EAY General Assembly
Warsaw, Poland, May 1995
Rev. Dr. Dölf Weder, Secretary General
Have you ever been in the Sahara? Have you ever
experienced one of the great deserts of this world?
I had the chance some ten years ago. In a small group, we
moved through the southern Sahara for four weeks. We were riding camels and walking on
foot. We slept under the open sky. We ate sheep and dried date and drank water out of big
water sacks, made of the skins of whole goats.
I will never forget these days and nights; these enormous
dimensions and distances; this touch of endless space and eternity.
I remember the day, when we got up early in the morning
and saw an impressive mountain in the far and hazy distance at the other end of an
enormous flat plateau.
We walked all day over this hot and stony plain, till we
- with the last sunshine - could roll out our sleeping-bags at the foot of the mountain.
I remember the shining night when I was lying on my back
in the midst of the endless sand, arms and legs stretched out towards the ends of the
world. Over me a dark-blue velvet sky and precious golden stars.
And I understood what this is: space, endless space.
Liberation from all the limitations and restrictions of life. Free and deep breathing.
Life reduced to the essential and elementary. And above all, and in all, God, our Lord.
I understood that I need space, open space.
And that's why I understand when I get these greeting
cards from all over the world, sent by my former YMCA leaders and campers, mostly young
people in the age of 18 to 30. We call them Young Adults.
These young people have crossed the borders of their
teenage life. They are discovering new worlds, new spaces.
New worlds and new spaces in geographical terms: With
little money in their pockets, they travel to foreign countries. They discover the endless
plains of Australia, they work in the slums of the Philippines, they are fascinated by the
grand cities and National Parks in the States, they take sun-baths on the glittering
beaches of Greece, and they love the romantic pubs in Ireland.
My grand-father came from a simple family. He was not
even allowed to learn a profession. And he certainly didn't have money to travel to
Australia. But already he - like many young Swiss at that time -, he packed his rucksack
and went for two or three years to Germany and France - on foot.
He worked where he could find work. He crossed the
borders of his teenage life. He discovered new worlds and spaces.
But when Young Adults cross the borders of their teenage
life, they don't do it in a geographical respect only. They accept the responsibility for
They leave the comfort of their teenage roles and
convictions. They leave the value system of their parents and teachers. They experiment
with new roles and values. They develop their own lives.
And that's why Young Adults need space, open space.
It's the time when they decide on the direction of their
future professional life.
It's the time when they are in love and engage themselves
in partnership and family.
And it's also the time when they find or loose new faith
Young Adults need space, - and not play-grounds
controlled by the adult establishment.
Young Adults do not want to play games any more. They
want to do real things. They want to shape open spaces. They want to create and influence
life, real life.
It's the age when you believe you can change the world.
And it's the age when you do it.
It's living full of dreams and visions. And it's
suffering under desperation and the problems of the world.
It's making your own decisions. And it's learning to live
with the consequences of your decisions.
It's falling in love. And it's experiencing to become
vulnerable and to be hurt when loving.
All this means to give up a lot of protection and
security. It often means to live a simpler and more vulnerable life. But it's discovering
a new world and conquering new spaces. Your own world, your own space, your own role, your
own love, your own faith and spirituality.
It's finding yourself - and hopefully God.
Even the Young Adult Jesus went out to the open space of
the desert before he started the work of his life.
leads to deep human encounter and friendship
Going out to new open spaces leads to deep human
encounter and friendship.
I learnt this in another, an earlier year, in another
desert: in the Thar Desert, the huge land on the border between India and Pakistan.
We, a small group of young Swiss together with an equal
number of local young Indians, were riding through the Thar Desert. We came through
regions where Westerners are seen only seldom.
We were always two on one camel, an Indian and a Swiss.
The partner I was given was Bhuraram, a young Muslim.
Communication was a real problem. Bhuraram spoke only Hindi; I didn't. We needed Boannis,
Bhuraram's friend, a Hindu. With his limited English, he helped us to communicate. But on
our camel, there was no Boannis.
And we were riding for days on this same one animal, on
the same wooden saddle, body by body. Communication? Yes. - But in various kinds of
The endless open space of the desert, and the harmony of
elementary life in the middle of no-where makes you open for new and deep human encounter.
During these days, I experienced one of the most special
friendships I have experienced in my life. A friendship between 3 young men from 3
different religions, coming from two totally different cultures and societies, and having
difficulties to even understand each other, - but sitting for many days on the same camel,
on the same wooden saddle.
At the end of these weeks, we had to say good-bye. For
ever, we knew it. We had tears in our eyes. And we have never seen us again. My friends'
photographs are still hanging in my dining room. And sometimes I think back to the times
in the Thar Desert. Where open space creates deep human encounter and unusual friendship.
You may say, this is emotional and sentimental. Of course
it is. But I think there is a lot of general human experience and truth in it.
It is what our Young Adults experience when they go out
to the open spaces of this world. When they open up for human encounter. It creates new
life perspectives and leads to friendship and deep understanding.
I could also say it in bigger words: It creates more
peace, justice and understanding in our world: the YMCA's mission.
international YMCA has always created space for Young Adults
When we as EAY say we want to create space for Young
Adults, then we want to facilitate this kind of experience. It changes and deeply enriches
people, and it changes and deeply enriches the world, - the YMCA world, too.
It was Young Adults who spread the idea of the YMCA
throughout Europe and the USA in few years after 1844 and 1855.
The idea of the YMCA gave these young people the space to
put into practice their dreams and visions for the World.
It was then Young Adults again, who in the last years of
the 19th century, left in considerable numbers their homes to work as Fraternal
Secretaries in so called "missionary" countries.
Today we have mixed feelings about that undertaking. It
was the time when the North and West "knew", and the people of the South and
East should learn.
We today have another approach in the EAY, the Begleitungs-approach.
We don't believe that one side "knows" and the
other must learn. We want to walk side by side, giving and receiving. We want to share
with each other our visions, our lives and our talents.
Or to say it with my earlier picture of the Thar Desert:
We want to ride together through the spaces of this world, - on one and the same camel, on
one and the same saddle.
This shaping of new spaces did not happen in history
only. Today again, Young Adults spread the Ten Sing idea throughout Europe and the world.
Already several hundred of them have given weeks or even years of their life to go to
another country to share the Ten Sing vision with new friends abroad.
Other examples are dynamic local YMCAs, like the YMCA of
Gdynia here in Poland: Almost entirely developed and run by Young Adults.
What did the YMCA do in all these cases? Very little.
Very little! - But the most important:
The YMCA saw the enormous potential of all these young
people. And the YMCA dared to give space to them, open space to go out to dream, and to
put their dreams and visions into practice.
But don't let us be naive: To give space to young people
means to give space to change. And change is dangerous for our present positions and even
for our present YMCA profile. If we are afraid of change we better don't give space to
When we are talking about the EAY creating space for
Young Adults, we are not talking about creating another programme for Young Adults.
We are talking about opening up international spaces, free and open spaces, so that Young
Adults can use their enormous potential to dream and to put their dreams and
visions into practice.
5 Theses on
Young Adults' involvement on EAY level
Dear Friends With these more fundamental thoughts, I
wanted to make us aware of the wider dimension of our Assembly theme.
It is the role of our Discussion Group process, opened by
the Youth Inputs of yesterday, to analyze the special situation on EAY level and to come
up with proposals for practical action steps.
I would nevertheless like to put before you five - a bit
provocative - theses covering five aspects that seem important to me when discussing the
role of Young Adults on EAY level.
Thesis Number 1:
Our National Movements need a
new awareness of the Young Adults' potential for international YMCA work and of the
blockages preventing them from getting involved.
Behind this thesis stands my firm conviction that we
presently by far do not make adequate use of the enormous potential of our Young Adults
for international YMCA work.
The problem are various blockages within our present
structure and system.
To create an awareness of this potential and to
self-critically analyze the blockages are important tasks of this Assembly.
Thesis Number 2:
International YMCA work is
one of the most attractive fields of involvement for Young Adults.
The rationale for this thesis should be obvious from what
I said in the first part of my report.
Quite a number of our National Movements have committees
at work who discuss how to keep Young Adults in the YMCA. I suggest as a major answer: Get
them actively involved in international YMCA work!
Thesis Number 3:
When intending to involve
Young Adults in international work, we have to answer two main questions:
a) What places and spaces
can we offer Young Adults from abroad?
b) What can our Young Adults
Mutual giving and receiving is only possible if we
welcome as many young people from abroad as we are sending abroad, and vice versa.
We are not talking about long-term commitments only. What
we need is a wide range of different types of possible involvement.
Thesis Number 4:
We have to move from a
static thinking in traditional YMCA structures to a dynamic and interactive network
Our traditional YMCA structures have enormous
communication distances from a local member, over the local association, to a region, then
to the National Movement and finally to the EAY and its groups.
The flow of information is too slow or does not work at
Free-of-charge EAY brochures do not even reach the letter
boxes of more than half of our local associations. How should these members then reach us?
A lot of young YMCA members who know about this
situation, complain heavily. And we complain, too.
We do not have to destroy the traditional structures or
to bypass anybody. But we have to set up more dynamic and interactive networks with direct
access to information and communication. Adequate use of new electronic technology will
help us to achieve this.
Thesis Number 5:
We need a Youth
Mobilisation Group on European level and a European youth network.
I'm against Youth Committees. We need our young people in
all our committees.
But I dream of a group of Young Adults whose
responsibility it will be · to establish a network of young people from all over Europe,
· to stay in communication with them, · and to mobilize them for specific tasks and
This Group will provide us with proposals about what can
be done by their young people.
And this Group will be approached by us whenever we see
tasks, opportunities or open spaces for young people.
Friends, I have written these 5 theses before knowing the
content of yesterday's Youth Inputs or the outcome of your Group Discussions. They may now
be cold coffee of before-yesterday for you.
But please still take them, as an input from a European
in the year 1994/95
As every year, I want to give you in the last part of my
report an overview of some major developments in the EAY during the past year.
In most parts of Eastern Central Europe we today have
well re-established YMCA movements with clear own identities.
Of course, these movements are still facing severe
problems and will continue to need substantial support and development. But not few of
them are today out-performing many Western European YMCAs.
These days, a new group of countries is entering
It's the countries of Eastern Europe. In front of all
Russia, but also the Ukraine, Belarus, and of course our old friends Armenia and Georgia.
Especially the YMCAs of the USA and of Sweden have done
an exciting job over the past years. Today we count between 20 and 30 local YMCAs in this
region. Several of them are represented at this Assembly. The Russian YMCAs are gradually
moving towards the establishment of a National Movement. In Armenia, we already have such.
Our most eastern association is presently the YMCA of
Novosibirsk in Siberia. Novosibirsk is situated north of New Delhi!
Russia is an enormous field. So far, we have only touched
a few sand-corns of a huge sand beach.
Joe Wootten, US Field Worker for the NIS, continues to
work from Moscow for these YMCAs. He and his friends do it in the spirit of good
cooperation with the European and the World Alliance.
At its meeting of last October, the EAY Executive
Committee made Russia a high priority area.
Only: making something a high priority and real action
are two quite different things. The EAY can only do what its National Movements are ready
and able to do. We need the contribution of all of you to meet these new challenges!
EAY Field Staff
It meant a special joy for us when we per 1st January got
the money to employ Michal Sourek, former National Programme Secretary of the Czech YMCA.
Michal works as EAY Development Secretary. His brief
includes YMCA Development Work in the Ukraine and Leadership Development in close
cooperation with Johan Vilhelm Eltvik.
The appointment of Michal Sourek marks another mile-stone
in the history of the European Alliance. For the first time, a professional from Eastern
Central Europe has been appointed to serve as EAY staff. We hope we will soon be able to
welcome further qualified Central and Eastern European professionals in our crew.
A special new commitment of a local German initiative
group has enabled the EAY Executive Committee to establish a second EAY Development
Secretary post per autumn 1995.
The priority of this new position will be Russia with
emphasis on Youth Leadership Development and a well integrated Christian Orientation.
The financial situation remains critical if we want to
continue on the present level of EAY operations. Especially in a mid- and long-term
perspective there are very substantial financial gaps to be filled. The EAY will need the
continuing and increasing support of our National Movements.
Hope gives the new World Alliance Intermovement Support
System IMSS. It is agreed that also the European YMCAs will benefit from the proceeds of
the selling of the John R. Mott Building in Geneva.
In line with the outcome of the recent IMSS questionnaire
and a following IMSS needs analysis meeting in Sofia, the EAY Executive Committee has
decided to use such support for the continuation of the important EAY Begleitungs-Work and
related staff cost.
This means that all National Movements from all over
Europe will be able to benefit from this new World Alliance support system if they wish to
New "Directions for
EAY IMC Work"
As you are certainly aware all these steps cannot be
taken without a clear strategic planning, without careful analysis of where we are, where
we want to go and how we can reach our goals.
For this purpose the EAY Executive Committee in October
of last year adopted an additional strategy paper with the title
"Directions for EAY IMC Work - A Reference
Document for EAY Operational Groups"
You find a copy in your General Assembly Working
Documents, white pages 79 to 84.
The idea is that all Field Groups and EAY Programme
Groups carefully analyze the document and discuss how they can contribute to the goals and
tasks outlined in that document.
The Executive Committee is convinced that we can do
meaningful IMC work only in a joint effort of all.
What we need in Europe is dynamic interaction of
all YMCAs. And this from National Movements down to the grassroots level.
The document, therefore, formulates as General Direction
for IMC work in the Mid-90s:
"To foster and further encourage a dynamic
interaction of all European YMCAs."
The need for more interaction is also one of the reasons
for the theme of this General Assembly.
We believe that our Young Adults can be most important
elements and catalyst of such intensified dynamic interaction in Europe.
In carrying out what the "Directions for EAY IMC
Work" say about Leadership Development, an intensive process has been launched to
develop a comprehensive EAY Leadership Development concept. The European YMCA Schools as
well as key leadership trainers from East and West have been involved in this process.
The concept is now born and has been adopted by the EAY
Executive Committee at its meeting of last March.
You find the interesting paper in your General Assembly
Working Documents under the title "New Directions for EAY Leadership/Movement
Development" (white pages 97 to 120).
The concept bases on the assumption that Leadership
Development and YMCA Movement Development are closely linked to each other.
It further more does not want to duplicate what in our
European YMCAs is already done on various levels and for various target groups.
The EAY, therefore, decided to choose a modular
approach. A modular approach, in which various and different existing modules, but
also complementary new modules, will be combined to flexible curriculums and portfolios.
The coordinating nerve centre of this will be a small EAY
Leadership/Movement Development Service.
A grant application has been made to the European Union,
requesting support for EAY staffing and infrastructure to carry out this forward leading
During this Assembly, the Work Group on "Leadership
Development" will deal in detail with the new concept. It will also again be a major
agenda item at the National General Secretaries' Conference.
In Christian Orientation, a new process has started, too.
Following a decision of the EAY Executive Committee in
last October, a group, consisting of mainly younger persons from various confessional and
cultural backgrounds, has been composed.
Their task is to analyze the current situation in Europe
regarding various forms of youth spirituality and to say and do something about the role
of the YMCA in the midst of today's dramatic religious changes.
The new Christian Orientation Group works under the
leadership of Eilert Rostrup from Norway and is also responsible for the spiritual parts
of this Assembly.
European Programme Field
The European Programme Field is looking back on another
successful year. The statistics show that almost 1'200 participants from 26 European
countries have made use of EAY programmes during the past year. Highlight was of course
the International European Youth Event taking place parallel to the YMCA World Council.
A new Programme Group, the "European Scouts and
Jungschar Group (ESG)", has now been officially founded. We were hoping for this to
happen since many years. Welcome in the EAY family!
Youth and Programme
The programme "Volunteers for Europe" placed 22
volunteers last year. The evaluations are positive in most respects.
Although sometimes attacked because of cost, the
Introduction- and Mid-Term Courses prove to be key elements for successful placements.
The exchange of Interpoint volunteers is now handled by
"Volunteers for Europe", too. This because the Interpoint Group and the
half-time position of an Interpoint Coordinator have been given up last autumn.
"Volunteers for Europe" Applications for this
year show a further increasing readiness of YMCA Young Adults to go abroad and serve in a
However, it is a real tragedy that our more than 7000
local YMCAs and their movements do not seem to be ready or to be financially in the
position to make use of these young people.
We have to ask ourselves to what extent we can afford to mobilize
good-willing young volunteers when we afterwards have to disappoint them because
only few YMCAs want or can use them.
One argument sometimes used against the "Volunteers
for Europe" scheme was the administrative fees to be paid to the EAY. In view of
these criticisms, the EAY Executive Committee finally decided at its meeting in March that
no administrative fees will be charged any more as from 1st January 1996. For 1995, we
still have the rather flexible flat-rate system.
For us in the European staff, it is very apparent that
our Young Adults can be mobilized and are ready to serve in various roles.
But our critical question is whether the European YMCAs
are really ready and able to create space for our Young Adults.
We will give a verbal answer with the outcome of this
But we will give the real answer by our actions and deeds
during the months to come.
The European Office
Let me finally say some few words about the situation in
the European Office in St. Gallen.
As you know we have some sad and difficult months behind
us. And I here want to again warmly thank all of you who made us really feel that we are a
family also in difficult times.
The present situation is that Christoph Hostettler has
left us to assume major responsibility in the local YMCA of St. Gallen. We are thankful
that he can be with us again during this Assembly.
Regula Ruch-Leumann is happy and busy with young
Christian, her recently born boy. She will be on maternity leave till end of August, and
will then assume a reduced 50% responsibility as my Personal Assistant. Regula will mainly
deal with issues needing advanced YMCA knowledge.
With Matthias Harte as new 100% Office Assistant things
did not work out as we had hoped. He left in the middle of April.
But we found Nicole Hofstetter. Nicole is with us already
here at the General Assembly. She comes from outside the YMCA, but brings a lot of talents
to the EAY,
The other 50% will be covered by Daniel Kempter. He is 33
years of age and will start work on 1st July. Daniel's main emphasis will be on financial
And, of course, I do not want to forget our old friend
Susi Hurschler. Susi will continue to support all of us in the office with a 20%
employment for support services.
Coming to the end of my report, I would like to sincerely
thank all of you who helped to make 1994 another dynamic and fruitful year for the EAY and
our European movements. The enormously wide span of EAY activities is only possible
because of the committed work of so many volunteers and professionals from all over Europe
and from our partners overseas.
In our new IMC Directions, we say that we still have to
come to more dynamic interaction between all of us.
We must change our thinking from a static thinking in
traditional YMCA structures to a dynamic, interactive network approach. A thinking which
deals with people and with faces. A thinking and acting which mobilizes our members and
brings them into dynamic interaction.
The one big treasure the YMCA has, are our young people.
The young people represent our mission and our potential.
We presently do not make full use of this potential.
Structures and manifold blockages paralyze their dreams and visions. We, therefore, often
Friends, the aim of this General Assembly 1995 is to
create new space for Young Adults in the EAY.
Open space to be shaped, Open space to be filled with
dreams, visions and action. Open Space for love and friendship.
We have the potential to do it!
God may help us. God may bless us.