It was a night to remember! On August 6th, the family musical Lily was performed by Grain of Wheat International’s French branch, Les Semailles, in a big tent set up in the forest near the port city of Le Havre, on the English Channel. This was the opening night of the show’s national fall tour. Of the 3,800 in attendance, one thousand were young Christian scouts from 22 European countries who camped nearby. All the rest were people from the city. Invitations to the show handed out by some of the 6,500 Royal Rangers scouts had paid off! Lots of Bibles were distributed after the showing of Lily.
An emotional mayor receives prayer
The next morning, the Sunday worship service organized by all of the evangelical churches in Le Havre, recorded many newcomers: people with no connection to the city churches who had come to see Lily the night before. The mayor, who was also there, delivered a speech praising the youths he had seen for being “a good role model for our future”. A strong declaration, as just across the Channel, many cities are still recovering from destructive violence by youths. Prayer was offered for the city of Le Havre and for its mayor in particular.
Family musicals a trademark
Professional quality family musicals have been the trademark of Les Semailles for twenty years and a part of Grain of Wheat’s evangelistic pillar (even though the history of the organization in that country dates back to the fifties). In 1991, some of the Les Semailles staff wanted to try to tell a biblical story through a musical called Buddy, Hop on My Ark. It was such a big success, that the crew wanted to continue reaching out through musicals. Lily is now the fifth musical created by Les Semailles’ artistic department. Although its reputation is well established, Director Paul Brignon was a little nervous when he began to present this new project to different churches. “Was it going to be accepted? You always take a risk. Lily was more contemporary than previous shows and really aimed at young children.” A warm welcome by the churches confirmed that it was culturally spot on. “My team really did a great job of creating it,” exclaims a proud Paul Brignon.
Lily is the story of an energetic and accident-prone young girl. The opening scene portrays her locked in her room by her mother and being invited by strange visitors her age, to join their fantasy world. In this Alice-in-Wonderland-like adventure, Lily’s uncanny ability to create disasters gets her not only disciplined, but slated to be executed unless someone else takes the blame. Amid dance and song, the show is about sin and redemption.
Musical camps the most popular
Art and drama are a strategy that works well in a country known for its sometimes fiercely secular culture. “It is a really good way to approach our kids. They have been fed on that, especially now with TV shows like France Has Got Talent or the Star Academy. They not only like to hear and see, but also perform themselves,” confirms Paul Brignon. Among Les Semailles’ camp options, musical camps are the most popular. “We’ve not figured out a better way to attract people who have no connection to churches and faith,” Paul Brignon goes on to say. He estimates that only about a fifth of a typical Les Semailles’ audience are church-going people. Such was the case in the Le Havre event.
Drawn to faith by a family musical
Paul Brignon recalls the story of a young lady who helped organize a Lily show in her Paris suburb town of Longjumeau last autumn. Isabelle was initially invited by a colleague at work to come and see Les Semailles’ previous show, The Father’s House. Her colleague encouraged her, “This is a family musical. I am taking my son, bring yours and come with me.” Isabelle was deeply moved by the show, confessing to her colleague, a believer: “I had no idea Christian stuff was like that.” In a matter of months, Isabelle was a regular at church.
«You grow like one big family»
Embarking on the production of a Les Semailles’ show is quite an adventure. Each musical has a four year life span. One year for writing it, another for casting actors, singers and dancers. Then another two years of touring, which reaches an average of 40,000 spectators. So the children who are actors are asked for a two-and-half year on-and-off commitment. “Such shows have the most profound impact on their crews,” Brignon explains. “It is like a two-year camp. You grow like one big family, supporting one another, sharing joys and concerns.” He remembers how everyone helped the mother of one of the girl singers who was ill during a previous show. “You really see the children grow spiritually,” he recounts. “Many of our dancers and singers ask to be baptized during their years with us.”
Bringing churches together
What has helped Les Semailles establish its excellent reputation is not just the quality of its shows, but also the integrity of the organization. Brignon recalls that two projects were submitted at a meeting of local pastors in Le Havre, two years ago: Lily and the Christian scouts’ Eurocamp. He negotiated with the scouts leader to integrate the two together and managed to convince the pastors. A Sunday service that included all of the pastors’ congregations was Brignon’s idea. “Our musicals are more than just shows; they have always been the means of bringing churches in a city together.” This approach has proved to be brilliant, as it has inspired a desire for local churches to continue working on projects together after their involvement with Grain of Wheat, like last year in Paris’ 9-4 suburb.
Inspiring a vision for follow-up work
What about the people of Le Havre who came to a Sunday service for the first time in a long while, thanks to Lily and the scouts’ Eurocamp? “It is now up to the church people there to do the follow up,” says Brignon. As far as Grain of Wheat is concerned, he hoped the Le Havre event would eventually help him set up a “local ambassador” there, that is: a Grain of Wheat volunteer representative willing to inspire a vision for the local churches to work with children, as is already happening in seven major French cities. “This does not happen overnight. Two people are interested. We’ll see how it goes,” concludes Brignon. His priority right now is focusing on Lily’s tour which has seven upcoming performances, two of which involve travel to the Caribbean French Antilles.