Living in central France is like living in a history book. In the city of Poitiers, you can visit fourth-century fonts where early Christians practiced baptism by immersion. Gain access to the catacombs, and you can climb down layer by layer through one city built on top of another.
To the northeast, in Orleans, you can watch workers refurbishing a statue of Joan of Arc, the 16-year-old who led French armies to victory over the English in 1429. Or tour Sainte-Croix Cathedral, begun in the 13th century, which is as large as Notre-Dame de Paris.
But don’t think that because Poitiers and Orleans are steeped in history you won’t find glimpses of the future here.
Near Poitiers, at a park called Futuroscope, enter the realm of tomorrow, where structures take the form of triangles and spheres, of multi-storied crystals made with mirrors. Visit Innovation High School, where students are preparing now for what tomorrow will bring.
Move on to Orleans’ Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and you can observe physicists experimenting with superheated gas, hoping to someday unlock the secrets of how the sun and the stars were made.
In both cities, the past is present, and the future is near.
Talk to young Latter-day Saints who live in Poitiers and Orleans, and you’ll find that this blending of past and future suits them just fine. They know that the Church has a long history in their homeland—the first LDS missionary entered France in 1849. They know that members have struggled hard to build the Church here ever since. But they see that perseverance is paying off, and they look to a future full of hope and promise.
Nicolas Sacristain, 15, has grown up in the Church. “I’ve never known anything else,” he says. It’s a history he’s proud of. “I hold the priesthood. I have work to do, principles I must live by and put into action.”
He knows that the branch in Poitiers has struggled at times in the past, but now it’s growing. “Last month, four people were baptized. Before that, two others. We’re making progress. People are joining because they know the Church is true.”
Nicolas has a great hope for his future. “I’m going on a mission,” he says. “It’s something I’ve got to do.”
What’s it like to be an LDS teenager in France? C’est super!” says 14-year-old Eve Javoy. “There’s a spirit in the Church that you find nowhere else.”
She says the youth of Orleans are fortunate because many of their teachers and leaders are longtime members of the Church. “They have experiences they can share. When the youth face a problem, we can talk to them about it.”
Eve also benefits from listening to her parents. “They bear testimony all the time about the difference the gospel has made in their lives. It’s helped me to know where to turn.”
Her sister Olivia, 17, feels the same. “Ever since I was young, I’ve counted on the gospel to guide me. I’d be lost without it!”
On Sundays, the Javoy sisters talk with Young Women classmates like Guylene Hesbois, 14, and Pascale Sourdais, 17.
“It’s hard to be a Latter-day Saint in France,” Pascale says. “You’re really different. The law of chastity, the Word of Wisdom—outside the Church, most youth here don’t follow them. You hope that someday you’ll meet a young man who’s strong in the Church, who’s been on a mission and wants to get married in the temple.”
“But it’s not like they grow on trees,” says Guylene.
“Still,” Eve says, “the Lord has said we should marry in the temple, so there must be a way.”
These young women are learning about faith and endurance, about living righteously today while building hope for tomorrow. Other young Latter-day Saints in Poitiers and Orleans are learning similar lessons, about study and preparation, about pulling together, about overcoming the past.
Emmanuel Bonavera, 16, lives in St. Jean de la Ruelle, a suburb of Orleans. He joined the Church when his mother did, four years ago. But it wasn’t until last year, when she challenged him to read the Book of Mormon, that his testimony really grew.
“Before, I felt like I was missing something,” he says. “Now, I know that when I say a sincere prayer, the Spirit will tell me that the book is true.”
Karine Dauriat, 12, of Poitiers, talks about life before and after November 1987. “That’s when our family was baptized,” she explains. “There’s a big difference in our home since we joined the Church.”
“That’s true,” says her sister Christelle, 15. “We’re nicer to each other. I think it’s because from the first time the missionaries came, we felt a feeling of joy. We started to understand why we’re here on earth and what we should be doing.”
“We have a common goal now,” says another sister, Sandrine, who is 17. “We want to keep the commandments so we can be an eternal family.”
Fifteen-year-old Ricardo Pereira of Poitiers tells how he felt when he and his father stopped attending meetings four years ago.
“It just wasn’t the same. Something was missing.”
Members and missionaries maintained contact, and eventually the father and son returned to activity. They’ve been regulars in the branch now for almost a year. What’s more, Ricardo’s mother and his two sisters, even though they are not LDS, are also attending church.
“The gospel gives us goals and principles to follow,” Ricardo says. “I feel better when we come to church.”
Fourteen-year-old Farid Bensouna of Orleans is another young man who talks about his father.
“I was four when Papa joined the Church,” he says. “When I turned eight, he baptized me. We do lots of church things together. We were a father-and-son team during the branch Ping-Pong tournament. Dad’s a branch clerk, and I always wait for him after sacrament meeting so we can go home together. Sometimes on Sundays, we talk together and read the scriptures.”
Besides his father, Farid has another hero, “a young man like me.” That young man is Joseph Smith.
“I love to hear the story of the Prophet and the golden plates. I know that Jesus talked to him. I know that the record he translated is true. And Joseph was a 14-year-old boy. That means I can do great things, too.”
Farid, like the other young Latter-day Saints of central France, has learned that there is much in the past to appreciate. When he tells the story of Joseph Smith, there is strength in his words. You can tell that he has learned this history well and that it has prepared him for the future.
You feel a similar strength when you talk to Nicolas or Eve or Olivia or Christelle or the others. Mention the future of the Church in France, and there is hope in their hearts. They know there have been tough times, and they are prepared for the struggles that inevitably will come.
But they have a vision of a church growing stronger and stronger. They see missions fulfilled; they see families sealed in the temple. They see chapels built and Saints worshiping and a nation full of light and truth.
Yes, it’s a long way off. But someday it will come. And as far as they’re concerned, that means the future is perfect.
“When I see the full-time missionaries, I’m really impressed by their example. I’m going on a mission. It’s something I’ve got to do.”—Nicholas Sacristain, 15
“We love the branch of Orleans! There’s a lot of unity here that strengthens us every time we’re together. We’re not only sisters in the gospel, we’re also friends!”—Camille Laquembe, 16, and Pascale Sourais, 17