Swiss L’Abri August Newsletter

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.NewsLetter1970?

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.

Chesalet-Dent

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.

Daniel-Bellevue

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).

Anna-Bellevue

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.

Poulet-Studio

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.

Farel-flowers

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.

Student

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.

Volleyball

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.

Ellis-teaching-1b
Ellis Potter on “Three theories of everything”

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.

Arts-Week-Poster-Neg

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.

Gian-Charlie

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.

Baptism
Baptism at Lake Geneva

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.

Pruning

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,
Valerie Austin

Huemoz-sundown

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Review in Swedish paper “Dagen”

Student at L’Abri, Malina Abrahamsson, has written an insightful article for Swedish Christian paper “Dagen”.

(In Swedish)

Quick translation:

The municipality L’Abri brings together young and old with big life issues
– Does anyone have a question? It’s quiet for a while. A group of ten people around the table are thinking, while they enjoy the lentils set before them. A young American opens up concerning God’s intervention in life. He has tried to pray, but only in silence. “Does prayer work at all?”, he wonders. The conversation that follows becomes both philosophical and personal, sometimes intense, even loud, but always respectful.
Lunch conversations like this take place four days a week at L’Abri. They are called “formal lunches”. Anyone can ask any question they like. It can be anything from your favorite story to the problem of evil.

Today, we’re meeting Canadian Richard Bradford. For 17 years he has worked full time for L’Abri – two years ago he and his wife Karen took over the main responsibility for the Swiss branch. “L’Abri is a place for honest questions where the intellectual and emotional go hand in hand. It is a municipality based on hospitality and studies – but at the same time, it is difficult to capture L’Abris’s essence in words. My in-laws have still not understood what I’m working with” Richard says with a laugh.
Richard Bradford came to L’Abri first time in 1993. He was 27 at the time, and had a few years prior given up on his Christian faith. He describes his life as a complete chaos. “A friend of mine, said that I needed to put my belief in something. He suggested L’Abri and I went, but kept my luggage unpacked for the first couple of weeks, since I did not expect to stay long. But something happened. For the first time in my life, I met Christians who took my questions seriously, and just like myself, was interested in art, movies and culture. I stayed 8 months”.

Many who comes to L’Abri, just lie Richard, has grown up in the church, but has been hurt along the way and left the faith. Some end up simply cynical, others are longing back to God. When the American missionaries Francis and Edith Schaeffer founded L’Abri in 1955, they wanted to provide a safe haven where people could ask existential questions. The french word “L’Abri” means shelter. The Schaeffer couple opened up their home, at start just for their daughters friends from college who wanted to discuss religion, but later, as the word got around, for people from all over the globe. Then, like now, reliance on the Bible is central, like the conviction, that the Christian life encompasses all of life and is relevant to how we regard everything from art to politics.

Since the days of the Schaeffers, thousands of students have ventured to the Swiss L’Abri. They have taken the train along the turquoise lake Geneva, jumped on the bus in the wine town of Aigle, ascended winding roads up the mountain to relax in front of Bellevue – a brown, wooden Chalet in three storages, that functions as student quarters. The view from the villas balconies is wonderful: Snow clad alpine mountain tops and wide reaching forrests. The soundscape consists of cowbells and intensive bird song and add to this: the landscape change with the weather. At times, the mountain tops appear somber, but in the summer evenings they are colored rose by the sun. When thunder strikes, they act as specials in a spectacular, heavenly fireworks. “Nature here, is proof of God’s existence” as a student expressed it.

But not all are convinced of God’s existence. To L’Abri arrives seeking agnostics as well as disillusioned Christians. All receive the option of asking questions without being judged, interrogated or distracted (students are recommended not to use the internet while at L’Abri). “Many who come here, have deep personal questions attached to identity and self worth, others struggle with specific theological questions and a fourth group are looking to intensely study philosophical or spiritual matters”, Richard explains. “Our job is to facilitate and support workers as well as students”. Today, there’s 10 employees and roughly 32 students. Some stay a whole term, others a few weeks or just a couple of days. Approximately half are Northern American, the rest from all over the world.

20 year old Amarie Lee from California has spent a term at L’Abri. At home in Apple Valley, in the middle of the California desert, she struggled with fear, were anxious about the future and dared not go outside at times. One day, she read a book where L’Abri is mentioned and after reading the homepage, she felt she needed to go, even if it meant leaving the safety zone.
“It’s my first travel abroad, so it was a big step for me to come here. In the beginning I was very shy, but the environment is warm and hospitable, so after a while I started to talk and gradually open up. I did not expect to feel loved, but I do. People are happy to see me, they care about me. I am beginning to see life differently. Ive sensed, that I care for other people. And I am daring to try new things, like Volleyball and rock climbing”, Amarie explains descriptively.
Richard Bradford has through the years seen many examples of people, who just like Amare, finds learning just like Amarie, thanks to the fellowship. “There’s a tremendous strength in hospitality and living together. We have again and again how God uses community to heal people. It’s tremendous to see people find answers, grow and find faith”, he says.

What is it that makes life at L’Abri so special? The days follows convent-like rhythms: Three hours a day is spent in the library, where students engulf in subjects of their own choosing and three hours dedicated to work over set schedules: cooking, gardening or cleaning. Meetings occur: a stock broker from Wall Street are peeling potatoes with a man who just lost his wife to cancer, a college student are weeding with a designer from South Korea. All meals are enjoyed in community and the table is always set with hand picked flowers and candles, just as Edith Schaeffer would have liked it.

A student who appreciate the rhythm of work and study is Adriel Jeo, theology student demo Singapore. “When I’m cooking in the afternoon, it gives me a chance to process what I’ve studied in the morning. I am also learning how to have dialogue with people that I happen to disagree with”. Adriel Jeo came to L’Abri after reading Francis Schaeffers book “The God who is there”. He appreciates Schaeffers way of writing about apologetics – the defend of the Christian faith. During his month at L’Abri, Adriel has studied Christian community, brewing ideas of starting something similar in Singapore. The only thing Adriel is missing at L’Abri is worship. He has, however turned this to something positive. “It’s been helpful for me to take time on my own to pray and practice discipline”. He says. The fact, that there is no worship at L’Abri is a deliberate choice. The Christian faith implies community, but is not forced upon anyone.

At present, L’Abri is in nine countries and until 2013 there was a branch in Swedish Mölle. Richard Bradford would love to see a new opening somewhere in Scandinavia. And who knows? Perhaps a place of community and the difficult questions of life just what we Swedes need?

Malina Abrahamsson

Le burn

Even though the vertical layout around here provides some air, at times, a little high pulse is just the ticket. (And yes: community life can require a punching bag now and then).

We also have a kettle bell. And pull-strings, dumb-bells and push-up thingies. It’s incomplete and ragged, but it’s there.

IMG_5497

Twice a week station training is an option, for any who want to exercise as a group: 1 minute on each stop, alternating between upper and lower body, aerobic and muscle.

It’s not a big deal. But, hey: If we are to take good care of our pedestrian temples, perhaps particularly in these Wall-E times, exercise might not be of the mark.

Technology at L’Abri – a rough guide

In this digital age, technology has become private – that makes it difficult to set directions for for good and timely usage. It does, however, influence how we relate on a personal and on a community level. For those reasons, we would appreciate guests an students to consider the following:

1. Please don’t use technology during:
• Meals
• Lectures
• Discussions
• Meetings

2. Please carefully consider gadget use:
• During study time (Perhaps download lectures and listen on flight-mode)
• After 10pm (Screen light disturbs sleeping patterns).
• During conversation (People and face-to-face is more important).

3. Suggested tech-free zones:
• The lounge
• The dining room

Further notes:
• Some families might have gadget-baskets out during lunch.
Please park Precious here, when available.
• We do recommend some students to take a break from tech,
while at L’Abri. For others, it is a welcoming chance to downscale.
Please respect these efforts, thank you.