As many of you know, I came to know the Lord at the age of 21. Having not been raised in a Christian home, I was desperate for godly role models and mentors. I came across the writings of a woman my mother's age who opened a whole world to me of beauty, elegance, and excellence. Her name was Edith Schaeffer. Together with her husband they founded L'Abri in the Swiss Alps, a ministry after the French word meaning "the shelter".
As a young mom I devoured Edith's many books. Two of them had a tremendous influence on my life: The Hidden Art of Homemaking and What is a Family? As the years wore on I read everything that she wrote; some of her writings were theological, others historical. I loved her book The Tapestry, which chronicles the history and lives of Edith and her husband, Francis. I was also very influenced by her book Christianity is Jewish. The title really says it all. The Schaeffers wrote a book together out of their ministry to children that they created in Switzerland based on the book of Luke. It is entitled Everybody Can Know. Edith wrote the classic book on suffering, Affliction, and even a child's book entitled, Mei Fuh.
Edith Schaeffer was the child of missionaries to China and spent her first years in a missionary compound there. She met her husband, Fran, in 1932 while attending a liberal Presbyterian church where she heard a sermon entitled "How I Know That Jesus is Not the Son of God." As she was about to stand to rebut the message, a young man in the audience beat her to his feet. He gave an articulate argument and they began dating that evening. They were married several years later.
Her Worldwide Impact
Edith was a woman of many talents. She put her husband through seminary tailoring men's suits and sewing wedding gowns. She would purchase leather hides and create men's belts selling them to high-end department stores. After his education, Fran and Edith were sent by the Presbyterian Church as missionaries in 1948 to post WWII Europe. They went to counter the theological liberalism that was emerging from Germany at that time. By 1955 they had moved through various chalets finally settling in Huemoz, Switzerland. There they established L'Abri where they, as a family, welcomed spiritual and philosophical seekers during the turbulent 60s. Their ministry became a think-tank from which many leading minds in the Christian church emerged. Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote twenty-two books and Edith followed with twenty of her own.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at a L'Abri conference with their daughter Susan and afterwards had the honor to have dinner with Edith and some of the speakers. When I first met Edith I told her that I was her “long lost daughter”. And she said, "Daughter, where have you been all these years?" She was dressed, as always, artistically and elegantly. We giggled as we discussed where she had gotten her adorable little shoes. Several years later I had the opportunity of being in her home in Rochester, MN where she did a reading from the book about her childhood in China, Mei Fuh.
It is hard to describe the scope of Edith Schaeffer's influence. She built her life on the Reformation premise that there is no divide between the sacred and secular, between her spiritual life and what she did as a wife and a mother. This shaped everything she wrote and taught. Her theology affected how she set a table, made dinner, and sewed curtains for her chalet, all on a shoestring missionary budget. Her writing exhorted me to bring beauty and excellence to my daily life. She also modeled the joy of reading aloud as a family. Anyone who has heard me speak knows the amazing implications of that message.
On March 30, 2013 at the age of 98 Edith Rachel Merritt Seville Schaeffer entered the presence of the Lord whom she had served so faithfully all the days of her life. She will be missed but her books and her influence will live on. I recommend them to you.