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Give me shelter: Memories of L'Abri

Issue: "Francis Schaeffer's legacy," March 26, 2005

The animal eaters

I was a 17-year-old agnostic from a Catholic background when I first heard about L'Abri from an American hippie girl on a beach on the Greek island of Corfu in the summer of 1971: "A good place to crash for a few days-especially if you're low on funds," she said. "Beautiful scenery and good vibes, even if most of the folks there are into a religious trip."

Hitchhiking north through Italy, I was heading to Paris to catch a charter flight back to the United States. I'd gotten a lift in Aosta in the Italian Alps from Annyck, a 21-year-old French schoolteacher. We hit it off well (she taught English) and, by the time we got to Switzerland, we decided to look for the aforementioned Christian community together, located in some tiny Swiss village named Huemoz sur Ollon. We got directions in a café in Lausanne and drove to L'Abri.

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The first night there, I'd slept on the floor in the main chalet where the head honcho (a certain Francis Schaeffer-a name which meant nothing to me at the time) lived. He had to step over me to use his bathroom that night. As he did, I wondered why he and his wife would go to all that trouble to take in folks like me?

I was a Zen Buddhist then-disciple of Alan Watts. But in two days at L'Abri, I had the rug pulled out from under me-intellectually speaking-by a Mr. Os Guinness whose masterful treatment of Oriental thinking (in a taped lecture titled, "The East No Exit") left me disoriented and defensive.

That evening most of the 50 or so people staying at the L'Abri Fellowship got together in the community chapel for a discussion. Dr. Schaeffer sat in front of the fireplace and fielded questions. I took advantage of a question that someone asked and proceeded to sermonize the audience, criticizing the barbarous nature of animal-eating Christianity (I was a vegetarian at the time, of course) while extolling the superior ethics of life-respecting Buddhism.

"Buddhism doesn't discriminate, but respects all life forms," I insisted, scolding the Christians for their lack of deference for animals. Dr. Schaeffer patiently explained the biblical teaching on ecology in a fallen world and man's domination over animals, etc. "Buddhism might be an intellectually coherent worldview," Schaeffer had conceded. "But you can't live it. Christianity is true to the way man lives."

"Nonsense!" I thought. Blinded by emotion and cocky self-assurance, I retorted with a scathing attack, ridiculing the Christian viewpoint for all the evil that had been perpetrated in its name.

As the meeting broke up and everyone was putting on coats to leave, I was still savoring the sweet satisfaction of having made my point and won the argument. My self-contentment was at its highest as I slipped on my coat. Thrusting my left arm into the sleeve, I suddenly felt a sharp pain. Quickly withdrawing my arm, I noticed that a wasp, which had found a home in my warm jacket, had expressed its disapproval at being intruded upon by stinging me just above the wrist. I let out a yelp, and in one quick gesture, instinctively swatted the rascal with my hat, knocking the half-crushed bee to the floor.

Alerted by my cry, the others who were getting ready to leave stopped and stared at me. It didn't take long for everyone to realize the delicious irony of the situation in the flagrant inconsistency of my reaction with my animal-patronizing discourse of a few moments before. As we walked out of the chapel, no one said a word about the incident. Some just smiled. And I smiled sheepishly with the begrudging realization that the "cosmic forces" had spoken.
-Marc Mailloux, former missionary in France, now works with French-speaking immigrants in Florida

The Thinking Rock

It was the dream of a lifetime. I was 21, studying opera in Italy. I had taken a break from my routine to visit a charming chalet high in the Swiss Alps. Sitting at the breakfast table with my host, Francis Schaeffer, I gazed at the snow-covered peaks in silence.

His question caught me off guard. "Claudia, did you know God when you were a child?"

"I had a thinking rock," I said, "where I thought about God. I worried there, too-about my dad who was a major in the Second World War."

"When did you become a Christian?"

"Well, uh . . . I guess I've always been a Christian."

"Why do you say that?"

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