Saturday, June 15, 2013
PHOTO ACQUISITION: GEA - ANABEL BAKER
L'Abri Fellowship, one finds the account of two visitors named Betty and Gea. To the left is a new photo we have acquired of Anabel Baker, "Gea," Miss Kansas, being crowned queen of the 50th Anniversary American Royal, a large annual event here in Kansas City (Special thanks to William Gebby for directing us to this find).
Of the two girls mentioned by Edith, Betty is of course Betty Carlson, author of several books on L'Abri, and artist in residence, who lived and worked side-by-side with her dear friend and opera singer Jane Stewart Smith at L'Abri. She is especially noted for having paid to send send Edith away to write the story of L'Abri and having consulted Francis Schaeffer on "writing books," prior to his first works. Gea's real name however, is never given in Edith's book. The only real information given describes her as being "dark and beautiful (Miss Wichita, Kansas, of the year before. She could both dance and play the piano and had Hollywood as her goal." (L'Abri, pg 55) Edith later documents, "As for Gea, she today is the wife of a pastor in mid-west America, and the mother of five children. Her husband wouldn't be her husband, and the children wouldn't have been born, if it hadn't been for what happened that week in [Chalet] Bijou." (L'Abri, pg 55).
Likewise, Betty Carlson does not give us any clues either in her account, The Unhurried Chase that Ended at L'Abri. She describes their meeting on page 88, saying "Gea and I had met about a year before at Camp Eleanor on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where she was a music director, and I was the swimming and tennis instructor. I don't recall when we first talked about Switzerland, perhaps I talked about it; but I believe that I was trying to explain to her why I was going back. It got involved, because it sounded melodramatic to say that there was an outer force compelling me to go back." She further talks about how that she inspired Gea's interest in Switzerland and eventually talked her into traveling, although she generally disliked it, "Even coming from Kansas to Wisconsin had been a hardship for her. But I gargled on about how marvelous it was, what extraordinary piano, drama, and ballet teachers where were in Lausanne. I was at the height of my persuasive power..." On page 86, Betty mentions in passing that Gea's husband's first name is Wayne, but we still have no mention of Gea's real name. Gea's account of their meeting is also in the book on page 94, where she recalls being introduced to Betty as the "world traveler" and was shocked to find a less-than-interesting travel enthusiast who was more concerned about comfortable clothes and shoes than style. This of course was something she was intent on changing!
So in order to find out who "Gea" is one must do a little research. We were able to consult the records for Ms. Kansas, from Wichita of 1950 and see that she was known for her acting particularly Shakespeare's Macbeth. The name of that winner is Anabel Baker. There is another name from Wichita a few years earlier in 1948, but she is the well-known Vera J. Ralston (Vera Miles), who played Lila Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Psycho. Thus finally, just for due diligence, Colin Duriez in his book, Francis Schaeffer, An Authentic Life, also confirms this conclusion in the footnotes on page 118.
Betty did eventually convince Gea to travel with her to Switzerland in the Autumn of 1950. They would eventually end up being directed to the Schaeffer's home by a mutual friend of the Schaeffer's, Baroness von Dumreicher. The Chalet Bijou, where the Schaeffer's first met the baroness, was regularly rented to artist and creatives, and was the Schaeffer's second home in the village of Champery before they eventually wound up at Les Melezes in Huemoz where they founded L'Abri (Betty and Gea's visit was actually five years before it's founding).
Betty had first met the baroness on her first trip to Switzerland after riding her bike from Sweden. Upon arriving at her pension, Baroness von Dumreicher would providentially become her friend and translator, helping to get her settled. So now, on this second trip, this time with Gea, a series of events transpired to bring about their trip to meet the Schaeffers. Both Betty and Gea had somewhat on a whim visited the Scotch Church and read the Bible a bit as a result but it remained something on the sideline with no deep appeal. Yet Betty, out of her conversations with a local man about politics, had written a series of about 50 "good will letters" to the states to encourage other students to study abroad and she had been fascinated with promoting the new idealogical fascination of a "the united states of Europe" to encourage nations to have a reason for not fighting with each other (remember this is right after World War II). One of these letters ends up getting published in a newspaper and is read by a sailor who is a Christian. He begins writing to Betty and sending her literature, explaining that there could be no lasting "good will among men" without Christ. Betty, although pitying the poor misguided sailor, had a fascination with the printed page, and read everything he sent. In continuance with her "good will" notion, her and Gea decided to found a traveling musical group to that end. They purchased instruments and a motor scooter for travel, and even invited a talented friend they knew from camp named Marianne. She traveled all the way from Chicago to meet them. When she arrived however, they discovered that she had become a Christian which presented some road-blocks to their big plan. Soon Betty developed a serious sinus infection that required her to be operated on. During her recuperation, Gea and Marianne ran the scooter into a taxi. This of course ended their dream of "good will troubadoring." When recounting their story to a Swiss friend, she said, "Well, it's simple. When you need to get over something in Switzerland, you go to the mountains." Yet there was one problem, they were broke. That next morning a letter arrived from Madamme Dumreicher, informing them that the Schaeffer's had written to her that they would like her friends to come visit them. Those who know the story of L'Abri, know that such coincidences were a regular happening as the Schaeffers prayed for God to bring them those whom He desired.
Although Betty and Gea were directed to the Schaeffers without knowing of their background and were astonished to find out they were staying with missionaries, there were soon overcome by their genuine care for them and hospitality. They realized that the Schaeffers were not some misguided zealots as culture has so comfortably labeled many Christians at times. Much to their surprise, they found themselves even defending them. On a venture down to a local hotel (Edith notes this as the Hotel Champery in her letters, With Love Edith pg. 208) to see their friend Angela, whom Edith describes in her letters as an English Jewish girl. Angela started by making some slightly disparaging remarks about the Schaeffer's calling them "balmy," which prompted both Gea and Betty to speak up in their defense. Gea said rather hotly, "They are the nicest family I have ever met in my life Angela. Maybe I don't agree with them straight down the line, but nobody calls the balmy in my presence!" Likewise Betty spoke up in regard that the Schaeffer's "might go overboard on their religion" and said, "Whatever it is that they believe, it surely hasn't hurt them. They know more about what's going on in the twentieth century than the three of us put together. And furthermore, the more you think about it, there's not much point in believing something, unless you really believe it." Yet Angela was not without a comeback stating, "I don't doubt their zeal of sincerity, but their insistence that Christianity is the ultimate truth in the universe happens to be nonsense, passe, and you know it! There isn't a respectable school in England that doesn't teach that all religions are equally good..." To this Betty interrupted, "Angela excuse me, but for the first time in my life I'm beginning to see how the old refrain belittles God, to keep saying that all religions are basically the same and basically good. Why that reduces the supreme being to a status lower than a floorwalker in a department store. For years I have thought it was the open-minded, intelligent thing to say that are all religions stem from the same God! A foreman in a factory has better organization that the popular vague god-of-all-religions who tells people to believe anything, do anything, and we'll all come out together in the end!" (see conversation in The Unhurried Chase that Ended at L'Abri, pg 134-135)
Betty and Gea did come to follow Christ soon thereafter. Edith notes in her letters (With Love Edith pg. 209) spending hours over supper preparations and canning, hearing Gea's life story. In her book L'Abri on page 54, she tells us that Betty came in one day and told her rather nonchalantly and matter-of-factly that she had come to believe the Bible and wanted to accept Christ as her savior and likewise Gea left a message to the same affect in their guest book. Their story is one of the early stories foreshadowing what would come to happen at L'Abri. It really typifies what so many have encountered. As Betty remarks in her book, "Many continue to come to LAbri along a path similar to the one Gea and I traveled. They arrive hungry, contentious, full of themselves, not knowing Who or what they are seeking; but they knock on the L'Abri door because someone along the way cared enough to direct them to risk upsetting them in order to set them straight." (The Unhurried Chase that Ended at L'Abri, pg 147)