It was a long time ago, in the summer of 1966, that Doug [Nichols] was working for Operation Mobilization and was stationed in London during their big annual conference. He was assigned to the clean-up crew. One night at around 12:30 AM he was sweeping the steps at the conference center when an older gentleman approached him and asked if this was where the conference was being held. Doug said that it was, but that just about everyone had already gone to bed. This man was dressed very simply and had just a small bag with him. He said that he was attending the conference. Doug replied he would try to find him a place to sleep and led him to a room where about 50 people were bunked down on the floor. The older gentleman had nothing to sleep on, so Doug laid down some padding and a blanket and offered a towel for a pillow. The man said that would be just fine and that he appreciated it very much.
Doug asked the man if he had been able to eat dinner. It turns out that he hadn’t eaten since he had been travelling all day. Doug took him to the dining room but it was locked. He soon jimmied the lock and found some cornflakes and milk and bread and jam. As the man ate, the two began to talk. The man said that he and his wife had been working in Switzerland for several years, where he had a small ministry that served hippies and travellers. He spoke about his work and spoke about some of the people he had seen turn to Christ. When he finished eating, both men turned in for the night.
Doug woke up the next morning only to find out that he was in big trouble. The conference leaders came to him and said, “Don’t you know who it was that you put on the floor last night? That’s Francis Schaeffer! He’s the speaker for this conference! We had a whole room set aside for him!”
Doug had no idea that he was sleeping on the floor next to a celebrity, that he had told a man to sleep on the floor who had a profoundly important ministry. He had no idea that this man had helped shape the Christian church of that day, and really, the church of our day. And Schaeffer never let on. In humility he had accepted his lot and been grateful for it.
You can read the whole thing here.
David Wells shares an anecdote:
One of my most vivid memories of Schaeffer was waiting for him to arrive at our small London apartment where a group of students had met to hear him speak. Schaeffer was an hour late because he had been outside in the taxi talking to the driver about the Christian gospel! But this incident exemplified what I had come to admire about him. His sense of both the greatness and tragedy of human life pervaded everything he said as did the corresponding sense that God has spoken and has given to us truth which is unshakable.
In Schaeffer on the Christian Life , William Edgar, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounts how his instructor at Harvard, Harold O.J. Brown, encouraged him to visit l’Abri during a summer vacation to Europe in 1964. At the time, Edgar was an unbeliever, holding to the existential philosophy of Camus. But the visit to l’Abri turned out to be life-changing. Here’s his conversion account, after the first night of listening to a lecture and interacting with the community:
I made my way upstairs to the little chamber outside the bedrooms where Francis Schaeffer liked to counsel people. With that same profound face, its warm grin, and the clear sense that he really cared about me as well as the issues we needed to discuss, he asked whether I had thought of my question.
I spouted out my question about relevance, and he came back with an extensive, thoughtful reply. His answer included the “free-will defense” for the problem of evil, and the importance of human significance, owing to our being made after God’s image. We went back and forth.
After a couple of hours, I just knew this was all true. If it is possible to feel the Holy Spirit come into one’s heart, I could, and I did. I was a Christian!
Fran then directed me to pray, which I had never done, at least in any sort of personal manner. What should I say, I asked? Just “thank you” will do very nicely, he replied. So, my face bathed in tears, I thanked the good Lord for leading me into his family. Fran frequently accompanied my phrases with groans of agreement, which I would later learn is a standard evangelical way of praying together. He then prayed for me, and we prayed together for Joe [= Harold O.J. Brown] and for many other things we seemed to care about mutually.
Less than twenty four hours after my arrival at l’Abri my life was completely turned upside down. Or was it right side up?
For more on Schaeffer, see:
- Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life
- Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer And the Shaping of Evangelical America
- Lane Dennis, ed., The Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer
- Bruce Little, ed., Francis Schaeffer: A Mind and Heart for God
- Bryan Follis, Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer
- J. I. Packer, “No Little Person“
- Jerram Barrs, “Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message“
- Credo Magazine, “Francis Schaeffer at 100“
- William Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality, Theologians on the Christian Life Series