When Rebecca St. James spent much of the fall of 2004 at Francis Schaeffer’s famed L’Abri Fellowship Study Center, God opened her eyes to a whole new life. And now, with the release of her surprising album, If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something (ForeFront), it’s clear she’s been diving in headfirst.
At a black metal table in front of a coffee shop on Nashville’s West End Ave., sits Rebecca St. James, a Grammy winner, author, speaker and 12-year Christian music veteran. All at the ripe young age of 28. A young woman — wise beyond her years — who never set out to make a name for herself, but who used her success and the platform that music gave her to share her faith with others. A young woman who has toured and recorded year-in, year-out, trying to live up to the professional hype and her own expectations in the midst of our confused, celebrity-obsessed culture.
It is, of course, exhausting. Rebecca has struggled with self-image, as most young women do. She has worked hard to be good enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, strong enough. She did everything she could do, except take a break — a real break — from it all.
So this late fall afternoon, sporting a tan suede chapeau and a warm, ?happy-to-be-caffeinated’ smile, Rebecca recounts her well-planned getaway and how God used it to change her.
Up, Up & Away
“Part of being Australian is my go-getter, ?never say die’ kind of attitude,” Rebecca confesses. “We’d gone so hard on the road for so long that I’d struggled with near burnout several times. For the last four or five years, I’d seen the need for a yearly sabbatical, but I’d never been able to get away. So, last year I decided to go away, like really away.”
A touring artist since the age of 16, Rebecca had never experienced the luxury of college life, but the idea of being in a learning community appealed to her. “I always thought it would be kind of cool to be with a bunch of people my age and be growing? Maybe take a Bible course or psychology or counseling. Those things have always intrigued me.”
Switzerland had also fascinated Rebecca ever since she was a little girl watching The Sound of Music and Heidi on television. Those magical mountains had been tucked away in her mind’s eye. So she did some research, looking for a place in Europe where she could go to disconnect from life as she knew it and reconnect with herself and her God.
That’s when Rebecca discovered L’Abri Fellowship Study Center in Huemoz, Switzerland, a retreat center founded in 1955 by renowned Christian theologian/philosopher Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith. French for the word “shelter,” L’Abri was established as a community study center where Christians and non-Christians alike could seek honest answers about God and the meaning and purpose of life.
During the 1970s and ’80s especially, L’Abri was a profound source of inspiration for the fledgling Christian music community. Meanwhile, Francis and Edith Schaeffer also influenced other prominent believers such as Charles Colson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Cal Thomas and Os Guinness, to name only a few. As recording artists such as Larry Norman and Charlie Peacock hailed Francis Schaeffer’s books, Art and the Bible, How Should We Then Live? and other L’Abri texts, Mark Heard, Steve Taylor and many others actually made the trek to Switzerland to study at the Schaeffers’ community center. Together, Francis and Edith urged Christians to become disciplined scholars, championed the arts, encouraged women who chose to be homemakers, and helped unify evangelical opposition to abortion.
After Francis passed away in 1984, Edith continued to write books and nurture the ministry they established together, opening the way for so many, including Rebecca St. James.
“It was such a beautiful, God-ordained thing,” Rebecca says of discovering L’Abri, “and it was just what I needed because they don’t dictate [a course of study] for you. They ask you, ?What’s on your heart?’ and ?What do you want to learn?’ and then they say, ?We’ll help you.'”
Copyright © 2005 CCM Magazine, Used by Permission
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