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John Bost

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A visit to the Asylums of Laforce

by the Reverend R. S. Ashton
(1875)



LAFORCE is not marked on the smaller maps of France, and is by no means easy of access even in these days of railways. Suffice it to say that it is in the department of the Dordogne, not far from the banks of the river of that name, and at the distance of 6¼ miles from Bergerac. As we journeyed towards the village, first by rail from Libourne to Ste. Foy, and thence by post-cart, it was clear that we were in "the sunny south,'' and in a land flowing with milk and honey. The time was the month of September, and the vines were assuming their rich yellow and purple tints, and the grapeelusters were rapidly ripening for the vintage. The corn had been gathered in, but the maize still stood in rows with its long brown leaves concealing the golden seeds. Peach and pear trees, laden with fruit, surrounded the cottages. The whole district seemed to smile with plenty. The fertility of nature fairly took us by surprise. It was a spectacle that for the first two or three days wellnigh absorbed our whole attention and rendered the observation of other sights a matter of difficulty. Yet there were moments when even this marvellous display of nature's treasures almost lost its power to charm and delight the mind. When the late Rev. J. Waite, the blind singer in our Israel, was once asked whether he would ride inside or outside the coach, he chose the latter position, in order, as he said, to "see the country;'' and we do not doubt that at the end of the journey he could have given a better account of the scenery through which he had passed than many of his fellowtravellers. But how is a poor mortal, though possessed of eyes, to observe with any care, or appreciate to their full extent, the beauties of a district, when compelled to ride for two hours in a small covered post-cart on a cushion of intolerable lumpiness and with legs jammed together amid mail bags and boxes? The best of faculties become dimmed by blazing heat and blinding dust, not to speak of the annoyances arising from certain lively creatures belonging to the insect-world. The country was very lovely all along that weary road from Ste. Foy to Laforce—of that we are perfectly sure, but our readers will not expect us to be very minute in our description of its beauties. Our chief feeling on reaching Laforce was one of intense relief at being delivered from our temporary prison-house.


No snug country inn, with its smiling landlady, awaits the arrival of strangers at Laforce. The post-cart deposits its cargo at the door of the little post-office, with its promiscuous store of grocery and haberdashery. Leaving, therefore, our luggage just outside the little shop, in the hope that honesty was one of the virtues of the place, we made our way to the Famille évangélique. At the time of our visit the Synod of the Free Churches of France was being held, and all was bustle at this, the central house of the whole establishment. The Director, Pastor Bost, or as he is familiarly styled, John Bost, was in requisition everywhere, and it was some time before he could be found. At length the door of the private room where we had been waiting and enjoying the subdued light and deliciously cool air produced by the partial closing of the jalousies, or outside shutters, was opened, and there stood before us a stout middle-aged man, with bonhomie beaming in every feature of his rotund face. He was not the kind of man that we had pictured to ourselves ; but there was no room for doubt. This by no means imposing personage could be no other than the famous John Bost, the friend of the orphan and the sufferer. With a heartiness more akin to that of a Yorkshireman than a Frenchman he bade us welcome to Laforce, and at once began to make such arrangements as were possible for our comfort at a time of overwhelming business.


After a good wash and a hearty meal, which was prepared with the usual French despatch in culinary matters, we were ready to begin our inspection of the various establishments which have sprung up in this rich and lovely district, for the training and relief of French Protestant children whose surroundings and circumstances expose them to vice or misery, or whose sufferings and deformities close all ordinary doors of charity against them, and unfit them for living in the society of their fellows. French Protestantism has instituted numerous orphanages and asylums, but the rules of admission that were laid down excluded many most deserving and necessitous objects. Some thirty years ago John Bost was impressed with this fact, that there were several classes of orphans and poor girls for whom no provision had been made, and he therefore set his heart upon founding a temporary home for them.


But how was this to be done? By seceding with a number of his people from the Reformed Church, and forming a Free Church at Laforce, he had raised against himself a host of enemies amongst the Protestants of that district, and so diminished the chance he might otherwise have had of securing their sympathy and aid in his beneTolent undertaking. But the purpose of his heart was strong, and he was not easily discouraged. He came over to this eountry, and by urgent appeals addressed to all parties, and especially to the kind, or—as in his broken English he once put it in a speech in Scotland—the sweet, hearts of the ladies, he raised a considerable sum, sufficient to enable him to begin his work. His people entered into his plans, and in default of money gave him labour, and carted the materials to the place of building. The orphanage thus erected in 1848, and since enlarged, is called the Famille évangélique, and contains sixty-three girls, thirty-seven of whom are orphans, while others are girls whose vicious surroundings exposed them to ruin, and others, again, are daughters of Protestants who live in districts where no Protestant school exists. The instruction given is simple and useful. The children are taught to cut out and make up their wearing apparel, aa well as to perform all the household operations. From time to time some of them are sent on foot to Bergerac to purchase articles required for the family, and are thus brought into contact with the outer world, in which, in after years, they must take their place as domestics or nurses. To quote the language of the last report:—"To serve, and not to be served"— our whole system of education may be summed up in this brief motto. Yes, they make mistakes. They burn the linen occasionally when ironing it, or they cut the cloth the wrong way; or, when serving at table, they break a glass or a bottle, or let a plate and its contents fall; all this is true: but, dear friends, they are inmates of the Famille, in order that they may serve their apprenticeship."


The Famille is, however, only one, and perhaps the least important, of the various asylums at Laforce. In the village itself are two establishments, called respectively Bethesda and Ebenezer, and intended for girls who are idiots, or blind, or incurable, or epileptic; while, two miles distant, are two asylums for boys afflicted in the same way. The names of these establishments are Siloam and Bethel. Under these four roofs is found a little world of misery and calamity such as it would be impossible to find in any other country under heaven. We have our asylums for idiots and others, but they are separate institutions. At Laforce specimens of nearly all the worst physical and mental calamities that can befall the human race are brought together, and this through the indomitable persevance and ardent benevolence of one man. Well might the Montyon Prize be awarded to John Bost, as one of the greatest benefactors of bis race.


Our readers would not thank us if we attempted to describe at length the scenes that may be witnessed in these asylums. Suffice it to say, that more than two hundred of these poor creatures may here be seen; some few blind, but bright and intelligent; others chattering, mischievous idiots; some capable of understanding something of the Saviour's love, but scarcely capable of adding 2 and 2 together; others subject to fits, which are gradually undermining the strength both of body and mind. Some of the patients were supposed to be incurable, or utterly unfit for any of the occupations of life; but experience has shown that kind and judicious treatment, abundance of wholesome food, and, above all, exercise in the open air, the whole accompanied by strict moral discipline and the gentle but constant inculcation of Gospel truths, have, in course of time, wrought wonders, one might almost say, miracles. The blind, although, as John Bost says, they are well aware that they will not recover their sight till the resurrection-day, fill the asylums with joy. The idiots lead them about, or, in some cases, they serve as supports to those who are too weak or helpless to walk alone. A former pupil in the orphanage has devoted her life to the care of those who are hopelessly idiotic, and attends to them in a most affectionate manner. Of course, some of the worst cases are not shown to visitors; they are kept in as much seclusion as possible; but their attendants are at times compelled to flee from the presence of "these untamable demoniacs.'' Their howlings are intolerable. Baths, toys, food, fruit, everything has been tried, but nothing calms them.


In addition to these five asylums intended for the young, John Bost has now erected a sixth, intended for aged governesses, and sick and forsaken widows. All the other buildings are of the plainest possible architecture; this one, Le Repos (the restingplace), has the appearance of a large and handsome French country house. It stands on a piece of level ground overlooking the wide and fertile valley of the Dordogne. Here, in process of time, some fifty old ladies will come to end their days amid the beauties of nature and amongst kind and Christian friends.


Space forbids our entering into any details respecting the arrangements of the various buildings and the history of this wonderful enterprise. We must content ourselves with urging that such of our readers as are able to do so should undertake a pilgrimage to Laforce. We can assure them of a hearty welcome from John Bost and his estimable wife; especially if, after the manner of pilgrims, they make an offering towards this most benevolent and Christian work. On their way there they will pass through many scenes of great interest, and at Laforce itself they will behold sights painful and distressing to the last degree, but which will at once remind them of the old pool of Siloam, and its crowd of impotent folk, once so graciously visited by the Son of God, and convince them that in these six asylums there is a practical exhibition of a "higher life," and of the true Spirit of Him ''who went about doing good."


Reverend R.S. Ashton
The Christian's penny magazine,
and friend of the people

(1875)

Establishments of John Bost at Laforce, The Romance of Charity, by John De Liefde (1867)

John Bost, Pastor and Philanthropist, magazine The Quiver (1883)


Asiles de Laforce en 1878 : liste des bâtiments & résidents

La Famille - Béthesda - Ében-Hézer - Siloé - Béthel - Le Repos - La Retraite - La Miséricorde



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