Three young French Christians were cheering for their national soccer team during a friendly match against Germany in the ultra-modern Stade (Stadium) de France in Paris last Friday night.
Suddenly, a blast echoed behind them from outside the stadium.
"We told ourselves it was fireworks," they noted afterwards. But, they knew something was wrong. The heavy smell of the bomb weighed over the stadium as two more explosions went off.
"The terrorist's plan didn't work, God permitted that they were late, that they didn't enter the stadium, and that they blew themselves up at a time when there wasn't a crowd outside the stadium," said one of the three. "They blew themselves up at Gates D and H. We were at Gate H. We heard the horrible sound of the bombs and the stadium shook, we thought it was going to fall in."
No announcement was made and the match went on because authorities didn't want to panic the crowd. Still, bodyguards quickly whisked French President Francois Hollande, who was in attendance, away from the stadium.
Not far away in an Assemblies of God church near the famous "Place de la Bastille," where the French Revolution began, Pastor Franck Lefillatre's congregation experienced an unusual sense of the Holy Spirit's presence as they prayed and interceded during their Friday night prayer meeting.
Unknown to them, nearby, terrorists were attacking restaurants and a concert hall, the Bataclan, where the American rock group Eagles of Death Metal was playing.
When the smoke had cleared 129 were dead, and over 300 were injured. Some still linger between life and death at this writing. Eighty-two people were murdered in the concert hall.
France was in shock, much like the USA after 9/11. But, like 9/11, the French nation pulled together to mourn. One of the more striking reactions came from the supporters of the Marseille professional soccer team.
"May this not take away from the fact that many Muslims coming into Europe are in fact coming to Christ."
Paris has always been its biggest rival and fights between supporters are common when these two teams get together. Yet, the "Ultras" supporter group posted a huge banner that read, "Nous sommes Paris" (We are Paris).
Christians and the world reacted with prayer. In the Paris attacks of January when a satirical newspaper called Charlie Hebdo was targeted along with a Jewish supermarket, the slogan that emerged from the carnage was, "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie"). This time it was different. Facebook and social media lit up with the slogan, "Pray for Paris." One wonders if ever before in the history of the world so many people prayed for Paris and France.
Pastor Lefillatre sees this as an important time for France. His church has grown from around 250 to about a thousand adults in the last nine years.
"Our church has had a real desire to reach young adults," Pastor Lefillatre says. "In these attacks, it was this group that was hit especially hard."
The church occupies a strategic location in the heart of Paris. It's been hard accommodating the growth and finding a way to continue to reach out but Pastor Lefillatre says, "We know why we are here."
He sees two possible reactions that could be dangerous. "We must not sink into hate," Pastor Lefillatre says. But, his second warning is a bit surprising. "We shouldn't think that this will create a climate that will make it easier to reach people either."
Pastor Lefillatre's warning is well-placed in a very secular France. A recent survey found that in France nearly 30 percent of people declared themselves atheist, 1 of the 5 most atheistic countries in the world.
One of the cartoonists for the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, Joann Sfar, responded to the "Pray for Paris" hashtag with a cartoon and this message in English: "Friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforparis, but we don't need more religion." Sfar, 44, wrote in a cartoon shared via Instagram on Friday, "Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and Joy! #Parisisaboutlife."
Of course, many French reacted with prayer and by seeking the Lord.
As Pastor Lefillatre noted, there is a real danger in wanting to strike back against Muslims.
The director of the popular Christian website "Info Chrétienne," Guillaume Anjou, along with Eric Celerier, the founder of the site "Top Chrétien," made a joint statement directed to Muslims:
"It's time for the Church to wake up and get outside its walls. We are ready to respond to the challenge in prayer and evangelism."
"'Info Chrétienne' wants to renew our expression of love and confidence to French Muslims. We refuse to put everyone in the same basket like [terrorist groups] want us to. That would sharpen the hate and division among us."
Paul Trementozzi, Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) regional director for Europe, offers direction on praying about the situation: "Pray for the national church of France that the Lord would use it during this time to bring hope and for the people of France to once again open their hearts to Christ and not give way to hatred.
"Pray for this situation to not negatively color how refugees entering Europe are viewed; that all are not 'terrorists' and may this not take away from the fact that many Muslims coming into Europe are in fact coming to Christ."
Pastor Lefillatre and the churches of the Paris area are facing the crisis with a renewed consecration to preach Jesus. He noted that the terrorists also spoke of God and that Christians must not only speak of Jesus but their lives must show the Lord Jesus to others.
"It's time for the Church to wake up and get outside its walls," Pastor LeFillatre says. "We are ready to respond to the challenge in prayer and evangelism."