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L'Abri (French for "Shelter") is an evangelical Christian organisation founded by Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith in Huémoz-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, on June 5, 1955. They opened their alpine home as a ministry to curious travellers and as a forum to discuss philosophical and religious beliefs. Today, L'Abri houses in various parts of the world continue to offer people a place to stay when they travel.
Schaeffer became an evangelical Christian as a teenager. In 1947, Francis and Edith moved to Switzerland to work as missionaries for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM) in Europe. Following a spiritual crisis in 1951, and disagreements with theologians such as Carl McIntire, Schaeffer and his wife left IBPFM in 1955, to pursue their dream of working with young people. They moved to Huémoz, where they established L'Abri, without assurance that it would be successful. Word-of-mouth soon led to an increasing stream of visitors, with one period in the summer of 1956 averaging 31 visitors per week. International distribution of tapes of Schaeffer's lectures also helped to raise awareness of Schaeffer's work.
As it grew, the L'Abri organisation came to own and operate several buildings in Huémoz. It came to include four kinds of people: short-term guests; students, who divided their time between study and communal work; workers, who participated in discussions and the work of hospitality; and members, who were part of the decision-making process.
Schaeffer died in 1984, but the ministry he founded has continued to grow. Now, L'Abri has operations in a number of different countries, each staffed by workers who encourage visitors to study and consider their religious and philosophical beliefs. As of 2011, L'Abri has residential "Study Centres" in the United States (Minnesota and Massachusetts), Canada, South Korea, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Sweden, as well as the original centre in Switzerland. It also has non-residential "Resource Centres", run by friends of the organisation, in Brazil and Germany.
A L'Abri centre is not a retreat, a commune, or a seminary, although it incorporates elements of all of these. Visitors are referred to as students, and personal study remains central to L'Abri's work, but there are no fixed "classes" or courses. Rather students (who may spend any time from one day to a whole "term," usually 2-3 months, at L'Abri) meet regularly with a member of staff to discuss the issues they wish to study, and are recommended resources from L'Abri's library of books and of recorded lectures and talks by L'Abri staff and others. A student's day is divided into "study time" and "work time." During "work time," a student will help with the necessary activities of the community - cooking meals, cleaning, maintenance etc. This division is based on Schaeffer's constant emphasis that Christianity, and the work of L'Abri, were not only intellectual but had to incorporate all of life, and that a demonstration of "Christian Community" was as central to L'Abri's work as the intellectual demonstration that he believed could be made of the reasonableness and truthfulness of Christian belief.
The importance of Schaeffer's belief in the relevance of Christianity to all of life can be seen in many aspects of L'Abri. Even so, some articles have suggested there is less of an emphasis on serving philosophical skeptics and more of an emphasis on serving disaffected evangelicals. In a recent article on the group, Molly Worthen suggests that students today come with very different questions, and that they tend to look at the politicized evangelical faith that Schaeffer helped create with suspicion.
Apart from Francis and Edith Schaeffer and their children, several notable Evangelical authors have been influenced by working with L'Abri. Such former staff include Os Guinness, Hans Rookmaaker, Greg Laughery, and Wade Bradshaw,
The L'Abri study center in Rochester, Minnesota also organizes bi-annual "L'Abri Conferences" in the USA and Canada at which L'Abri staff from across the world and other speakers supportive of the vision of L'Abri speak and lead seminars on a wide range of topics.
In 2005, a conference was held in St. Louis, Missouri to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization, and over 1,000 attendees were present to hear speakers such as Os Guinness, Harold O. J. Brown, and Chuck Colson.
Thirty years ago Edith Schaeffer founded The Francis Schaeffer Foundation to receive her husband's papers and annotated books for scanning and subsequent study. This takes place under the direction of her son in law Udo Middelmann, who worked with Francis Schaeffer in L'Abri for seventeen years, where he was also Francis Schaeffer's associate pastor in Huémoz. He has written several books and there is a website with many lectures and information. Ideas, as Francis Schaeffer stated often, have consequences, which is why he asked people to not "start L'Abris", but rather take the ideas they had perhaps learned with him, and develop them in their own fields.