Saturday, June 16, 2007

Honest Questions, Honest Answers

iBridge article by Alvin Ung
June 14, 2005

When I was an international student studying in the U.S., I sometimes had nowhere to go during the long vacations. Tim Keyes, a college buddy, often invited me to his parents’ home in outside of Boston. His parents, Dick and Mardi Keyes, said they were directors of an unknown group called L’abri Fellowship. For a moment, I thought they were leaders of a cult group.

Most days, Dick and Mardi would host fifteen to twenty strangers living in an old, white house with more than 10 rooms. These people, called “students,” stayed there anywhere between three days to three months. They shared their meals together. During the day, L’abri students would repair the roofs, prepare meals, split firewood, dredge the pond, or whatever household duties that needed doing. I wondered: were they a church? After all, their library had more than 10,000 books – many of them were Christian books. Yet they did lots of things that most churches (and families) don’t do.

For instance, they spent hours during meals talking. Many people shared openly about their psychological problems and sexual issues, while some expressed their anger at how they had been abused by churches.

I met a man in his fifties who told me that his pastor abused him sexually for fifteen years. As a result, he suffered from insomnia, nervous breakdowns, ulcers and psychological problems. This man told me that he came to L’abri to figure out the past pains in his life. “I had so many questions, and I couldn’t find a place where I could ask those questions and find some answers without people giving me looks of condemnation, or disgust, or accusing me of being insane, or an attention seeker,” the man told me. “So I came to L’abri.”

After repeated visits, I knew for sure that L’abri, far from being a cult group, has been one of the most significant ways in which God has impacted the lives of Christians and non-Christians throughout the Western world.

L’abri was started by Francis and Edith Schaeffer after hundreds and thousands of people streamed to their home in Huemoz, Switzerland, to seek meaningful answers to questions about truth, life and Christianity. ‘Students’ would stay from several days to several months. During the day, they’d help the Schaeffers with household chores and meal preparation.

In the evenings and during meal-times, people would ask questions and discuss everything from nuclear disarmament to communism to hospitality to modern art to jazz. Eventually, more L’abri centres were set up in England, Holland, Denmark, the United States and Korea. Many senior Christian leaders have visited and participated in the L’abri ministry, including pastors and theologians from Malaysia.

The visits to the Boston L’abri were life-transforming for me. I saw the strength of Dick and Mardi’s marriage – how they honoured and respected each other as co-equals and openly shared their struggles in their relationship and their work as L’abri staff workers. As an ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, I was unused to people who were willing to be vulnerable and share their lives with honesty.

I also saw how they welcomed strangers into their family as part of Christian hospitality. They listened to people’s questions. They provided thoughtful answers to difficult questions, and they weren’t afraid of saying ‘I don’t know.’ Several times a year, they’d be invited to Harvard, MIT, Wellesley and Middlebury colleges to lecture on Christianity to a secular audience. Though they worked very hard, it seemed to me that their work was very meaningful. And that made a deep impression in me that lasted for years.

And they loved books. Dick has written several books on heroism and identity, while Mardi has published books and lectures on feminism and gender issues. They have an immense collection of reference books, and specialised collections on everything from jazz to art to eschatology and archaeology. One night, I asked them how they managed to amass more than 10,000 books, especially since they weren’t making tons of money as L’abri staff workers. “We put aside ten percent of our monthly salary for books,” Dick said. That was exactly what I did when I began working in Malaysia.

“We must visit L’abri together one day,” I kept on saying to Huey Fern, year after year, while we worked in Kuala Lumpur. “I would love you to meet Dick and Mardi.”

Just a few weeks ago, my wish became true. Huey Fern and I met the Keyes at a L’abri conference held in Portland, Oregon. Mardi’s hair seemed more streak with salt than pepper (sorry, my limited grasp of language does not permit me to understand this line). She seemed tired from the hectic pace of the conference, yet her eyes were lively. Later, I learned from Huey Fern (who attended Mardi’s workshop on “Hospitality”) that Mardi suffered from chronic fatigue two years ago because of hosting the students at L’abri.

As for Dick, I always knew him to be quiet, pensive, thoughtful. An experienced mountaineer and a former member of Harvard’s rowing team, Dick had large hands and thick, sinewy arms. “How’s your magazine project coming along?” he asked me, to my great surprise. When we last met, I’d told him about Phases magazine and how I’d been mobilising a community of young writers in Malaysia. That was five years ago. I was amazed he remembered.

Meanwhile, Mardi continued to talk with Huey Fern and peppered her with questions about life as a spouse in Regent College. Again, this was highly unusual. In Malaysia, many people tended to ignore Huey Fern, who’s by nature, a quieter and more thoughtful person than I am. “Mardi really welcomed me, even though I was a stranger,” Huey Fern told me later. “Both Dick and Mardi are really interested to know about other people, but they also share openly about themselves. And they treat all our questions seriously.”

Later on, as I reflected on our lunch meeting, I realised that I had not seen Dick and Mardi for many years. Yet my lifestyle and aspirations continued to be shaped by each of them, and the relationship they shared with each other.

There are some people whom we’ve met only a handful of times – but we are shaped by these people for the rest of our lives. All the disciples spent only three years with Jesus but their lives were forever changed. Paul met Jesus face-to-face only once, and that encounter on the road to Damascus shaped Paul’s priorities, lifestyle and thought forever. Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed Mother Teresa several times, but spent the rest of his life writing about her.

Some points to ponder:
1. Think of one or two Christians who have impacted your life deeply. What were some favourite stories/moments that come to mind when you think of them?

2. In what ways did their character, conduct and lifestyle remind you of Christ?

3. Thank God for the special ways He has used their lives to shape your own life.

Dave: If you like to listen to messages by Dick Keyes, check out the resources here


Rachel Loo said...

Thanks a lot Hedonese. Very useful for my Apologetics paper.

BTW, how can I join the Agora ? I am not IT savylah. U know we lawyers, only know how to use our big mouth.....

Dave Chang said...

Rachel, ur most welcome! I have added you in the Agora forum, look forward to ur contributions. Hopefully, this paper i did for my part time studies on Doing Apologetics in the Malaysian Context may help a bit too... Soli Deo gloria

Rachel Loo said...

Still don't know how to do it !

BTW, Bee Theng I would be coming back to SJ as early as July next month. I have lost your H/P number. Can u give it to me again ?

alwyn said...

any chance i could join Agora, too? whilst I'm not as heavy into apologetics as i was, I do on occasion facilitate certain sessions and address (amateurly, of course) some questions from my youth group which i think are echoed by many others, too.

let me know, thanks.

Chang Wei Hao said...


I have sent ya BT's handphone. Doubt she frequents the blog very often though she's a fervent moral supporter hehe...


Come on in! :)

Rachel Loo said...

Thanks. I got it. I still do not know to join the group.

Dave said...

Visit this link and click on Subscribe:

Anonymous said...

Of course its a cult! If it walks like a duck & quacks like a duck its a duck. The Keyes are hypocrits who will shun you at the drop of a hat if you displease them. Trust me I know. Stay away.