Born to Cross Cultures

"We are all foreigners, citizens of God’s country." - Antonin Ficatier

Antonin Ficatier MA' 16 became fascinated with the Chinese language when he was a 10-year-old living in Paris, France.

“My parents put me in a special school in Paris where I could learn Mandarin Chinese so I learned it all the way through secondary to high school,” he says. “For my undergrad, I decided to do a joint degree. It was half of the time in France, in Paris, and then half of the time in China, in Beijing. At the end, I had this degree in economics from the university in Beijing.”

Comfortable with the thought of becoming an international entrepreneur, Ficatier returned to Paris, and in 2011 started the Chinese Institute, teaching the Chinese language. As the training center concept grew, a voice clearly called him in another direction, a call from God, “You will serve my people.”

At first overwhelmed by the idea of leaving his thriving business, his cautious nature led him to an internship at The American Church in Paris where he met Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Scott Herr, MDiv ’87, a mentor and Princeton Seminary alumnus. Herr encouraged him to consider seminary, Princeton in particular.

“Antonin is trilingual,” Herr says. “I had studied in the Peoples’ Republic of China back in ‘82, so when he said he spoke Mandarin and even had started a Chinese language school here in Paris, I was impressed. I loved the fact that a young Frenchman with an entrepreneurial spirit was interested in sharing the gospel with youth and young adults. He has a sharp mind, gentle spirit, and kindness that is winsome,” he adds.

“What I like about working in an international church is that I’m always reminded that I’m a foreigner, that the land is not mine and I’m just a passenger on this journey,” Ficatier says.
Ficatier preaching in HK
Preaching at Union Church in Hong Kong

Next stop on Ficatier’s international and cultural journey was Princeton Theological Seminary where he spent two years immersed in theological studies, his faith, and cementing his desire to return to Asia with a Master of Arts.

“During my time at Princeton I was looking at positions in international churches because that’s really where I feel called just because I come from a different culture,” Ficatier says. “My wife is British and I’ve lived in different places, so I feel like I can relate with people who are in an international setting. That’s why I accepted the call to go to Hong Kong to be a minister there at an international church.”

Herr said he was “simply amazed” when just as Ficatier was graduating from Princeton another colleague in Hong Kong said he had a strange request, “if I knew anyone who spoke French, English and Mandarin who was interested in youth work.” Herr said he laughed and said, “I have just the man you are looking for!”

At Union Church in Hong Kong, Ficatier started as a youth pastor and moved to young adult ministry. His interest in youth ministry has kept him tethered to the Princeton campus and a Seminary initiative called the Ministry Incubator. The three-year program funded by the Lilly Endowment provides 12 congregations with $20,000 grants to launch a Young Adult Initiative within their community.

Training session
Leaders participate in a Ministry Incubator training session.

“Especially younger people have had ideas and they usually went to the elders in the church and they’ve received so many ‘no’s’ that they are kind of discouraged,” Ficatier says. “We’re offering a place of hope when we say, yeah it’s possible. It’s that simple.”

Ficatier travels to the U.S. about once a year assisting with the Ministry Incubator’s so called ‘hatch-a-thons” which are three-day structured training sessions mainly for young adults in their 20s. Ministry Incubators was co-founded by Mark DeVries, MDiv ’86, and Kenda Dean, PhD ‘97, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Seminary, and provides startup sessions that include marketing, finance, design thinking, and other entrepreneurial skills.

At the end of the three days there is a shark-tank-like process where the project developers pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and the winners are awarded prizes.

“We’re helping them to craft their pitch so they can actually ask for help, not just for money, but for all the different types of resources they would need,” Ficatier says.

The program tracks the different participants, documenting whether the projects receive grant money, whether or not they grow, and who ends up funding or investing in the projects.

“We do training all around the country to give people from the church tools to basically move from having an idea, to having a project, something more tangible,” Ficatier says. “The overall field is called missional entrepreneurship, or missional innovation. It’s the idea of finding new ways to make church that are sustainable for the future.”

Ficatier incubator classroom
A Ministry Incubator workshop

Ficatier supports one of the Ministry Incubator programs online and travels to the U.S. to share his business, spiritual, and personal expertise during that one specific training course. The past two years he’s worked with young adult and college student programs in Indiana. Some of the ideas Ficatier recalls that have percolated include a website he describes as a “Tinder of churches,” for young adults to search out nearby churches and the programs they offer. Another student proposed starting a “church garage” where people could be trained on car upkeep and repair skills. Other projects, he says, deal with social justice issues.

At Union Church in Hong Kong, Ficatier served a large international and interdenominational congregation. Younger adults sometimes clashed with the older generation because of their reluctance to discuss issues like gender and inclusivity. In his new position in England he will be developing innovative ways to do ministry with young people in the local community. In Europe, Ficatier says, people are a lot more open to those ideas and Chinese churches tend to be a lot more conservative.

“What I like about working in an international church is that I’m always reminded that I’m a foreigner, that the land is not mine and I’m just a passenger on this journey,” Ficatier says.

“It forces me to apply that to my life. I do think that’s something that American churches could use. We are forced to do that in an international church because we are gathered with people who come from so many different places it helps us to understand that nowhere is home in a way, that we can claim to own it,” Ficatier says.

“We shouldn’t take for granted where we are, where we live, and remember that we’re always kind of immigrants in a foreign land.”

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