EAY General Assembly
Thessaloniki, Greece, May 1993
Rev. Dr. Dölf Weder, Secretary General
Once upon a time, there was a lovely clown. One of these
good, cheerful clowns with a big, red nose, with wide, colourful trousers around his legs
and with a small, brown violin in his hands. On his face, he always had a big, warm smile.
He lived and worked in a circus. Not a big circus, and
not a small circus. But a circus and a clown loved by the people, especially the young
Times were not always easy for this circus. There were
times of recession and economical disaster. There were times when governments changed
their financial policies, and circuses no longer got public grants. Sometimes the clown
was afraid the circus would no longer be able to have its own tent, or even some artists
might have to be sent away. What would happen to the people then?
He knew that circuses and clowns are needed. The clown,
for many people in the towns around, was a symbol of hope and joy and humanity. Hope, joy
and humanity in the middle of a not always easy everyday-life. A life in which the
strongest and the best and the fittest succeeded. But people know that not everybody is
the strongest, and the best, and the fittest.
The clown showed them what really counted in life. He
showed them that you can love and be loved, even if you are weak, even if you fall on your
nose, even if you sometimes cry. People loved the clown and his big, warm smile. And he
But there was one big sadness in our clown's life. He got
more and more aware that he was so limited in his thinking and experience. His thoughts
only circled around in his limited circus circles. And with every passing year he had more
difficulty to develop new ideas, to show his spectators the many sides of life.
people still loved him, he knew he should give them more. He should open their eyes to the
bigger world. He should open their eyes to the many people in this world. To the people
who think and live differently from them. To the people who suffer from injustice and
poverty. To the people who would like to share their gifts and their human warmth with
He knew: Life was much more than life in this circus.
Life was much deeper than he had experienced so far.
And so, one day, our clown decided to go on a journey. He
had heard there was a man called Jesus. And people had told him that Jesus lived life in
its fullness, and that he loved and was loved. That's what our clown was looking for: life
in its fullness, to love and to be loved.
And so he took his rucksack and packed into it his small,
brown violin, his wide, colourful trousers, and his big, red nose. And with the violin,
the trousers and the nose in his rucksack, he directed his steps to the East, to Galilee,
to find Jesus.
When wandering through the lands, it was not long before
he met a gipsy girl. Her long black hair hanging over her dark brown face, she was sitting
beside the road and crying.
"I'm a foreigner in this country", she said,
"and because I'm not like the others, I'm cast out. I'm allowed to work here, but not
The clown laid his arms around her shoulders and cried
with her. But then he took his small, brown violin and gave it to the girl. "Take it
and play it", he said, "and let its sound comfort you and the hearts of all
suffering people around you."
Wandering further through the lands, it was not long
before he met a mother with three children. Holding the youngest at her breast and the
other two in her arm, she was sitting beside the road and crying. "Injustice, poverty
and brutal war", she said, "have taken our father and everything; my children
must now live naked."
The clown laid his arms around her and the children's
shoulders and cried with them. But then he took his wide, colourful trousers and gave them
to the family. "Take them and use them", he said, "they are big enough to
give clothes for all three of your children."
Wandering further through the lands, it was not long
before he met a young man. Having his head on his knees, he was sitting beside the road
and crying. "I'm unemployed and cannot find a job", he said, "nobody needs
me, and I'm worth nothing."
The clown laid his arms around his shoulders and cried
with him. But then he took his big, red nose and gave it to the young man. "Take it
and put it on your nose", he said, "and I will teach you how to be a good and
Finally, after many weeks and months, our clown arrived
in Galilee. He went to Nazareth, knocked at Jesus' door and walked into His house.
A man was sitting in the room.
"Are you Jesus?", asked the clown, People told
me that Jesus lives life in its fullness, He loves and is loved".
"Dear friend", responded the man, "Jesus
died 2000 years ago, you cannot meet Him here."
The clown broke out in tears. "Then my whole journey
was in vain. And my life will continue to circle around in my old, limited circus
"Don't be sad", answered the man, "you've
already met Jesus three times on your way here. Whenever you meet a person and open your
hands, you also meet Jesus. And you make an experience of fullness of life, you love and
you are loved."
The clown stood there, surprised and silent. He dried his
tears and started a smile. But then, after a further thought, he sadly answered: "But
now all my gifts have gone. There's nothing left I could share.
"Your hands are empty", replied the man,
"because you faced your neighbours with open hands. But love means giving and
receiving. And only empty hands can receive. Open your hands for your neighbours again.
And your empty hands will be filled."
The clown opened his hands, and the man gave him a
wonderful Pan Flute. "Take this shepherd's flute", he said, "take it back
to your circus. And whenever you perform as a clown, play one piece on this flute for your
Let them listen to the sound of eternity. Let them listen
to the sound of love. Let them understand that the world is much bigger than their circus.
Let them experience love and to be loved, to receive and to give, to give and to
The clown stood there, with the flute in his hands. His
heart felt warm, and on his face he had a deep and happy smile.
"I will go back to my circus", he said, "I
will tell my people that I met Jesus. I will blow my flute, and we will face our
neighbours, with open hands, to love and to be loved, in the fullness of life."
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Difficult European Environment 1992/93
The past year was for Europe certainly not the easiest
year. Europe has become vulnerable in many respects. This is not only true for Central and
Eastern Europe, but also for Western Europe.
In the East, we are confronted with the bitter legacy of
forty or even seventy years of communist rule. Economical and social recovery is difficult
and needs time and patience. The environmental damages are enormous and represent a threat
to the whole of Europe and Asia.
In addition, we get more and more aware that the real
damage has been done to the souls of people. For them, to be suddenly exposed to a totally
different way of thinking and acting, means high psychological stress. And to find
yourself all of a sudden fully responsible for your life, and this in difficult times, is
frightening, disturbing and hard to take.
Despite all these difficulties, most young people are
still optimistic when looking to their long-term future. But when having to act in the
present difficult environment, they are often deeply frustrated about all the obstacles
and the slow pace of progress. A lot of them are even resigning themselves and loosing
hope and power for the present.
The Western European societies have their own
difficulties. They are fighting with economic recession and with a loss of trust in the
People expect more honesty and trustworthiness in
And in economical terms, the present recession even
confronts so far economically strong countries like Finland with serious problems.
Unemployment rates steadily increase. The EC presently counts 17 million unemployed, a lot
of them young people.
As one of the consequences, financial pressures and
significant cuts in social budgets do not surprise, but are seriously affecting several
It is also quite obvious that the will and the
possibilities to support Central and Eastern Europe more strongly, remain limited.
The YMCA in
And how does the YMCA react in this changing environment?
Differently in the West and in the East, is my
In Central and Eastern Europe, there is a great awareness
that the YMCA can only develop and survive as a Christian youth movement and in intensive
In these YMCAs, the emphasis on the YMCA as a Christian
youth movement and as an international movement is highly developed. Not only in the sense
of depending on international financial support. But for many of these movements, their
Christian identity and international giving and receiving are major forces of motivation
For these movements, the European Alliance and
international cooperation is not only a kind of luxury whipped cream on a Sunday cake, but
an important ingredient of their every-day bread.
This does not seem to always be the case for Western
We have observed several Western European YMCAs which
reduced their international involvement when getting under internal pressure.
It's a bit comparable with a family where each one goes
to its own room to cry when in difficulty; - as opposed to a family where the members sit
and struggle together.
Of course, this is also a reflection of the limited role
the European Alliance is able to play. We do not have a lot of instruments to deal with
national movements in difficulty.
But I'm still 100% convinced that international
solidarity and cooperation is not only luxury whipped cream on a Sunday cake, but an
important ingredient of our every-day YMCA bread.
Facing our neighbours with open hands, giving and
receiving, receiving and giving, is essential for the mission, for the renewal, and for
the whole further development of our movement, - and this globally.
We can only continue to encourage each of you and each of
your movements to stay with our family and to work together, - also in difficult times, -
and especially in difficult times.
For the European Alliance, last year's adoption of the
"EAY Strategy for the '90s" has already proven to be not only an intellectual
It has clarified the role of the Alliance, has set the
priorities for the coming years and put down some very clear goals and objectives to be
The responsibility and the involvement of the members of
the EAY Executive Committee have been considerably increased. Everybody has a well defined
And it is this working partnership between volunteers and
staff which enables the EAY to cope with a work load the small professional team would
never be able to cope with alone.
You can observe yourself that for example this General
Assembly is not a show drawn up and run by the European Secretariat. But it is a highly
structured event, taken responsibility for and designed by all members of the Executive,
plus a lot of other leaders.
But let me now highlight some special EAY developments
and some strong challenges for our future.
and Programme Exchange
Last year's General Assembly formally introduced
"Youth and Programme Exchange" as a new EAY Working Field
And we are all convinced that this new Field will have a
high relevance for the European YMCAs in the '90s.
However, the start was, and still is, difficult. The
establishing of a new EAY staff position for exchange, identified as a need by an expert
group and announced at the last General Assembly, had to be given up, - once more due to
lack of finances.
The Executive Committee then decided last October to work
with a decentralized approach, using strong National Coordinators and giving a
coordinating role to the European Secretariat.
The first scheme in this new Working Field is presently
being launched. It is the "Volunteers for Europe" programme, and it focuses on
long-term, mid-term and short-term exchanges of volunteers.
For the summer of this year, the "Professionals for
Europe" programme is scheduled to take off. It will deal with exchanges of
professional YMCA workers.
And finally, during autumn, a third scheme described in
the "EAY Strategy for the '90s" will follow: The "Friends for Europe"
programme; an international fellowship of local associations and individuals who subscribe
to certain European services and commitments.
The "Volunteers for Europe" programme so far
had a positive echo, both on national and local level. Around half of our movements have
joined the scheme.
It is too early to speak about facts and figures. And we
want to start step by step and not with a "big bang". But we are confident that
the first EAY Introduction Course and first exchanges will start this summer. And we are
convinced that this programme has a great potential for further development.
One interesting observation I would like to share here:
In several countries, we have local associations and individuals who have got in contact
with the European Secretariat because they would like to get involved in these programmes.
But they are experiencing internal blockages and lack of response in their National
I can only encourage all movements to be aware of the
high interest of many of your local associations. Please do everything you can to enable
your local YMCAs to participate in these promising new schemes!
Please also note that a lot of National Movements as well
as the EAY will in future only deal with international placements under the new European
schemes. We recommend everybody to do the same. Otherwise we could easily end up with two
categories of volunteers in the same field and with "sorry, but we are not
responsible for you and cannot help you" situations.
European Programme Field
About the manifold successes and challenges in the
European Programme Field, a lot could be said. Now is not the time to mention all of them.
I refer you to the Sub-Plenary on European Programmes.
However, special reference must be made to two subjects.
One is the recent EAY-Seminar on "YMCA between Nationalism and National
The problem of growing nationalism is an extremely
important issue in today's Europe. Nationalism was the tragedy of Europe throughout its
The brutal murdering in ex-Yugoslavia, based on fanatic
nationalism, is and must be a matter of concern for us all.
Because in our countries, too, nationalistic thinking is
growing. In some cases, it is in the form of the classical discrimination and
marginalisation of ethnical or cultural minorities. In other cases, it is prejudices and
animosities against foreigners, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
YMCAs would be well advised to thoughtfully address these
A new European Programme Group, "EMRAS", is
being established under Dutch leadership at present. It replaces our former Traiskirchen
Refugee Field Group and will address with a wide perspective the whole issue of Migrants,
Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
We recommend National Movements to consider participation
in this group. A respective Linking Activity at this Assembly will enable a first contact
among people interested.
Orientation and Leadership Development
According to the "EAY Strategy for the '90s",
main emphasis is put in all three Working Fields on Christian Orientation and on
Over the last years, the Christian Orientation group has
developed new instruments to deal with their task.
I refer to the "Järvelä Manifesto" of the
Christian Orientation Workshop '93, published in one of the last EAY Mailings. The group
is also responsible for the spiritual dimension of our General Assemblies. And it plans a
special "C-Workshop" for this summer in Finland. This pilot project will enable
a small, international group of volunteer leaders in their early twenties to come and live
together in the Finnish outdoors, and reflect on the Christian dimension of their
In the field of Leadership Development, goals and
strategic directions for a new approach are laid down in the "EAY Strategy for the
'90s". A Sub-Plenary at this Assembly will try to identify ways to implement them.
in International Bodies
The EAY Representation system continues to be effective
and well coordinated. At this General Assembly, the meeting of the EAY representatives is
included for the first time in the main programme and therefore open to all delegates.
During the last year, new emphasis has been put on
strengthening our presence in European church bodies, - quite successfully it can be
reported. Experience from several meetings shows that the YMCA can play and must play a
prominent role in representing the voice of young people, especially of young women.
EAY's most time- and staff-intensive Working Field was
certainly also during the past year Intermovement Cooperation.
And despite all the difficulties and limitations, the
European YMCAs and their international partners can be really proud of the many positive
developments. We have today an international IMC-network in which - in one or the other
way - almost all of our National Movements are involved.
In January, a prominent expert from the European Youth
Centre of the Council of Europe made a comprehensive evaluation of our IMC-work in the
five Saphir countries.
The EAY can be highly satisfied with the findings. The
expert mentions the sensitive, participatory and process-orientated approach applied by
the EAY and its staff, the dependency-minimizing, multi-lateral process chosen with the
establishment of the EAY Field Groups, and last but not least: the good results achieved.
It became evident that the European Alliance of YMCAs is
one of the few international youth organisations having a well reflected, professional
strategy for the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.
This high appreciation of EAY IMC work is an incentive to
continue on a high quality level and to deepen the multi-lateral cooperation between all
the partners involved.
In one IMC field, we so far are not yet satisfied with
the European role. It is the field of the CIS States, the Commonwealth of Independent
Our American partners, both, the USA and Canada, as well
as our CIS partners themselves, want to work in partnership with the European YMCAs.
The EAY has a clear IMC Development Strategy, well
defined Working Principles and clear goals. They are valid for the CIS States, too.
But so far, the involvement of the European YMCAs was on
a scale which does not allow a significant role in this field to be played.
We should not be over-selfcritical. Our European
IMC-plate is just too full. We prefer to do fewer things to a high quality than a lot of
things with a lack of professionalism.
But it must be said that this enormous challenge does
exist, and substantial developments will take place. Either we Europeans will be part of
it, or we shall have the role of spectators.
for the future
As a last point, I have to speak about some strong
challenges regarding our EAY future.
The European Alliance has grown considerably during the
past four years.
Today, it brings together the biggest number of national
member movements of all YMCA areas in the world. And although we are not the
biggest in terms of programme participants and employees, we have with more than 7'000
local associations the highest number of local YMCAs of any region.
And we have of all the established YMCA Areas the
smallest professional staff.
It is only due to the Saphir- and other Initiatives that
we presently have professionals to support our Central and Eastern European movements at
least with a minimal staff presence.
But we do not have enough personnel capacity to
adequately accompany the new YMCA members in the South and YMCA movements in crisis in the
And we have to face the fact that the Saphir Initiative
will come to its end in March 1994, while the 5+2 Initiative has been terminated already.
The EAY Executive Committee has intensively discussed the
resulting perspectives and has worked out three scenarios and their consequences.
Scenario 1: "The Worst-Case Scenario"
If nothing substantial happens, the EAY will be back to
the old 2-person staff by April 1994: Regula and Dölf, - plus an annual administrative
deficit of some 50'000 SFr.
There will be no more Johan Vilhelm in Poland and
Hungary, no more Michael Wardlow in Bulgaria, Slovakia and in the Czech Republic and no
more Christoph in the European office.
The mentioned annual administrative deficit of 50'000
SFr. will demand additional measures or further significant cuts in EAY services.
Scenario 3: "The Best-Case Scenario"
Of course, we still strongly hope there will be one or
the other kind of Saphir follow-up Initiative, which would considerably change the
An urgent need is evident. The external evaluator came to
the same conclusion.
The essential point of such a follow-up initiative is not
so much project-money that goes into the countries, - such monies can be found from other
sources, too -. The essential point is sufficient Field Staff to continue the vital
accompaniment of national, regional and local leaders.
The EAY Executive Committee, therefore, has submitted a
formal request for a Saphir follow-up Initiative to the YMCA of the USA.
In the best case, this would mean a continuation of the
two field staff positions, and of the administrative post in St. Gallen.
It is difficult to estimate the probability of this
scenario. Signals and messages vary. But the EAY is well advised to not build its future
on such hope only.
That leaves the question of a "Scenario 2",
somewhere in the middle.
Scenario 2: "The EAY Development Secretary
This scenario tries to cover at least the EAY minimum
needs and prevent the Alliance from falling back to the old, but now completely
insufficient 2-person operation.
The EAY would try to find money for a new EAY Development
Secretary post. She or he would become the right hand of the European Secretary in the
field, accompanying the movements in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as being
available for supporting movements in the South and in the West.
The EAY would also try to keep the second administrative
post in St. Gallen. This is critical for coping with the Youth and Programme Exchange
schemes and remaining involved at least in some IMC fields. The position must be largely
covered by operational income: reason for administrative charges in the exchange schemes
and for the newly introduced IMC-levy of 8%.
First contacts with possible funding sources have been
made. But a lot of hard work and good will will still be needed if we should reach the
vital goals of this second scenario.
We have now spoken about three scenarios only. Of course,
variations and combinations are possible.
But it is important for this General Assembly to be aware
that the European Alliance is at a crossroads.
Past Assemblies have taken decisions for considerable
expansion of the EAY. Last year, it adopted the ambitious "EAY Strategy for the
The means to do so, were available because of various
grants, initiatives and IMC support.
But now such outside funding is likely to diminish, or at
least uncertain. The European YMCAs have to make a decision whether they are able and
ready to financially carry out what they designed and decided or whether they have to live
again with an inadequate European Alliance.
And this leads us to the question of EAY membership fees.
EAY Membership Fees
After the bigger step, when the EAY moved from Kassel to
St. Gallen, EAY fees should have risen annually by 5%. This would have covered inflation.
- Not to speak about financing the substantial expansion that actually took place.
Last year, the General Assembly adopted a motion
requesting the Executive to look for ways to include a European Travel Fund into the EAY
budget. We are talking about a volume of some 50'000 SFr. per year.
But the reality does not look so good. The EAY had to
write-off certain contributions and had to significantly reduce fees of some
member-movements who are facing financially difficult times. As result, the total income
from membership contributions has in fact remained on more or less the same level over the
past years - and it is even likely to decrease this year.
The EAY Accounts can presently only be balanced because
of high income for services provided, because of increased grant aid from European bodies,
and because of considerable financial support from Swiss sources.
Which means in figures, that the EAY had last year a
total turn-over of some 1 1/2 million Swiss Francs. And the national EAY fees amounted to
modest 185'000 SFr.
My task here is not to present proposals for solutions.
For this we will have proper Plenary-Sessions and a Sub-Plenary.
But this is the question: Are we able, and are we ready,
to finance the EAY as we have designed it during the past Assemblies and with the services
we expect the EAY to deliver?
If our answer is "yes", then some significant
steps will have to be taken.
If our answer is or must be "no", then we will
have to live with the consequences.
Coming to the end of my report, and despite the strong
challenges I have just explained, I want to say that my feelings are extremely positive.
In many joint efforts, we have achieved a lot of good
We have also failed sometimes or were hindered by the
limitations we have to live with. That is true, too.
And while we know exactly what we want and what our goals
are, we nevertheless find ourselves confronted with some major difficulties and some
strong challenges regarding our common future.
But it is with great gratitude that I want to thank our
Lord and Saviour for all the generous blessings he has again granted the European YMCAs
during the past year.
I would also like to thank all the many volunteer EAY
workers, both laymen and professionals, who gave the EAY its distinct face during the past
I would like to thank our professional staff, both in the
field and in St. Gallen, for their highly professional work and for their deep motivation
A special and warm thanks goes to Dietrich Reitzner for
all the pioneering work he has carried out over many years in Central and Eastern Europe.
And last, but not least, I would like to thank all of
you, our National Movements, for your precious support and cooperation.
"Facing our neighbour with open hands", that is
our task and challenge for now and for the year to come.
Together, and with our Lord's blessing, we can be strong
and relevant. Together, and with our Lord's blessing, we can make a difference to the
lives of many young people.
And remember our clown: "I will go back to my
circus", he said, "I will tell my people that I met Jesus. I will blow my flute,
and we will face our neighbours, with open hands, to love and to be loved, in the fullness