Last Thursday, Dwight and I lost a dear friend to cancer. It’s strange how you can not see someone very often, but love and appreciate them ever so much. Such was the case with Nancy and Larry. We first met them in 1990 when we had our first L’Abri conference in Greensboro. We had attended our very first conference in 1987 in Texas and tasted something that we had never tasted before. We had never heard (and seen) scripture applied to all of life in such a true and beautiful way. When we left Texas, our heart’s desire was to share that same experience in Greensboro. It took a couple more conferences and discussion with a L’Abri worker before our dream came to fruition. The L’Abri worker, Dick Keyes, from the L’Abri branch in Southborough, MA worked with us by selecting a theme and enlisting speakers to come to the conference. Our responsibility was to provide transportation and housing for speakers, select the venue for the conference, make arrangements for meals, publicize the conference and take care of registration from beginning to end. Lots of people came from up and down the east coast. It was a delight to be able to share in that experience and to get to know many of the L’Abri workers more personally. That’s when we met Nancy and Larry for the first time.
Larry and Nancy were leaders at the Rochester, MN branch of L’Abri. Larry had attended seminary in St. Louis. Nancy had grown up in St. Louis and had trained as a nurse. They had worked for a period of time at the Swiss L’Abri branch and had come to Rochester in the late 80’s to head up the new L’Abri branch formed there as a ministry to the doctors at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Schaeffer was treated at Mayo for cancer, and Mrs. Schaeffer had purchased a home for them so that Dr. Schaeffer could undergo treatment and recuperation from treatment in familiar surroundings. Though Dr. Schaeffer did not survive his battle with cancer there, their home became a center for conversation, for meals and teas, for reading and discussing books together, for studying scripture together. It was a beautiful outreach into the medical community in Rochester. Larry and Nancy worked together to develop a L’Abri Conference in Rochester in February of each year.
There were two more Greensboro L’Abri Conference in ’94 and ’99. Many of the same workers attended and so did Larry and Nancy. They urged us to come to Rochester for their February conference – an outrageous idea to Dwight who envisioned the difficulties of a deep winter conference in Minnesota. We finally did get there in the early 2000’s and have returned each year except for one. We have only seen Nancy and Larry on a yearly basis since meeting in 1990. We have visited in their home in Minnesota once. They have always welcomed us warmly at the conferences. Nancy sought me out last February at the conference from her wheelchair, weakened by her treatments.
I’m wondering why we have such love for this couple whom we have only seen maybe 15-20 times in our lives. What drew us in deep love and appreciation for the lives of each other? As I ponder this kind of relationship, I think back to Paul, who traveled to different church homes throughout his ministry. He, too, obviously had a deep love for the people that he encountered. You can see it as you read the ending chapter in many of his books (letters) back to the churches. How does God cause us to love like that? Can it be so in our local church? How? The answer is certainly worth pondering and praying about.
Larry and two of his children held a memorial service for Nancy on Sunday afternoon in their home church in St. Louis where they retired after working for forty-three years at the two L’Abri branches. The service was broadcast over YouTube so that it could be available to a son who lived with his family outside the U.S. and was not able to return home. It was a beautiful tribute to Nancy’s life. Her daughter Katie read some of the details of Nancy’s life – her growing up in a home where visitors never came to share a meal with them, that she never learned to cook until after she was married, how she was thrust into cooking meals for multiple students in her early years at L’Abri, the grievous death of one of her young daughters, her love of God’s natural world, her early morning cups of coffee, reading aloud to L’Abri students as they lounged and listened to her energetic voice, her enthusiasm for life. It was clear that Nancy was fully aware that through her many inadequacies, God was at work in her life. As was the custom in her St. Louis church, the bell tolled 74 times for each year of Nancy’s life. With each peal of the bell, we were able to imagine the re-creation that God was working into Nancy’s beautiful, caring life as He was making her into His image.