The ministry of Francis Schaeffer and of L’Abri played a pivotal role in my coming to saving faith in 1971. I journeyed to India as a hippie in 1970, seeking to satisfy my spiritual hunger. Once on the ground in India, I quickly soured on Hinduism, realizing that the Hindu belief in karma was the driving philosophy behind the evils of the caste system. Even today, fifty years after my travels in India, the caste system is “outlawed, but still omnipresent,” in the words of one observer. While there, I spent substantial time with two Christian couples—one expatriate, the other Indian national—both of whom had a significant role in guiding me in the direction of the Christian faith. One of the couples, older medical missionaries from my hometown, gave me a copy of Schaeffer’s book The God Who is There.[1]

Turning from Hinduism but still fascinated by Eastern religions, I immersed myself in Zen Buddhist thought and practice, spending months in an ashram (spiritual retreat center) in Bodh Gaya, India, the place where Gautama Buddha received his insights into the nature of the universe. Zen is a rigorous form of Buddhism, a sort of fast track to enlightenment. Through intensive meditation and other spiritual practices, Zen is supposed to catapult the devotee into the state of consciousness in which he/she “sees” in an intuitive flash that the perceived world is really an illusion and that his/her nature is the same as the nature of Buddha. Once that insight is obtained, the devotee is supposedly released from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. This particular ashram had a unique rhythm of daily life. In addition to the intense, extended seasons of meditation, there were periods for rest and times set aside for work to benefit the community, such as working in the fields that supplied our food and grinding grain by hand for meals.

Like many of my generation, I was confident that there must be a way to align the teachings of Jesus with that of renowned teachers from the East, particularly Gautama Buddha. Having been raised in a fairly liberal mainline church (PCUSA and American Baptist), I had been exposed to enough of Jesus to know that I could not just jettison him. Like many of my peers, I clung to every saying of Jesus that seemed to have any flavor of the East, e.g.,

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20–21, KJV)

In my travels I had purchased a copy of The Gospel according to Thomas,[2] a collection of extra-canonical sayings of Jesus. In addition to reading foundational Buddhist texts, I was also reading the New Testament and working my way through The God Who is There.

Through a number of circumstances, I became gradually disillusioned with Eastern religions. Although I can point to several factors, I can identify the major turning point in my spiritual odyssey. One day during a conversation with Zengo, the Zen monk leading our group, I asked what he thought of Jesus Christ. He gave the fairly standard answer from an Eastern religions’ perspective, “I think that he was a highly enlightened man.” Either that day or the next, I opened my Bible, and my eyes lighted on John 14:6 where Jesus is recorded as saying, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This verse brought me up short. Here was Jesus, a man regarded as highly enlightened by most Hindus and Buddhists, claiming to be the only path to God. Perhaps it was the time for me to seek to learn more about this man Jesus.

It was then that I decided to leave India and go to L’Abri. I hoped to discover in that remarkable setting whether the Christian faith was true to reality and whether it proved genuine as lived out in community. Encouraged by the missionaries who gave me The God Who Is There, I flew from Mumbai to London where I had my head freshly shaved. I was going to L’Abri on my own terms, still confident that there must be some way to harmonize Christianity with the world’s other great religions. I arrived at the doorstep of Chalet les Mélèzes (home of Francis and Edith Schaeffer in Huemoz, Switzerland) totally unannounced, sporting my “Gandhi glasses,” green pajama suit from Nepal, and a huge, red backpack. Despite my outlandish appearance, I was welcomed warmly, settled in Chalet les Sapins with Udo and Debbie (Schaeffer) Middelmann, and soon after met with Os Guinness, the proctor for my studies.

The early days of the L’Abri ministry began when the Schaeffer daughters brought fellow university students home to discuss issues related to faith and culture with their parents. By the time of my arrival in April of 1971, L’Abri encompassed several chalets overseen by workers. I was one of about one hundred students. Some were Christians seeking a deeper understanding of the intersection of faith and culture, while others, like me, were seeking to know if the Christian faith was true. It was a stimulating atmosphere, with long, serious conversations around the table during meals, weekly lectures and discussions, and Sunday worship. The rhythm of life at L’Abri seemed quite similar to my experience at the ashram in India. The weekday routine involved both study, discussion, personal time, and work to benefit the community; my main assignment was working in the large community gardens.

My first study assignment was listening to tapes of Francis Schaeffer’s lectures in the Book of Romans. Having grown up in a fairly liberal Protestant church, I had never heard the Bible handled with such care and proclaimed with such intense passion. I began to hear many of the now famous Schaefferisms, such as “true truth,” a phrase that resonated with me, coming from an Eastern worldview in which there is no such thing as objective truth. In his preface to The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy, James Packer gave an apt description of Francis Schaeffer that squares with my experience of his teaching and preaching style:

[W]hat he said was arresting, however he might look or sound while saying it. It had firmness, arguing vision; gentleness, arguing strength; simple clarity, arguing mental mastery; and compassion, arguing an honest and good heart. There was no guile in it, no party narrowness, no manipulation, only the passionate persuasiveness of the prophet who hurries in to share with others what he himself sees.[3]

A pivotal factor while I was on the way to faith was the rare gift that Francis Schaeffer exercised in his analysis of worldviews. What I learned from him about analyzing worldviews has served me well throughout my life as a Christian. Like many then and today, I took a smorgasbord approach to religion, picking the parts that I liked of each religion and ignoring the remainder. Through Schaeffer’s approach, I was led to see that worldviews have an internal coherence. One cannot take a piece of a worldview and leave the other unwanted bits behind. I began to see that the Eastern and Christian worldviews are radically different on numerous key issues. The nature of the being of God, the “mannishness of man” (another Schaefferism), the basic problem of humanity, the necessary solution to that problem, the view of history (linear or cyclical), and the central purpose of life are just a sampling of the many key issues.

Through the weekly lectures and discussions, I began to see the beating heart behind the unique community that characterized the ministry of L’Abri. Repulsed by a cold, sterile orthodoxy, Schaeffer had a deep spiritual crisis in 1951. Emerging from that crisis, he was determined to pursue a Christian faith that remained totally orthodox in belief while simultaneously demonstrating the reality of Christian love in Christian community before a watching world. L’Abri had become this kind of community by the time I arrived in 1971. This combination of truth and love was powerfully attractive to me as an unbeliever. I was able to stay at L’Abri as a student for three months, then, after coming to saving faith, to remain another four months as a helper. I am thankful for that extra time in this unique community, which prepared me for a lifetime of ministry.

My experience of Frances Schaeffer is neither that found in the number of hagiographies that have been written, which portray the man as a nearly superhuman saint and towering intellect, nor was my experience one that is found in writings that have savaged the man (most notably the books written by his son Franky). Some of the people closest to him have given us a more balanced view of Schaeffer. For example, in an interview with Jane Stewart Smith shortly before her death, she speaks glowingly about Schaeffer’s role in her conversion and his deep concern for the people who came to L’Abri. When asked to comment on Schaeffer’s quick temper, Jane freely shared a couple of occasions on which she witnessed flare-ups of that temper.[4] Because the editor of this journal and I lived and worked in such close proximity to Schaeffer at L’Abri, we experienced him “warts and all,” as the expression goes.

Os Guinness spoke of his love for Fran and Edith and his continued appreciation of Schaeffer’s legacy in a short interview with Justin Taylor (The Gospel Coalition) on the 25th anniversary of Schaeffer’s death. In this interview, Guinness honestly conveyed what he perceived as Schaeffer’s weaknesses. He went on to verbalize what, more importantly, he perceived as Fran’s great strengths:

“I often say simply that I have never met anyone with such a passion for God, combined with a passion for people, combined with a passion for truth. That is an extremely rare combination, and Schaeffer embodied it. It is also why so many of his scholarly critics completely miss the heart of who he was …”[5]

Douglas Groothuis recalls an occasion when Schaeffer was asked to define his apologetic methodology: “After a talk, Schaeffer was once asked about apologetics. ‘Dr. Schaeffer: Are you a presuppositionalist or an evidentialist?’ He replied, ‘Neither. I am an evangelist.’”[6] Although critics might see that as an evasive answer, I believe that it was an honest expression of what motivated the man. Os Guinness agrees that it was Fran’s evangelistic heart that was his greatest strength. Guinness writes, “If you watched him one to one, within a minute or two you could see his eyes—I don’t think he was aware of it—you could see his eyes welling up with tears. He had incredible empathy and compassion for the people he was talking to.”[7] As I recall my interactions with Schaeffer, this description accords well with the kindness and grace he showed toward me. I am convinced that as Schaeffer looked at me and all the other weirdoes who came to L’Abri, he had full confidence that God was able to save each one, including me, and remake us into the image of his Son.

During my stay at L’Abri, I realized that Schaeffer’s combined passion for God, people, and the truth, while perhaps modeled best by him and Edith, was worked into the DNA of L’Abri as a whole. As an unbeliever, I remember lengthy conversations with the Schaeffers’s daughter, Debbie, who shared so much of her mom and dad’s intensity in one-on-one interactions. I never felt dismissed or disrespected, even though I was steeped in Eastern ideologies. During my time at L’Abri, my life was also deeply impacted by an older woman from New Zealand, Sheila Bird, affectionately called Birdie by the L'Abri community. She was a trained Christian counselor who helped me to understand many of my motivations from a biblical perspective, both before and after I came to faith in Christ.

One other aspect of L’Abri, which flowed directly from the personal convictions of the Schaeffers, was the importance of prayer in the life of the community. From the earliest years of the ministry, prayer played a central role in the life and direction of L’Abri. I learned that Mondays were set apart each week as a day of prayer. Workers would sign up for time slots during the day; they would pray for every aspect of the ministry. The Schaeffers had decided early in the life of L’Abri that they would not publicize their financial needs but would rather bring them to the Lord in prayer. In many of the Schaeffers’ books there are multiple testimonies to how the Lord supplied for the financial needs of the work. The workers prayed for God to bring the students of His choosing to L’Abri and then for God to do His transforming work in those who came. I am certain that I was the beneficiary of numerous prayers offered to God on my behalf. Witnessing this commitment to prayer gave me a strong sense of the need to undergird any ministry done in God’s name with concerted prayer.

In 1971, when I arrived at the doorstep of L’Abri, I realized that the ministry of Francis and Edith Schaeffer was absolutely unique, which is why people traveled from all around the world to participate in that community. I could not have crafted a ministry more suited to my quest for “true truth.” With all the imperfections inherent in any human endeavor, the community lived out the claims of the Christian faith in a breathtaking way. God used this remarkable ministry to bring me to see the uniqueness of his Son and his superiority to all fallible human teachers and religious leaders. My time at L’Abri prepared me for a lifetime of Gospel ministry, as essential a foundation as my years in seminary. I am forever grateful for the life and ministry of Fran and Edith Schaeffer.


[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Chicago: Inter-varsity, 1968).

[2] A. Guillaumont et al., The Gospel according to Thomas (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1959).

[3] J. I. Packer, “Foreword,” in The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Wheaton, IL: Good News, 1990), xi.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kdf8isieGU4&ab_channel=FrancisSchaefferStudies.org

[5] Justin Taylor, “An Interview with Os Guinness on the 25th Anniversary of Francis Schaeffer's Death,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed January 17, 2022, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/interview-with-os-guinness-on-25th/.

[6] Douglas Groothius, “Francis Schaeffer: Pastor, Evangelist, Apologist, Prophet.” Christian Research Institute, accessed January 17,2022, https://www.equip.org/article/francis-schaeffer-pastor-evangelist-apologist-prophet/.

[7] Tim Stafford, “Os Guinness: Welcome to the 'Grand Age of Apologetics',” Christianity Today, accessed January 17, 2022, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/july-web-only/os-guinness-interview-welcome-grand-age-apologetics.html.

Paul R. Maffin retired in 2013 after serving as a pastor, missionary, and church planter with Converge, and he is presently living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. Ordained Servant Online, March 2022.

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Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
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Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

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Ordained Servant: March 2022

Current Issue: Francis Schaeffer—Reformed Evangelist

Also in this issue

Reflections on the Ministry of Francis Schaeffer

The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 9, God, Heaven and Har Magedon (2006)

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 25

Genetic Engineering, Human Nature, and Human Destiny: A Review Article

The Old Testament Use of the Old Testament: A Review Article

The Cottage by the Bridge by Ivars Fridenvalds

Marred Desires

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