24 December 2021
‘Twas the night before Christmas–2016–exactly five years ago tonight, that we arrived in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Here we now are, at long last, Christmas Eve 2021, alive and well and living in France. I doubt any of you who have known us can be unaware that this has been our goal, our plan, our call from way back. The where, the what, the why, you will have heard from us one way or another these past two decades. The when, however, has always proved more elusive.
At last. we can share with you the when. This past November 1, we boarded the plane, suitcases stuffed, and made our way to this southeastern part of France, where we now live. Our house in Fort Mill, SC has just been sold (closing was one week ago today—Praise the Lord!), and so we officially don’t live there any more.
Where do we live? A small mountain town called Saint-Laurent-du-Pont. Think of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, his last name plus DuPont, like the chemical country—no connection to either, but it might help folks remember. Locals call it “Saint Lau” (pronounced “Lo”) for short. It is up in the mountains some 20 miles north of Grenoble, Francoise’s hometown. These mountains are called the Chartreuse. Maybe you know the color chartreuse, pale green (not a reddish hue as some suppose). It’s the color of a certain liqueur you may or may not have heard of, that intense concoction made by monks from a secret recipe of 130 plants. The monks have been up here 1000 years, still around, and from time to time you might spot one about town running errands for their brethren in their bare feet.
Why here? Why this town? We’re glad you asked. We have come here to live and work with the local evangelical church: “La Fraternité Chrétienne”, and their associated ministry “Ellel France.” First a word about the church. Evangelical congregations are few and far between in this very secular country. For as far back as we can remember, Evangelicals have numbered one half of one percent of the French population. Praise God the last couple of decades have seen growth to bring them (us!) now almost—ALMOST—one percent. Our new church then is the only protestant evangelical one in this town and the whole surrounding mountain plateau. It was planted here back in the early 80’s by a church in Grenoble, though it is now an autonomous congregation.
Its name means “the Christian Brotherhood.” (They do call it the “Frat” for short, but don’t think of Animal House for goodness’ sake!) In 1982 the planters purchased a property with a three-story house with a workshop in the back. This workshop was converted to a meeting space, and this was where the congregation met the first couple of decades. When a wine warehouse came up for sale next door, they bought it, and spend another ten years converting it, and since the year 2000, the church has been meeting in it (the new wine still flowing!!!) Most recently, the church facilities have also become home for the French branch of “Ellel Ministries,” which we will now explain to you.
We need to take you back to the Fall of 1986, when two important events took place. First, we, Marvin and Francoise met in Grenoble. Second, up in England, a man name Peter Horrobin founded a ministry by the name of Ellel. By the way, “Ellel” is simply the name of the English town in Lancashire where the ministry began. It now has two other centers in England, one in Scotland, and now several in many countries in Europe and around the world. There is a U.S. center (in Florida), though the ministry is not well known in America. There are two centers in Canada, and one of these is where we did most of our Ellel training.
As Peter Horrobin tells it, he was into restoring old and broken-down—but classic—automobiles. One day he was working on his favorite model (an Alvis), which had been dragged out of a river bottom. Then he heard the Lord call him and say, “You like to restore these cars, how would you like to help restore broken-down lives?” He said yes, and this is what Ellel was founded to do. Call it restoration, call it inner healing, call it deliverance from bondage, Ellel exists to participate in Christ’s mandate to bind up the brokenhearted and set the captives free. The ministry has three emphases, based on Luke 9:11: “Jesus welcomed them (hospitality) and taught them about the Kingdom of God (teaching), and healed those who were in need (healing) [adapted from the NLT]. The various Ellel centers host people for various retreats and seminars throughout the year, as well as some longer training programs lasting from a few weeks to an entire year.
Here in France, the main ongoing program, known as Explore, is “a step-by-step journey of transformation and equipping.” These monthly seminars cover a multitude subjects, diverse challenges, strongholds, and entanglements which the enemy uses to steal the fruitfulness, liberty, and joy of so many of our fellow believers. Basic and clear Scriptural teaching helps people un-learn the lies they believe at a deep level. But beyond this the Spirit of the Lord illuminates His Word through individual prayer ministry sessions, and people come away with deepened faith, clarified in the Truth, more deeply embracing the grace of God, releasing past hurts through forgiveness, and more and more free to walk out their Christian lives unhindered by life “baggage.”
So, where do we fit in? First, the hospitality aspect: when people come for events, they are accommodated in two houses dedicated to that purpose. The first is the “Frat” I mentioned above which is on the church campus. The second is the “Refuge” right across the street. This is where we live, up on the third floor, as live-in management. The Refuges has six guest rooms (in addition to ours), with a vision to serve as a non-profit Christian-based Bed & Breakfast, beyond the regular Ellel schedule. This too is where we come in, to kick this vision into higher gear this coming new year. In the age of Covid, this is likely to be a challenging proposition.
At the same time, we are part of the freedom/healing team as prayer ministers for the Ellel personal sessions. The first several months will consist of on-the-job training, now that we are in place here. Eventually, there will be opportunity to step into teaching roles.
So, this is the right place, and also just in time. What we didn’t know before arriving was that some of the regular staff had been sidelined with physical challenges. The indispensable lady who has been running both houses had slipped and broken her right arm and left wrist. Another is recovering after a hip replacement. All the more reason everyone was glad to see us arrive to lend a hand, and we’ve been able to get busy right away.
Now for a summary of the past six months or so: some of you will remember we were here for three weeks last July. This was when we did the first part of our move and attended the summer training program, geared toward folks coming on team. On August 1 we returned home to Fort Mill, where we spent twelve furious weeks preparing the house for sale. Then, three months later to the day, November 1, we left again for France.
Our new French friends here received us with incredible warmth. They even helped us hunt down all the ingredients for turkey and dressing, cornbread, and pumpkin pie, and they had the joy of learning about our celebration of Thanksgiving, as we celebrated it together.
One month later, we will be celebrating Christmas here in France. We will be far away from our four children (more about them in a bit), but we will still be with family. It seems there is a long-lost branch or relatives, cut off the better part of a century ago over some squabble. Francoise’s mother had a first cousin she never even met, hardly knew existed, though she lived not so far away. In July, we had the wonderful privilege of meeting this dear lady, Francoise’s first cousin once removed, and her husband. We all very much enjoyed the rediscovery of this hidden treasure. Now, they have sweetly invited us to share Christmas with them. What joy it will be. Please pray for us as we have time with them. Pray especially for open hearts as we are able to speak to them about the Lord, in this holy season.
As far as the younger Cottens are concerned, Amanda (32) was married to Gareth in late 2019, and they live in Leigh-on-Sea in England—though also in the US—in Bedford, Texas (it’s complicated!). Our grandkids Abby (10-1/2) and Xander (9) are over in the U.K. right now for Christmas and New Years.
Within the past few months, first Jonathan (27) and David (30) both moved away from the Dallas area, ending up only a few miles apart, Jonathan in Colorado Springs and David nearby in Woodland Park. So, the main Cotten Christmas will be in Colorado this year.
Sam (20) was happy to move back to Dallas in the summer of 2021. He’s got a new job with FedEx and is enjoying getting his feet firmly fixed in Texas once again.
One other important development of 2021 is Marvin’s establishment of an online psychiatric practice. In North Carolina, where he has been licensed and practicing the past five years, a physician assistant can own and operate a solo practice. More and more, especially with the you-know-what virus, people are going online for many aspects of healthcare, particularly fields such as psychiatry. He named it A Hope and A Future Psychiatry, PLLC, with an online presence at https://hopefuturepsych.com. This is our tent-making enterprise, and though it is just beginning—and please pay for patients (we didn’t say patience)—please pray that things pick up with the new year, so that we can make ends meet over here. We believe this fell into place by the good leading of the Lord.
This is our story, as well move into the Christmas season (Noël) and the new year 2022! We send our love from here in the French Alps. Merry Christmas to you all, and the very best wishes for the coming year.
Marvin and Francoise Cotten.