Monday, September 9, 2013

Reading L'Abri

I was very naughty as a younger woman when Christian books were recommended to me. I avoided them and assumed they were boring and preachy. I preferred finding my own reading. So I'm late coming to Edith Schaeffer's L'Abri, and I'm sorry for it.
The story of their early years in Switzerland is exciting and engaging. They arrived in 1948, just after the war. By 1955 their ministry was going well, and then a blow came their way. They were told to leave their canton and leave Switzerland entirely, within six weeks, and not return for two years. The reason given? Their religious influence and speaking in the community.

I never realized the life of gutsy faith the Schaeffers lived. I knew he was a theologian, thinker, culture analyst, and defender of the faith. He did all this while mucking about in the irritating struggles of living as a Christian in a world increasingly antagonistic. In 1955! Thrown out of Switzerland!

Nobody but God could have prevented their ejection. Nobody but God could have woven the incredulous series of miracles that kept them there, that brought -- miraculously! -- a team of the right people into their lives in split-second timing. One time, Edith prayed to God regarding the house (the only possible house) they needed to buy, "Oh, please show us Thy will about this house tomorrow, and if we are to buy it, send us a sign that will be clear enough to convince Fran as well as me, send us one thousand dollars before ten o'clock tomorrow morning."

Uh, can you be a bit more specific, please?

Yeah, you guessed it. $1000 arrived in the next morning's mail, sent by a couple in the U.S. many days before. That's God's M.O.
Staying in Switzerland meant leaving their first location, finding an affordable house (among ski resorts!), securing it, paying for it (with missionary wages), and moving there in time. Avalanches and mud slides didn't help. Even when they moved into their new home, the trial wasn't over; their permit was not approved. Edith went next door to meet her new neighbors, two elderly ladies. They inquired why the Schaeffers were in Switzerland, and she related simply their ministry, and why they'd had to leave their previous village. The ladies were shocked. In Switzerland! Evicted for preaching! "We must tell our brother," they said. Edith smiled and returned home and only later discovered that the ladies' brother was ... the current president of Switzerland.

And I'm not kidding.

When the Schaeffers traveled to Berne, the capital, to the U.S. Consulate, they were discouraged from seeing the senior Consul. Finally his assistant agreed to allow them ten minutes. When they entered the man's office, they discovered he and Francis Schaeffer were classmates in high school and knew each other.

What are the chances?

And the stories of God's amazing work go on and on. It's stunning. If anyone doesn't believe in a real God who acts in people's lives in miraculous ways, such a person should read L'Abri. No wonder she wrote a book about it!

The effect of the great strain and anxiety and provision and miracles, was that the Schaeffers were overwhelmed with the wonder and joy of seeing God solve problems instead of solving them themselves. Instead of writing home and begging for money, or giving up and making a new plan elsewhere, they simply prayed, prayed, prayed, and waited.

So after this they changed their approach to their ministry. They withdrew from their mission board, from which they'd been receiving a monthly salary. They wanted to see God's miracles all the time, and they were willing to put Him to the test and see it happen. More than that, they wanted their children to see it happen, and they wanted the agnostic travelers who wandered into their home in alarming numbers to see it happen, every day. And it did. And it blossomed into a huge ministry called L'Abri.

I'm only half-way through the book, but I just had to share with you the great joy of reading it. Only people of great faith live as they did. Jesus called that great faith, "faith the size of a mustard seed." The tiniest faith is adequate, because God is big.

At a very low spot, right after the avalanches, Edith was reading her Bible for her daily devotions. She read this verse: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, 'Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.'" (Isa. 2:2)  God gave her that verse that day! A house in the mountains, a house where people would come and hear of God and His kingdom, His hope and good news for them -- that's exactly what the Schaeffers were working to make. At that moment, the name "L'Abri" came to Edith's mind. It means "shelter."

I've been reading L'Abri late into the evenings in my excitement to see what God will do next in their lives. I read the above passage on Saturday night. When I sat at the piano at church on Sunday morning and looked at the bulletin, I read the verses Adam had chosen for our Call to Worship yesterday.

Yeah, that's right.

Edith's verses. Isa. 2:2. Adam didn't know it. God planned that little coincidence. Adam and I have these "spiritual coincidences" in our lives all the time. We smile, shrug, and realize that God has simply said to us, "I'm here. I'm working. It's all good."

If you haven't read L'Abri, I do recommend it.


  1. Since you love that book, I recommend also Tapestry, which is a fuller memoir, covering even their childhoods. That book is one I go back to, very influential in my thinking.

  2. I've wanted to read it! I'm going to order it and now I'll order Tapestry, too. Fascinating and inspiring!

  3. Sounds interesting and encouraging. Why are we so surprised when God takes care of us?

  4. I've been naughty like you with both Christian books and Christian contemporary music! Actually, I still really don't listen to much Christian contemporary music. I did read "The Hidden Art of Homemaking" at least 2 times now. Growing up in the OPC, L'Abri was a oft talked about place. I will have to check out this book!

  5. We read this book many years ago. The Schaeffer's have influenced our lives and I am thankful for their spiritual inspiration through all of the years since.

    God does work in our lives daily and I love it that Adam chose that verse right when you were reading it in the book. That was WONDERFUL.



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