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Enduring outpost of the Kingdom near Victoria, B.C.

02 July 2024 By Louise Jansen

Canadian L’Abri is a communal retreat house that welcomes anyone, reports Louise Jansen

In a modest rambling house half hidden from view on a small acreage along one of Vancouver Island’s scenic roadways sits a little-known gem of Christian ministry. Offspring of the original L’Abri (French word for shelter) established in Switzerland in the 1950s, Canadian L’Abri is one of a dozen or so similar communities worldwide.

I was a latecomer to L’Abri. In the spring of 2022, I found myself in the delightful circumstance of having a week of unstructured time to spend in Switzerland. Contemplating what sites to visit, I had a vague memory of this residential study centre in an alpine village that I had heard about decades earlier. I wondered if it still existed. If so, would they welcome a curious drop-in for a short visit? And would this be a valuable use of this precious window of time? The answers to these questions were yes, yes and yes.

That visit left me wanting to learn more about this unique ministry, and it led to subsequent visits to two other L’Abri centres, one of which was our own Canadian L’Abri.

The Canadian centre ( is led by hosts Clarke and Julia Scheibe who serve alongside a small team known simply as workers and helpers. Like all the other L’Abri communities, the Canadian one follows the model set up by Christian leaders Francis and Edith Schaeffer all those years ago. It is a faith-based family-style ministry that combines hospitality with culturally relevant apologetics-oriented teaching.

All who come are welcome – Christian, skeptic, atheist or other. People can stay for an extended period or a shorter time to reflect or wrestle through issues from personal ones to social/cultural and spiritual/theological ones. I met young people trying to sort out life transitions and older people struggling to navigate through cultural issues impacting their families.

There is thoughtful Christian teaching, tutoring and mentoring, and an abundance of library resources for personal study. Guests also spend time each day participating in the typical chores that keep a home running, and they share communal meals and many other opportunities for group discussion as well as times for play and fun.

After each of my three L’Abri visits I came away with a conviction that more people should know about this ministry. In its early years much of the outreach was to young people backpacking across Europe on a quest for meaning and truth. Themes from Schaeffer’s teaching remain central in the contemporary iterations of the ministry, but its other aspect, the communal context in which it takes place, has perhaps even greater relevance today.

Much as predicted by Schaeffer half a century ago, the eroding of Christian influence and subsequent crumbling of traditional stabilizing structures in modern western society has left ensuing generations increasingly adrift in meaninglessness and loneliness.

L'Abri is not a quick fix for anything, but it does offer something rare that modern churches typically do not – an opportunity to share day-to-day life with others in a wholesome supportive community that is grounded in truth, and characterized by faith, hope and love. This can be lifegiving in ways that the kingdom of God on earth is meant to be. And as such it is rich with potential for restoration and transformation.

Though not a high-profile ministry as it once was (and certainly not in Canada), conditions in modern life in the Western world have given rise to an ever-growing need for the kind of communal shelter that L’Abri provides. That it is still very much a vital God thing is attested by many stories of life change still witnessed by faithful workers at Canadian L’Abri as at other centers across continents and across the decades.

Louise Jansen is a writer in Brampton, Ont. Photo of front door from L'Abri website.

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