back to Long Letters Overview

The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters

The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation
Chalet Les Montaux
CH 1882 Gryon, Switzerland
#41 24 498 1656 UDDEBCH@AOL.COM

Dear friends, November 2005

This letter comes to you in two parts this time. The usual report of our activities, books read and observations made in the course of the past few months follows. With it you are part of our lives and follow from afar what we have been up to. It supplements the ideas treated in FOOTNOTES, where they are presented in a more formal way for your interest and, at times, as gentle provocations.

Thank you for the interest you may have expressed. We enjoy hearing from you and are glad when you find our material helpful.

In this first part I ask you to pray and think about a replacement to help Edith Schaeffer after Jane Landis returns to the US at the end of April 2006. Jane will have been here for more than a year and will return to finish her studies in Family Social Service. Without her assistance during the past months we would not have been able to cope so well with Edith, who last week turned 91. Jane has been a wonderful provision from our Lord at a time of great need. We are deeply thankful for her kindness and skill, her flexibility and responsible supervision.

Edith has lived in her own apartment across the path from us in Gryon for the past six years and is not connected to L’Abri. A lady from the social services comes on five days a week to help Edith get up, to bathe and to dress her. Edith joins us for lunch at our house and stays until 9:30 PM after dinner to watch a movie or to have Jane read to her. On two days she is with other family members in Huémoz, but when I preach she comes along. Jane watches that Edith drinks and eats enough, gives medicines and reminds her of the things forgotten as well as reading to her and watching a movie.

We look for a person who wants to take some time off to help. She would sleep in her own room in Edith’s flat, but be present when Edith is in her apartment. There is a salary involved as well as the interesting experience of being with us as much or as little as wanted. There are all the tapes, books and other materials our summer students study, as well as a wireless Internet connection. The person should enjoy times alone, taking advantage of the free time in the Swiss Alps, by the lake and other possibilities. Please give our name/address to any capable, interested person that may come to mind.

The second comment here concerns the enclosed stamped envelope. It is a request for your possible participation in our work. We would like to send a copy of The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic (Regina Press) at the end of the year to each of you who express an interest in learning more about the cultural, philosophical and political background as part of our increasing exposure to Islam. The book is an excellent study by a former correspondent of the BBC. It will help you understand better the teaching of Islam and its resulting worldview, attitudes and expectations. In a global world we need to be aware of what, why and how people think and why they live as they do. It is not an alarmist treatment, but it will alert us to the roots of the present conflict.

With warm regards and thankfulness for you frequent kindness to us,

Dear friends of our family,

July 2005 was to be the month I would send out our next letter. I started writing this it then about our comings and goings, the books we read and the impressions we have gained. But the summer was busy, the interruptions were frequent and the demands of students, children, Edith with us and her medical treatments all conspired to make it easy for me to be neglectful. I need to apologize.

So here I pick up the pieces and start. We have gone places, read books and, choosing an odd illustration, we have noticed the different water levels, colors and types of waves while swimming with others in our cultural context. And we have not mentioned all the creatures below the surface!

Let me start with the unusual and simply enjoyable parts. For years we have wanted to go on a road trip, like two of our daughters have done. Others talk about it for the time after college or at the start of retirement. No, we did not camp anywhere. But after watching Isaac fly solo in a single engine plane we took two weeks to drive from Austin, TX to Seattle in a rented car, without much of a plan other than to see things, people and the land, to cross the deserts and go over mountains, passing dry river beds, elk and moose, volcanic cracks and small towns. We found a decent motel every night (“We have clean rooms, both rooms are clean!”), ate in local places, survived a blizzard as well as a polite cop who slowed me down a bit, and stopped at numerous cemeteries that told stories of fragile lives, human tragedies and much endurance.

At the airfield in Wink, TX, the attendant on duty drove us out over the runway to the old rattlesnake pit Isaac had read about in a famous book on early flying. We drove around the whole airfield in Roswell, NM, to gaze at hundreds of retired aircraft. We ate in Iraan, talked with a German woman who runs a motel in Cortez, stayed away from Mormons in Idaho Falls, called ahead in Grand Junction, OR, to show up in the surgery of a doctor friend near Eugene for coffee. We learnt that Unity, OR, has a population of 89 and that the High School hosts 10 foreign students. Wonder what they will tell the folks back home about life in the US, so far from anywhere with the nearest movie theater 45 miles away!

We reached the Pacific Ocean in Florence and braved waves, wind and hail with our faces turned to Japan and China on the other side. In Bend, OR, a generous manager of the Lancair factory showed us the whole process of building airplanes from fiberglass to finished gloss during his lunch hour. We had dropped in, just to see what we could see, and he gave us a marvelously detailed explanations and all human kindness without measure.

We spent a night in Kelso, WA, and searched for news in the local library of my old Latin teacher from the time I was an exchange student there. Three librarians stayed into the night and eventually found an obituary telling us that she had died only three months before. I walked the old roads, stood in front of “my” house and found contacts from the class of “57”.

Most impressive were the remains of pueblo settlements in Mesa Verde. Excavated on the mesa and exposed under the cliffs were living quarters, houses, wells and shelters together with evidence of the fears from life and nature that religious practices tried to alleviate.

We delighted in the gutsy ways of German merchant sailors to make a living in crowded quarters, when they were interned in dry New Mexico from 1939 to 1945, far from their ship and their families. We tried to imagine the enormous strain of the people reaching out to get to Oregon in the 19th century for no other reason than that the land was ‘empty’ and that is was considered preferable to move away from civilization rather than be a part of it. Free land and the promise of freedom from the past were ideas that have left their mark on a people into our days.

The history since then, including our culture today, questions that and makes one wonder whether that search for freedom was in fact irresponsible, irrational and idealistic. It brought with it immeasurable suffering at the time to both settlers and Indians. It contributes even today to the mindset that imagination was more valuable than knowledge, that to pretend was the same as to create, that a dream pursued may easily overlook the need for skills to be acquired first.

We had heard many stories about Texas, that singular state apart from all the others. I remember a postcard my father had sent us from his first trip to the US in 1952. Looking north from the birds’ eye perspective above the state one could see a few of the neighboring regions, and “some water” designated in a fancy way the Great Lakes beyond. Now we learnt from friends that Texans often do not get into long explanations or speeches, unless you insist and ask for more.

We traveled west from Austin after a few days with Greg and Mary Jane Grooms, who direct the Probe Center Austin with its multitude of activities each week. Soon we left most people behind and passed through increasingly more arid lands. We did see a bald eagle then. Otherwise oil wells seemed to replace trees, and only cattle, and to our surprise sheep and goats, continued to accompany us with their stares from behind miles and miles of fences.

We stopped in a small town where a fair was taking place. Fresh boiled corn, fried chicken, games for the children and clusters of adults standing around for fun and friendship and to check out the latest efforts in crafted items for sale. We engaged two older men sitting on an idle tractor in a conversation.

“We noticed a lot of goats in pastures along the road getting here.”

“Yep.” The answer was precise. It left no doubt, gave no explanation, did not embellish anything to weave us into a conversation.

“We expected mostly cattle, always heard about Texas Longhorns.”

“Yep” again.

“What do you do with the goats?”


“Do you keep them to make cheese?”

“Some do.”

“What do the rest do with their goats?”

“Take them to market.”

“Do you eat the meat?”

“Some people do.”

Then the roles were reversed and it was our turn. One of them asked where we were from, and hearing “Switzerland” they spoke at great length to say: “Hear you got a lot of goats over there….”

(A couple of months ago I read in the Economist that raising goats for the Hispanic and Muslim market has taken off during the past ten years with the introduction of a much meatier goat, and that in West Texas! We saw it.)

That wonderful trip of the three of us was framed by engagements before and after. It was also made possible by the wonderful provision of the young woman to be with Edith during our absence. Jane is training to become a geriatric social worker. She has some experience and is qualified, but her greatest qualification is that she enjoys older people, reading to them the same books we enjoy, watching movies with Edith and seeing to it that she drinks and eats sufficiently. With her number of little strokes it is essential that she drink, is intellectually stimulated and move about. Jane is kind, but also firm and persuasive. Her coming was a real answer to prayer.

Before the trip to the US in March I taught my course on Postmodernism to French pastors in Geneva. In early February I spent time in Cluj, northern Romania, for a coffee house venture to teach Christian Principles in Economics. The theme was a delightful “Is Wealth in your Head or in your Pocket?” I gave talks about the power of ideas, incentives and daring, while a good number of Romanian Christians talked about their efforts to start a business, to deal with failures and to work with and around the bureaucratic rules. The whole idea of being enterprising as a creative activity to which we are not only called, but which also exhibits our humanity in the image of God, the Creator, is foreign to a fatalistic culture. Past Catholic teaching and more recent Marxist materialism have suppressed the germs of creativity and punished individual inventiveness. Any attempts in that direction were always seen as suspect, either as suggested by the devil or by anti-collective behavior.

For that reason people tend to wait and see what happens, and the few things that do are the result of official actions, though usually at the instigation of a few masters, crooks or then again daring, liberated, enterprising personalities.

At the end a Romanian Christian made small funds available for 20 proposals, in which they would be invested like talents. Two weeks later all would come back and show some profit. I later heard how successful it was and that most indeed came back with a profit.

Early in March I was once again teaching a course in apologetics at the Bible Institute in Geneva to a group of French pastors. Apologetics to the mind is not as common a practice in these circles as the apologetics of fellowship or personal experience. Yet in a culture open to various lifestyles and many alternative groups the Christian “group” is not uniquely attractive. It has to sustain all kinds of critiques from the past for the failures of the church, and from the present for its rejection of much of life. It is seen as legalistic, narrow and in some way too demanding. The many good efforts to see, teach and live a Christian life are often diluted by an indifference to truth and beauty on our side and an indifference to moral and cultural clarity on theirs.

Quite soon afterwards I was off to Minnesota for a public lecture in the context of the MacLaurin Institute and a talk with State Congressional leaders. I wanted to address them about the Educational Obligations of Politicians, but found it hard to get to it. In the squeeze of time made available to me I competed with perhaps very little success with other simultaneous activities in the State House, the Concerns of Committees, the bargaining for favors and votes and deliberations about improved political maneuverings. These all seemed to occupy the delegates more than a concern for moral philosophy and public trust. I had, however, a special time with a very warm and friendly response in the Assembly of a Lutheran High School in Minneapolis.

I then drove to St. Louis through rolling hills of Southern MN and Eastern Iowa to participate with a seminar during the L’Abri Conference later in March. This was billed a Jubilee, because it marked the 50th anniversary of the start of L’Abri in 1955.

It was a magnificent reunion of large numbers of people who had studied with us in the past and had been enriched by the lectures, discussions and many individual conversations at L’Abri. Here we saw each other again, if only for a few moments. They all remembered the living context of all the meals with the families and the lively church congregation that included local members, the baptisms and Saturday night discussions from before radical changes that were made since then. For many it had been the first time for directed discussions, seeing a point established and carried through. They remember how seriously we took the proposition that Christianity is true to the real world. They learned to keep their more personal stories in check and discussed instead bigger issues of truth and life, for which often neither their home nor their church had made any room.

We all have changed physically since then! Yet for the most part people remained recognizable, repeating forgotten names and putting them to new and old faces. Together we remembered situations, working side-by-side, discussions and other times together in years past. One student even walked around with his picture in Sylvester Jacob’s book of photos “Portrait of a Shelter” to point out that it was he now, some 25 years later. Here now we shared bits of our lives, told what we had done and related our experiences, named our children and spoke of the significant effects of the time at L’Abri so many years ago. You could see groups standing together throughout every day, in line at Starbuck’s across the street and sitting around the large tables for lunch.

A number of works with links to the old L’Abri exhibited their materials. I laid out back copies of FOOTNOTES and spent hours talking with many from the past and new contacts interested in the work of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation. People we had not seen for years came together all day long and filled out the empty spaces created by the passage of years as well as by my diminishing memory. It was interesting to hear what people have done with significant effect with the work, ideas and personalities of the Schaeffers in various areas of responsible enterprise.

There were workshops and breakout seminars with L’Abri staff from different branches as well as by speakers not linked to L’Abri. From lack of time and among so much choice I don’t know how much they contributed to what in the history of L’Abri was distinct, so helpful and different from other gatherings, seminars and organizations. Some people remarked that people with little more than an occasional cup of tea and a conversation with Dr. Schaeffer in the distant past were now also giving lectures on the L’Abri platform and under its name at the Jubilee gathering. Their appreciation of L’Abri is genuine, but not always from any direct experience or with a specific understanding of its central concerns. None of the plenary sessions, with two exceptions, were held by someone active in the L’Abri work now, though some were very insightful.

I would have found it interesting and helpful to have more presenters who have applied ideas the Schaeffers struggled to teach and exhibit in new areas of responsibility. To my mind come people like Darrow Miller from Food for the Hungry with his work of transforming nations through changes in the worldview teaching of churches; Dr. Dan Pope and his work among AIDS children in Kenya; Jesse James with his efforts to change work habits and legislative safeguards in Eastern Europe; Robert Dax in his efforts to consider human needs as an architect in social housing projects; Marla McGill in her efforts to apply Christian ideas to education in public, not Christian schools. Someone applying Biblical ideas to human resource development in business or to accounting practices, or again in the political theater on any level would have been interesting.

I suggested in my presentation that the very idea of a Jubilee should take us back to the starting point, the beginning. This is always wise and applies to all kinds of efforts, whether in a marriage, in business, in a church or in discussing nation building. The Biblical Jubilee celebration took Israel back to the covenants. It was a time to remember that each family in Israel belongs to the Lord’s people. Nothing could separate anyone for too long from ties to the land, in which God would place his name and where he will deliver us through the work of the Messiah in the future. Jubilee is first a time of remembrance to consider past covenants, not new strategies.

The Jubilee teaching in Leviticus did not primarily set rules for a system of economics that would guarantee an equal distribution of funds among Israel’s families every 50 years. During the past generation it was often read for economics only in an effort to rectify inequalities of wealth and production around the world with an appeal to redistribute. Yet it did not have that purpose in the Bible, where growing families, different work habits and wise or foolish investments would always lead to differences in wealth and poverty as a result of moral/cultural differences. Only ‘theologians of resentment’ saw in it an egalitarian distribution principle or command.

Instead, the Jubilee trumpet reminded Israel of the covenant of God with his people, both by focusing again on the past and into the future, when redemption through the Messiah would be accomplished and a kingdom with justice, goodness and beauty would be established on earth.

Jesus spoke about that kingdom. He told of the power of the Holy Spirit from on high, by which the disciples would be enabled to become witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the earth. Their witness would not be focused on personal experiences of faith or on the number of the followers, but on insights, ideas and hope found in God’s promises and realized in the coming of Jesus from the Father. This view of the world, founded on God’s word and work and understood with our whole being, would confront the pagan world of Rome and Athens and every other citadel of belief among men and women.

That is the trumpet sound of God, the cause for jubilation, into a world of hunger, disease, violence, where suffering human beings live under a bewildering range of irrational, inhuman and destructive political, economic and religious views. Remembering St. Paul’s statement in Romans one might see, how ideological and spiritual dominions ‘suppress the truth in unrighteousness’.

God exists and declares, that creative effort, work and altered views should follow God’s word to enable greater variety in creation and moral/cultural corrections to a fallen world, speaking against all pagan views that man is to submit to fate, circumstances and natural limitations.

Throughout history believing Jews and Christians have sounded the trumpet of the good news, God’s favor and his power. Illustrative of this is the apostolic teaching in the early church and the missionary effort into a collapsing Roman order. You find it, though always imperfectly, in some of the monastic movements that set out to conquer pagan Europe with the truth of God by means of preserving the text, doing medical work, offering hospitality, administering justice, through job creation, education and reclaiming the land. In a similar fashion efforts to limit the power of kings and nobility express insistence on “lex rex”, on law as king. Industrialization reflects effort to improve on backbreaking work. The trumpet sounds in the form of material and political development aid, civil rights legislation and the rejection of Stalinism in the recent past and now of radical Islam.

The trumpet of Jubilee sounds that there is no other God than the one revealed in the Bible and in history to explain sufficiently the valued place of Man, the absolute base of Morals in setting out the Law of Liberty, and of Meaning. Without the God of the Bible we have no adequate foundation to believe that Man is different from animal; that morals are anything but an imposition of power; and that meaning gives a direction and a goal to the struggle to live.
I suggest this in light of the fact that all religions outside of the Biblical view in the end have no basis for or even destroy Man, Morals and Meaning. For, religions ‘relate’ everything to a greater ONE (e.g. God, History, Traditions, Patriotism, Nation, Race, Gender, Matter) and thereby leave no room for individuality, reflection and discernment, and finally no purpose to being human.

Schaeffer believed in the power of such ideas and the power of God to express them in all of life. He clarified ideas about all of life, showing the beauty, wholeness and trustworthiness of the Biblical view of things and people. Ideas informing people rather than movements founded on or around them would change people. He rejected the idea of having any particular ‘school or method of apologetics’. He deliberately named the study part of the work after William Farel and not after John Calvin, since a whole school of thought bears the latter’s name with not always a good reputation, while the former merely went around and laid out the teaching of the Bible to anyone who listened. Schaeffer saw the parallels between Farel’s work and what he lived and taught anywhere in any setting.

Helping people to believe what is true to the real world was the concern of the Schaeffers, so that people would know that and why God exists, why Man is marvelous, though also a sinner; how the work of Christ takes away the true moral guilt of individual people; and how the Bible alone gives a framework to a fitting understanding of Man, Meaning and Morals.

From this perspective Schaeffer encouraged the growth of what he called the ‘larger L’Abri’, which he considered to be and to become much more significant in the schemes of things than L’Abri itself. That larger L’Abri was the result of the application of powerful ideas first expressed and lived out in the smaller L’Abri and now applied to all areas of life by a multitude of people outside.

Schaeffer always resisted making the smaller the core of a larger one, or to see in growth and expansion a benefit. He feared the loss of content when the work would be franchised. He protected the clarity of the water at the well, so that many in their own various fields of work could use it. The water can be easily muddied under the hands of many laborers with the best of intentions and then be undrinkable all together. He always feared what has happened when some people started to ride with the benefits of the label, but bring in their own priorities or agendas.

Like for the Biblical Jubilee it is good to remember at all times the original focus and underlying ideas. Without that focus backwards to the origins the future will take flight on its own. But when the definitions are remembered and honored, the future will be an expression of lasting truths. The power of right ideas from the past applied to different callings into the future is more important than personal intentions or appeals to popular demands. Keeping the link in mind helps to avoid creating the discontinuity one finds between the founders’ intentions and the followers’ inventions.

Other activities this spring and summer include a very good lecture by Debby on ‘hate’ given to our discussion group on the way through New York. She studied how hate is always an expression of loss of control by the one who assumed he had it all. The existence of “the other”, whether woman to man or Israel to the rest of world, or the US and Britain to a world that does not want to be troubled, is denied through hate, because “the other” shows me that I am not absolute, can not play god, and must reckon with another voice to consider.

In May I taught in a Brethren Assembly in Southern France for three days with lively questions and answers following each of the sessions. One of my students from Geneva now pastors that church and attracts a number of younger people to it. Just last month we all attended a conference at Swedish L‘Abri dealing with various interpretations and expectation about the future.

I must tell you about three books I read with much benefit. A History of Christianity in Asia by Samuel Hugh Moffett is published by Maryknoll/Orbis, NY. 1998. I had had little insight into the spread of Christianity into Persia, India, the whole range of Central Asian countries, and finally China, which are in the news so much now. It details the progress and repressions, the onslaught of Persian religions and Islam, laying the roots of Christianity in China and many other exciting events and people.

A second book is The Reformation, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Penguin 2003. It book contains more history than theology, but places the theological debates and resulting changes into the political and social realities between competing nations. It also shows the somewhat problematic underside of the reformation with its proposed exclusive access to truth. This turned the discovery of God’s truth into a nasty fight against not only Rome, but also anyone who saw things slightly differently. Luther vs. Zwingli, the Anabaptist controvercy, Calvin and Servetus all spoil the image of what is perhaps too readily seen as a return to theological purity.

The Island at the Center of the world by Russell Shorto (Vintage 2005) is an interesting description of Dutch New Amsterdam before the arrival of the British. With many references to the continuing translations from older Dutch documents to English in research done by Dr. Charles Gehring in the archives of the State of New York in Albany, NY, the book describes the start of the American experience founded more on Dutch views, behavior, tolerance in an open society than on New England Puritanism. It details their relation to Indians, their open doors to people from other backgrounds, their struggles for civil society against the merchant interests of the Dutch company that owned the land.

The link between the two books lies in the radicalism of some reformers in their view of an ideal city on the hill, whether in Geneva or in Massachusetts, now compared with the much more open city of the Dutch, where an original trading post becomes a civil state.

On another subject and in a different genre I so enjoyed Body and Soul by Frank Conroy (Delta Book, 1993/8). Like a ‘Bildungsroman’ it takes you into the life of a poor boy who climbs out of misery into a world of music, discovering life along the way through wonderful and sad, supporting and tragic circumstances of his and other’s choosing. Along the way you learn bits about how to listen to the concerti he plays, their construction, their sound and composition in the form of a language most of us do not yet understand. In the end I wished the book, like the life of the musician, would continue. But that is left to us to imagine.

I end this letter from somewhere on my trip through parts of the US to speak in Colleges, churches and individual homes. I enjoy engaging people and being exposed to their questions, insights and concerns. I learn so much, at the same time am always pleased, and surprised, how much I can help to encourage them. After Illinois and Georgia I look forward to more gatherings in Texas this week and next.

Please continue to pray for us, the work and the needs we have. The past year has not always been easy under pressures from people and situations. Our financial situation has been weakened as some friends have rightly taken on other commitments. Pray also for an interest from publishers for my two manuscripts, one of which I am translating into German at this time. I am eager to have The Innocence of GOD on hand to give to the numerous people who rightly ask why God does not do anything in these troubled times. Knowing no better they of course blame him, while he in fact is innocent.

With warm greetings, Udo

back to top