Dear L’Abri Friends, Family, and Alumni,
The other day while looking through the books on the shelves of Lower Melezes, my husband Rhett found a Bellevue welcome letter that was obviously at least 25 years old. You would think that a lot has changed in the meantime, but we were surprised at the similarities to the welcome letters that students staying in Bellevue receive today. The details, instructions, and guidelines expressed to students a quarter of a century ago are still basically the same. Though the past years have brought changes to our landscape, buildings, and staff, the ethos of L’Abri has not changed, and I take comfort in knowing that our mission and values have stayed the course over so many years of ministry.
Updates and Renovations
In terms of the landscape, if you were to come to Huémoz today you would be struck by the developments that have taken place over the past three years. Last August, there was a parade that went from Villars to Ollon to celebrate the completion of a protracted (but necessary) road project that widened the Route de Villars, which is the street that runs in front of Bellevue. In addition to this, Huemoz now has street signs—unheard of when I was a student—and in front of Bellevue is a retaining wall where the canton had to slice into our mountain to make room for the widening road. Our resident artist and passionate gardener Per-Ole Lind has worked hard to decorate the retaining walls with “God’s own materials,” meaning that flowers now cover the L’Abri property more than I ever remember in the past. It’s enchanting.
In terms of other changes, Switzerland itself of course experiences change. One of the biggest ones for us has been the increase of budget grocery store chains. We joke that our branch is the only one that has seen food costs drop as a result of the advent of Aldi and Lidl in the valley. We have more options now, and are able to serve more students. When your budget for cooking is two Swiss Francs per head, you thank God for the availability of affordable (but still local!) food.
Bellevue looks much the same as it has for decades, but better. The windows were replaced in recent years and the building is noticeably warmer and less drafty than in the past. Most impressively, last winter P.O., Daniel Pyke, and Rhett renovated Lower Bellevue, covering the red tile floors with real hardwoods and painting the walls. They also installed a door between the student room areas and the legendary laundry room and added more lighting, which improved the temperature and the feel of those rooms considerably. Now students ask to stay in Lower Bellevue! Their work has significantly improved the building.
Other Bellevue improvements include the updated stove and oven, imported from Italy and generously given to us by a gracious former student. As many of you know, the appliances in Bellevue see heavy use, as they are daily employed in the service of dozens of people. Our Bellevue dinners have been better than ever, thanks to the improved equipment provided by donors. We also recently got a new washing machine, which wouldn’t be newsworthy except to those of you former students who know the grief that can come with being put on laundry duty at L’Abri. Though one of the machines is new, Gian Sandri continues to be faithful in helping with line-drying the clothes (see? Much remains the same).
The little Chalet Poulet also saw some renovations this year, as PO transformed Lower Poulet into a functional art studio for students and workers seeking a space to practice visual arts. We are excited to share this space with students who are aiming to take their vocation to visual arts more seriously.
Farel has recently had a facelift as the past spring term spent time sanding and re-staining the wood. The library collections, of course, continue to grow and change as new publications become available, but the exterior has not seen change in many years and needed some care. We are also thankful for the lovely flowers and landscaping that the Linds have provided for the exterior of Farel House.
In addition to the renovations of our community and buildings, this year PO Lind updated the Swiss L’Abri website. There’s a lot to see on the site, including photos and information about upcoming terms. We invite you to check it out: https://swisslabri.org/ .
Students, Lectures, and Special Events
This year our branch officially transitioned to four student terms per year, as this will allow more people to visit given the Schengen Visa restrictions put on non-European travelers. We have already seen the wisdom of this decision, as our numbers have been pretty steady these past several terms. One delightful development is that we’ve seen an increase in non-North American students, many for whom English is not their first language. Every term we see more Europeans joining us and it’s exciting to see word about us spread to other communities and places. In the winter term of 2017, at least 50% of our students were not from Canada or the United States. The international flavor of these terms has taught us more about the nature of Christianity (and truth-seeking) all over the world.
Though it’s impossible to pin down trends regarding what students are thinking about, as always, we have a combination of visitors who are in a place of “faith seeking understanding” and also students who are in periods of crisis. We often have people join us who are grieving the death of a loved one or the collapse of a significant relationship. Some students come with specific intellectual questions about Christianity and some come to work through emotional difficulties. Most students are dealing with both. Many find that the rhythms and schedule L’Abri has to offer, as well as the intentional limiting of technology and the focus on prayer help them gain a sense of orientation that allows them to start thinking more intentionally about why they are here.
The workers continue to aim to witness faithfully to the Gospel as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. One of our greatest joys is to see students opening a Bible, some for the first time ever, and some for the first time in years. Helping people learn to read the Scriptures has been a personal pleasure for me this past year in ministry at L’Abri.
Richard Bradford has continued and revamped his series on Barriers to Belief, which has been immensely helpful for many of our students. One in particular on the authority and nature of Scripture sparked a lot of conversation at our formal meals. Anna Friedrich has given a number of lectures on poetry, including leading workshops, which students always love. Dave Friedrich gave lectures on boredom, “phubbing” (when you snub someone with your Smartphone), and anxiety—all perennial issues among our students here. Amelia Lind gave lectures on community and hosted a number of album listening sessions using the sound system in Farel. Per Ole Lind always provokes discussion in his lectures on art; one in particular about the street artist Banksy (“Exit Through the Gift Shop”) was a favorite during the winter term. Rhett gave a series of lectures on wisdom literature in the Bible, which changed the way I think about the nature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and earlier this year for our Bible studies the majority of the team committed to dedicating Sunday mornings at L’Abri to exploring different genres of Psalms. Many of our students mentioned Sunday morning Bible studies as some of their favorite teaching moments that term. I enjoyed delivering a series of lectures on Christopher Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God and a series on Laura Smit’s Loves Me Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love.
We also had a number of valuable guest lecturers, including professors from Westmont, Wheaton, and Calvin College, covering topics from immigration, welcoming the stranger, stages of faith, and how to read Genesis. A friend from Princeton by way of Gottingen named Alyssa Lehr Evans gave a series of lectures on Martin Luther in view of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Some lecturers showed films, others played music, and others gave presentations members of our local churches made the trek to Huemoz to see. It is always exciting to have visitors with us.
One of our shining moments this most recent term was a roundly successful Arts Week 2017. We had professional artist Heidy Chuang from New York with us, who delivered a workshop on nature sketching, as well as saxophonist Paul van der Feen from the Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam. In addition to this, our own team gave a series of lectures on creativity and art, covering topics from creativity to Albrecht Durer to Dylan Thomas. It was reportedly one of our best and most cohesive Arts Weeks ever.
Staffing Updates and Transitions
As many of you know, last spring we celebrated Gian Sandri’s official retirement from the L’Abri work. But, of course, you know what L’Abri work is like, and it wasn’t long before we called him out of retirement for help with a variety of tasks. We also hired Catherine Vanegas, a local Swiss friend, to help us with our accounting, and have found her to be an invaluable addition to the team.
We were very sad to say goodbye to Daniel Pyke, whose competence and character left a huge impact in the time he was able to serve with us. His financial acumen and advice helped us get organized and served many of the L’Abri families and students on a personal level as well. He also demonstrated his skills as a teacher in a series of lectures on finances and interpersonal communication. You’ll find some if not all of these in the L’Abri Ideas Library online.
Hilary Repko, who joined our staff in August 2016 after being at L’Abri as a student and helper, will be transitioning to a nursing program in Scotland in September. Her grace and warm presence in Bellevue will be missed. In addition to this, Steve Bullock finally let us convince him to join the staff (after multiple terms as a helper) in Bellevue. He remains a favorite among students and though he returns to the States after this term, we all know he can’t stay away for long. The L’Abri team is looking forward to Jasmine Fogwell’s triumphant return to Bellevue to fill Hilary and Steve’s shoes next term.
Rhett, Charlie and I (Valerie) will be returning to the United States at the end of this L’Abri term as well. We have been on staff for one year officially. Our appreciation and gratitude for this place and especially our colleagues in the work is almost inexpressible. As I said to Rhett once we made our decision to go, “Where else can we go where we will automatically have eight best friends?” That is how we have felt about the other workers here. It sounds like hyperbole, but these are the kind of friendships that feel legendary. We will never forget them.
Finally, it’s hard to believe but Anna and Dave Friedrich, their boys Cole and Adam, and their dog Fiona will be transitioning to Southborough L’Abri next year. Anna and Dave have been committed to putting their boys’ interests first ever since they entered this work, and that commitment has pulled them back to the United States for a variety of reasons. As Anna recently emphasized in an update to the other branches, there is no doctrinal conflict or interpersonal problem between colleagues behind this decision, no whiff of scandal. The Friedrichs have served the Swiss L’Abri faithfully for over four years and as their boys get older they need access to homeschooling resources that are available in the States but hard to come by in Switzerland.
L’Abri has always counted on God’s provision for our financial and material needs, but we also count on his provision for students and staff. We pray that God would guide the right people to this branch to work, and that he would continue to provide for the L’Abri workers in every way. In view of so many changes to our staff, these prayers are more urgent these days.
We are thankful for your continued interest and support, and bless you this late summer season.
On behalf of everyone at L’Abri Switzerland,