I did not really know Edith Schaeffer, having never resided at L'Abri, the residential Christian study center that she and husband Francis Schaeffer started in the Swiss Alps in 1955. I did, however, meet her on two occasions.
Once, in 1992, I attended a L'Abri conference in Rochester, Minnesota, her then home. She gave a rambling talk at the conference, the subject of which I have forgotten, remembered like a verbal abstract painting, I thought, wonderfully passionate and yet not fully connected. A youthful, late Seventies Edith was signing copies of her books afterward, and when I approached her she was alone, amazingly enough, as a throng had been around her most of the time. But it would not have mattered. Others have remarked on how warm and personable she is, and that proved true. In that moment, at least, Edith was genuinely interested in me, smiling, asking about my family and my interests, as if I was the only one in the room, drawing the Alps on a whole page of my copy of L'Abri (her story of that place), signing it to my whole family. She never looked impatient or concerned about the next person in line. It was only me. She was a model of the kind of dead on attention I would hope to give (and yet seldom give) to those I meet and talk with. She embodied hospitality.
My next meeting with Edith occurred about 14 years later, in 2006, when Edith was about 92. My business and wirting partner Kevin and I were in Gryon, Switzerland, where Edith lived under the care of her youngest daughter, Debbie, and husband, Udo Middleman. We were to interview Edith for an audio biography we planned. Edith arrived under her own steam, well-dressed, as always, smiling, helped by two Swiss hiking poles but otherwise providing her own locomotion. Sitting down with her inside, talking with her, it was obvious that she did not have a full memory, as some answers were prompted or supplied by Debbie, but her eyes were alert, her voice strong, and she remembered fondly the times when her kitchen work was complete and she sat near the woodstove and listened to the provocative discussions led by her husband. I suspect that this tireless woman was glad to finally sit down.
Whatever else the Schaeffers did at L'Abri (and much was done there), it began when they opened the door of their home and of their hearts to people from all walks of life, inviting them into their lives, sharing what little they had with them, and offering them friendship and a place where any question could be asked. Through their words and example, many came to know Jesus. Some were unconvinced. And yet virtually all would have to admire their integrity. They lived what they taught. I have been told that Edith would often be on her knees cleaning the kitchen floor at 3:00 AM, or preparing meals for new arrivals at that hour, and that the Schaeffers were often up late writing personal letters to those who inquired of them, studying, or praying.
Though others knew her far better than I, still I will miss her. She taught me to pray in pictures, imagining the answer. She inspired me to be creative in even the most mundane of endeavours. She made concrete a conviction of God's providence, as I read of the tapestry that God was at work weaving in her life. Would that I had such a heart for people, such an open door to the lost and searching.
Rest with Christ, Edith. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter God's peace.