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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear friends,

We are very thankful for the many kind and appreciative responses to our last letter. We want to thank you very much for that. Your interest, contact and prayer in our life and work with so many parts is very important to us. It is a privilege to have your ear and to some extend your heart. At times I get very tired, but then am glad that we stand together in the various efforts. I am especially appreciative of my family and their support in the ups and downs.

Before I take you more into our lives during the past three months, I want to tell you that we will again have room for a few students during the summer in Switzerland. We had a good group last summer and studied together not only many tapes of ours and from L'Abri. We also went on field trips to consider the effect of Christianity on culture in our rich setting there. Let us know whether anyone might be helped by such a time studying with us between June 15 and July 17, 1993.

Come for a visit to my room on the ninth floor of the hotel in the center of town. A Russian of German descent will take you up there if the elevator runs. Hours of operation are not indicated. You only need a bit of patience, or strong legs. I speak German with him. His face lights up. He tells me of the Stalinist purges, expulsions and exiles he lived through, but lost his family in. He suggests that nothing ever will improve. For the people don't change. They do not know how to work with initiative. I see filth on the floor, paint stains on parquet and broken glass on the bathroom floor. You learn to appreciate this as challenges to your survival. Why should life always be controlled?

That kind of uncertainty is frequent in a place like Yoshkar Ola, about 800 km East of Moscow in the heart of the Mari El region. We are about 60 miles north of the Volga river, where it turns south after flowing East towards Asia. There is not much to do after work . We have toured the local museum. There has been a small concert of children's' dances and songs in the palace of culture. We were offered the traditional bread and salt as a sign of welcome. The party palace is across the street.

The town is under a thick blanket of snow. The temperature is 10 below. Very few foreigners come to this traditionalist heart land, which people call bears' corner. There is no way to get to the forests which heavily cover the landscape and are part of the northern plain which expands from Finland to the Bering straight. opposite Alaska. The few stores have little for sale for tourists. "The food is cheap, the air is clean, there is no crime and all people work", we are told.

I am back in Russia for the eighth time. We came here from Orenburg at the Southern tip of the Ural mountains, where Europe and Asia join. We arrived Sunday at the airport to be greeted by the deputy minister of education. Due to the shortness of the runway, we flew in two small planes. There was only one set of stairs. We took turns to get off, unloading our bags ourselves, etc.

But not until we were met at the head of the stairs by our advance man, Vasili, who asked that four of us should descend to talk. We were no longer welcome! The Prime Minister of Mari El had decided the night before to cancel the Conference. We should stay on the planes and leave, not even get off. Some political maneuvering was afoot. We walk a delicate path, but had never been so challenged.

We refused, saying that the planes had to get back to their base, that we had hotel reservations in Yoshkar Ola, but not in Moscow, and that we would first deplane and then we would talk. Poor deputy minister. We have heard that he lost his job over this, for he failed to keep us of the soil of the province. Or perhaps, this was used as an occasion to sack him... Or perhaps he was sacrificed to protect the higher ups... of perhaps: we may never know.

We stayed the whole week, but not without a continuing drama and bitter hostility, then toasts for world peace and warm and pointedly daring words from the teachers. There were apologies in public, while threats were slipped underhand. There were a number of observers to catch us unawares. The KGB asked for our names, visa issuing embassy and other details for their files. One teacher showed us the letter she had received demanding that she report on us. This is serious, man. We walk as on eggs, (or is it grenades?) carefully recording all we say and teach as evidence.

We reworked the schedule and focused more on workshops, teaching methods and the curriculum itself. I changed my talks to even more historical and cultural content. The to titles were changed to "Christian Morals and Ethic in History and Education." That is actually an interesting topic, and a challenge to say what one should in a way that is not blatant yet informative, startling to the inquisitive, and objective rather than personal.

With such a subject, I was able to explain the constant influence of the Bible in the shaping of Jewish and Christian thinking in the West and contrast it to the religious and philosophical views elsewhere, including the destructive influences of scientific materialism and dialectic historicism.

Mari El, like many newly independent republics, is an area in Russia where a growing ethnic interest mixes the longing for national independence with a return to openly pagan practices. We heard much about it and even were shown a video of animal sacrifices to the spirits of wood, river and the sun. When the international ideology of Marxism dies, the local monsters of the pagan past come back to the surface.

To our surprise, there are no questions after the talks. One person slipped one to me, but when it reached the end of the row, it was read by a person in party gray and then disappeared in his pocket. By contrast, in the smaller group sessions people were that much more open, when they felt safe and unobserved.

Some of the translators were planted. You recognize their fur coats, the short skirts, the good language ability and their talk about the beauty of Russian women, as well as the frequent use of the phone during breaks. This could be studied on the level of serious amusement . However, we are talking about real people and their souls, not theater. This is a real battle. Special prayer is needed and offered. Someone here or behind the scenes is cross for good reasons, when you see it from his perspective.

This part of the country is known for old time teaching. After the change in the capital, a mixture of the old system, of nationalistic separatist paganism and of the Orthodox church work together with the tense relationship between Russians (52%), Mari people (43%) and Tartars as well as a few minorities. This is a very explosive situation, in which the old order may well be desirable because, as in Yugoslavia, it glued the parts together in fear. Clashes would tear apart the "peaceful "republic in rivalries.

We were warmly received by a young priest in the one Orthodox church of a town of 300'000 people. The church only received heir building three years ago, after it had been used as a brewery. Stalin had closed the church in 1936. The priest welcomed our material and will use it in his Sunday School. A few hours later we heard that he had been visited by an official of the state to warn him not to meet with us. Almost like a murder mystery, we had just arrived ahead of the other side.

I had lunch with a "mole" on the first day. We happened to sit at the same table. I moved next to him. He was extremely nervous. I found he was not a teacher, but working in the President's office. He told me in answer to a question that there were no problems in Mari El. I congratulated him for what must be unique in the world: a land without problems. He laughed, pained. We talked about the Mari people, his tribe. When he mentioned their spirit worship, their prayers to gods of rivers, wind and mountain, to sun and earth, I asked whether people were allowed to import grain if a harvest failed.

Again he twisted a smile to his face. His parents believed that, but he didn't anymore. Then: "We wanted to give progress, but this is a way back". I stood up at that point and shook his hand in agreement. Now he smiled. But I could not be sure what he would tell the prime minister...I never saw him again.

There were of course apologies offered for the strange way all had been treated. But who can believe them in a culture where you can no longer read the soul of a man in his eyes, where so much is accomplished by deceit and fear. You celebrate together at the end of the week, you may present toasts and leave your heart with them. You speak of doing something for the nation's children, for peace and mutual understanding. What you understand is that you can't believe any of it. For the words have different meaning. The culture is not one of yes: yes and no: no.

Kept in constant humiliation for so long, there is little sweetness or even basic politeness in the people. All push, no one stands in the bus for the elderly. You risk your life crossing the street. No person opens the door for you. There are of course some exceptions, like the headmaster of one school who seems to care for his children. Or the director of an orphanage who has woven his charges into dance and choral groups without much official support. But there is little public trust. The wounds of the past and the materialist ideology of the present do not create any. The teaching of Darwinian evolution produces a mentality of the survival of the fittest among limited resources.

You will see how this kind of situation must be put into contact with Biblical teaching and a different view of life, of God and man, of work and kindness. And the teachers crave this. They are concerned with the life of their students, the harshness of society and the collapsing order. They are eager to grasp the things of the Bible and to learn from Christ. But there is so little time, so many measures of opposition and so little cultural grid on which to hang these concepts.

Please pray that doors may continue to open even when the rage here is expressed in high circles. The material we give to the people will help. God's spirit will feed the longing heart. He will reveal himself to those who diligently seek him. But the road ahead may well be harder. For we found out that a spy had been sent to Orenburg last week. He reported to the authorities, and this town wanted to send us off... The Lord knows what lies ahead.

Orenburg is a much larger town. It has been a trading post since the first Russian settlers came into contact here with Asian tribes more than 250 years ago. Now it is one of the centers for the production of rockets and similar hardware. For years it was off limits for foreigners. Natural gas sources as well as political changes have opened the city. Still, we were met by police escort each day and driven to the lecture hall from our sanitarium hotel. There were armed guards everywhere. Orenburg with about 600'000 people has one church building in a new part of town, but two mosques. Two churches by the Ural river, which had in times past stood on the high bank facing Asia and its tribes on the other side of the river as a sign of Christianity, have been destroyed. The cathedral, once second in size to the Alexis Cathedral in St. Petersburg, has been blown up in the thirties by Stalin's men. On its land now stands a large statue of Lenin and a party headquarters.

Pushkin died in Orenburg on his third duel at the age of 37. This national poet is honored in a small museum. You also find a quote from Lenin: "The Russian people have been feudal serfs for too long and were exploited more than elsewhere." End of quote, but not the end of exploitation of the Russian people. Lenin would see to it that it would continue for a long time.

Please pray for real changes, mostly for a change of heart and mind. Pray also that the turn would be to the Lord and not to the pursuit of similarly romantic religious notions and visions of suffering as Pushkin had when he sought death repeatedly in duels as a romantic salvation from broken hearts. Pray that the changes required for a better and moral life may be made by people willing to apply what they read in the Bible.

Their history , literature and frequent toasts, however, reinforce the expectation that the solution will come on any day in the future, but always by the hand of someone else. A new Zsar, a new leader, a holy man, the Americans... but never themselves. Is this perhaps the serf mentality in a modern form? The masters must provide, they determine our lives. Is this also the result of a church's teaching which does not see the importance of godly living in all spheres of life, but only in the religious sense? Is this what the craving for heaven produces when the teaching in church fails to show that Christ has come to earth and has redeemed us to holy living, ready to do good works and to give an explanation for the hope we have ?

A question by one participant in Minsk almost a year ago sticks in my mind. She asked whether Max Weber's analysis of the relation between Protestantism and economic and cultural development is not the opposite of that Orthodoxy has taught. I believe she understood something central to the Gospel. For Christ came to earth to redeem us. This is God's creation, the rightful place of all of life and work. While much of Protestantism has regrettably later worshipped success instead of Christ as the Lord of all of life, Orthodoxy has worshipped suffering and the denial of a practical word from God by which man is to live in all areas of life.

In Yoshkar Ola a teacher spoke up during the closing ceremony to urge her fellow citizens to repent, because they had sinned to believe atheism. " Let us start the resurrection of our souls" she said to a hushed audience. " Jesus will bring forth the harvest from the seed that has been planted in our hearts today" . Another pointed out that she now understood that you can't teach art and literature without knowing the truth of Christianity. Any educated person needs to know this. One spoke of the urgent need to have more such convocations, but also expressed her extreme sadness for the Russia of the last hundred years. "These questions we had dealt with, Russians had pondered them repeatedly , but few would listen . The books of these writers, like Berdjaijew, had been available, but were shunned. Go and look for them on your shelves. They also speak of the truth of Christianity across so many areas of life. We should take them down again and read them."

Let me put all this in the broader context of the family and other things we did together since I last wrote in the Fall.

Debby , Isaac and I flew to Mike and Carolyn Sugimoto's wedding in Minneapolis. The pleasure of officiating was greater for the joy of seeing a page of life turned and a book begun. Mike had come to us many years ago when we still lived and worked in Gentiana, Chesieres. He had become a Christian there, later a fellow worker and always a closer friend. He had helped the Schaeffers when they moved to Rochester permanently. His perceptive letters, his piercing questions about life and his analysis of human and cultural factors in people's lives were and are a source of much understanding and growth.

In November I enjoyed a brief trip to Atlanta to see a number of former students and friends. We used to go there more often. I returned to speak at Westminster Presbyterian Church with Jerram Barrs. In four lectures and workshops I tried to show that there is a real world out there, to be studied and worked into, to be enjoyed and to be understood critically. Devin and Tracy Ehrlich hosted me warmly . Devin also arranged for a talk to the Christian Legal Society on the subject "Moral Law in an Immoral Society". I borrowed the title from Niebuhr, though gave it a very changed content.

From there I returned directly to Russia, speaking in Penza and Vladimir. A herniated disk in my back gave me endless trouble, much pain and sciatic agony for much of the time. Sitting in the plane, then the train and busses was a lot to tax my constitution. I returned to Debby, Samantha, Hannah and Isaac for Thanksgiving, taught a few classes, saw a specialist about my back. He threatened an operation, but let me go back to Petrosavorsk (NE of St. Petersburg) and Pskov (SW of same) early in December. In the first place I took a walk on the ice in the street and fell in such a way that I had to go to bed for 24 hours with excruciating pain. But I have actually been restored since then by the fall. In an odd way, the jolt shoved the disk back into place. My pain is gone.

But in Pskov, I carelessly poured boiling water on my foot the following week and have only recently recovered from a large infected burn, which was not treated in Russia for a number of days. For the water I got to cool it down was brown from the pipes, the sink fell off the wall. I was warned not to go to a hospital. There is a price to pay on adventuresome engagements. To my pleasure, Greg Grooms from Swiss L'Abri joined me on that trip and was a source of much encouragement, good conversations and common concerns. He took one of my lectures when I lay in bed thinking about being flown home. I do hope that he will be able to return for more lectures to Russia.

Let me give you some of the responses I have found so moving . They reveal a deep understanding by some. They will also explain why I am so drawn by the urgency of the situation. In Petrosavorsk a Jewish teacher had her eyes and ears opened to learn about God's promises, His word, His Messiah. Her father had moved from the south and kept silent about his Jewish religion for fear of anti-Semitism. She had no idea what "Jewish" in her passport meant. Now she was fascinated to hear about the Bible, about God's promises to Abraham, etc.

One of the simultaneous translators, also Jewish, is close to believing. He asked the question , in the presence of the Orthodox priest sent by the bishop, whether anyone else believed what Udo believes. He could see that must be true, but no one in the church was giving him these answers from the Bible.

This may help you understand why we feel how important it is to focus on this work with people in their particular situation, their questions and their concerns. You remember how much that has always been a part of our lives. We are glad that this is the direction given to us in the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation for the next little while.

Again at home, we had Christmas together, though we missed Natasha and Jean-Francois, who were in Switzerland. Then we prepared for the wedding of Samantha and Gregg in Briarcliff. They were married at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, where we have attended. Most of the work was done by a tireless Debby with the help of many, especially Gina. It was a beautiful service. The reception followed in the paneled church hall. A storm had broken many branches and the long green pine was matched to white carnations, roses and baby's breath. An Austrian baker made the cake decorated with fresh flowers. Udo's mother came from Austria, his older brother all the way from Australia for the wedding.

Samantha and Gregg are now in Switzerland, where Gregg will study for a Master's degree from Webster College in Geneva and Samantha will work and study. We miss them. Isaac is in play school while learning to read with Debby as well as his teacher. He is playing indoor soccer with a team at the 'Y' among boys two years older. It wears him out. Hannah is getting very good grades at school and engages teachers in conversations with substance. She recently stood in class and suggested that the Enlightenment has brought a lot of trouble, because it destroyed the notion of truth and opened the way for much of the bestial systems of new societies in the 19th and 20th centuries. Bravo. Naomi is working very hard and makes high marks in her second year at Hopkins. She was home for a month at Christmas, knit another sweater and let us read the good stories she wrote.

Our lectures and discussions continue in New York and here at the house. We lecture on different subjects, but also review and critique books or a film. In late January I was plenary speaker for the large Canadian Missionfest in Vancouver. I had suggested that a more Biblical point of view should be given there than the one taught by Tony Campolo last year. That landed me an invitation for four sessions. They are available on tape through Marla who faithfully and sacrificially continues to send out this letter and tapes from her home in Pampa, TX. The lectures are "World Hunger and World Views"," Do Justice! Don't just do it", "Multicultural Moral Relativism'" and "Servants to Whom? Stewards of the King".

Around the edges I had the pleasure of spending time with former students of ours. Karenne and her family, John Burragde, Bob Vaterlechner and a few others brought back wonderful memories of L'Abri days. I am only sorry that these times mean less time at home. Please pray for wisdom and continuity. For the spring looks just as busy.

Now I am sitting here in Moscow to finish this off before I return via Vienna, where I speak tomorrow night to a group of Christians. Then my students receive another of these double lectures which have become normal when I am there. They are gracious to accept that broken schedule. I am slated to return to the far eastern parts of Russia at the end of March (Vladivostock) and then Kasakstan in April. I have also worked on the Russian lectures. They should be finished as a manuscript soon and are scheduled to be translated into Russian for distribution.

I am reading an interesting Michener type historical novel Russka with much interest. Cradled in the past of that vast land lie many of the patterns and beliefs of the present. It is also fun to travel in times past through the areas I now cover in my schedule. I would also like to draw your attention to two good books by Vishal Mangalwadi. The World of Gurus (Cornerstone Press) and When The New Age Gets Old (IVP) are good historical and philosophical treatments of both the world of Indian and Western god-men as well as the presence of New Age ideas without the fanaticism so often found in simple solutions. Vishal was a student of ours in 1973 and we have often worked together since then both in Europe and in India.

I have also found The Loss of Virtue ( National Review Book) a helpful treatment of the decline of morals in society out of a loss of world view basis. Various contributors show the relationship between social disorder and moral confusion in our world. I am using the book in my 'Recovering the Moral Life' class with much benefit.

We send you our grateful love and warm greetings. Let us stand together in the battle.

Udo Debby Naomi Hannah Isaac

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