Paris is a city where conversation is an art form, yet one topic rarely finds its way onto the canvas.
Growing up in Paris, public discussions of religion felt taboo to Wahiba Mohib. Although France has a strong Catholic tradition, Wahiba arrived at university having never met anyone her own age who would identify themselves as Christian.
Now a student at New Sorbonne University, also known as Paris 3, she has lived most of her life in Paris. A month into her studies, she met Cru staff members Brooke Walker and Becky Hodge and told them she didn’t believe in God but was interested in discussing spiritual things.
“'I don’t believe in God and that’s not changing,' were her first words to me," says Brooke. After a 2-hour conversation nearby in Le Café Vert, something had changed. Wahiba told Brooke, “Okay, I think I’m searching.”
Wahiba grew up in a mix of cultures – her mother is Moroccan and her father comes from the West Indies. Initially raised in the Islamic faith, she chose to reject religion around the age of 14.
The French high school culture profoundly shaped Wahiba. French law seeks to minimize the influence of religion in schools. Laws the majority of French people support prohibit the wearing of religious apparel such as crucifixes or headscarves.
“In Paris, you don’t talk about religion because most people here don’t believe in it. It’s taboo because we have been educated not to talk about it,” says Wahiba.
But her natural curiosity coupled with anxiety about her future led Wahiba to a conversation in Le Café Vert with two Americans who were happy to listen to what she believed.
2 weeks passed between their first and second meetings. Wahiba had been unwell during that time, and stressed about pressure coming from her university to decide her long-term direction. Arriving at that second meeting she asked Brooke, “Do you think God offers peace and hope?” They began discussing a gospel outline together but Wahiba was initially still cautious.
“I’m not making any decisions or anything,” she said.
Wahiba had to overcome the normal barriers of discussing her beliefs with a stranger, in the midst of an intensely private culture where religion is deemed irrelevant. She met Brooke and Becky in a café beside her campus, in case she suddenly felt the urge to escape.
3 hours into that second meeting Wahiba, naturally inclined towards grabbing life with both hands, read a prayer about committing her life to Christ. She told Brooke, “This prayer describes exactly how I feel.”
“Are you in?” asked Brooke.
“I’m in,” replied Wahiba, choosing to become a Christian sitting in a Paris café, surrounded by her peers.
Wahiba’s story is part of something bigger happening among Paris students. Brooke’s team have seen 6 girls become Christians in the space of a few months, giving a sense of breakthrough after years of praying and sharing the gospel on Paris’ campuses.
“There’s a sense that the Spirit is moving in a new and powerful way in France,” says Joe Schlie, Director of Cru’s campus ministry in France. “We can be proud of the Gospel because it really is the power of God that brings faith, hope and love in a place that seems to have so little of it.”
Brooke has been impressed by Wahiba’s boldness in talking to her peers, and her desire for people to know the truth she now knows. “This has completely changed my life,” says Wahiba.
Wahiba joined a small group with the other girls who had become Christians in Paris. She remembers them initially wondering, can we really talk about this stuff? “The first time I met them it was shocking to see all these people who believed the same thing as me,” says Wahiba. After years of religion feeling like forbidden territory, she was part of a community with Jesus at the center.
So far Wahiba’s decision has been met more with surprise than disapproval from her peers. Despite the breakthrough with female students, Brooke’s team has yet to see similar responses from Paris’ male students.
Wahiba has spent time on her campus starting conversations about faith alongside Brooke and Becky, yet she still believes it will take a miracle for her culture to open up to God.
“I think atheism is like the national religion of France,” she says.
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