CFC Lecture

“A True Friendship Between Equals”: Growing Up with Francis Schaeffer as a Father

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Francis Schaeffer was one of the brightest Christian thinkers of the 20th Century. Dr. Bruce Ashford describes his influence this way:

Francis Schaeffer was the director of a Swiss retreat center, L’Abri, and became well known as a teacher and defender of the Christian faith. Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, had moved to Europe to work with a Christian children’s ministry, but they ended up founding L’Abri in the village of Huemoz, Switzerland, in a cottage that also served as their home. L’Abri became a place where hundreds and eventually thousands of seekers and skeptics came to have their spiritual and intellectual questions answered. (Read more.)

A few years ago, Schaeffer’s daughter Deborah and son-in-law Udo Middelman visited the campus of Southeastern Seminary. They had a wide-ranging conversation with Dr. Bruce Little about Schaffer’s life and ministry.

In the first few minutes, Deborah recounts her experience growing up with Francis Schaeffer as a father. Watch the discussion above, or read an excerpt of that section (2:20 — 7:21) below (edited for clarity).

Francis Schaeffer was a very observant person, and he taught us to be very observant.

“We took our holidays in Italy, and that was a very significant part of my life. We were living in this tiny Swiss village; my parents traveled extensively throughout the year, all the way from Finland down to Portugal. But we as a family, the children that is, were in this village the whole time. During that time, we had a very rich family life. My father read out loud 10 pages a night to the family… all sorts of books like Emily of New Moon, like Anne of Green Gables…. He would read 10 pages; he always said if he read more he wouldn’t get around to doing it. So would maddingly stop at the end of the page when it was a full-stop, but not necessarily at the end of a paragraph even. So even if there was half a page left until the end of the chapter, he wouldn’t read it. He was very legalistic about those 10 pages, contrary to my mother who would read on and on.

“So we had a very rich family life. My parents were traveling 6 months out of the year and they were writing children’s lessons when they were home and corresponding with people. And they did that work at night, from the time we went to bed to about 2am every night. During the day when we were around, my father loved to hike. He hiked with us. We all skied. We spent hours discussing together as a family. We had very rich family life. And that was all in the days before L’Abri started….

“In the summers we went down to Italy. My father had a great passionate interest in art and in literature and in music, which he loved to explore. He introduced [it] to us as children, not in a didactic sort of way (of “now I’m going to lecture you”). Rather, when we were on vacation we were on the beach in the mornings, and in the afternoon we went hiking together, and these were all on old Roman roads. We found out a lot about the history of Italy and Roman empire and all sorts of things as we hiked together.

“He also took us down to Florence, which are some of my richest memories. When I was 7 and again when I was 10, he had a whole schedule. He said we didn’t come to Florence to eat or sleep; we came to look at things. He had a schedule as to when the first museum building or church opened in the morning until the last one closed in the evening. And we did nothing but go to this tightly planned visit in the few days we were there. We saw a phenomenal amount. But not just walking through…. I remember so well sitting in front of a Michelangelo statue (not his “David” but a smaller statue) for an hour as a 7-year-old so we would actually see it. He was a very observant person, and he taught us to be very observant.

“Our discussion was wide-ranging, whether it was around a table or as a family. Working the garden together, hiking together, we were always talking.

“One of the most significant moments (that also says a lot about my father’s character) is [this]: I remember very clearly as a 4-year-old walking up the village street holding his hand coming back from his preaching. His preaching in the tourist months was to tourists who were there… but during winter months it was usually our family and the German woman who played the little pump organ and came to church with us. We would have a full service…. and I remember walking up the street with him and him saying…:

“‘We have two relationships,’ and this was to a 4-year-old. ‘The main relationship is one of a brother and sister in Christ. Before God we stand as equals. And we are also father and daughter.’

“This informed the way he related to his children and how he related to the human race. He had great regard for what we had to say. He had great regard for our point of view. My most significant memories are of that, whether it was in the area of hiking or looking at museums together, or skiing together, was a true friendship between to equals in a quite astounding way.”

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Center for Faith and Culture

The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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