The French have a phrase for it—au courant. It means to be aware of what’s happening, to know what’s going on. And 17-year-old Nathalie Perez had a plan to help the youth in the branch of Tours stay au courant.
“There aren’t that many LDS youth here,” Nathalie explains. “Sometimes we start to feel like we’re losing touch with each other.” So she decided to start a branch newspaper—just for the youth.
Soon the paper, published every other month, had its first edition, then the second, then the third. Now it’s in its second year of publication. The Journal des Jeunes (newspaper of the youth) is a hodgepodge of scriptures, inspirational thoughts, and news about the branch. There’s an ongoing series of biographies of presidents of the Church (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor have already been featured), and there’s usually a note from one of the youth leaders.
But there are also recipes, jokes, tips on how to sew on a button or make perfect mayonnaise, crossword puzzles, descriptions of world geography, poems, and cultural notes about famous painters and musicians. Ingrid Garnier, 17, writes feature articles, riddles, and public opinion surveys. Pascal Brossard, 16, prepares a regular column on bird-watching. And Wilfried Garnier, 14, is the staff cartoonist.
The newsletter may not seem like much at first glance. It’s just a few sheets of photocopied paper with typed messages and hand-drawn illustrations. But to those in the know, it represents a heartbeat for the young people, a way of keeping in touch with the less active, a unifying force that the youth initiated themselves.
“The important thing is that the Journal gives us all a sense of belonging,” Nathalie explains. “Everyone has something they can contribute.”
Of course, there’s much more than a branch paper that’s making news for the youth of Tours. During the summer, they participate in the Nantes District youth conference. During the academic year, like most French students, they face a constant struggle to keep up in school. They travel across town and squeeze their crowded schedules to attend Church meetings and participate in seminary.
Nathalie, Ingrid, Wilfried, and Pascal will tell you that part of the news in Tours is the preparation for a trip to the Swiss Temple. During Easter vacation, three buses full of young Latter-day Saints and adult leaders from throughout the France Paris Mission will travel to the temple site in Zollikofen to perform vicarious baptisms for the dead.
“Sure, it’s fun to meet all the other kids,” Wilfried says. “But it’s more than that. Going to the temple gives us the opportunity to strengthen and reinforce our testimonies, our faith, our spirit. In the temple you gain a feeling that those who don’t believe find hard to understand.”
Wilfried also shares another bit of news about the youth from Tours—they’re missionary minded.
“I team up with the missionaries every Wednesday,” he says. “We’re out of school that day, so we have a standing appointment. I’ve gone with them every Wednesday now for months.”
And what do people think when they see him with the elders?
“Some of them have said, ‘Whoa, there’s three of you! What are you trying to do, gang up on me?’ But most of the time they’re really interested to hear what a French member has to say.”
“A lot of people know of the Mormon church in France,” Pascal explains. “But they know us only by name. They’ve never seen a member; they’ve never been to an LDS meeting. They think that because we’re not well known, we must be a sect.”
“Or they think that we’re just an American church,” Ingrid joins in. “Well, I’ve got news for them. We’re second-generation Latter-day Saints. Nathalie was born in the Church. I was four when my parents joined, and Wilfried was one. Pascal was baptized when he was eight. We’ve all grown up in the Church. We’ve never known anything else, and we’re extremely loyal to it.”
“We are French,” Nathalie says. “But we have the same goals and dreams that Latter-day Saints everywhere do. I want to date young men who honor the priesthood. I want to be married in the temple. I want to raise my family in the Church.”
“Wilfried and I are both planning on serving full-time missions,” Pascal says. “There is no hesitation. There will be more and more full-time missionaries serving from France.”
“If the Church is going to continue to grow here—and it will—” Ingrid says, “then we need to present a good image of what the Church is in France.”
“Sometimes when I’m out with the missionaries,” Wilfried says, “people say they don’t want to be taught anything. It’s sad, because they don’t really have any idea what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is.”
“I’ve heard a lot of people tell me that all the things Jesus did happened a long time ago, and we don’t need him anymore,” Pascal says. “But it’s his example that’s supposed to guide us in our daily lives. And there are people who say that God doesn’t say anything anymore. But he is saying things today, through a living prophet. What could be greater than this?”
Here, then, is the real news concerning the youth of Tours—it isn’t just because of their branch newsletter that they’re staying au courant. They have strong testimonies and they are dedicated Church members. They know what it means to study the scriptures. They know how to recognize answers to prayer, and they know how to keep in touch with their Father in Heaven.
Regardless of what the prevailing opinion about religion may be, they are convinced that they are in the right. And they are determined that in France, the restored gospel will keep on spreading.
In fact, if you haven’t heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France, they just might have some news for you.