37 Years of Humble Discipleship for Missionaries in France

missionaries in France
Steve and Donna Niles have served for 37 years in France, with one constant theme to their work. Photo by TEAM.

Most missionaries can look back at their former lives and see what God used to prepare them for the field. For Steve Niles, it was his father’s cows and life on the farm that prepared him for a life of discipling others and leading by example.

“I’m not an intellectual teaching in the Bible school,” Niles said. “I grew up on a farm, and I learned everything hands on. I just like to do that with other people.”   

Steve’s first mentees were his own sons. As he and his wife, Donna, raised four boys, the couple focused on teaching them to follow God in a practical way, eventually seeing all four become missionaries and disciple others. From there, the Nileses have made it their mission to train and raise up young leaders in the church.

As Steve and Donna recount their 37 years in France, stories of current and former mentees spill out naturally: the young couple from Greater Europe Mission (GEM), helping in their current church plant; one of the first couples the Nileses discipled in Lyon, now leading a church that started in their home; the couple that took over their church plant in Annecy, which now helps fund the Nileses’ current work.

For the Nileses, it’s all about making themselves unnecessary.

Working to be Replaced

“I’ll be real honest,” Steve said. “I would like to see France not need missionaries anymore, and my thing is training this French younger generation. I think we should be on our way out.

missionaries in france

With decades of discipleship experience, Steve looks forward to handing down what he learned to the next generation of church planters. Photo by TEAM


The co-leader of the Nileses’ current project in Aix-les-Bains perfectly reflects this philosophy. They met Thierry Mirone in the 1990s, when he came to work at the Christian ski camp they ran at the time. A recent convert, Mirone came fresh from a life of gangs, drugs and theft, but he was eager to let Christ change him.

“He was raw,” Steve said. “I mean this is a guy who in the morning, he would say, ‘You know, I was just reading my Bible, and I’m going to quit smoking.’ He’d wad up the cigarettes, throw them in the garbage. About four in the afternoon, I’d see him in the garbage, trying to put these things back together to smoke these broken cigarettes.”

But the Nileses worked with Mirone for two years, watching as he matured in his faith and married a Christian woman. The newlyweds became colleagues in camp ministry, then the national youth directors for France Mission and now are working with the Nileses to plant a church.

As the oldest members of the church-planting team, Steve and Donna are excited to hand down what they’ve learned. Yet, they maintain a posture of equality with even their youngest teammates.

GEM teammate Jordan Egli said Steve often illustrates his leadership style by talking about the farm. When Steve’s uncle would move the family’s cows, he’d twist their tails and yell at them. When Steve’s turn came, he went among the cows and walked with them.

“It’s not ‘I’m going to tell you how to do this,’” Egli said. “It’s ‘We’re going to do this together. We’re going to learn together. We’re going to serve together.’”

All Disciples

At the Aix-les-Bains church plant, everyone — from the oldest believer to the newborn saint — learns together, due to the team’s vision that everyone should be discipling someone and be in the process of being discipled.

Aix les Bains-blog

Aix les Bains is in southeast France and is known for its breathtaking mountains and the largest natural lake in the country. Photo by TEAM


The country’s strict focus on secularism means new believers come to Christ after years of deep spiritual deprivation. To make up for it, church members meet for worship services, house groups (eight to 10 people), growth groups (two to three people) and one-on-one discipleship. And the discipleship doesn’t always begin after salvation.

One new believer, Guillaume, realized through the discipleship process that it was wrong to live with his girlfriend, but he also believed that leaving her, after living as a married couple, would be the same as getting a divorce. So the team invited Guillaume’s girlfriend to join a growth group. At first reluctant, she gradually realized her need for a Savior, and in August, the church held a Christian wedding.

“Some people say the discipleship process is from when you become a Christian,” Steve said. “I personally, with the French setting, believe it begins even before that.”

As the Aix-les-Bains team members look to buy a building in the near future, they see many opportunities to continue discipling those who do not yet know Christ: tutoring kids after school, using their English language club to share Christ and whatever other ways God allows them to spend time with people.

“I think that’s what real discipleship is,” Steve said. “It’s not necessarily following any particular [method] … but letting the word of God work on a person’s life through the Holy Spirit to show them where they need to grow and seeing the fruit, then, from that.”


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About the author

Bethany DuVal

Bethany DuVal served as TEAM's marketing manager and editor. She is passionate about helping others tell their stories, whether they're missionaries on the field, new believers or part of a missionary support team. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading books and hiking in the Smoky Mountains.


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  • My husband is french and I am american. We currently are planning to move back to France this year. We will live in the region 44. Near Saint Nazaire. We are interested in joining missionary to help and to serve the lord. I would love to be active and find ways to serve God. Please let me k ow how I can become a missionary for France and help spread the good news! Thank you

    • Victoria, great to hear that you and your husband are looking to connect with mission work overseas. Our staff is available to talk to you about this further if you’re interested. Just fill out the contact form at the bottom of this page: http://www.team.org/contact. Someone will be in touch. All the best to you!

  • I have know Donna Niles since we were in grade school. I remember when she accepted her spiritual calling at a young age. So glad to know she and Steve are doing well. Please pass along a message from me to her. I just want to say “Hi and hope you are doing well.” Thank you!

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