With thankful hearts we ended our summer term a few weeks ago. It was a rich time of sharing lives together. The "L'Abri Welcome" resounded throughout the term, with our heavy oak front door constantly being pushed open. We had one hundred people joining us for varying lengths of time from all over the world – Norway, Hungary, Brazil, Australia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, North America, Ireland, Scotland, England - each with their journey, their own story, trying to make sense of what gives hope and meaning in life.
With the lovely summer weather, and endless hot sunny days, many of us workers chose to lead our prayer meetings around the theme of the life giving water that God graciously offers us, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters" (Isaiah 55:1 – the text Lili chose). Many who were with us, were trying to work out what a meaningful relationship with the Lord might look like. Several were realizing more clearly the choices before them - learning how to choose life, how to choose hope, and how to bend their knees and their hearts before the Lord our Maker.
One of the highlights of the term was on one of those hot summery Sunday afternoons, when Peter and Dawn and I took all of our students for a walk on the South Downs. Caravanning to the Old Winchester Hill with 8 meandering cars through the rolling countryside, felt like going on a big family holiday, or like an exciting school trip. Sitting in the back of my car was a girl who felt she needed solitude to cope with the outing. To deal with the drive she had closed her eyes and filled her head with music from her head phones. As we were approaching our destination nearing the top of the hill, she opened her eyes with great exclamation, showing literally how stunned she was by the beauty of God's creation. It felt like that afternoon was part of her journey to recovery. Sitting, having our picnic lunch (that Lindsey had made), while Peter read descriptions of the South Down chalk hills from The Lord of the Rings and G.K.Chesterton's A Piece of Chalk, felt like we were joining many through the ages, who were invited to enjoy God's creation there.
Another highlight of the term was two of our students who were both really grappling with the pain of life, renovating one of the decrepit picnic benches on our back lawn. Restoring the old wood, and adding some new, they reworked the bench into a thing of beauty. They engraved on the bench, "The Redeemed Bench" when they were finished. We watched something of that happen to both of these women in their lives, as they reworked some of the puzzle pieces of what it meant for them to be drinking the living water of Christ's redeeming love for them.
The lunch discussions throughout the term remained dynamic and thought provoking. One that stuck out to me, started with the question, "So why Judas?" It was yet another question around the problem of evil, but led to a penetrating comparison between the choices that Judas and Peter made. The one led to taking his own life, with Judas hanging on a tree; while the other culminated in Jesus sending a special message at the tomb just for Peter, knowing how much he needed affirmation at that moment (Mark 16:7).
There were many moments throughout the term that I was reminded of the part in C.S.Lewis's The Silver Chair when the little girl Jill heard the words, "If you're thirsty, you may drink". "For a second she wondered who had spoken. Then the voice said again, "If you are thirsty, come and drink", and of course she remembered what had been said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way. "Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion. "I'm dying of thirst", said Jill. "Then drink", said the Lion. "May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic …"
There were also many moments when I was reminded of how Francis Schaeffer frequently used to speak about what true freedom and dignity look like in a world which tantalizes us with individualism, impersonal chance, and relativism. It is a privilege to stand in L'Abri's tradition which emphasizes how Christianity provides an adequate and reasonable explanation for the source and meaning of personality, the basis for knowledge and relationship - a real explanation that provides hope amidst the constant dilemmas in which we find ourselves. Many conversations during the term were around the theme of what true human dignity could look like if reality were faced, and if the logical consequences of presuppositions were looked in the eye, with the real life offer of God's grace waiting to be embraced. One particular student comes to mind, who arrived hiding behind a mask, covering her face with real flowers and makeup. The immense transformation as she came to face reality in her life, and how that influenced her relationship with God, was remarkable. The last evening of term she danced for us, expressing this transition in her life – showing how isolated she had felt before, and how she was gradually drawn into life, drinking God's life giving water.
The term drew to a close with the helper's holding a Scottish dance together for us. Lots of laughter and fun was had by all as we tried to miss each other's toes while trying to get our feet and arms to do what we wanted them to. It was a lovely way to embrace each other, notwithstanding all of our longings, hopes, and human brokenness.
We are so thankful for the loving prayerful support of you all, and would appreciate your prayers as we gear up to welcome students back to the Manor for our Autumn term on 14 September. We give thanks for Jim and Merran who were on sabbatical this summer, as they join us again next term.
In Him who embraces us despite our weaknesses, and offers us living water to quench our thirst,
Edith Reitsema (on behalf of English L'Abri)