Let me explain about L’Abri. Not, I mean to say, about L’Abri the place, nor about Francis Schaeffer’s obsession with knickers, nor Edith Schaeffer’s tireless (I’m tired just thinking about it) hospitality—but about how the idea of L’Abri has fired up my imagination and intersected with my life in interesting ways.
Growing up in an intellectually curious evangelical home, of course I’d heard of L’Abri. Here was a story to rival Field of Dreams (if you build it, they will come)—a chalet nestled on a Swiss mountainside where droves of restless young people arrived to debate philosophy and contemplate Christ, where no question was out of bounds and no person turned away. Its founders, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, though controversial for a number of reasons, were, in their quirky way, models of engaging the culture and heroes of evangelism. Just the idea that there is untapped existential angst lurking among huge segments of the population is reason to take notice of what happened in this odd little ministry. Just the mental picture of frosty Alpine mornings is reason to daydream about a visit.
So when Michael and I hit a low point in our ministry six years ago, and were given the gift of sabbatical, our two months in a wintry Colorado wonderland called to mind stories of the Schaeffers and their leap of faith in Switzerland. We brewed the coffee, built the fires, popped the corn, and recalled what we knew of L’Abri as our own hearts slowly came back to life. At L’Abri, lost people connected with The God Who Is There. In Cimarron, we reconnected with the God who’d never left.
We began to daydream, out loud, for hours, about what it would be like to host a modern-day version of L’Abri, not necessarily for non-Christians to find God, but for beat-up and broke-down Christians to re-find God. What if we could begin a sabbatical ministry to give back what we’d been given—rest, healing, joy?
But when the months were over, we came back to our urban home, our dogged little church plant in the city. Dreams of L’Abri melted away.
Fast-forward half a dozen years. We have been asked to tackle a new model of theological training for our family of churches. The idea is L’Abri-like in many ways—although we have nary a knicker between us. It’s different than most of the theological schools you’re probably familiar with, more of a Bonhoeffer/William Tennent-style school than the closest regional campus of RTS. (Sorry for the evangelical pastor shop-talk. It’s finished now.)
I will have to unpack our school plans another day, but suffice it to say, if you still have an image stuck in your head of a 50’s era Swiss chalet, you’re not far off. So imagine my surprise when, on a recent trip to share our seminary vision, a woman I’d just met handed me a copy of Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri which she had ordered for me online.
Now I have to back up again and tell you the story of this friend. Her name is *Lucy, and I didn’t even know her a year ago. She is the friend of a friend of my mom’s, who read my book and struck up a correspondence with me. Such an encouragement she has been! When she heard I was going to be home in NC, she and Leanne (my mom’s friend, who has of course become my friend as well) cooked up a plan to meet me for lunch. Then a third friend of theirs, Sylvia, bought a plane ticket to fly up and meet me! I mean, what! So there I was at lunch with these lovely ladies, hearing their stories, having our very own little book club, when Lucy (after much nudging) hesitantly tells me the following story.
Last year, she and her husband felt prompted by the Lord to give a $100 bill to a stranger, a waitress whom the years had worn down, who it seemed could use a little pick-me-up. Sweet Lucy had so much fun blessing this lady that she decided to make a monthly practice of it—to keep $100 on her to bless a stranger. She began praying for the next person whom God would bring across her path, but no likely person popped up. At the end of the month, she withdrew another $100 from the ATM and kept praying. At some point, she said, God put our family on her heart, and with a measure of glee, she began saving up the bills for us! Ten months went past, and then she heard I was coming to town, making a pile of exactly $1,000.
Now, I don’t know if Lucy had recently read L’Abri herself, but if you saw my recent blog post, you know that a very similar thing happened to Edith Schaeffer, a thousand dollar gift that arrived at just the right time. Again and again, God proves His perfect knowledge in gifts of great kindness. This time, I was the recipient. (Next time, it might be you!)
Well, we came home to Denver much encouraged after that trip, walked in the front door, and discovered that our house was cold as a tomb and water was all over the basement. I mean. So Lucy’s thousand dollar joy bomb flew immediately into the hands of a nice plumber who got us all cleaned up, and we never even skipped a beat. (Although it was a little chilly that first night back.)
For the last few weeks, I have been savoring my sweet blue copy of L’Abri as a nighttime ritual, marveling at the overlap of the Schaeffer’s story and our own—the curious calling, the sense of God on the move, the leap of faith and the amazing provision of the Lord. How did Lucy know? How could anyone know how pertinent that book could be at this exact moment in our lives, the memories it would recall, the assurance it would lend us?
Of course, she couldn’t know. But Someone did, the One who orchestrates the unexpected gift, the perfectly timed email, the wide open door. It’s almost like He holds it all in His hands.
*Names have been changed