Sixteen year-old Maïwenn Pensu (fifth from left in photo above), a native of Vannes, France, was in her bedroom four hours away from the carnage the night of the Paris bombings. She wondered about the fate of family members who were attending the soccer match at Stade de France, where one of six shootings and bombings occurred that night in November last year. Though relieved when hearing family members were safe, Maïwenn, all of France and the rest of world were in shock. During the hours following the attacks, however, she felt God’s presence, peace and a sense of community she attributes in great part to the prayers of friends she made last summer at Rush Week, a Houston’s First camp-mission trip for students.
“I thank God for friends,” said Maïwenn. “I saw the posts on my Facebook, messages on Twitter and FaceTime calls I missed while I was sleeping — and when I woke up and heard the death toll I started to cry. But I felt loved. All my friends were praying for me. Their care showed me how precious and amazing they are.”
Since her first visit to Houston last summer to stay with cousins and Houston’s First members Sydney and Samantha Normand, Maïwenn has discovered a newfound faith in Christ that she directly attributes to her experiences at Rush Week.
“After we arrived at the hotel in Panama City Beach, Mimi (Bagnasco, her girls’ group leader) asked us to talk about how God entered our lives,” said Maïwenn. “As the other girls explained how Jesus had changed their lives, I felt something happening in me. Mimi told me later that God was speaking to me.”
During small group time is when a lot of big life decisions are being considered. “Maïwenn had confessed she was there only because her cousins invited her to this fun beach event,” said Mimi. “The idea of an all-knowing God who is in heaven was absurd to her — but she found it profoundly beautiful.”
The friendliness of the group and seeing the impact God had made on other students’ lives began working on Maïwenn’s heart. “I was starting to pray and to believe,” she said.
Mimi loves being a girls’ leader at Rush Week and began volunteering when her three kids were old enough to go. Then her husband Mike jumped in as a volunteer. “I love being able to connect with the girls spiritually and point them to Jesus in everything they do,” said Mimi.
Though God planted seeds of faith during Rush Week, Maïwenn was a little skeptical that she could continue down that path of faith after returning home. “I thought everything would go back to the way things were once I got home,” she said. To her surprise, she felt the presence of God still with her back in France. God continued bringing divine appointments her way.
Maïwenn read her Bible, found some devotionals to read, and watched the weekly Houston’s First worship webcast. “God made things come to me,” she said. She believes God strengthened her faith and after a while, she “let Christ have her life.”
In April this year, Maïwenn’s much beloved cousin living in France committed suicide. A woman she met at the funeral encouraged her to go to church. “I learned there were people in France that I didn’t know were Christians.” Feeling some distance from God after losing her cousin, she contacted Mimi. “Going to Rush Week 2016 is my biggest dream at the moment,” said Maïwenn. “But it seems just impossible financially.” Her mom said perhaps 2017 might be the year to return.
“Rush Week was one of the first times I saw the impact of God’s love on people,” said Maïwenn. “I’ve had some of the hardest moments this year, but God also did some incredible things in my life. I realized that God allowed me to go to Rush Week so I could have people encouraging me and being there for me when I need them. There are life questions I had been asking myself for years and years that were answered that week.”
Adults are invited to serve as leaders during Rush Week 2016 in Panama City Beach, Florida, the week of July 22-28. Contact Hannah Stovall
or visit the Rush Week page
to learn how you can be a part of the team!