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Give me shelter: Memories of L'Abri

The animal eaters

I was a 17-year-old agnostic from a Catholic background when I first heard about L'Abri from an American hippie girl on a beach on the Greek island of Corfu in the summer of 1971: "A good place to crash for a few days-especially if you're low on funds," she said. "Beautiful scenery and good vibes, even if most of the folks there are into a religious trip."

Hitchhiking north through Italy, I was heading to Paris to catch a charter flight back to the United States. I'd gotten a lift in Aosta in the Italian Alps from Annyck, a 21-year-old French schoolteacher. We hit it off well (she taught English) and, by the time we got to Switzerland, we decided to look for the aforementioned Christian community together, located in some tiny Swiss village named Huemoz sur Ollon. We got directions in a café in Lausanne and drove to L'Abri.

The first night there, I'd slept on the floor in the main chalet where the head honcho (a certain Francis Schaeffer-a name which meant nothing to me at the time) lived. He had to step over me to use his bathroom that night. As he did, I wondered why he and his wife would go to all that trouble to take in folks like me?

I was a Zen Buddhist then-disciple of Alan Watts. But in two days at L'Abri, I had the rug pulled out from under me-intellectually speaking-by a Mr. Os Guinness whose masterful treatment of Oriental thinking (in a taped lecture titled, "The East No Exit") left me disoriented and defensive.

That evening most of the 50 or so people staying at the L'Abri Fellowship got together in the community chapel for a discussion. Dr. Schaeffer sat in front of the fireplace and fielded questions. I took advantage of a question that someone asked and proceeded to sermonize the audience, criticizing the barbarous nature of animal-eating Christianity (I was a vegetarian at the time, of course) while extolling the superior ethics of life-respecting Buddhism.

"Buddhism doesn't discriminate, but respects all life forms," I insisted, scolding the Christians for their lack of deference for animals. Dr. Schaeffer patiently explained the biblical teaching on ecology in a fallen world and man's domination over animals, etc. "Buddhism might be an intellectually coherent worldview," Schaeffer had conceded. "But you can't live it. Christianity is true to the way man lives."

"Nonsense!" I thought. Blinded by emotion and cocky self-assurance, I retorted with a scathing attack, ridiculing the Christian viewpoint for all the evil that had been perpetrated in its name.

As the meeting broke up and everyone was putting on coats to leave, I was still savoring the sweet satisfaction of having made my point and won the argument. My self-contentment was at its highest as I slipped on my coat. Thrusting my left arm into the sleeve, I suddenly felt a sharp pain. Quickly withdrawing my arm, I noticed that a wasp, which had found a home in my warm jacket, had expressed its disapproval at being intruded upon by stinging me just above the wrist. I let out a yelp, and in one quick gesture, instinctively swatted the rascal with my hat, knocking the half-crushed bee to the floor.

Alerted by my cry, the others who were getting ready to leave stopped and stared at me. It didn't take long for everyone to realize the delicious irony of the situation in the flagrant inconsistency of my reaction with my animal-patronizing discourse of a few moments before. As we walked out of the chapel, no one said a word about the incident. Some just smiled. And I smiled sheepishly with the begrudging realization that the "cosmic forces" had spoken.

-Marc Mailloux, former missionary in France, now works with French-speaking immigrants in Florida

The Thinking Rock

It was the dream of a lifetime. I was 21, studying opera in Italy. I had taken a break from my routine to visit a charming chalet high in the Swiss Alps. Sitting at the breakfast table with my host, Francis Schaeffer, I gazed at the snow-covered peaks in silence.

His question caught me off guard. "Claudia, did you know God when you were a child?"

"I had a thinking rock," I said, "where I thought about God. I worried there, too-about my dad who was a major in the Second World War."

"When did you become a Christian?"

"Well, uh . . . I guess I've always been a Christian."

"Why do you say that?"

"My father told me about God, and I believed him. But poor Daddy was out of control with drugs and alcohol." Schaeffer listened as I summarized my life story. "I was addicted to drugs and alcohol, too," I said.

We talked for hours. Then he fired his final question. "Do you believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, who died for all mankind, died for you?"

Overwhelmed, I headed for the door. "I'll have to think about that," I replied. "Nobody loves me that much."

"The Bible says that 'while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' That means He does love you that much. Are you ready to believe that Jesus Christ loved you so much that He died for your sins, so you could have a relationship with God?"

"I don't know what's happening here," I told him, "but my heart wants to say yes." Forgiveness and peace swept over me as I went back to the table.

When I returned to America, I visited my father in a drug rehabilitation center. After telling him that I had accepted Christ as my Savior, I handed him two Bible verses, Isaiah 1:18 ("Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow.") and 1 John 5:12 ("He who has the Son has life.")

I returned later to find my father sober and happy. "I read the Bible verses and believed with all my heart that Jesus died for me, too!" We laughed and cried together.

-Claudia Russell Ward lives in El Cajon, Calif.

Hallelujah Chorus

My first encounter with Francis Schaeffer was in the autumn of 1958. I was a student at the University of Lausanne and a nonbeliever, perhaps unconsciously seeking truth. I was conned into going to a Bible study held in a small café near the university. The teacher was Dr. Schaeffer, the text, the book of Romans. I was fascinated and exasperated that such an intelligent man as Schaeffer could believe that the Bible was true.

Susan, the middle Schaeffer daughter, was also studying at the university and invited me to come to their home in the tiny mountain village of Huemoz. This began my spiritual journey. Each weekend I would observe the love of the family, their dedication to prayer and answers to all my so-called intellectual questions. After three months I was prepared to make a profession of faith.

I remember sitting in the living room of chalet Les Melezes as Dr. Schaeffer asked me: Did I believe God exists? Did I believe I was a sinner in need of salvation? Did I believe that Christ had died for my sins? Was I ready to bow before Him as Lord and Savior? That evening after dinner, as was their wont, the Schaeffers played the "Hallelujah Chorus" on the record player, saying that the heavenly host was singing as one more person became a believer.

-Marte Herrell lives in St. Louis, Mo.

I go for the love

I've been going to L'abri for three years now, since I was 16. At first I'd stay a week or two, with many months between, but now I've become what they call "a frequent flier." One guy said I had a season pass. I live an hour and a half away; gas is expensive, but I still keep coming, Friday-night lecture or not, and they still keep letting me.

Every time I hit Highway 52, 66 miles of four lanes straight from Minneapolis to Rochester, I ask myself why, once again, I'm racking on the miles and wasting my gas. I tell people I go down for the lectures, intellectual stimulants ranging from jazz to Islam to Sagan; you meet Nigerian doctors, writers, vagabonds, Australians, and the list goes on. What I don't always tell people, because it isn't always the thing that's most appealing, is that the real reason I go is for the love, because I know every time I go, I have waiting for me a real hug and a kiss on the cheek.

-Eve Ruotsinoja is a music and literature/writing student at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn.

Courage

I studied at the Southborough, Mass., branch of L'Abri in the first two months of 1981, and it rescued my faith. I had dropped out of college for two years and taken a full-time job as a typist at the daily newspaper in my hometown. The deeper issue was that college frightened me. I worried that one articulate professor, in the course of one lecture, would shatter my emotions-dominated faith.

I learned my most valuable lessons during our meals, watching as our hosts-Dick and Mardi Keyes on one side and Barry and Veronica Seagren on the other-offered honest responses to honest questions, or sometimes asked creative follow-up questions. I heard them engage in unthreatened and compassionate discussion, even with flippant or aggressive visitors. I encountered a winsome faith that stood confident in Christianity as God's truth, built on a solid foundation of reason. I began to understand, for the first time, the concept of Jesus being the lord of all life, including the arts.

When I returned to college, one of my first new professors was an atheist. I resisted my former habit of fleeing. I wrote papers that expressed my faith. I earned an A. I befriended the professor. L'Abri freed me from a life of timidity.

-Douglas LeBlanc lives in Chesterfield, Va., and edits GetReligion.org

The Editors

The Editors