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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters

October 1995

Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

September is the month to settle again into a normal schedule after a busy summer. Debby and I look back with thankfulness at this time for a profitable period of work and visits with the family. A number of you were a part of it as well, either because we met again or because you wrote, especially in response to the last issue of "FOOTNOTES" and the article "The ABC of a Christian World View." Thank you for your interest in our observations and concerns. I trust that the ideas are helpful in your own thinking, your conversations and your discerning the trends of thought in the cultural and political realities we all face.

Now Issac is back in school, second grade of the French-American School in Larchmont. We are so pleased with the material of his studies, the teachers , the intellectual and human climate that present a real challenge and are so much more part of an education than the public schools around here. In his school the child discovers his or her worth in accomplishments, not in admiration by self or others.

He was able to practice his French quite a bit this summer, and I am amazed how well he gets along in it. He often took the initiative to talk with children and older people on trains, play grounds and in the cities. Once he even went to Lausanne by himself on the train from Bex to visit Samantha. Hannah has returned to a second year at NYU in preparation for her social work degree after a summer of speaking with the many among her friends in Switzerland who, while still working well on their jobs, have lost all hope of meaning. She has such a longing to work amongst them, so that they would not be destroyed by the temptations of the current scene, the drugs and other substitutes for meaning. Christianity and its answers have to them become largely unbelievable and unintelligible in the teaching of the Swiss church, where it has replaced the instruction from God's word by pious phrases and irrelevant appeals to faith.

Naomi has started to work with a Russian Consulting firm in New York. She is learning Russian. Her language skills, dual citizenship and a good degree from Johns Hopkins make her equal to the challenge ( father speaking here!) and she should enjoy the work, the variety of tasks and the exposure to the real world. She arranges visas for Russians to go to China, prepares briefs for legal matters and such similar tasks.

Our times with Samantha and Gregg and Natasha, Paul and Alexander were wonderful. It is hard to get all in the family together, when they have their own lives. We managed once or twice in their busy schedules. Natasha came down from Basel a number of times with the baby, and we gathered in Moiry for the baptism of Alexander in the same church where Paul had been baptized. Ellis Potter, a friend from L'Abri days, assisted. He is their pastor in Basel.


We conducted another Study Session of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation in Gryon. A number of students came for the whole time, some for a few days only. You would have enjoyed sitting in with us and listening. We spent many hours daily discussing the truth of Christianity, using tapes of lectures and the many questions that arose out of current cultural, philosophic and social issues. We had students from the US, from Germany and from India, two young teachers from Taganrog in Southern Russia and one simultaneous translator who has worked with me in the Ukraine. The students studied L'Abri tapes as well as our own additions and joined us for lunch, for work in the afternoons and dinner in the evening. You will remember our long meals! It was beneficial to take an uninterrupted time to work through concerns about life, work, cultural and social responsibilities and to help understand the truth of the Bible in relation to it.

Natasha Senatorova and Natasha Kushuhina had made the long trip by 24-hour train and then by plane to Geneva. They had come to discussions in the hotel in Taganrog each evening for the week I had been there a year ago. Zina went by train to Warsaw and then by bus through Germany, a trip of nearly three days. They are bright , curious and intrigued by our ideas and Christianity. As they began their studies with us, their eyes were opened to a wider world of truth. They carefully worked through the basic Biblical overview and came to understand it with clarity, especially when they compared it to the teaching they had had in political ideology, cultural practice and in their orthodox church.

The two Russians had never been in a context of such openness, such kindness and respect. One wept as she told us that we had treated her like an important person, when in her society each person is replaceable, and when in her church no respect is shown to the mind and to human needs. They made copies of tapes. Eliane gave them a number of Dr. Schaeffer's books to take back to Taganrog.

They admired the life in the village, the cleanliness, the order carefully created and constantly maintained. They met our friends and watched the '1st of August' celebrations of the Swiss Independence day. I took all of them on weekly trips to various places further away in our part of Switzerland to talk about the effect of different world views on people through the centuries. There were Roman mosaics and roads north of Lausanne. We saw and discussed the Abbey of Romainmotier and the role of the church in the troubled late mediaeval times before and after the Reformation. We studied the layers of life in Martigny, the Roman foundations in many excavations, the later town and the modern life still within the confines of an ordered community, of politeness, neighborly concerns and limited selfish expectations.


European towns are vivid illustrations for something of a Christian perspective in practice. The choice to live together in the protection of a community brings a far greater reality than all the talk about community in the modern world. Closeness to the market, to school and to work; the regular schedules during the day; the common buildings, sights and traditions are supporting structures for the life the Bible wants us to create, as individuals in community. The effort is not left to the self with its inventions and failures, but is supported by the layout of the city itself.

America, with its history of the wandering self and now in its embrace of a personalized Christianity, has made it much more difficult to find a place for the individual in community. Community has become an idea, a goal, an event only, without tangible supporting structures. The emphasis and the historic experiences have been more a voluntary collection of free-floating individuals, often over great distances. This favors a horizon for many unattached 'selves', defining and finding ever new personal feelings, affirmations and affiliations without a way to put the fragments together in a more structured way to serve as a reminder of communal reality and obligations. In the absence of much evidence of history as a continuity in a place, with a language and culture, everyone is only interested in living "his story."

We discussed art and architecture, but also the careful use of farmland. We observed the layout of the village, the church and market at the center as the place where life is rooted, where the teaching from the Bible once brought sense, hope and justice to a wilderness of human conflicts. For, much of what we look at as ordered, beautiful and even cute in its proportions, has been the result of hard effort, deliberate decisions and often necessity in the turmoil of earlier days. Paganism, conflict, murder and the absence of law in the land made life very fragile. In those centuries, the church ordered, defined, ruled and established a civil life, market access, community and teaching content towards a more civil society.


It is much more difficult to maintain the Christian influence under the dual attacks of both secularism and a watered-down content. The former was often the result of the latter. I am exposed to such "wilderness" again here in Russia, where I lecture in the Siberian republic of Gorno-Althey, on the boarder to Mongolia, China and Kasakstan. The harshness of the land and the conflicting powers of invading armies were rarely tamed by the teaching of Christianity. The church had reduced God's word to piety without practical consequences, focusing on how to get to heaven more than on how to live as a Christian on earth. She taught the virtue of suffering without the encouragement to reduce it and to remove its causes. She sought a heavenly vision and perhaps overlooked that Christ had come to earth.

I believe that this is a result of the greater Platonic influence and, later, Islamic mysticism on the Eastern church. It set up isolated communities in a lawless society under the powerful rule of man rather than of law. In a curious way, our modern post-Christian world in the West seems to go into the same direction. While the Eastern church tends to focus everything on heaven and the mystical, much of our Western world is becoming just as irrational in the lust after personal peace, turning inward to a very selfish identity of personal convictions and testimonies. Both still believe doctrines, but these no longer have the power of God's word and fail to shape moral action and intellectual convictions. Neither has the strength to build or to maintain the community of the people of God and the market of the European towns.

Edith Schaeffer, Eliane Zurcher, who mails out these letters in Europe, Clemence Wegener and Dr. Gandur joined us for the Sunday services in Les Posses. Marla, from who all of you receive this letter and tapes for those interested, joined us for a month as well. On the last Sunday, Natasha Kushuhina was baptized as a believer in Jesus.

We hope to have more Russian students next summer. They have no money to pay for the trip and their studies with us. We request help to cover their expenses with us. The studies and observation are an enormous investment in their lives and that of others through them. In the depressing personal, professional and cultural situation of their lives, they can see living alternatives, a reality greater than what can be described by words alone. It stretches from the study of the Bible to the discovery of real human beings, family life and such astonishing things as fish swimming in the lake. One day we went for a picnic by lake Geneva. The girls would not go into the water until Debby and I went first, swam and returned in good health. When they took Isaac's goggles and discovered fish, they became like children having seen one of the marvels of life. Their rivers and the Sea of Azov are too polluted to have any fish swim in it.


In Briarcliff we started again our regular lectures in the city. Debby gave a review of Boorstin's "The Creators", a fascinatingly detailed study of the need for a specific world view to result in a culture of discoveries. Sharper than in his other excellent books, Daniel Boorstin points to the unique influence of Biblical thinking. It alone ever encourages the discovery of something new. The Koran was always in heaven, static and finished. The Bible is spoken to successive generations by prophets and apostles. God created the world in seven new days. That sets the framework for inventors, recognizing that what is, is not all there can or should be. We have other evening scheduled through the Fall at John Edmark's on the Upper West Side in New York. We also want to start a regular study in Briarcliff Manor, for their is interest among some members of our church and others. I have been asked to bring some of my lectures to West Point, where both Edith Schaeffer's and I had previously received a good reception.


The work under the Education Ministry in Russia and in other Eastern European countries will come to an end soon. Having some teachers come to study with us is one way to continue our teaching. I wonder, however, whether something more might not be able to be done in the future. I will have taught about 15'000 teachers myself. Add to these a good number more, who heard Staffan Johansson and Greg Grooms. Both friends are on the Board of the Schaeffer Foundation and were invited to lecture, because of their contribution to the wider Schaeffer work. Together we three have done the greater majority of plenary lectures over the last five years and introduced many to our way of understanding Christianity as true to the real world.

In a year's time we shall have access to more than 25'000 addresses of these teachers. I am wondering and praying whether the Schaeffer Foundation should have something like our Summer study sessions, like Staffan's L'Abri months and Greg's lecture series in the Probe Ministry in two or three places in Russia. It would be so valuable to invite some 200 teachers to each location for a week or two of lectures and discussions. They are used to "retreats" in the form of professional conferences in a "Sanatorium". It would be a lot easier and cheaper and more accessible to hold such conferences in Russia. The need for further teaching is enormous. Years of humiliation left the whole culture little clue about how to life as persons, what is true and creative. Biblical studies, cultural discussions, practical common sense Christian living and how to develop an entrepreneurial spirit would make a good mix of subjects. Of course the task to organize this, to involve translators and the logistics would be immense, but not impossible. I just wondered what God might have in mind after he gave us such opportunities for these five years..... ON THE RUSSIAN ROAD

Let me bring you up to date at the end. I am writing this again on the road in Russia. I am in Gorno-Altai for the second week, after spending the first one in Barnaul. We are about 200 miles south and east of Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia. We came by charter flight in almost four hours from Moscow and then by bus in five hours to the second city. Gorno is the capital of the semi-autonomous republic, about 3000 ft high in the foothills of what would become, further south, the Northern ridge of the Himalayans. It is a beautiful autumn, though cool. We received out first snow, and there is frost on the ground every morning. The town is small,, the hotel about the dirtiest I have slept in anywhere. I advised some of our Russian students from St. Petersburg, who travel along to set up conferences in the various towns, to apply their marketing training in the are of hotel management. I received a blank stares from them, even though they all agree. Filth, bugs, leaking sewers, no elevators, broken windows and inoperative locks everywhere!

So I brought into my lecture and discussion on the first day the need to explain to a student the mental map of Christianity in order to help them to locate themselves in the order of things according to the Bible. I compared that map with others, including the map of socialism. While that was appreciated then, the second day I was overheard being critical of the inhumanity of socialist utopians in the 20th century. I suggested an insufficient base, a faulty view of man and an insistence on the abandonment of the critical mind contribute to that tragedy and many others around the world.

Today, we had a visitor from the Standing committee on something in parliament who objected to these criticisms of Marxist-socialism. We were invited to talk about Christianity, not to critique the host country or its ideology. He was a card carrying members and counted on a return of the communists in the up coming election. Such criticism was unfounded, in his eyes, and would only disturb the peace and harmony of the participants. Since he mentioned all this in public, when he had requested the microphone, the audience gave him a polite applause, but muttered all through his words. Their comments were that "he was another of those government officials who tells us what to think, while Mr. Middelmann tells us to think more independently and more critically." In fact, the gentleman insisted that everything could be discussed except for the Soviet History between 1917 and 1990! This to educators!

I wish you could have been there for the applause we received, when we started again with the planned program after the man had left. There really is this idea that the government can steer the thoughts of the teachers. For the government religion is an opium for the people, perhaps in order to get hold of the declining discipline, public interest and the rise in crime.

Later, one of the male participants asked me about the differences between Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, all of which are present here in this cross roads region of Asia, home of Scythes, Goths and Huns and origin of the Turkish tribes. I suggested he ask a Buddhist and a Muslim for details and clear understanding. For my part, I suggested that the difference between Christianity and Buddhism centrally lies in the denial, in Buddhism, that there is a God. In Islam, God is the ground of all being, good and evil. Only in the Bible to you have a moral God, who is not the author of the world as we know it now. He seemed very satisfied and came back with the suggestion that he should then become a Christian. I heartily concurred and suggested that that would be a very educated decision.

There are a number of card-carrying communists here, who identify themselves in this way very openly. They don't hide their frustration with the changes, the greater pain all experience and their desire for a return to the old ways. But then, things are worse here, because Moscow is using the economic screw to tighten its grip on the autonomous republic. All natural resources are shipped away, there is little manufacture from the rich mineral deposits in the region. And everyone remembers the easier days in the recent past. But few have any ideas about the outside world and about basic economics. There is no awareness that steady and cheap prices in the past were possible only through artificial price control and exchange rates, exploitive and expropriating measures towards thousands in prisons and the sale of natural resources for hard currency abroad. These things guaranteed a measure of steady employment in industries that did not have to compete for markets, since noone else was allowed to offer their things on the Russian market. Shoddy things always found a buyer, for none knew better. Vladimir, one of my translators, spoke of the great wonder of finding Bulgarian shoes from time to time, for Russian shoes were just awful. And we have all heard about socialist underwear.

Frequent mention is made of the mysterious of the Altai mountains. Here is the cradle of mankind. The high mountains and lakes and plains bring you closest to God, say the atheists! There is much spiritism, animism among the population. They tie ribbons on trees and offer flowers to the river gods. Roerich, the Russian mystic, painter and philosopher, who now lives in India, adores the area. He and others claim to have found their wisdom about life ("The Living Ethic") in proximity to the sky. When the head of the education department in Barnaul mentioned this the other week, I could not help but wonder aloud, why often people who live in the open spaces, close to the sea and exposed to a wider world than mountain valleys seem to be much wiser, more constructive and helpful to human existence. I suggested the Dutch as an illustration. He did not like this, but promised to bring me to the high mountains to see for myself.

I must confess that I despise this mysticism, which leads to such a denial of the wonder of human beings. It is found in the church and outside. Often teachers ask about my view of the mystical, as they hear this again and again in the church or about the church. There, the mystical is an escape from life, not a clarification for it. Both are ignorant of the Biblical teaching that the one mystery the Bible speaks about, what the prophets knew and waited to see, has come in the flesh, when Jesus Christ came to save us, both Jew and Gentile. That mystery has now been revealed, Paul says, and brings together Jew and Gentile, all those who bow and believe. Beyond that there is no mystery but what we experience in any area of our life as finite human beings. It is not a mystery over against a factual creation, an understandable word of God and real human beings able to understand truly what God has made and said. Mysteries are not obscure or unknowable, but revealed. God speaks, he send his logos into the world. Silence or private visions are not the ultimate reality in the universe.

Here are a few more things for you to consider reading. We found them interesting: The Culture of Disbelief by Stephen Carter on the loss of true religion, when it is replaced by personal religion in much of our society; Endangered Minds by Jane M. Healy gives good reasons why children are unable to think or to do much as a result of modern life; The End of Racism by Dinesh D'Souza (author of Illiberal Education) is an excellent discussion of the false assumptions on racism today and distinguishes well between facts and myth in the social scene.

But now, enough! We send you warm and personal greetings from all of us.

Udo and Deborah, Naomi, Hannah and Isaac.


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