PART THREE: Encounter of a Much Different Kind
It was May 15th, 1978. My friend Marcus and I had just stopped for morning tea in the Schaeffer home in Huemoz, Switzerland. It was normal practice, that if you were a student at L'Abri (French for shelter), that you worked half a day and studied half a day. Marcus was working outside and I was working inside. My job that morning was cleaning the kitchen oven, a job that you would think would normally belong to a woman. But at L'Abri, every chore was fair game for either the male or the female students, except real heavy work of course, which belonged to the men.
Mrs. Schaeffer was saying that they would be going away for a few days and that she would be leaving the house key with one of us so that we could still work while they were gone. Dr.Schaeffer then happened to walk into the kitchen. He said good morning to all, and then began talking with his wife. She explained to him what she was going to do with the house key and us, and then for some reason, Dr. Schaeffer turned to me and said,
Even though I didn't have a specific question in mind at that time, it appeared as if he knew me better than I knew myself, so I told him that I did have a question. Then he replied,
I was flabbergasted! Why? Why? Why did he think I had a question for him and why did he want to take this time alone with me to answer it? (In later years, as I was reading something by Os Guiness, he wrote that Dr. Schaeffer had "a gift for seeing through the clouds.") As I went back down the hill to Chalet Bethany where I was staying, the seeking of the answers to those questions were swallowed up in the seeking of the one question that I would be asking him that afternoon. I parked my motorcycle near the school, walked down the road past Farel House (named after Guillaume Farel of the Reformation) where we studied and worshiped, and sat down on my favorite bench overlooking the Rhone Valley, thousands of feet below.
I prayed. I pondered. I prayed again. I pondered some more. Then I asked myself, "What is the most important question in your whole life? Here you have the opportunity to ask one of the greatest theologians of modern times a question, of which the answer will probably change your life forever. What is that question?"
Now to the average reader, the answering of one question might not seem all that important or life changing. But you have to understand that the main thing that was done at L'Abri was asking and answering questions. Simply put, the motto of L'Abri is "Honest Answers for Honest Questions." Meal times at the different chalets that are part of the L'Abri ministry are not "sit down, eat your meal, get up and leave affairs." Breakfast was an hour and a half. Lunch and dinner were a minimum of two hours and sometimes took three or four hours if there was not anything else scheduled. That time was taken up with questions and answers, about life, about what is most important. Students who came to L'Abri were not just your everyday run-of-the-mill students. They were hurting people, really seeking answers, because they somehow knew they were at a turning point in their lives. And I, for one, was no different.
In addition to these meal time sessions, there was the Saturday night session in Farel House, where Dr. Schaeffer would sit down by the fire place with a glass of water, open with a short prayer, and then ask, "What are your questions?" And he would answer any question, no matter what subject.
Then there are the thousands of lectures that Dr. Schaeffer and members of his ministry participated in on college campuses across Europe and North America. From these question and answer sessions, wherever they might be, came the myriad of books (23 by Dr. Schaeffer alone), that have been written as an honest effort to answer those many questions. The total number of books that have been written because of the L'Abri ministry would probably total well over one hundred. So questions and answers at L'Abri were very important.
The question that I wanted Dr. Schaeffer to answer finally came to my mind that Spring day. But it is not so much what the question was that was so important, but how it was answered.
After I was invited into the living room and given some tea, I was asked to sit down in a little alcove that looks out over the back yard. It was like a sun room. Dr. Schaeffer sat across from me, said an opening prayer, and then asked me what I thought at the time to be a strange question, which was, "Do you have any intellectual problems?" When I finally caught on to what he meant, I answered, "Yes, I'm a slow reader." Then he just smiled and replied, "Don't worry about it. So am I."
In one fell swoop, Dr. Schaeffer had destroyed the wall between what was perceived as greatness and what was felt as not-so-greatness. We were speaking on the same level, like two old friends on a park bench in the town square on a Saturday afternoon. Through this seemingly small act of humbleness, Dr. Francis Schaeffer showed me what being a Christian servant really is. Then, in that spirit of relaxed friendship I asked the question.
What was the question I asked and where did it come from? It came from three places. First it came from the witness of my Godly mother's life. Second it came from Scripture, from Galatians 5:22, where it describes the fruit of the Holy Spirit. And third, it came from my experience as a soldier, that if you were to ever learn something well, learn how to teach it. The question was,
"How do I teach the Power of the Holy Spirit?"
Now I know that to the average reader, this question could be taken as a rather deep, theological question. Not so, and Dr. Schaeffer understood what I was asking. Here I was, a son of a preacher and a Godly mother. I had just experienced my thirtieth birthday. I felt like I was somehow on a road to nowhere, and I knew I had to change my life. And I knew that being a better Christian was the right road to take. So what I was actually asking was,
"How should I live the rest of my life? My life is a shambles (or fast becoming that way).
How should I then live?"
What was Dr. Schaeffer's answer? It was six fold, and most of it involved studying his work, which was normal, because that it is why he had done his work in the first place. You could study it as long or as often as you needed to. Then if further questions arose, there were the many discussions at meal times in the many chalets or the question and answer times in Farel House. So¾
First, he said to read the last chapter of Death In The City.
Second, he said to read all of True Spirituality or listen to the tape series Christian Life Forms (I did the latter).
Third, he said to listen to the tape entitled, The Intellectual, (Proof) and Faith.
Fourth, he said to read The Mark of the Christian.
Fifth, he said I should try and balance this all out by reading my whole Bible (over a long period of time of course).
Sixth, he told me not to "proof text" everything. In other words, once I got on the right track, do not take everything so literal. Learn how to bend without being bent.
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