Apparently, Pope Urban V, one of the French Popes, from the period when the Papacy resided in Avignon (in the 1300’s), was born in a little village in the Cevennes mountains called Grizac. (Gree-zak)
However, this ‘village’ is the very opposite of anything urban. Today it is a community of about 20 homes, a little chateau, and a farm house turned kids camp on top of a mountain in the Cevennes. In modern day, there is no commerce there, the closest bakery or store being a 15-20 minute drive down the mountain.
The Cevennes are also the mountains where the Huguenots held their ground while being persecuted, a couple hundred years later, when the right to be a protestant was revoked. For Christians this meant that marriages and births became illegitimate, rights were stripped, and Protestants across France were being murdered. In these mountains, the largest groups of Huguenots held strong, doing things like worshipping in caves, hiding bibles in hair buns and behind wall art, until eventually they were driven out, as well. This persecution continued until the 1700’s, when the right to religious freedom was granted, and shortly thereafter the right of return.(1)
Fast forward to 1949, when a group of protestants in and around the Cevennes mountains purchased the old farmhouse as a retreat center for youth camps and church getaways. From there ‘le Gai Soleil’ camp center was born in Grizac, France. There is no internet and only cell phone signal (not data) if you stand on your right foot 10 paces from the laundry room and lean slightly to the left.(2)
Chris was asked to help cook meals for one of these camps, a children’s chorale camp, where, for two weeks, kids from ages 5-15 spent their days learning and practicing songs to sing to a retirement home and then a concert in the nearest town at the end. (3)
So our family loaded up the car, and drove about four hours up into the mountains, and arrived at this little camp. Chris spent most of his days cooking with two very dedicated and hard working ladies, who had already been there four days short on help. (4) Avonlea did almost all the events with the other campers, with the end goal of getting to perform in front of people, and Oliver, Evangeline, and I spent our days hanging out, taking walks, and helping here and there when we could.
The room our family shared had foot thick walls, made of stones pulled from the mountains, hundreds of years ago. We have been blessed with good sleepers, though Oliver preferred to know exactly where we were during the night, so he chose his spot wedged between the pushed together twin beds Chris and I were sleeping on. Needless to say we were tired when we got back.
But, I imagine, not as tired as the other adults and counselors at the camp, who worked tirelessly with these kids, shepherding them, teaching them, loving them, and debriefing each night until the wee hours of the morning. The next day would start early, breakfast, exercise, repetition, free time, lunch, afternoon activity, repetition, rest time, free time, dinner, repetition, evening activity, etc. Here are some pictures from our time there. You can click on the picture to see a short caption.
Last Day church service:
A short clip of Avonlea singing:
It was a pleasure to get to go and serve, and now we are back home preparing for the school year to start. We are also preparing for our community outreach programs that will start in September, such as English classes, and where and how we will start worship services in the near future.
(1) I’d like to do a more in depth post on this in the future. The history is rich but dark, and still has effects on French Christians today.
(2) This is an exaggeration, but only barely.
(3) The Chorale group is called the Aquarium. Here is a video from the Aquarium’s Christmas production last year.
(4) We would have come earlier, but Chris’s mom was visiting, and we received the request to come with only a few days notice.