Religion: Mission to Intellectuals

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In the tiny Swiss ski-resort village of Champery on New Year's Eve, a seldom used Protestant chapel blazed with candlelight, and an international congregation of young skiers assembled for an English-speaking service. At the altar was a U.S. Presbyterian minister who had returned for the occasion, after having been expelled from Champery 4½ years before for his "religious influence." The Rev. Francis Schaeffer's influence had consisted of providing a small Protestant oasis in the solid, stolid Roman Catholic bishopric of Valais. After serving at churches in St. Louis, Mo., Chester and Grove City, Pa., Philadelphia-born Presbyterian Schaeffer went to Champery in 1949 to help organize Sunday schools for continental Protestants. But as the only Protestant minister for miles around, he attracted too many adults who were ripe for churching; despite Switzerland's reputation for tolerance.

Schaeffer and his wife were told by the cantonal government that they must move out of the canton. At last they found a new headquarters 15 miles away: a 13-room chalet halfway up the winding mountain road above the Rhone Valley leading to the ski resort of Villars. Since their move, the Schaeffers have made the chalet one of the most unusual missions in the Western world.

No Ski Bums. Each weekend the Schaeffers are overrun by a crowd of young men and women mostly from the universities—painters, writers, actors, singers, dancers and beatniks—professing every shade of belief and disbelief. There are existentialists and Catholics, Protestants, Jews and left-wing atheists; the 20-odd guests this week include an Oxford don, an engineer from El Salvador, a ballet dancer and an opera singer. The one thing they have in common is that they are intellectuals. And the European intellectual is the single object of the Schaeffers' mission in the mountains.

"These people are not reached by Protestantism today." he says. "Protestantism has become bourgeois. It reaches middle-class people, but not the workers or the intellectuals. What we need is a presentation of the Bible's historical truth in such a way that it is acceptable to today's intellectuals. Now as before, the Bible can be acted upon, even in the intellectual morass of the 20th century."

Sandy-haired, sad-faced Francis Schaef fer, 47, and his handsome, mission-raised wife, Edith, 41, call their house L'Abri (shelter), and in the 4½ years they have been there, an "Abri Fellowship" has grown up to unite their former visitors and supporters. The Schaeffers depend on contributions; they accept no money from their church, and the young people who come are guests of L'Abri. For this reason, Missionary Schaeffer does not advertise. "There's no sense in turning this chalet into a free home for ski bums," he explains. News of the mission spreads by word of mouth only, and invitations are issued to those who are interested and considered suitable.

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