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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

The extraordinary amount of snow this winter exposes us to a new experience. New for us, since we have not had this quantity for more than thirty years. Almost daily the path to the little road by the front gate has to be shoveled free, piles of snow falling into our neck beneath the birch trees need to be avoided. When that is done, the car needs to be carved out of the snow, both naturally fallen and dumped seemingly with purpose by the frequently passing plows.

It should be a wonderful season for the ski lifts and tourist installations, but it is a bit of a pain for others. 'Others' here includes Debby and Isaac; the latter has to make his way up the steep hill each morning through another foot of snow to the cog wheel train, which he takes to get to school in Villars twice a day. For Debby the snow is a bit much, for she, too, walks up to a little school where young children wait for her to teach them English four mornings a week.

In these circumstances it is especially hard to have me be away to lecture and teach in other places. But once you make it to our house, walking down from the train stop BOIS GENTIL just above us, you would come into a warm wooden house, a fire lit in the fire place and a cup'a waiting for you. Call ahead and try it sometime!

So let me begin telling you about our work and lives since last November. I am writing this not to replace or supplement a Christmas letter, but to keep you informed of our work here, to ask you to pray and to ask for your help to continue it in the many opportunities we have to bring a more Biblical view of things and life, as the Schaeffers did and do, to people in a variety of settings.

Happily the school where I teach German to help us with bread and butter at home is somewhat flexible in allowing me to skip out to continue this work of the Schaeffer Foundation during the year.

I went to Russia for a second time this year, followed by a week in Kiev, capitol of Ukraine. First, in Moscow I talked to a variety of groups, both Russian and Western and mixed. Sometimes we met in the basement class rooms of a private college, at other times in the beautiful home of a businessman, who had invited about 30 guests for dinner and a lecture/discussion. Another time we met early in the day with about ten people for a Bible study. Then again I gave a lecture at Moscow State University to three combined classes of economics students Besides addressing Biblical subjects, I also talked with some business people about the basis for Christianity, the reason for a Biblical ethic and the need to understand man made in the image of God in all areas of life.

That theme comes up often in the world of materialistic thinking. It is not only a religious subject, but touches areas such as law, economics, society, education, where it is urgently needed. For until now for most Man is still but a conditioned reflex of matter bouncing off matter. Society is still a machine, which only requires a kind of oil to function better.

After six days I took the night train alone to Kiev. I was welcomed on the platform with a full schedule for eight days of lectures, personal meetings and discussions with Ukrainians, both Christians in churches, publishing houses others and university settings. To my delight I met John Hodges, a Canadian geneticist, with whom I would share the podium, ideas and minds a number of times during the eight days which followed.

Lectures at the Kiev Politechnical University, at the National Academy of Management and the Kiev Mogilyanskaya Academy always produced a sincere interest on the part of the professors and some of the students. On one hand an awakening curiosity stifled for so long in the past brings this out. The again, it is a desire for contact with Westerners in the hope of study exchanges. But then it is also the search for something more: how does our faith relate to life, to the discipline of study, to our personality?

Particular interest is expressed in finding virtues: how does one create a virtuous society after the demise of a combative mentality? For combative it was, with the embrace of the philosophy of Hegel's dialectic, the economic proposition of a historical class struggle, the reduction of human relations to sex and exploitation after Freud and the underlying acceptance of the Darwinian struggle for the survival of the fittest. All these create images of struggle, combat and victory, which express themselves not only on the large scene of the world for supremacy over the imperialists, capitalists and those caught up with a religion. That same struggle was also daily expressed in the absence of compassion, generosity and grace in the streets, at work and in the office.

You could find it very much in the family setting, at least between mothers and children, when they were not too worn out by the hardship of life at the end of the day. But otherwise it was not encouraged. For the Christian teaching of walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek, encouraging the downcast was seen as weakness and a hindrance to the advance of mankind. In both the Orthodox church and in the State, power was always judgmental, eliminating the losers.

Of great interest to us was a meeting with the whole philosophy and religion department of Mogilyanskaya Academy. The same folk who formerly taught scientific atheism are now trying to teach religion, without a clue. Neither is Christianity known except as the history and liturgy of the Ukrainian churches through the eyes of atheist authors. Nor do courses deal with the kind of questions from life and philosophy to which the Bible gives such glorious and rich answers.

Here lies an opening for courses to be offered by some of us later. Other opportunities arose from speaking of the Christian view of Man and life in the Management classes. For without a Christian view of the human being, Man is merely another thing to be manipulated for benefits, another part in the means of production, but not a real person.

I enjoyed speaking at the Center for Developing Leadership, which Ben Robinson runs twice a year for three months. About 50 young Ukrainians are introduced to a Biblical perspective on life, culture, law and society in preparation to taking responsibility in their generation in business, education and other fields.

In addition I also spoke for "Mission Light in the East" and the "Emmanuel" Mission, mainly literature and translation efforts, some radio work, and for Sergey Timchenko and Peter Marchenko in their church contexts. I was trying to suggest that we not only need to state the Gospel clearly in our society, but that such a clarity also involves a sensitivity to what the audience hears us say. By that I mean that in any cultural context, something seems more plausible than something else, and we need to consider that. For example, when we speak of God in a formerly atheistic context, the audience will more likely hear 'your religious opinion' or 'what helps you psychologically.' When you speak of truth, relativist or post-modern Westerns will hear 'your story, anecdote, viewpoint.'

Peter Berger points out the need to see that in a varied cultural context, something is not as plausible to one as it is to another, and we all shape what we hear top fit into our expectations.

This is not only important to understand in the Russian context, but of course also in our postmodern perception, when such a focus is on different ways of seeing different things to such an extend that a man and a woman, different racial backgrounds, different cultural contexts cannot speak with each other anymore. For they all have their own perspective, perceptors and plausibility reasons.

It becomes therefore urgent that we do not assume to be understood at first try. Instead, we must anticipate what the other person might think they hear us say, in order to avoid a false understanding in him or her. The whole conversation, text of a book or radio program needs not only to say what we mean, but also what we do not mean. And then we have to check up afterwards whether we were understood, or whether our words merely triggered a personally distinct, culturally controlled, gender- and race - specific meaning in the audience, which would miss the mark by far. We would be left with a non-communication.

Jesus did not do anything different from that by jolting his audience, using vivid examples( "Pluck out your eye, hate father and mother"), speaking in parables and applying confrontational methods: "But I say unto you.." The apostles continued same in the Book of Acts, when they expounded, argued, reasoned, taught and set forth what is true in the real world to each person in that real world.

In December we all went to Champery for the traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service in the Protestant chapel, which had been built there at the turn of the century by an English believer as a testimony to God's grace in Christ against the Roman Catholic dominance in the village. Dr. Schaeffer started services fifty years ago at the invitation of the tourist office in that mountain village. We have continued them, whenever we could. The service draws English speaking tourists and an occasional villager. There are only three or four Protestant families living there even today.

We were joined by a German, a Dutch and several English families, some Americans: together about 45 people, who responded to the posters I had put up in hotels the week before. Asaph and Marguerite Bar-lev, known to us from years past, and the Elias family from Aigle all made beautiful music on the bassoon, a viola and celli as well as voice.

In January I responded to invitations to speak in New York to our regular discussion group on the subject of The Roller Coaster of Post-modernism. I preached in the Ossining church, which had welcomed me three times before, renewed contacts with people in the city and discussed a book project on Russia with a friend and colleague.

In Minneapolis a week later I gave a talk for the MacLaurin Institute at the U of Minnesota on the Religious Component of the Russian Political Situation and to host a public lecture in the Heart of the Matter series with the title Building from the Margins: Searching for Coherence in a Postmodern World at a Borders book store from 6:30 until they closed at 11 PM. With about 50 chairs filled and a good many other people coming and going, the lecture and subsequent discussion over coffee, surrounded by books, was a challenge and delight.

The reason for my going to far North and West was the invitation by the Rochester L'Abri to give two plenary sessions and three work shops at the good and widely attended L'Abri conference on Christianity and History there.

I was most impressed again by Larry and Nancy's hard work in preparation, by the diversity and good intensity of people attending, the other presenters, the selection of subjects and the times of conversations over meals.

Of course it was also a time to refresh old friendships and to debate together deeper insights into God's calling for us as people. In one talk I addressed issues relating to a Biblical view of history, in which we are called to make choices, to create history, to resist evil and to bear the banner of Christ in the midst of a world that is not yet the kingdom of God. Doing good things according to God's word is the one side, the other being the refusal to accept all the fall-out of life after the Fall of Adam and Eve as the will of God. The heavenly battle has results in an earthly battle for truth and against resignation. Christianity is very different from Islam plus Jesus added!

My other talk elaborated the recent FOOTNOTES article (volume 6, number 2) "By Consent of the Governed" on the place of dissent, opposition and criticism of governmental authority as a form of participation in government. Both talks introduced good discussions. In addition we had workshops on the question in our secular world of the perceived absence of God since Auschwitz, on the effect of Disney-informed entertainment in shaping expectations in our lives and our churches. On Sunday I found an interested audience at Trinity Presbyterian church, when I spoke on the work we had done in Russia under the Schaeffer Foundation and the many cultural, economic and intellectual complications there from the common heritage, rooted in both orthodox church and state, to not give God's word to people, to not allow them to think, to take initiative, to explore life, God and ideas. Despotism has always been the mark of societies in which the love and grace of God to you as a person have remained largely unknown.

Now I am back with a full schedule ahead. A seminar in the International Church of Vienna, a week of teaching in a Bible school in Geneva, a return to Russia with Jesse James in April for lectures and meetings in Astrakhan, followed by two weeks in Belarus among teachers near Gomel and at the agricultural college in Gorki. Please pray for these times, but also for the weeks in between at home, for Isaac and Debby in my absence. There is more snow today after three days of steady rain, which soaked into the already heavy load of prior snow and endangers with its load our roof.

Pray also for Lisa Johansson, who last week had a cancerous lump removed and will need both radiation and chemotherapy in the weeks ahead against a virulent cancer. Jesse is doing better, but we must continue to pray for him after conclusion of his radiation therapy.

In between I have found time to enjoy immensely the book From Plato to Nato by David Gress. He first spreads out the Grand Narrative, which is so widely accepted in the US and Europe since the Enlightenment about the roots of our culture being in Greece, Rome and the Enlightenment. Then he disarms in great detail this theory, pointing out that what is Europe could not have come forth without the constant, repeated effort to teach and live according to a Christian view of things. The Bible is so different in its view of God, man and society, of life and history, of work and the individual. Neither Greece, nor Rome, nor the Enlightenment alone could have produced the best in our European/American history. Most fascination book.

Another surprise was the film Pleasantville, which we could see in English. While I expected it to be a protrait of my youth, it turns out to be an unusually philosophical film. Black and white are the scenes which describe the repetitive, unquestioned, orderly parts of life in the fifties. Color comes to the picture when books are read, art is discovered and the persons become more reflective of their divers actions. The tempting with the red apple is not a repetition of Eve tempting Adam, but an invitation to knowledge.

In Minneapolis a week later I gave a talk In the film the apple is like an apple given to a teacher in appreciation of knowledge. The 'black and white' people are alarmed, pass behavior codes, burn books and oppose people of color (in the double meaning!), while those now open to books and learning begin to taste the diversity of human life, from Rembrandt to Cezanne, from sexuality to chosen relationships. The film needs to be discussed, but it was a pleasure to find it to be so full of openings for a good one.

On the home front, Deborah continues her two classes of considering Christianity for village children. Isaac enjoys school and skiing, plays with the boys and teaches them English of sorts.

We value your prayer, encouragement and letters. With warm and personal greetings,

Udo and Deborah

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