L’Abri Fellowship :memories of the English, French and Swiss L’Abri Branches


In 1970 I was looking for Christian books in Luton Library when I discovered the L’Abri story by Edith Schaeffer and Death in the City by Francis Schaeffer. Francis Schaeffer’s books were just what I needed, I had so many questions and the books began to answer them. Later on one day in London I found “The God who Is There” , I started reading the book on the train back to Luton, I found that what he was saying was so helpful that I just read on when I got home, I read the whole book in one day!

In 1972 I went to a meeting in London and found out that Dick Keyes of the London L’Abri had spoken to this group the month before, this led  to my first contact with L’Abri. Dick and Mardi helped me with many of my questions but they suggested that I go to English L’Abri as a student. In September 1972 I went to Greatham for the first time. I found the teaching there so helpful that I spent all my work vacations there for the next two years.

In June 1974 I became a helper at English L’Abri, I thought that this would last only about 3 months but the months went by and nothing else was opening up. Ranald told me I really needed to find something to move onto. Then I was offered a job as an assistant pastor but one Monday after praying about it I felt the Lord was giving me three reasons why not to accept this call. I was concerned about how the staff would react to my turning it down, I need not have worried because the first person I met after that prayer time was Ranald who told me that he had been praying for me and he felt that I should not accept the job for three reasons, the very same reasons as I had felt when I was praying. I then went to work in Jerram Barrs flat and he said to me that he had been praying and felt that I should not accept the job because he felt there were three reasons why I should not accept it. Later that day Ranald asked me if I had considered working for L’Abri, I said yes, he then informed me that if I wanted to work with L’Abri I would have to apply to the Swiss branch and see if they needed anybody. On my day off I wrote a letter of application and took it to  the post office. When I returned to the Manor House , Ranald said to me “have you sent your letter yet” I said yes “I have just posted it” His next comment amazed me he said “you will be going, Mrs Schaeffer has just asked us If we could send a man out”. God’s timing was amazing. Three weeks later I was traveling to Switzerland.

My time at Greatham had been a time of great learning and I was privileged to see some people’s lives utterly transformed. One of my room mates was not a Christian and we had very long conversations some nights trying to answer some of his questions. then one night he told me that he had been talking with Jerram and had become a Christian.

One young lady arrived at Greatham a week after trying to take her own  life, she had such a low self-image that she was surprised if anybody took notice of her. I realized this straight away and challenged the other guys to treat her as a lady. there was also a group of us that would meet up in the lounge some evenings and we made her welcome. I will never forget one tea break when she walked up to me and a whisper said “I prayed for the first time today” I felt so excited but realised that I must restrain myself and so I whispered back to her “good”. I saw her change so much in her time at L’Abri.

In the September of 1974 We had a L’Abri Conference at Ashburnham Place, the speakers included Dr.Schaeffer, Os Guinness ,Dick Keyes, Jerram Barrs, Ranald Macualay and Dr Rookmaaker. At least three books were published that started there life as lectures at the conference. This was  a time of rich fellowship but for me also a lot of hard work as I was responsible for recording all the sessions on  a reel to reel tape recorder. I also helped with some of the other practical parts of the conference.

I must now return to my journey to Switzerland, this was my first time traveling abroad and I knew no French, so I was very glad that when I got the train at Calais, I found that another man who was also going to L’Abri. We soon got talking and he asked me if I had been there before, I replied that I had not but was going out to be a worker there, he then tried to explain to me that I would not be come a worker straight away because that was not the way L’Abri did things. I told him that I had been a helper at English L’abri and he seemed to accept my story. When we got off the train we had a little while to wait for the bus, so we to a cafe had my first continental breakfast. The bus ride was scary for me it was the first time I had been on the other side of the road but also we were at the back of the bus and parts of the bus seemed to hang over the valley when we went round the bends in the road.

On arrival at Swiss L’abri I was warmly welcomed and then informed that I would only be working in Switzerland for a week because they wanted me to go to French L’Abri and raise the intellectual standards there. This seemed a steep request as I was self-taught having left school without any qualifications. I was going to find myself teaching people who had degrees!!

My time at French L’Abri was one of the most formative time of my life, I spent four and half years there. Thollon_les-Memises where French L’Abri was located is a beautiful alpine village and I enjoyed not only my work but also getting to know the village people, they enriched my time at L’abri in a way they will never know.

Working with Juanita and her love for both the students and the village people was a great privilege and we remain good friends. It was not always easy but it was a good place to be. We were supported by the input of Barry Seagren and we really appreciated his visits every Wednesday. Barry has a real gift in expounding the word of God and students and staff alike enjoyed his studies.

I will never forget my first Saturday night open discussion, it was a disaster, I went back to my room and I told the Lord I didn’t understand after all I had done it the way Ranald and Jerram had always done it, the Lord showed me that he didn’t want me to imitate others but rather to be myself. The following Saturday I led the discussion remembering the lesson I had learned from the previous week and the discussion flowed and I was able to answer the questions.

Every Thursday and Sunday we went to Swiss L’Abri and I began to contribute to the lecturing program. This was an exciting time because Dr.Schaeffer was making his films and so the rest of the staff had to do more teaching. I will never forget the first time I took an open discussion in the Chapel in Switzerland. I had not left home prepared to do it because I had not done it before and I had not been asked to do it. We stopped in Aigle to do some shopping. As we finished our shopping I realized that Larry was also in the shop, he looked very unwell but he told me had to lead the discussion, I said to him” you must not do it, you are too sick” he replied there is no one else to do it unless you do it” so I said I would. When we got into the mini bus it began to dawn on me that I had just volunteered to lead a question and answer session where there would be about a hundred people in the room. When we got to the Chapel some of my colleagues were outside and they greeted me with the fact that nobody had come to lead the discussion, they suggested that I might do it and much to their surprise I told them that I would. god was always gracious to me when I lead these discussions,I was always able to answer the questions given on that day. One day a question about apologetics was given as the very last question, it was a complex issue and I tried to answer the question to the best of my ability in the little time left. It was an issue that I had spent many hours thinking about and much to my amazement I was informed when I went to the office that this man had left L’Abri because the answers he needed had just been given to him in that discussion, every time I think of this I am amazed at the goodness of God.

In 1978 a new student arrived at French L’Abri her name was Judy Baumgart, I did not know how significant her arrival was to be for me, at first I just treated her the same way as the students but as the months went by, I began to realise there was something special about her. In the summer of that year she became a helper at French L’Abri and soon after that our relationship began to develop. In the Autumn of 1978 we got engaged and in March 1979 we got married at the Manor House in Greatham, Jerram Barrs led the service. We then worked at L’Abri until September 1979 when French L’abri closed.

If there are students or fellow workers who read this blog post who want to get in contact please use the response at the botttom of this page, it would be great to hear from you

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 22 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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9 Responses to L’Abri Fellowship :memories of the English, French and Swiss L’Abri Branches

  1. Ian says:

    Saw your link to this on the FrancisSchaefferStudies Facebook, page, David. I’m not sure if I’ve met you or not (sometimes its hard to match up online with Real Life), but you must have known my parents at English L’Abri in both the early and late 70’s – John and Jill Barrs (she’d have been Jill Foster when you first met her). They left English L’Abri in 1979, but have stayed in NE Hampshire just a few miles from Greatham. I can pass on emails if you’re not in touch with them and would like to be (your name is familiar, but I grew up with so many stories of L’Abri in the 70s…)
    Myself, I met an American girl at English L’Abri (where else? 🙂 and have ended up in smalltown Iowa, where we’re close enough to the Rochester MN branch to go to the big International L’Abri Conference every year, and where my wife’s brother and a few friends, this year including us, organise a small annual Iowa L’Abri Conference.
    Ian Barrs

    • Hi Ian,
      I remember your parents well, but I do not think we have ever met. I think the last time I saw your mum and dad was in 1979. When I was a helper at Greatham your mum used to have bible studies/prayer times for the helpers in her little room. I remember so many things about both of your parents. I remember Jerram asking me to pray for his brother John before I ever met him.
      I do see you dad’s facebook page sometimes, but it would be nice to have an email address for them. Thanks so much for contacting me.
      David

  2. colleen heck says:

    Enjoyed reading your blog. I will be traveling to France next week and would like to know if French L’Ambi is still there. I am searching for God’s direction in my life.
    Thank you.
    Colleen Heck

  3. Michael Cooper says:

    David,
    I was at French L’Abri in the Spring of 1978. I remember your kind and gentle spirit and your deep Christian thoughtfulness. Juanita also was so kind to me and welcoming. It became my job to drive the old Renault van back and forth to Huemot every week, which was a real challenge up and down the Alps! I am now a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama and attend a theologically conservative Episcopal Church there. I had a Norwegian friend at French L’Abri, Oystien Falk-Hansen, who I have lost touch with. It’s a long shot, but if you still know of his whereabouts, I’d love to contact him. I have really enjoyed reading your blog!
    much love in Christ, Michael Cooper

  4. Ann Cantrell says:

    Hi Michael,
    I am so blessed and thankful to have found your blog this evening, oops, morning now! My husband and I live in Huntsville, Alabama. Do you know of anyone in the Huntsville/Madison area here that is of like mind with L’Abri Fellowship that we could meet with?
    Thank you and praise to God for how He makes His truth known and that there are people who love the truth of God.
    Ann

    • Hi Ann,
      I live in England and I am afraid I don’t know if there is anyone in your area, but the people who run the francisschaefferstudies.org facebook page might be able to help you.
      Yours in Christ David

  5. John Rykken says:

    Hello Mr. Rollings,
    I was at Swiss L’Abri during August of 1982 and January of 1983. Juanita was overseeing Chalet Les Melez, with Sabina, the German girl from Hamburg as her main helper. I was a simple American Army guy who came down from Nurnburg, Germany to stay for awhile. I can say my times there have never left me, and I tend to think like a Christian because of the influence of L’Abri and all the staff.

    I traveled one evening to Thollon_les-Memises with Juanita and Sabina for a village dance and fir a visit. I remember eating cheese there at the party, but did not know to remove the moldy part. Not good! But I was only a young lad.

    I was raised in a non-intellectual Christian home. I remember reading Macaully/Barrs book titled “Being Human,” sitting there on the bench on the right, just outside the Chapel, looking over to the Dents du Midi and the other mountains. I remember then I first felt as if I too was accepted by God and a normal part of the human family.
    Juanita and Sabin accepted me and cared for me. I am nearer to God for having known them.

    I hear Sabina married a British man named Graham, and Juanita retired to someplace in America.

    Dr. Schaeffer was still working then but quite sick, if I recall. Edith was working on “CommonSense Christian Living,”I think.

    Anyway, I find this very nice to have stumbled upon your blog. I certainly treasure those days and miss them as well.
    John Rykken
    Milwaukie, Oregon

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