“It was hot and it was dangerous…”

Chateau Duffy 2015 took place over Easter, but before we share our stories from that trip, Texan Wes Lane had chance to share what Chateau Duffy has meant to him when he visited London in February earlier this year. 

When did you first visit France?

I’ve been twice, in 2012 and 2013. In February 2012, I’d met Shannon in Kerville, Texas. She brought up the opportunity and said it was going to be over Easter. I said, “Absolutely! I need that. I need to go on a sabbatical.” My wife and family were very supportive because they knew I needed time away as I’d just gone through some pretty rough times. I got to Saint Denis des Murs and was transformed immediately.

Happy workers

Happy workers at Chateau Duffy (it must be champagne o’clock!). Spot Wes in a fetching blue hard hat. April 2013.

What were your first impressions?

It was the first time I’d been there. I arrived at the gites, and Chris [Duffy] and Carl [Gordon] and I drove to the house and it was in shambles. All the tiles had been taken off the roof. Our job was to clean out what was the barn, which was packed full of rotten hay and wooden burn. And it was falling down, and it was dangerous. I was like, this is great. So we built scaffolding. We proceeded to take off the old the wood rafters and beams. During the week we took all the old stuff out and put all new stuff in. Then put new plywood down and out rain proofing on top of the plywood and really started to make something take shape.

Can you talk a little more about your time there?

It was so refreshing for me. It renewed me in a way that I didn’t know I needed to be renewed. Being able to be out of an office working with my hands, cutting lumber, building scaffolding… It was hot, it was dangerous, it was a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of climbing. When I got back, I hurt every day. I ached but it was a good pain – like I’d accomplished something. Bodily I hurt but mentally I felt better than ever.

I thought it was once in a lifetime chance. But every time I am mentally renewed, physically drained, but, again, I couldn’t have a better experience.

Shifting dirt, again.

Digging the dirt. Again. And again. And again.

What did you make of those long communal meals?

It was rebuilding time. Spiritually, mentally, physically. I lost 15 pounds during the trip although I ate more than I’d ever eaten. There was fresh bread for breakfast and fresh sandwiches for lunch. Amazing dinners.

Did your family join you?

[They joined me] on the second journey. On that trip the children turned 4 and 9. Austin, who is now 10, had his birthday meal at the base of the Eiffel Tower. I said, from now on we have a very high standard to meet for birthday presents. How does it get better than that?!

Happy 4th birthday Max!

Celebrating Max’s 4th birthday at ‘Shadow Duffy’.

Max turned 4 that trip. He had this birthday at the gites. It was wonderful! He still talks about it. One of the presents from the group was a French Spider Man comic book written completely in French. He cherishes it. It sits next to his bed. He keeps trying to have it translated but I don’t read French… He talks about Shadow Duffy because he does not understand ‘chateau’. It was a great experience.

That year we had a full-time au pair that took care of the children every day. There were four or five children there and they got on amazingly well. It was British kids and American kids. Austin and Max still talk about their friends who live in London.

The crew

The crew. Spot Wes in the back row, second from the left.

Interview by Svetlana Graudt

Photos by Liz Clutterbuck

Cameron’s Chateau Duffy Experience

So, What was been happening.

A lot, is the short answer.

In this post, I am going to write about my time at Chateau Duffy.

One of the highlights, PUPPIES!

One of the highlights, PUPPIES!

Any time you are offered the opportunity to go to France, say yes, at least that’s what I do, not that the opportunity does come along that often. My journey to Chateau Duffy was a long one. I took the bus overnight to Paris and then a train to Limoges, both were surprisingly nice. I especially enjoyed getting to watch the sun rise on the ferry crossing.

Admittedly, by the time I got to the gite even my young college age body was exhausted (hey, I had been awake for almost 36 hours). But, only a fool would not take the opportunity to run around and play some Frisbee and football (proper football, not this ridiculous American thing where your feet don’t do anything). The week frankly, was an opportunity for me to run around and enjoy physical labor.

As humans, we for some reason, benefit by being active. Obviously, there are health benefits, but I think our souls are refreshed by a good days labor. Having a week of mixing concrete, assembling scaffolding, and all the other things I got to do was a wonderful reset.

I even got to see a 2CV!

I even got to see a 2CV!

Chateau Duffy Reflections

Coming off a week of travel around Europe, Chateau Duffy was a fantastic way to end my trip. I met up with Shannon, Rachel, and Gwen in Paris a few days beforehand, and we drove down to Limoges that Friday. The French countryside was absolutely beautiful, and I was strongly reminded of the Ohio valley where I grew up in the States.

That weekend was particularly meaningful, not only because it was the start of the Chateau Duffy trip, but because it was Easter. I was especially struck with a sense of dualism between my time in the States and my time in Europe, in how much God has blessed me over the years, whether I’m in the Ohio countryside, or French countryside – which are both amazing. Easter also felt very different, in the sense that it’s not an extravagant holiday like it would be at a Texas mega-church. It really was a day of remembrance and thankfulness, rather than another holiday you take for granted just because it happens.

Lindsay looking devious...

Lindsay looking devious on Easter…

Easter meal

Easter meal

Taking a Sabbath right before starting the week also really helped us all take a breath from our rhythm of travel the day before. Shannon introduced a sort of “communion” at our evening meal with bread and wine, the way it would have been done at The Last Supper. This verse stood out to me, as a sort of parallel to how Matryoshka Haus does community,

“The Son of Man came, eating freely and drinking wine” – Matthew 11:19

Bits of scripture really helped set a more complex spiritual dynamic for the week, encouraging us to take time out for reflection and be responsive to God. However, I especially appreciated that this wasn’t at the forefront of our trip; no morning prayer, no afternoon Bible readings, no evening worship, etc. Everything flowed out of individual conversations taking place throughout the week, allowing different people to open up and share their experiences. Thus, I could really see how different people in the community organically meshed together, regardless of faith or background. Overall, Chateau Duffy was like a little case study in how the Matryoshka Haus community operates relative to its projects. This was particularly significant for me since the only active London MH project is the Transformational Index, which is more exclusive than past ones.

On one hand, “Chateau Duffy” as a project really encapsulates the spirit of Matryoshka Haus; that is, to bring hope, justice, and restoration where there is none. Before I arrived at Chateau Duffy, I was expecting… well, a chateau. But as you can see, Chateau Duffy is really more of an ancient French home and barn, built in the 15th century. When MH first started this project, there didn’t seem to be much hope of justice and restoration, given the state it was in.





In spite of this, “Chateau Duffy” really brings the MH community together in a unique way. For the first time since I arrived in London, our time together wasn’t broken up by the logistics of everyday life in the city. Especially coming off of a week of international travel, the sense of “sharedness” in the experience of Chateau Duffy was very refreshing. At times the worksite seemed almost comical, the way so many different people came together to work on this one construction project, despite the fact that almost none of us knew what we were doing.

The ebb and flow of life during the Chateau Duffy trip also was really reflective of the spirit of Matryoshka Haus. We work hard during the day, bringing our diverse community together to accomplish a common goal for the common good. In the evenings, we have these great hospitable meals and engage in community with others, whether that is within MH, or the other communities we touch with our projects.

Barbecue with the villagers

Barbecue with the villagers

I think a defining moment for this Chateau Duffy trip was the last day, when we threw a huge barbecue at Chateau Duffy itself. We finished work early, cleaned up the worksite, cooked a huge meal, and invited the entire surrounding village to come to the party.

Barbecue in a wheelbarrow?

Barbecue in a wheelbarrow?

As you can see, while it took Cathers us a while to get the barbecue going, we had a great time interacting with the villagers and the food was fantastic 🙂


I think by the end, we all realized that “Chateau Duffy” is actually quite a nice space, and that we’re starting to have an effect on the surrounding community. It doesn’t hurt that we literally double the size of the village when we visit. Overall it’s a great picture of what Matryoshka Haus does best, I think.

Until next time!


Mi Matryoshka Haus es nos casa.

Wayne and his wife Chris travelled from San Francisco to join us at Chateau Duffy. As he reflects, Wayne coins a new term for members of the community – the ‘Haus-keteers’!

It’s hard to believe it’s still not even a year that we’ve known of the Matryoshka Haus community. When we first met Shannon and the team, we were immediately excited with their vision, passion, and impact! Since then, the Vocari community in San Francisco has invited them back for a visit, used the Transformational Index, recommended them to several other non-profit and for-profit organizations, and arranged four speaking events in the Bay Area.

Now my wife and I have taken the next step…
Last month we left our home to join with the Haus-keteers to work on a house – a 400-year old farmhouse out in French countryside! Not knowing more than a few people, we did not know exactly what we were getting involved with! But we were encouraged and excited to be swinging a hammer and pick along with two dozen people who were tirelessly giving their all to reclaim this little patch of countryside.

To me, it was an inspiration about what is possible when we pursue a great vision (BHAG) with a spirit of generosity, creativity, and brie. (;-)

Coming from that experience, we are excited about our son Cameron working as an intern this summer with Matryoshka Haus!

Wayne sleepsIt was very rare to find Wayne NOT hard at work on-site…

Wayne sleeps 2

…well, generally! 

[In all seriousness, both Wayne and Chris were hugely valuable members of the team! Wayne displayed a skill with the pick axe that few could emulate and Chris’ French skills were perpetually useful – especially when negotiating the return of surplus wood.] 

Shedding snakeskins

For Rachel, Chateau Duffy is a place of retreat and reflection – which can lead to some big decisions…

Last week, I changed my surname on Facebook.

This decision was a long time coming. During the first Chateau Duffy, I was in an abusive marriage. The trip was a perfect retreat for me – surrounded by a caring, non-judgemental community, peaceful, luscious countryside, and very little responsibility. I wrestled with the idea that my marriage was nearly on the verge of killing me. I wanted it to last a lifetime and I was scared that a divorce meant I had failed, and I would be judged by the people I respected most.

That first trip convinced me that I needed counselling and medication, that I was not a failure and that there were people who might judge me – but those who truly loved me would not. This, through Matryoshka Haus, was the start of my healing.

Fast forward two years. Now divorced and frankly very happy, spending another wonderful Chateau Duffy with my beloved friends.

However, I became a little grumpy that the community still hadn’t learned to distinguish me from the ‘other’ Rachel – or was it me who was the ‘other’ Rachel? This needled me right in the insecurities. I insisted my friends call me not Rachel but my married name, Nunson, to distinguish us. Annoyingly, they all seemed reluctant.

Much later on, away from the community bustle, I considered why this might have been. Part of me thought I wanted to preserve my battle scars – a name I felt proud of. I liked the fact that it was rare.

But on the other hand, perhaps my church knew I was keeping that name as a last defence against facing the fact that I had failed in my ambition to have a lifelong marriage. Perhaps dropping that name was a final admission that I didn’t want to make. A removal of clothing that resulted in shame.

Then I remembered that the lovely Carl Gordon found a discarded snake skin in the farmhouse, and showed it to us all before throwing it away. Why would anybody hold on to an old snakeskin? It’s served its purpose. The snake is happily snaking away somewhere else with a shiny new one.

A snakeskin from the 'snakeskin loft'

 Snakeskins are discovered in the house every time we visit Chateau Duffy…

Easter time is good for resurrecting things. Coming back to life. So here friends, is the old me that I thought had died, and is now alive.

– Rachel Collinson