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