EAY General Assembly
Ernst Sillem Hoeve, Netherlands, May 1992
Rev. Dr. Dölf Weder, Secretary General
A Summer Morning In The Mountains - Visions
I love these fresh summer mornings up
in the mountains.
You step out of your house into the
bright sunshine. The sun bathes the whole of nature in gold. A
delicate blue sky gently touches the mountains and forests. You smell
the fresh green grass, on which the precious pearls of the dew-fall
are still sparkling. In the distance you see the glittering waters of
a waterfall diving into a cool mountain lake. You hear joyful birds
singing the praise of the fresh morning. And you look up to the
majesty of the mountains in front of you, up to the snowy mountain-top
you have chosen to climb this day. With you and around you is a group
of YMCA friends, making you feel the warmth of friendship and
humanity. On your skin you feel a soft and gentle breeze of wind,
reminding you of God's breath that keeps alive the whole creation.
Friends, it is on such a morning that
we understand the wonder of God's creation, that we experience a glint
of universal harmony, a divine gleam of the peace in God's Kingdom. It
is on such a morning that we decide to strive for the integrity of
creation, and to fight against the destructive powers of environmental
And it is on such a morning that we
re-affirm our dedication to love and harmony, to global justice and
peace for the whole humankind. Because on such a morning we feel close
to God's good intention; we understand what he had in mind when he
invented this wonderful world, when he created us as brothers and
sisters, and when he brought us eternal love in the life of Jesus
Christ, we feel new courage growing in our hearts.
The vision of a world of justice,
peace and integrity of creation is created where people experience at
least a gleam, at least a sign of the world as God has meant it to be.
The vision of a world of justice,
peace and integrity of creation is nourished where people experience
at least a bit of love, harmony and meaning of life.
You cannot give people a living
vision of the Kingdom of God by only listing all the many negative
aspects of our world: the injustice and exploitation, the hunger and
poverty, conflicts and armed fights, the destruction of nature and dehumanization
Visions are nourished by experience -
although leading far beyond experience.
And truly human visions are born out
of love. It is love that produces the great human visions. And it is
love that gives them their power.
The YMCA as a youth movement has
committed itself to young people. Young people have a special need for
a life vision. "Who am I?", they ask "Do I have a
value? Am I lovable?" "What can I expect from life? What is
my future?" "What is really important in life? What should I
use my energy for?" "Whom shall I give my trust and
Many young people have high ideals
And many young people are
disillusioned. "Nobody really needs me." "I am only a
small number among millions of other small numbers, I do not make a
difference." "I am accepted if I fulfil the expectations of
others, nicely and quietly." "I do not have influence on the
big and problematic developments on our earth, let me care for myself
only." "I belong to a disadvantaged group of young people, I
will never have the chances that other young people have."
"Nobody loves me, nobody cares about me, life is nothing but a
Can the YMCA help these young people
to develop their life vision? Both of them, the optimistic ones with
their high ideals and goals, and the pessimistic ones with their lack
of hope and perspectives? Can we offer young people a life vision that
is full of life, full of meaning and sense, full of love and human
solidarity, full of hope and courage, full of faith?
Such a vision can only be a global
vision; the most vital issues of today are global issues.
It must be a life vision that is not
a soap-bubble illusion, or an unproven assertion only. It must be a
life vision that has something to do with the real world, with the
youngs' everyday world; with the marvellous and exciting sides of this
world, and with the so problematic and dark sides of this our earth.
Such a life vision cannot only be a verbal thing, cannot only consist
of theological talking or philanthropic idealism. At least glints, at
least hints, at least some practical signs of this vision must be
Young people who join the YMCA must
have the chance to experience such life in its richness and
fullness - at least in signs and beginnings. Just attending some kind
of youth programme is not enough by a long way.
And that's the critical question:
Have the European YMCAs given such life visions to young people during
the past year? Has the EAY given such life visions to young people
during the past year? Could young people experience in the YMCA
at least some glints, at least some hints of the world as God has
meant it to be? And has the YMCA helped these young people that at
least some parts of these visions have become reality?
I know this is a difficult and touchy
question; but also an essential one. It goes far beyond looking at
some statistics only and being proud of big attendance in programmes.
Keep this question in mind when listening to the various reports
during this General Assembly and when discussing future plans for the
We are used to talking about the
YMCA's mission. But true mission always comes out of a vision.
A vision is something holistic; it is
a kind of picture; it is a basic conviction; it is a whole: In
contrast to mission, it cannot be put into a "vision
Vision precedes mission, but vision
leads to mission - if it is a true, mountain moving vision.
The other way round: Mission without
preceding vision is dead and sterile; it's a demand without
motivation. We can produce as many mission statements as we want. If
there are no visions behind them, they aren't of any practical value.
Our Bible is full of visions; just
think of the prophets, of Moses, of Paul and of Jesus himself. All
great things in the Bible have started with a vision, and they always
have led to a mission.
Visions give the courage, give the
Holy Spirit's power to carry out the related mission.
Do the European YMCAs, does the EAY
still have visions?
And, Friends, what is your
vision of the YMCA? When you are alone tonight, after the day's
business, try to imagine your personal vision, have a look at your
vision pictures with your inner eyes. Have a look at them from all
sides. Be encouraged. - And then: move in love and faith!
We Are A Youth Movement
Friends, I said some minutes ago:
"The YMCA as a youth movement has committed itself to young
people." I do not expect that many of you disagree. But,
honestly, is that true? Are we still a youth movement?
Is the fact that we fight here in the
European Alliance - and also in the World Alliance - for significant
higher participation of young people in decision making bodies and
programme groups only a symptom that the YMCA has ceased to be a youth
Personally, I am often surprised, and
even shocked, to what extent some YMCAs have become established
institutions, - with all the negative aspects of immobility and lack
Last year, one of our National
Movements in crisis carried out a highly interesting self-analysis.
And in this study, they state clearly that the reason for their
problems is that they have developed from a youth movement into a
professional organisation offering services to the youth. The
professional quality of many of these services is excellent. But there
is no more membership basis, and certainly not a basis of young
members and leaders. The YMCA is drying out.
There is a difference between
"members" who are called "members" because they
make use of certain programmes or services and members who are fully
committed to the YMCA and help to shape it.
This National Movement formulated a
clear strategy for recovering: They want to move from an organisation for
the youth to an association that is with the youth and finally
becomes a movement of the youth.
In a discussion I had last year with
a local General Secretary in another country, I was told that his YMCA
was no longer a YMCA for the youth, but a YMCA for the whole family;
that it was no longer an organisation for men only, but also for
women; that it was no longer a Christian association, but an
association based on human values; and that, in reality, it was no
longer an association, but a kind of professionally managed business
which should pay with the profit of one sector "the good
things" they wanted to do for the disadvantaged youth in another
The YMCA, the "Young Men's
Christian Association" - No more "young", no more
"men", no more "Christian", no more
In my language, we call this "Etiketten-Schwindel",
literally translated: "label-cheating". The word means that
you put a label "red wine" on a bottle of strawberry syrup.
I don't have anything against
strawberry syrup. In fact, I like strawberry syrup and wine.
But when I have bought a bottle of wine, then I do not want to find
strawberry syrup in it...
I will never forget the face of one
of our European youth delegates at the Assembly of the World Alliance
in Seoul. He was really pale and shocked when he told me that some
people were discussing in all seriousness the need for a youth
movement within the YMCA. "To talk about a 'youth movement' in a
youth movement, isn't that totally crazy and against all logic and
honesty?", he asked me.
I started a long explanation:
"You have to understand that...".
I certainly do not fight here against
having also programmes for older members and electing some of them
into YMCA boards, I seriously think we should do it; even more: we
need those older, committed, experienced members, we need the
partnership of the generations! And I'm not at all against women in
YMCA activities and YMCA boards.
But what is clear to me is that the
YMCA has to concentrate with all its power on young people; that the
YMCA has to be a place of freedom in which young people can develop.
That is our speciality, strength and expertise. That distinguishes us
from other organisations and agencies. That is one of the most
essential parts of our identity and mission.
And what is also clear to me is that
we have to remain a youth movement, and must not become a youth
Looking at today's world, it is sad
to observe that in many countries, other, more inspiring and
"younger" movements have taken over the role the YMCA used
to play in earlier years.
In 1855 in Paris, the average age of
the 99 "fathers" and founders of the World Alliance was only
23 years! When these young men in that time were able to have such
great visions and put them also into practice, - why should our young
people today not be able to achieve extraordinary things?
I sometimes have the feeling that we
are in danger of loosing exactly these active, visionary young men and
women; because we are not able to give them enough freedom and
opportunities to dream their visions and put them into practice.
I want to encourage all National
Movements to carefully answer the question whether and to what extent
they still are a youth movement and what they can do to strengthen
this important aspect.
Simply ask yourself how many of your
young people in local YMCAs are only consumers of programmes and
services that others create for them, and how many are actively
involved in together shaping and creating these programmes. And then
do the same for your activities on national level... And finally for
our European level...
It is very encouraging to see that we
get today in Central and Eastern Europe young, dynamic movements.
Movements that are shaped by the visions and aspirations of young
people. It may well be that our sisters and brothers in the East will
soon challenge the YMCAs in the West and ask them whether they are
still a youth movement!
In our new EAY Strategy, it is
clearly stated that we want to be and remain a youth movement, and
that we want to involve young people on all levels; it is also stated
that all we are doing finally has to be relevant for young people on
Friends, the EAY is committed to the
European Alliance of a youth movement. We want to have young people in
all our activities. Not only as participants in events that are well
designed and professionally prepared by "old foxes". No, we
want them involved in all aspects.
And we are optimistic.
For example in the programme field it
seems that we are finally overcoming a certain stagnation. The
programme groups develop new, more relevant ideas.
We need them to approach such vital
issues as nationalism, world development, migration, homeless youth -
to mention but a few.
Exciting new concepts are being tried
out: "YMCA Games" 1992 and the planned "European Ten
Sing Festival" 1993 are only examples of a new creativity.
The newly structured EAY Programme
Field will give us additional flexibility to create new, relevant,
young and dynamic ideas, groups and networks. I am deeply convinced
that so many relevant, exciting, innovative ideas do exist in our
National Movements; ideas and concepts that have to be shared
throughout Europe. Many lively and creative young people wait only for
the opportunity to show up on the European stage and to share their
concerns, visions, gifts and talents.
The EAY will have the structure and
the will to enable this to happen. But we can only do it if you
identify and send us your most promising young people.
Among the young people of today, will
be the world's key-leaders at the end of this and at the beginning of
the next century. Let's invest in these young people!
Getting to Know Your Neighbour's Face
I would like to share with you now
some thoughts about certainly the highest EAY priority during the past
three years: IMC, Intermovement Cooperation.
We are dreaming of lively YMCA work
in all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. And, in fact: What
is happening goes far beyond our expectations and even beyond the
expectations of our friends in the East.
Again, things are carried forward by
visions: The visions of some former and older YMCA members. But also
the visions of hundreds of young people, who do not sit in apathy and
wait until the problems in their countries are solved.
Of course, there are immense
But today we have - with the
exception of Lithuania, Albania and the former Yugoslavian states -
YMCA movements and groups in all countries of east-central Europe. And
even with groups in the CIS-States contacts do exist.
I was surprised myself when I counted
our National Movements who have been active in IMC during the past
three years: With the exception of only three, all of our EAY members
have been involved in one way or the other! Isn't that great?!
Additional strong cooperation comes
from the YMCAs of the USA and of Canada. And at the March Saphir
Programme Institute even workshop leaders from all over the world
shared their experience with us.
Friends, this is simply great! And it
shows that the YMCA is still able to launch a major international
effort which combines the strengths of almost all of our movements.
Let us express our sincere thanks to all those who are involved in
this great international cooperation!
An important element in this is
certainly our IMC Field Group system. When created, it was a new
concept and full of risks. But it proves to be an extremely valuable
instrument in giving all National Movements the chance to be closely
involved, to have ownership and to be a full partner in the IMC
The Field Group philosophy encourages
bilateral partnerships and makes use of their motivational power; but
it is based on multi-lateral cooperation, and it therefore effectively
reduces the danger of dependencies from one single partner as well as
the danger of one-sided influence.
The "Saphir-" and "5+2
Initiatives" have given us additional strong instruments in
meeting the historical challenges.
All these developments have an
enormously stimulating effect on the whole European Alliance, and very
much strengthen our European cooperation in general.
Of course, a great deal of things
still have to be achieved. They demand that we increase our
cooperation and support. Sometimes I have the feeling the excitement
in the West about the developments in the East has already past, and
the West may soon turn back to "business as usual". There is
a big danger that the political Iron Curtain could be replaced by an
economical and social curtain between East and West. We are challenged
to intensify our efforts, and certainly not to reduce them!
And don't forget: The whole IMC
process is an excellent example for a cooperation that goes far beyond
a one-way "help"-operation. It is an excellent example for
the enormous benefits of mutual sharing and caring - on both sides!
But - some people may ask - what
about Southern Europe?
Southern Europe is presently finding
a new role in the EAY.
This is particularly true for Greece.
I have never seen Greece so internationally active as during the past
two years. Without Greece, the Bulgarian YMCA would not be what it is
today. And also in Cyprus we witness - due to Greek initiatives - the
establishment of a new YMCA. Registration of a YMCA Cyprus is to be
expected during the next weeks. We rejoice and congratulate!
Spain received up to a few years ago
strong support from the outside, And now it discovers its own
strength, and realises that it has to share many ways of doing things
and a lot of working models which can be applied also in a number of
And even the small island of Malta
eagerly contributes to our European YMCA family. Its YMCA President
has stated it again and again: "We do not want to receive only,
we can also offer many things!" Isn't that a true YMCA attitude?!
My encouragement to all of you,
therefore, is simple: Do not sit in isolation in a corner, trying to
do everything alone or waiting for a miracle. Continue to be involved
in international cooperation. Strengthen your ties with our other
movements. Give and you will receive! Share and it will be shared with
you! Strengthen and you will be strengthened!
A final aspect of IMC is less
We have not yet achieved one
important thing: We have not yet been able to pass our vision on to
our regional and local YMCAs.
The involvement of our Movements
still remains very much on national level. We look for funds from
governments and churches, but we do not sufficiently involve our local
And this although many of them are
eager to get involved. European staff and officers are often asked,
sometimes even challenged, why National offices block information and
initiatives; why National offices withhold this European process from
their local associations. Difficult to answer...
The result is that quite a number of
local individuals support non-YMCA initiatives in Central and Eastern
Europe. We know of a 20 year old girl, local YMCA leader, who
organised a public campaign and brought two trucks full of goods down
to Romania; - her YMCA, meanwhile, was busy with itself...
The lesson we from the EAY have to
learn is that we have to improve communication from our side. We have
to produce more information and promotional material which can be used
directly down on local level and which is attractive for young people,
- the present publications aren't there yet.
"Who is my neighbour?",
Jesus was asked. Jesus' answer was the parable of the good Samaritan:
"Open your eyes, look around you, and you will see your neighbour;
and then act!" The theme of our General Assembly is "Giving
your neighbour a face". Your neighbour has a face. Your neighbour
is not an abstract theological phantom. Your neighbour is sitting
beside you, here in this room.
Tomorrow during our two case studies
we want to give you examples of how local young YMCA people got to
know the faces of their neighbours. We will hear that this experience
has considerably shaped their lives, has given them new visions and
life perspectives, has helped them to establish deep friendship and
solidarity across the borders of nations and cultures.
New plans in the field of Youth and
Programme Exchange will help the EAY to facilitate more of these type
of experiences. Intensive Leadership Development activities will be
We expect already for 1992/93 around
20 to 30 international one-year volunteers to serve somewhere in
Europe, and a number of professionals to be placed in other countries
for study periods.
Friends, this is my message to this
General Assembly: Get your young local people involved in this great
process of international sharing and caring! Allow them to experience
themselves what it means to have friends, what it means to have
brothers and sisters in other countries and especially, what it means
to assume responsibility for each other.
Such experience will become part of
their life vision. They will experience that they can make a
difference. That they are important for other people. That they have
something to share. That they can love. And that they are loved.
We do not talk here about finance
campaigns, touristic encounters or one-off actions only. We are
talking about a process in which young people discover the faces of
their sisters and brothers in other countries, in which they assume
responsibility for each other, through which they enter into a
relationship of mutual sharing and caring.
This experience within Europe will
help them to develop the understanding that they are part of a world,
a world that is much more than Europe. But here in Europe they can
learn what it means to share with those who have less in one respect;
but have so much to give in many other respects. Here in Europe they
can learn what it means to assume responsibility for each other. This
will encourage them to assume responsibility also for the people in
all the other parts of the world.
This our earth so desperately needs
people who live this mutual sharing and caring, who assume
responsibility for each other! This our earth so desperately needs
people who tackle this world's most burning problems with vision,
courage, faith and love. It's the only way our world can survive.
I have seen the eyes of our three
local YMCA members when they came back from Hungary and
Czechoslovakia, where they had delivered office equipment, and
keyboards and drum sets for new Ten Sing groups. I have seen their
enthusiasm when they were talking about the friendship they had
experienced with the young leaders of the local Debrecen YMCA. These
are the kind of things the YMCA can do for young people - even for
young people from such affluent countries like Switzerland!
Friends, we have to tear down all our
institutional barriers, barriers that prevent us from enabling our
young people to make this enormous experience of God's universal love!
Visions - Courage - Faith and Love
Many more things could be said about
our world situation, about the situation in Europe and about the
European YMCAs. We could mention that the European Alliance has to
think over its role vis à vis the World Alliance. We could mention
that Europe also as an Area organisation wants to intensify its
contacts with the other Areas, because we are convinced that we can
learn so much from their experiences and perspectives, and that we all
together have to share and care for a better and more just world. Many
more challenges could be passed on. But the time is limited, and a lot
of things will be mentioned in the different reports, discussions and
workshops during this General Assembly
Let me close with some few words of
I want to thank all of you for your
valuable cooperation and support during the past year. I want to thank
the members of the EAY Executive Committee and of all the other EAY
Groups who have been working so hard to make this EAY a lively,
relevant body. I want to thank all the EAY staff for their excellent
and highly professional work.
But above all I want to thank our
Lord and Saviour who always holds His hands over us and who continues
to use the European YMCAs as His tool to give hundred and thousands of
young people in Europe vision and ground for their lives.
I have given this report the title:
"Giving Your Neighbour a Face Visions - Courage - Faith and
May you all be inspired by God's
visions, may you all be empowered by the courage of the Holy Spirit,
may you all be carried by strong faith in Jesus Christ, and may you
all be moved by God's love to the young people in Europe and in the