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Eugene Boyer: Fifty Years on the Mission Field in France

Category Articles
Date June 1, 2001

The old streets of the ancient town still resonate with the sounds of traffic and commerce. But now, in the twenty-first century, the traffic consists of motorcycles and Citroens; and the commerce includes not only food markets, but computer stores and internet services.

And amidst the hustle and bustle and the mix of old and new in southern France, one old warrior continues on his mission. It is a religious mission. But unlike the Crusaders of the Middle Ages, he goes about on his crusade not with swords’ loud clashing, but with deeds of love and mercy, as he seeks to bring the heavenly kingdom to the homeland of his ancestors.

For more than half a century, Eugene Boyer has been preaching the gospel in France. A transplant from Pennsylvania, Gene is now more comfortable in the land of his forebears than he is in his native America.

It was 1949. Just four years after the end of World War II, the young man found himself in France. In those early days of the Cold War, before the Iron Curtain descended, he was headed for Czechoslovakia. But while on his way to Prague, he passed through Paris. And in a railroad dining car, a mysterious French businessman challenged him, in perfect English, with these words: ‘Sir, there is much work for you to do in France.’

Gene never knew that fellow-traveler’s name and he never saw him again. He often thought about this providential meeting, and wondered if the Macedonian-type call was the result of an angel having been sent (cf. Hebrews 13:2).

But whoever he was, Gene was sure that God had sent that Frenchman to call him to minister in France. For the next six months, Gene worked with the French team of the Youth for Christ organisation, then headed by a young evangelist by the name of Billy Graham.

It was hard and challenging work. Paris was still reeling from the devastation of the War, and there was much suffering in post-war Europe. Eugene shared in that suffering–he wept with those who wept, and he slept with those homeless who slept in the cavernous le Gare Du Nor–the North Railway Station in Paris. He eventually found shelter in a hotel of dubious sanitary condition, as he lived on $45 dollars a month.

That ministry in and around the French capital was followed by work in southern France, in the Cevennes area. The rugged region was where the persecuted Huguenots made one of their last desperate stands; and, even long after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the area remained a Protestant stronghold. During the Second World War, many of these French Protestants risked their lives to hide and protect Jews from the Nazis.

Gene’s ministry was shared by his beloved wife, Charlotte. Accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle, she graciously adjusted to the deprivation and poverty, as she provided a home for Eugene and their two young daughters, Carole and Elizabeth.

In 1955, Gene’s brother, Gerald, an accomplished musician, arrived in France to work with Gene. Their musical ministry became legendary, as Gerald on the piano or organ would direct the choir while Gene played the trumpet and led congregational singing. The brothers would often sing duets–Gerald the tenor and Gene the baritone–to packed tents or meeting halls. They became well-known as they hosted some of the largest Protestant gatherings in the French-speaking world–not only in France, but in Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec, the Antilles, Guyana, the Belgian Congo (now Zaire), and North Africa. And Eugene’s Francophone ministry was heard on TV and radio in twenty countries.

He returned to Pennsylvania in 1964 to pastor a thousand-member congregation which his father had pastored. But Eugene’s heart was still in France. In 1968, he returned to that nation.

The next year, pastors of the Evangelical Reformed Church of France–a more conservative group than the ‘mailine’ French Reformed Church asked him to save their old seminary at Aix-en-Provence, near Marseilles. That venerable school, which had fallen under liberal influences, had practically ceased all theological activities. With the Lord’s blessing, the board of directors was reorganised, the liberal element was diminished, and a sound faculty was secured.

Among the distinguished faculty members were Paul Wells and Peter Jones. It was Dr Jones’ father-in-law, Dr Edmund P. Clowney, then President of Westminster Theological Seminary, who had met Gene Boyer in the late 1960s. That ‘chance’ meeting propelled Dr Clowney into founding the Huguenot Fellowship, dedicated to rekindling the fires of Reformation in Calvin’s native land.

Three decades after the quiet revolution at Aix, more than 200 foreign students are pastors and over 80 percent of all graduates are in some kind of full-time Christian work.

Eugene Boyer’s passion has been for the revitalisation of the Reformed Church in France. That passion manifest itself not only in his work with the Seminary at Aix, but also in his care for numerous churches. Presently, he ministers with a flock in Lafitte-sur-Lot, in the Cevennes mountains. As the full name of the town indicates, Lafitte is located on the Lot, a river which cuts its way through deep valleys as it meanders toward the wine-growing region around Bordeaux.

It is a small congregation. But it has a big vision. It recently sent Eugene to Turkey as part of its investigating the possibility of having its own outreach to that Muslim nation. There are many young people with Islamic backgrounds in France who are turning to Christ, and this little flock in southern France wants to assist these young people to take the gospel with them as they return home.

Eugene Boyer’s widespread ministry is well-known throughout France, especially among the religious (and anti-religious) leaders. Nuns, Jesuit priests, and atheists all come to him, believing him to be someone they can trust.

Perhaps his most unique ministry is among gypsies. Years ago, he would visit gypsy camps, and entertain them around the campfire by playing a trumpet and an accordion–simultaneously. But he would also preach the gospel. The seeds that were planted continue to bear fruit, as caravans of gypsies still call upon him to preach to budding churches that have sprung up in their midst.

Through the years, Eugene Boyer has continued to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Though approaching seventy-five years of age, he looks like he’s in his fifties, and he has the idealistic heart and energy of a thirty-year old.

He has given fifty years of his life to carry the gospel to France. His vision, like that of the prophet Isaiah, is that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord would cover this part of the earth as the water covers the sea.

Reprinted from Presbyterian & Reformed News May-June 2001 with permission.

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