This week I’d like to share a story with you. It is a story shared by someone whom I admire greatly and who has influenced my life and world view by his life and his teaching. Jerram Barrs has long taught at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and has written many books from which I have benefited. The greatest way he impacted my life was from an event sometime during the 1990’s:
My husband and I attended our first L’Abri conference in the late 80’s in Texas. We came away from that conference impacted by the way God’s Word was alive in all the teaching. We had never heard the concept that God is the Lord over all of life and His Lordship is expressed and applied through His Word and through the action of the Holy Spirit. We returned home to Greensboro desiring to share this kind of teaching in our community. At the time it was relatively easy to have L’Abri come and put together a conference. A community provided the funds, the location, the promotion and organization. A person from L’Abri selected the speakers, the theme, and organized the program. My husband’s administrative skills were put to work, and we hosted three conferences in Greensboro during that decade. We got to know Jerram as he came for conferences.Excerpt from “Firstfruits of a New Creation“
On one occasion we were driving Jerram out to the western part of the state to visit some dear friends of his and a family we had come to know as well. We ourselves had visited in their home. During our travel and as we talked, I commented on the lifestyle difference of this family because I had never known a family to live such an openly hospitable as theirs. Jerram gave me the gentlest reprimand as he told me of the great gifts of hospitality that this family had bestowed on the children of many of the L’Abri workers as they were able to come and stay, especially during their teen years, here in America. What I took away from that conversation was the need to respect and recognize the worth of the contributions each individual brings to their sphere of influence.
That was my first interaction with Jerram. I have never forgotten it. I know that many have experienced that same kind of thoughtful, gentle, wise reprimand from Jerram. I have read how he has impacted the lives of many others as he has taught and spoken in throughout his adult life.
Let me tell you a bit about Jerram’s life. As a child in England, Jerram was born into a poor family. His parents were not believers, but they were kind people. Jerram grew up in a home where good books were read, where his parents treated one another with great kindness and treated others with great generosity. Jerram’s father was a gardener, and Jerram came to love and appreciate God’s creation. In 1963 when Jerram came to Manchester University to study English, he brought with him a great energy, combined with warmth, friendliness, poetic sensitivity, a keen mind, and athletic vigor… and great and troubling angst. He expressed it this way:
I wondered how any meaning and value can be given to human life. “Who am I, and is there any ultimate meaning to my life?” were questions that plagued my soul. I did not see any basis for being able to make a distinction between good and evil. I felt there was a difference, and I longed for there to be a difference, but I could find no reasons for such a difference.Excerpt from “Firstfruits of a New Creation“
For Jerram, the great angst led to despair. One day Jerram took a train out of the city to the countryside to an outcropping of rock and cliffs. Thankfully, as Jerram looked at the beauty around him, he decided to give life another chance. He later wrote that that day, “I felt constrained to keep searching just a little longer before taking such a final step.”
But God…had a plan for this exact moment in Jerram’s life. It so happened that at the period of time Jerram was in school at Manchester that a group of serious young men became a hub of thoughtful discussion and debate around the topic of the relevance of Christian faith for contemporary thought. Christians and a network of friends attended Sunday evening “Coffee House” discussions, and Jerram was invited. For a particular meeting, two weeks after Jerram’s decision to continue in his search, one of his friends who knew nothing of Jerram’s struggles pulled together a talk from the book of Ecclesiastes, insights from Francis Schaeffer, passages from Nietzsch, Camus, and Sartre. That talk centered on the search for meaning and significance. That meeting was the first of many gatherings and visits over the next weeks and months. Finally Jerram culminated a meeting by asking for a private chat with his friend. Jerram wanted to become a Christian and was determined to know how. A seed had been planted, and Jerram’s faith was thriving in the soil into which it had been planted.
There is much more to the story which I will not continue here. Jerram’s father did become a believer sometime later as Dr. Schaeffer visited with him near the end of Mr. Barrs’ life. Jerram continued in his studies at Manchester to graduation, followed by a time of study at the L’Abri branch in Switzerland, and then a move to St. Louis to study at Covenant Seminary…and a life of ministry and teaching in various settings.
I tell this story to illustrate God’s faithfulness to work among us when we have no idea who may be in our path. The men who befriended Jerram at Manchester did not know of Jerram’s particular struggles, but God did. They were faithful in their own searches and understandings, applying what they knew…and God used that to bring a sensitive, seeking man into the Kingdom of Light. What is God doing in the life of the next person you meet?