August/September 2014 - Vol. 75

Journey to Covenant Community

"from Brussels Brussels with family and community in between"

by Jean-Francois Collet

Dr. Jean-Francois Collet is a Belgian scientist who does biochemistry research at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels, Belgium. In 2004 he received the prestigious BAEF Alumni Award for excellence in scientific research. He and his wife, Claire and their three children live in Brussels.

A happy meeting at Tiberiade
My wife Claire grew up in a French village close to the German border. I grew up in Brussels, Belgium. Our common path started in April ‘94 during an Easter celebration at the Belgian Community of Tiberiade. After our wedding in 1997 at the end of the summer, Claire moved to Brussels. 

Claire and I grew up as Christians. We both had a personal prayer life; we were involved in Franciscan renewal groups and in several other church-related movements. With Tiberiade, I had the wonderful opportunity to go on an ecumenical pilgrimage from Assisi in Italy to Sarov in Russia. We were joined by Orthodox brothers and sisters and, on our way from Italy to Russia, we prayed together for the unity of the church. 

Yearning for Christian community
After we got married, Claire and I got involved with youth groups in Brussels, being responsible for the pastoral care of about 150 young boys and girls. At the same time, a desire for community started to grow in our hearts. Paradoxically this desire was both vague and clear. We did not know what we were longing for, but we knew it was something different from the communities we knew in Belgium. We prayed for it, asking the Lord to show us what he wanted. 

In 2000, I got my PhD in biochemistry and shortly after that we decided to look for a place for a postdoctoral job.  At a meeting in Leeds, I met an outstanding scientist from La Jolla, California who invited me to join his lab in sunny home state California. Although it was very tempting to take this job opportunity, we were not at peace with it and we continued to pray for discernment. 

In May 2000 I heard of a good lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. So I sent an email to the group leader; he called me back less than an hour later and it immediately became clear to Claire and I that this was the place where we were supposed to go. At that time we did not even know where Michigan was, and we had no idea that there was a Christian community such as the Word of Life. [See related article on Word of Life.] We got word of it a week before we left Brussels. Someone gave us the email address of Bruce Yocum. I sent Bruce an email to ask him a few questions about the community in Ann Arbor. Bruce replied that he was not in Michigan anymore and suggested we contact Ed Conlin. We did not know it, but the Lord was discretely tying a spiritual knot that would impact our life far more that we could have expected. 

Word of Life community in Ann Arbor
The day after we landed in Michigan, Ed came over to our new place. We could not believe our ears when we heard that Ed had spent several years in Brussels and was fluent in Flemish and in French, the two languages spoken in Belgium. On our first Sunday in Ann Arbor, Ed took us to the Word of Life afternoon community meeting. Although we had to adapt to the way they prayed, we quickly sensed that this community was the answer to our prayers. This was what we were longing for! A few months later, we got baptized in the Holy Spirit.  I have to say that it did not change our life overnight. However, it progressively made us enter into a new and deeper relationship with Christ. We stayed in Ann Arbor more than 3 years; our time in the community has been a real blessing for Claire and me, and also for our 3 children. It really renewed us and, importantly, gave us a vision. We now knew that community life was possible! 

Jerusalem Community in Brussels
Strengthened with this vision, we decided to move back to Belgium where we joined the Jerusalem community, a multilingual and multicultural community which is part of the same network of international communities as Word of Life in Ann Arbor. When we first went to Jerusalem, the community was recovering from difficult times they had experienced in the 1990s. However, we were deeply moved by the faithfulness and commitment of the community members we met. It quickly became obvious to us that the Lord was at work in the community, bringing new life to it. After seven years in Jerusalem, we feel blessed to belong to this community and to humbly take part in its life and mission. We are convinced that Ann Arbor was for us the best way to go from Brussels to… Brussels! 

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