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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters

October/November 1994

Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

Many times in the last few months I would have enjoyed you as a part of our lives, our thoughts and experiences. You would have been pleasant company. You also would have been able to put yourself better into the picture of what I want to describe in this letter. It will cover a variety of life's slices. Therefore I want to arrange the report in such a way that you will not be overwhelmed or just put the whole thing aside. In this manner you can read it in sections and at different times.

First, I shall bring you up to date about my impressions on the Russian road, the lectures, people and observations, which fill my mind very much these weeks. There is much delight, much pain and some surprising bits here. Secondly, I shall tell you about the developing work of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation both in the US and our summer work in Switzerland. Thirdly I want to talk about some books we have studied recently. You may find them interesting in your own work. We continue to be pleased with the real encouragement received from those who are neighbors to us through their words. Finally I want to bring you up to date about our family, our life and work.

1) We could start on the beach together, right below us. We swim in the Black Sea with its low salt content, clear to the bottom for a long way out, and avoid jelly fish in large numbers and many sizes. Then we sit on the sand and talk. There are no refreshment stands, no umbrellas, and no crowds. We are taken back maybe a hundred years to what were, on the surface at least, simpler days. Dolphins brake the water in their playful movements this morning as the used to then. At night, a light breeze rises and ripples the surface to give life to the reflection of the moon.

This lyrical part of my letter expresses that my speaking in Russia from time to time involves some relaxation as well. There are times without people, and there are good things to enjoy in the midst of the hard work, the loneliness when I am away from the family, and the sadness of the Russian situation. I find it undiminished by the reality experienced of its people. There is no foot of land you walk on without being made aware of the enormous suffering inflicted by past inhuman authorities.

I use the unscheduled times to read in preparation for the lectures to Russian teachers and to work on the courses I teach again this semester at The King's College. I also deliver an introductory talk about the history and teaching of the Orthodox church to team members. The power of that confession over the minds of the Russians we meet, even though they may be atheists, is barely imaginable for us. I am reminded of the Roman church in South America. In a similar way the church demands as a condition of its blessing the mindless submission, the suffering and the poverty of its people. Largely ignorant of the Bible, its instruction is from the lives of the saints and the history of the church. On the other side, I also address in a further lecture some of the current problems of content and method we face in Evangelicalism. Here the trust in intuition, personal experience and private and shifting theologies are a destructive force. While the one side keeps people from the knowledge of God, the other often gives merely the illusion of knowledge of God.

I am again in Orlyonek, the large former Komsomol camp just north of Tuapse, for a Federal Teachers' Conference. They have come from all over Russia. Some I met in previous regional convocations. They have wonderfully explored ways of teaching Christianity to their classes, often woven into a wider context of education, the arts, history and social sciences. I am impressed by the curriculum. Slides, music, texts and visits to museums contribute to an understanding of how we must grapple with moral-cultural issues.

This Conference discusses a need for humanization in education. It is mixture of interest in the humanities, the liberal arts and an effort to see the child as a human being. It encourages a turn from the authoritarian and ideological education of the past. Of course, the spectrum of what people understand by "humanist" or human being is very wide. The ignorance of the Biblical view of man, the Bible's world view, on one hand and on the other the re-awakening search for the Russian soul, emotions and nationalistic purpose produce often something closer to romanticism, folk music and nationalism than a discussion of present human needs.

But it is a beginning after years of materialism and political propaganda, ideology and concern for the needs of the "fatherland". My joy is mixed with a certain sadness when I consider the irony of humanization of education in this geo-political context of Russia. For there is no history of interest in and an expression of human beings, their art, their work and their private and communal efforts above very occasional spurts. There has been no Reformation, no Renaissance, no church of free individuals under God's word.

You remember how much Marxism purported to have an interest in human beings. Theirs was the concern for humanity, for liberty and justice and survival of mankind, for equality and social change. They rallied children to prepare them for a future happiness. The Komsomol camps themselves were for graduated Pioneers. They could single out the enemy and carry forward the revolution. They were going to be the future leaders in the collective experiment. Marx had exposed real problems and evil in society, private property, individuality and the definition of Man as it had been formed by Christianity. The Komsomol were to become the avant-garde of a new selfless humanity. But they had to betray their parents, the history and their soul.

This same week also, the last Russian soldier left occupied Eastern Europe! That is the culmination of a turn of events, which followed the disarray of the Marxist world view and practice. Now the country seeks different values, forced on their consciousness by economic and intellectual chaos; 45 years after the "liberators" had become the occupation force, their stated ideology to save humanity was demolished. They were unable to take care of individual citizens, much less of mankind. Their ideas about life were demolished on the rock of real life itself. The program for mankind included no space for human beings, their soul and spirit and body.

The discussion about humanizing education reveals the fragility now recognized in an increasingly inhuman, rash and lawless context. With an almost complete lack of experience of a civil and humanist society and no real memory of a tradition of humanist education, the ministry of education is introducing new elements of thought. I hold my breath and admire their courage. For both the Orthodox church and the nationalists resist with all their might.

Will a humanist education will not be a disadvantage? There is also a good meaning of the term "humanist", used widely in traditional educational circles. "Humanist" expresses a concern for individuals, for human beings in their need to understand the world we live in. This kind of humanism is a child of real Christianity. It resists the authoritarian rule imposed on people's mind by any unquestioning religious, ideological and governmental authority. It places man, rather than politics or power, at the center of our concern. It does not necessarily make man the center of all. Christians should reject 'secular humanism' only because of its disregard for eternal things, values and God himself.

There have been many humanist elements on occasion in the Russian tradition, of course. The Church ran orphanages, cared for beggars and widows. There are public and private schools. The arts have been encouraged, though there was little room for dissidents except in exile. There has been a civilizing effect from the monasteries and markets in the midst of pagan surroundings. At times the church protected the individual against the power of the state. But the broader interest in developing people and their minds, in the liberal arts tradition, to become responsible individuals is really unknown. Good humanist ideas have always been a foreign import and did not take root or found general support in the intellectual and spiritual climate of Russia.

Peter the Great and later attempts to bring the benefits of initiative, critical thought and entrepreneurship to Russia were thwarted. The masses and those in authority saw anything foreign with suspicion. This continues. The freedom of each person under God and responsible to him, his word and the real world is a Biblical notion and invitation. It breaks the circle of pagan cohesion within the group, with fate or nature. It also contradicts the Orthodox understanding of uncritical submission and poverty of mind as a mark of spirituality. As Christian teaching, even when it has nothing to do with church or religious practice, it is rejected out of fear, for it would give stature and responsibility to the common person; and he is hardly considered spiritual enough to know what God understands by human beings! Andrei, who made every effort to discredit, demolish and close down the Vorkuta Conference now October, told me that our ideas produce a Protestant mentality. They speak of God's authority and deny human sovereignty, yet they affirm the image of God in man, while to Orthodoxy man is a worm until he has entered the mystery of faith through suffering.

Uncritical submission to the spirituality promised within the church is a necessary exercise in the hope of becoming human. Salvation is the end of a spiritual journey, much as it is in classical Catholicism. You are not a human being from the beginning, nor saved by faith in Christ. While there is a genuine effort to be kind, loving and gracious amongst the clergy, there is no trust expressed in the ability of people to be human simply because God made us and instructs us. This hardly awakens joy and responsibility. Instead people have a deep fear and helplessness.

While the rightful humanism of the Bible ( Psalm 8 ) may and does easily dissolve into a secular humanism and its present problems in our society, this kind of teaching of Orthodoxy has produced a religion without a place for the human being, without validity for the individual, the mind and the fulfillment of physical work.

The Marxist utopian promise was in a real way merely the latest version of a similar spiritual vision. The worker was to be dumb, obedient and suffering for the cause of a future benefit. One had to be afraid of God, the other of the political elite. Any question or doubt in any area of life was punishable with excommunication and hell for the religious, or exile and death as an "enemy of the people".

A humanist interest in education reverses both tendencies. The Ministry of Education desires children to have access to the wonderful book the Bible, to understand something of the meaning of being human and the treasure of being able to see our life before God. They should be able to understand his love and concern to sharpen their minds and their moral sense. Please pray for sensitivity on our part, for open minds and receptive hearts.

The second week took me to the Convocation in Taganrog on the Sea of Azov, the birthplace of Chekov. The city was closed for Russians and foreigners until recently. Founded in 1698 by Peter the Great as a warm sea port and bastion against the Turks, it is the home of heavy iron industry, aircraft production etc. The people welcomed us much in the manner in which we were received when I first started speaking here three years ago: eager, open, inquisitive and with much appreciation, honest criticism, etc. For many of them we were the first Westerners. Two women, who had attended a session a year ago, organized the whole thing. There was a very warm, intelligent and critical response to my lectures. Many excellent questions about Christianity, the Bible, education and what is to be done now.

Five professors from the Pedagogical Institute huddled to raise serious questions each day, which would prove me wrong and then accepted my answers with genuine satisfaction. I added longer sessions for questions and answers after lunch. Each evening, the young student translators came in a bunch to the Hotel for more questions into the night. I have never before had such interest, such serious concern, such evident pleasure over their discovery of the truth of the Bible in any of the other 38 cities of Russia I lectured in. It was a deeply moving time, and I saw God's hand at work in many lives, as people understood and accepted what had been kept from them for so long.

One man plead with us the last night to come back for a month of daily seminars in the evening after work and school, for those interested to study more, to read the Bible and to consider God's teaching about work and society, etc. Please pray with us for the people of Taganrog. I will be in touch with a number of them. Perhaps some would be able to come next summer and study with us in Switzerland, if I can find sponsors for them.

2) In the summer months, we had seven people studying with us in Switzerland under the Francis Schaeffer Foundation. Alexander Volkov from Russia spent the month sorting out his very confused ideas about life, work and spirituality. Pray for him, as he is very mixed up with a good amount of knowledge, but without much understanding. In some ways he is the result of the present spiritual and intellectual confusion in Russia, but also of liberal and pentacostal Catholicism he was exposed to in France and Switzerland. You can imagine the difficulty. The students listen to tapes and discuss their questions. Robin and Loretta came from New York, Susan from Philadelphia. Andrea joined us from Germany. Vernie Schorr came for a few days to work on the Russian curriculum for teaching Christian morals. We visited Martigny, then Avenches and the Jura rim on other days as a background for further discussions about the influence of ideas on the lives of people through history. We walked on Roman ruins and discovered a Roman road carved through the rocks for wagons and soldiers to cross the mountains to Gaul, to what later became Burgundy.

We also welcomed three families and their children to talk, discuss and refresh our friendship. Each Sunday I preached in the little church in Les Posses. I hope to be able to set up am Eastern European Conference next summer together with Swedish L'Abri to discuss the basis Biblical ethics and culture for the developing nations in the Baltic. Any interest? This is an important issue and a link to their past, but largely unknown in the present.

In New York, the Carriage House is almost finished. The Schaeffer materials and all the work donated by the Prentice family to put it on computer disk has been brought there from Rochester. The heat and water problems are resolved, thanks to a generous gift. We will set up lectures and film evenings there this winter. I hope to have a bit more time to develop this part of the Foundation's work, since we learned that The King's College will close at the end of the year. Of course it also means that we will need other sources of income for the Foundation work. In April I read a paper and took part in a Wilberforce Forum of Prison Fellowship in Washington, DC. In early June I taught one section of summer school for Reformed Theol. Seminary in Orlando. The two weeks of teaching in Kronstadt and Ploesti (Romania) in May brought me in touch with a number of believers among parliamentarians, who knew and much appreciated Dr. Schaeffer's books and ideas. They urged us to not have his contribution be diluted by modernism. Schaeffer had been the life-line for some of them in the worst years of persecution.

Our meetings in New York continue. A number of new people joined us. We have interesting lectures and discussions in Jim and Mardi Perry's home at 26 W. 90th about once a month. We also want to start a different group for those with basic questions about Christianity.

3) Books. In our own reading and as a basis for the NY discussions we have found Willard Gaylin On Being and Becoming Human most helpful. I gave a study of David Wells' two books on the demise of Evangelicalism. They are No Place for Truth and God in the Wasteland. He analyses in a detailed and compassionate way the tragic inroads of secular, market driven ideas which dilute the Gospel and make of Evangelicalism something profoundly unbiblical in content and method. What Schaeffer had started in The Great Evangelical Disaster is extended here and in other authors referred to in the footnotes. Without hesitation Wells responds to the lack of Biblical theology in the church today. You will find this helpful.

In connection with the work in Russia I also came across the two volumes by Richard Pipes The Russian Revolution and Russia under the Bolshevik Regime. Robert Palmer Will the Center Hold? is an interesting way of stating and answering basic philosophic problems. I have used it in class.

4) Hannah graduated from Hackley school in June and has now started at New York University on Washington Square in the heart of the Village. Debby and I envy her the opportunity of studies and life there. She is in the Gallatin division and will later move to the School of Social Work. She enjoys her classes and contributes often to a lively debate from another side. Still, of this she received a good grade from a professor who would rather overlook her hand. Hannah simply speaks up anyway. Isaac is in first grade of the French-American school in Larchmont. He has a strict teacher this year. I am amazed how much French he has picked up and uses after only a few weeks. He recites poems, reads out loud and talks in French. That-a-boy! I miss not being there to hear their accounts of classes, people and situation regularly, since I get to sit in polluted cities, drinking rusty water ( filtered) and seeing out of the window monotonous block houses, gray walls and belching smoke. It is price to pay, but an investment for life.

Debby drives Isaac the 21 miles each way daily. She lectures from time to time, though King's did not need her this semester, and writes to Samantha and Natasha in Switzerland about our life here. She has also started to work a couple of mornings in an educational book store near his school. Debby has been a great help in our fragmented life and a comfort in the effort to sort through Egon's things. We so appreciated the work done by the St. Louis presbytery on behalf of Egon's church and their need for help and direction.

While we have a busy and fruitful life, we do wonder about the wisdom of my being away so often. I wonder what the others do and think, and what technical breakdown or human hardship Debby has to cope with alone. Yet it has been amazing to see the burden together and to share it as a family. I am touched by their concern for me. On my side, who would have ever thought that I would be able to speak to so many teachers, while the doors are open here. I calculated that I must have addressed about 12'000 of them in forty cities over the last three years. The video tapes are widely used in the Christian cultural centers. When you recall the amount of evil people had to suffer, the light of the Gospel is that much brighter and welcome. Vorkuta (No. Urals) and Kirovsk(Murmansk) now in October 94 were both camp cities. Hundreds of thousands were sent as enemies of the people, to die in extreme cold and cruel settings, mining coal or minerals. They do not know of love, of repentance, of personal responsibility, of beauty or of the God of the Bible. They have learned to hide their soul. But they awaken to the word of God, when they are given opportunity.

We all send you our love, in deep appreciation of your friendship and gifts. Please continue to remember the work in prayer.

Udo Debby Naomi Hannah Isaac


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