached to others were for me a rock on which I was able to build my trust in God and my hope in his goodness and faithfulness. I kept one verse in my mind, Isaiah 30:15: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…” (New Living Translation).
I also thought a lot about the prophet Jeremiah, who experienced a very difficult situation during the fall and destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldean armies. He regained hope by meditating on God’s goodness, which is new every morning, on his unfailing faithfulness and generous kindness (Lamentations 3). Other promises in the Bible nourished a deep conviction: God was there with me, as he had been with Joseph in prison.
Do you think you challenged your doctors and medical staff by your example of patience and faithfulness in suffering?
I couldn’t tell. However, I did have the opportunity to speak with a Muslim nurse who asked me what my job was. It was an opportunity to talk to her a little. What was noticed by the hospital staff was my quick recovery, and they said they hoped to see me again later but under different circumstances. “What a man sows, he will also reap,” wrote the Apostle Paul.
Has this experience transformed your faith?
Neither my faith nor my theology have been transformed, but rather they’ve been strengthened. The Bible texts have been “incarnated” in my experience. They are no longer just points of doctrine or mere spiritual truths; those sacred words have become a living reality in me. This allows me to speak about them with more conviction. It is as the Apostle John writes in his Gospel: “The Word became flesh.” It is a truth that is now embodied in my own story.
How has this experience changed the way you preside over the French evangelical alliance? What advice would you give to French churches?
My way of chairing CNEF will remain the same internally; what has changed is more in terms of public testimony. I am being given many opportunities to testify to God’s goodness in various media. This has allowed evangelicals to be in the headlines more positively, especially after the bad treatment they received in the wake of the evangelical gathering organized in Mulhouse in February 2020 [see editor’s note below]. My testimony has given CNEF a new face.
If I had one piece of advice to give for a credible witness, it is the following: Evangelical preachers must be concerned with biblical preaching that builds faith in a balanced and robust way. Preachers are not emcees or communication technicians, but heralds of the truth. A humble, healthy, and robust faith naturally contributes to a good witness, and speaks more than long speeches when it is put into practice.
Summarize the recent CNEF survey that found a third of French evangelical churches have been affected by COVID-19.
We surveyed 2,500 evangelical churches and their leaders to find out whether many of them had suffered from the pandemic. We received 580 responses, and 1 in 3 had seen members become ill, sometimes even dying. While some churches only had a few cases, others saw up to a third of their congregation sick and a small minority had more than two-thirds of their members with COVID-19. There have been at least 72 deaths.
[Editor’s note: An evangelical megachurch in Mulhouse, La Porte Ouverte Chrétienne, became one of France’s first important coronavirus clusters following a nationwide prayer convention, though the event did not violate any government directives in force at the time. A media whirlwind ensued, prompting 31 percent of CNEF survey respondents to state a major challenge is to “restore the bad image of evangelicals in the media, both locally and nationally.”]
How has CNEF defended the church in Mulhouse, and how has it tried to restore the image of evangelicals in France?
La Porte Ouverte church is a member of an evangelical federation, which itself is a member of CNEF, so we felt it was CNEF’s responsibility to provide help and advice for those in charge of managing the crisis. This was done by our chief executive and director of communication. Our local CNEF delegate for the Haut-Rhin region (where the church is based) did not spare his efforts to defend this evangelical church in meetings with local government authorities and in general interviews. CNEF also defended this church on social media and every time I as president of CNEF have been interviewed by journalists.
CNEF published several communiqués during the pandemic to show the seriousness with which evangelicals had respected the instructions from the government. It has also widely distributed to its members, as well as to the media and the French government and administration, a guide of good practices to help church leaders resume worship in the best conditions of health safety. This guide has been noticed and its quality has often been appreciated and highlighted in the press.
What lessons can churches, whether in France or the US or elsewhere, learn from the coronavirus pandemic?
There are several ways churches can be actively involved in spreading a message of solidarity. They can show closeness and compassion for their communities by offering help through their charities or by providing appropriate services where they are lacking.
As for those who are sick, the church can help by investing in chaplaincy services and by supporting hospital visitor programs, where a human presence softens the ordeal. Churches also need to establish a prayer program to call upon the Lord’s kindness and compassion towards those afflicted.
This crisis has brought new technologies to the forefront, yet there are still a number of our contemporaries who do not have access to digital technology or who are afraid of it. The church must be present with these isolated people and help them.
The Christian values that we defend cannot remain mere words and speeches, but must be translated into concrete projects and actions that will embody the truth that sums up the whole divine law in which we believe: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Translated by Andrew Wiles
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