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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

Warm greetings to you. That is what you might need after five months of winter. Today, early in April, it snowed again, much to our surprise. We begin to crave warmer weather. Perhaps it will help to talk about summer?! The dates for our usual Summer Study Session in Switzerland are set. We will have students in Gryon between July 15 and August 11. We welcome anyone, who would like to learn more about a Biblical understanding of our world, human existence and the Truth, coherence and beauty of Christianity in the context of long meals, hikes in the mountains and personalized studies. The cost is 40 Swiss Francs per day ( roughly $35.-). Of course students are not required to agree or to sign anything. But they should be interested in good discussions and contribute their curiosity, insights or objections. You will find a folder enclosed.

A good number of you have let us know that you read these occasional letters with interest and benefit. Thank you for those notes and gifts. Today I write between two of my lecture assignments to Eastern Europe, as I will leave on the 12 th to go to Ulan Ude in Eastern Siberia, just north of the Mongolian border and south of Lake Baikal. Ulan Ude is situated on high mountain plateaus, about 6000 ft above sea level. It was a closed city for defense purposes until seven years ago. There is a strong Buddhist influence from Mongolia and Tibet. That should be an interesting intellectual and depressing spiritual climate. Please pray for the team and their work there among teachers. It will actually, most likely, be the last scheduled trip to Russia in the established pattern.

We have been encouraged to start something very different in Russia and perhaps in Ukraine. I would like to set up two one-week sessions modeled on our Summer studies in Switzerland, to spend time with serious Russian students and teachers, to give lectures and seminars and to talk over long meals about the truth and relevance of Christianity. The first session will be held just East of Moscow and the second in the south near Krasnodar. They are scheduled to be between August 12 and 25. Two friends in Moscow are central to the planning, since it is so much more complicated to work from here. Should the sessions go well, The Schaeffer Foundation may well be able to continue such seminars and help solidify the thinking and lives of some of the more than 30'000 teachers who heard members of the Schaeffer Foundation (Per Staffan Johansson, Greg Grooms, Jesse James, myself) lecture in their cities over the last five years.

This would be different from what we have done, more informal and private, aware of changes inside Russia and responding to a probable return to more control under central and local governments and nationalistic pressures. Both these directions repel foreign influence and discourage the open discourse so essential for an educated and responsible people. I also feel that there is much need for both more substance in Christian teaching and more a realistic application to all of life, economics , the family and the arts. We maintain contact with a good number of teachers personally. These seminars would be a good setting to deepen our contribution.

We would be thankful for your prayers and other forms of help, though we hope that the bulk of the cost will be sponsored by a foundation that is interested in our work.

Since I wrote last, I have spent two weeks in the formerly "closed" city of Omsk in February, giving my world view lectures as well as a talk on "Ecology and World Views" and on "Christianity and Science." I was also invited to address several English classes for economics students at the Polytechnic University. The response was quite open, also from the professors, as they had probably never thought of the human component in economic development: attitudes, world views, legal protection are often more important than resources.

The city officials, however, were not so pleased. While the initial welcome was about average and polite, by the second day we were cited to City Hall to listen to a list of grievances against us. We handed out too many religious books, we were not humanistic enough, the teachers were unfamiliar with the terminology of Christianity, the schools could only teach secular subjects, etc.

At this, Eugene Breus, our head translator pulled out a copy of the Law of the Russian Federation and read it at the place, where it clearly supports the teaching of religious subjects for better information of the students, as long as it did not include religious practice. That stunned the delegate of the city administration. I added that human rights and values could only be taught with respect to the philosophic foundations of such concepts found only in the Bible. I also suggested that religious books were books of prayers, liturgies and stories from the lives of saints, but that the Bible and reference books existed for research in the public market and were readily available in our countries outside the church. Of course I did not say that in many of our Christian book stores you can hardly find books at all for the abundance of Christian trinkets.

We also showed him a number of publications from the Russian Ministry of Education available for public schools on such subjects as "Church History", Christian Ethics, Christianity and Literature." The poor man backed off, but he was not pleased. He had to allow us to continue, but he secretly called the second city to cancel us. So we stayed in town and wondered who and how many would show for the second week. At first there were a good number of believers on Monday, but then each day more and more new people arrived. By the end of the second week we had more people in attendance than during any day of the first.

And that surprised them and us. For the city did nearly everything to keep people from having contact with us. They called schools and warned administrators against inviting us. Two schools backed down, but others responded like a dear older woman: "I am going to be retired anyway in a couple of years. I don't care what you want to do, but I am having the teams come and visit my teachers." So we went to a number of schools, met with teachers and taught them. They were glad for all the materials. One history teacher in an elite classics schools took me aside and said: "We knew you were having trouble, but we prayed for you." Another came to me the morning after to ask that we forgive the city people, "for they know not what they are doing." Imagine that!

One night I spent with some of our team and a number of students talking about Paul's letter to the Romans until almost 3 AM. They had come to our sanitarium. It was hard to send them home. Since then I have made copies of Debby's Romans studies on tape and sent them to Omsk. These and others attend a church started by 'Navigators'. They meet in a Public Library on Saturdays. There is much hunger for sound teaching.

Late in February, after ten days with Debby and Isaac in Gryon, seeing Samantha and Gregg in Lausanne and Natasha and Paul with Alexander in Bienne, some skiing, I went to Astrahkan, nestled in the Wolga delta on the Caspian Sea. I had always heard about that city on the silk route, its wealth and recognition by European powers, who had Consulates here until 1918. We were warned about the closeness to the war in Chechnia and the presence of a strong Muslim population. There were discussions about Islam, but overall we found a good welcome after much initial hesitation. Vitali Gutman, the deputy education commissioner of the region, was especially hostile after having seen my videos. But in the course of the two weeks he seemed to have mellowed. The day we left, he was at the airport and called me over to say: "This is what our people need: the exposure to a larger world, answers to real questions and the challenge to figure out and to recognize what is true, just and meaningful. This is something our churches never do. They do not respect our people. I thought you would be like a foreign cult or like our church That is why I had opposed your coming here at the beginning. Please come back."

We also visited an outlying village, where Jesse and I were the first foreigners for most of the eight teachers. They hosted us, asked good questions and wanted to know what we had come to do. Even out there, where children live in little houses or huts with straw for roofs and cattle walking in and out at random, German was taught as a foreign and Kazak as a local language!

After a week home for a lecture and an IRS audit, I returned for my third trip, this time through Kiev and by train to Western Ukraine and the town of Chernivtsy in the Bukovina region. At times it had been Polish, after 1918 a part of Romania, since 1943 part of Russia. A strong Austrian influence in its Hungarian flavor was visible in the remnants of Art Nouveau architecture. The churches are Ukrainian Catholic, quasi Orthodox, but with stations of the cross, crucifixes and fewer icons. The priests in several churches accepted money for prayers during the liturgical part of services, without stopping in their routine. Perhaps that was the routine.

It was the time of year when daily snow showers turn everything into mud. The remains of older glory, now decaying quickly, and the longing in the questions and eyes of many citizens to have me recognize similarities to, of all things Paris, gave me difficult emotional reactions at times. I went to a Saturday market, where Coca-Cola was sold next to a live calf, new wool and pigs, gears, car parts and blood sausage. Quite a sight!

I worked together with a couple of people from an ecological group, by whose invitation we had been allowed to come after the government expressed its opposition to any religious instruction of teachers through us. That was enjoyable. Yet, when pressed, I found that a dominant influence is the veneration of LIFE in general by Albert Schweizer and the non-violence of Ghandi. That is not surpassing, but still opens the door for worse and more harmful philosophies and funds. For Schweizer respected the life of the fly as much as that of the patient in the operating room. And Ghandi was only non-violent when he faced the British. Earlier he had encouraged Hitler to persecute the Jews.

Again the second city was canceled. We stayed for another week, presenting our material to a mixed group of teachers at a school under Christian directors as well as Baptist Sunday School teachers. While I have on occasion found an audience silenced by the presence of authorities, this audience also had no comment or questions, perhaps because they did not see the relationship between their faith and a larger and wider significance of the Bible to all of life and culture. Later it go better. In the evening I answered questions for two hours every night for people from the town who gathered at the hotel. They wanted to talk about how we can be sure that the Bible is true, but also about a Christian view of marriage and family. There is so much disappointment in their lives. Men behave often like oriental sultans. The surrounding hardships drain the last expressions of love and joy.

And now I am writing this at the end of the first week in Eastern Siberia, separated from Edith Schaeffer in China by the Gobi desert to the South- and a little more land. I continue to be amazed at the Lord's gift of these opportunities to bring something of the light of the Bible to people, for whom we are often the first foreigners, and who certainly in the majority have never heard or understood Christianity.

I am here in a company town, Gasinoosersk, on the "Goose Lake", near a giant power plant, coal mines and large military installations, I suppose against China in the South. The land is like Montana, about 6000ft above sea level in wide valleys. Cattle and sheep graze even before new grass will grow on pastures burnt down to the raw soil. The city is ugly, dusty, but the mountains are beautiful. We meet in the local palace of culture, brittle, damaged by age and neglect, with rough and splintery floors, on which children practice their ballet.

This is Buddhist country. The Dalai Lhama is their 14th reincarnation of Buddha, which in their eyes is the same thing as what Christians see in the resurrection of Jesus and in his second coming! The worship of spirits is found everywhere. Three of us were invited to celebrate the birthday of the regional education chief in a village about 25 miles away. The drive was fascinating, but we stopped both going and returning at a shrine, where Vodka was poured out, money thrown to the statues and we were shown how to pray. Of course we did not. During the meal (with sheep lip sliced from a whole boiled head, organs presented and the stomach filled with curdled blood, spooned out to honor you, and a few other things), they always touched the surface of drinks three times with a finger and then flicked off drops as offering into three directions.

Outside the village we went to the monument to three Decembrists, who had been exiled here from Moscow in 1825 by Alexander I. Again, Vodka was poured to the ground in three turns, the rest offered to themselves and us. A beautiful, but wild and isolated countryside is respected through this propitiation, for spirits are believed to live in it. A life of fear without freedom. Later the local history teacher mentioned that already in 1830 two English families had come as missionaries to that part of the world! The Lord had brought us in their footsteps. How I praise Him, who has made himself propitiation for us.

God also gave me words to speak the Gospel in distinction to both the materialism of the political regime and the spiritism of the Buddhist nationalists. For against the former, we insist that Man is a person with a mind, soul and spirit. Against the latter we state that God is in heaven and that creation is rational. What happens, from spring rains to disease and health is foremost a question of understanding a rational though fallen creation and resisting its destructiveness, not of the occult and the worship and appeasement of spirits.

Instead of confronting Buddhism directly, I thought of the tragedy of early Greece, where nature was also seen as the playground of gods and spirits, where there was no rationality, only fear and atonement.

There was quite a stir of course. Many objected to the obvious criticism of Buddhism. That is understandable both because Christianity speaks of God in heaven rather than spirits in the air, but also because the Buddhist attempts to live in peace with everything, to violate no one. That is the theory. I pointed out repeatedly that violence is not only committed, but it is also violent to omit help through denial. When a feverish child is not fought for from fear that spirits might be angry, violence is done to the child. I neglect what I could and should do.

I also clarified at numerous occasions that the nature of the human problem and its solution are different. Buddhism sees the problem in man being concerned and having passions about life, while the Bible explains the problem as moral. We have done wrong and need forgiveness. Salvation for the Buddhist is to reach a different human state of peaceful acceptance through reincarnations, for the Christian it is to be cleared of legal guilt, so that we can again be what we were meant to be as individual human beings, made in the image of God. Evil for the Buddhist is having to live in a world exposed to spirits, who have to be appeased by way of sacrifices and submission in search of unity. Man is evil, the universe is harmonious. The Fall exists only in the mind of man. Suffering is the results of angry spirits, not of life in a broken world.

Buddhism is in the final analysis a form of supernatural Atheism. In its views of nature, evil and atonement it is close to Pre-Socratic Greek thinking. All reality is finally of natural elements fire, water, earth and air, which man must join and peaceful harmony. To teach that, I am told, parents never acknowledge or answer a question by children about pain, evil, suffering. They are avoided and thus become not noticed.

There were a number of people who treasured the Bible they can now open and read. The lectures and the lessons which lead into the Scriptures, the discussions and the personal contacts work together to create an aroma of the Lord's presence and power. Please pray for this beautiful land and its generous people, that their longing for better times may be satisfied in their discovery of the Lord's real existence and faithfulness. There is so little in their surrounding habits and historic patterns to encourage a real understanding of the Gospel. Even the admission by one woman that she now believes in God is perhaps but a description of her having added another spirit to her house of spirits. Oh God, let there be a real crying out for the true and living God, so that the spirit houses which crown the hills would be torn down and the temple of the Lord be established in their hearts. Marc Gorelik, one of my favorite translators, who is from Jewish background, has just accepted the Lord. It was wonderful to see him find the pieces and put them together for a new "Home."

In New York, we continue our lectures. I gave a talk in the Foundation's Carriage House on "Chances of Survival of the Humanist Tradition" and on "Cultural Change and the Myth of Neutrality." In the city we met for a discussion on "Hope in an Age of Disappointed Expectations." After my return from Russia, I shall speak once on "Orthodoxy" and later on "The Continuing Significance of Dr. Schaeffer's Ideas" on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of his death. At the Carriage House we will have three more lectures in May, one of which will be given by Mike Sugimoto from Cornell University. You might remember him as our friend, student and fellow worker in Switzerland. He has just returned from Japan. I will also be in Orlando and Atlanta in early May for a weekend.

Please pray also for the Board Meeting on May 11 here. Important decisions lie before us about the focus of the work and our future direction in light of financial limitations. Edith Schaeffer, who has returned to China for five weeks, will be back.

In addition and most centrally, we are preparing for Naomi's and Micah's wedding on June 8 here in New York. We are so glad that they will continue to be nearby for Micah's studies and Naomi's work.

Before I close: A wonderful introduction to Western Philosophy. Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder is written for a 14 year old by a Norwegian High School teacher in the form of a novel. It is fascinating. Thomas Sowell has written Race and Culture. Not Out Of Africa challenges the current arena. Hannah has continued and done well in hers. French poetry class was taught by a professor who explained and critiqued.

With warm and loving greetings,

Udo Debby Naomi Hannah Isaac

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