Monday, February 6, 2012

L'Abri, by Edith Schaeffer


Francis Schaeffer's widow recalls their years at L'Abri, a retreat-cum-commune they founded in the Swiss Alps.  Although they originally intended to serve as more traditional missionaries to Switzerland, the Schaeffers ended up opening their chalet to literally hundreds of visitors who came to ski the slopes and talk through difficult questions with Edith and her husband.  From their first few years in Switzerland, through all sorts of political, financial, personal, and physical obstacles, to their eventual settlement in Huémoz, she looks back on the Lord's faithfulness and his supernatural provision for them and their ministry.

This book is a wonderful meditation on God' faithfulness to answer the prayers of His people--and of His ability to raise up and bless the ministries He ordains.  In the midst of the intellectual confusion and quest for truth that characterized the 1960s, Francis Schaeffer was a voice for truth--an example of intellect and faith blended together without compromising either.  Edith does not delve into all her husband's ideas and arguments; her story is focused on God's provision and the answers to prayer.  And indeed, she shares story after incredible story of the Lord meeting their needs--sometimes at the last possible moment.

The Schaeffers hoped, by their reliance on prayer, to demonstrate to the world the reality of God.  Still, some of their ideas, if taken too far, could result in an attitude of testing rather than trusting God. For example, Edith claims that they deliberately chose not to communicate ministry needs to the church or to other Christians, so that if and when they were met, all would know it was the Lord who had done it.  At some point, the decision not to avail ourselves of the resources the Lord has given us is simply foolish.  However, it seems that Edith may have overstated the case, as apparently update letters were sent to supporters, and some needs were made known.  They just didn't advertise their needs in every possible way.

Also, it must be noted that Edith is not a great writer.  The narrative jumps around, skipping forward a few years, then backtracking, then moving forward again, and she rattles off name after name and endless short anecdotes that do not seem to tie back into the story in any meaningful way, except as a catalog of people the Lord has blessed through L'Abri.  Still, her style is engaging, and the end result is quite readable, for all its unorthodox chronology.  The editing in the bulk of the book seems to restrain the worst of her tangents.  The final chapter (a later addition to the book, summarizing the more recent history of L'Abri) does not appear to have been significantly edited, and sadly is a rather atrocious, rambling mess.

All in all, it's a very enjoyable and convicting story about a family that decided to really live out their faith by trusting God to provide, and about the God who brought glory to His name in unexpected ways as a result of their obedience.  Definitely worth reading.

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