Tribute to Bill Perkins
We pay tribute to the life of Bill Perkins who passed away on 7 December 2005. Bill has not only been a cornerstone in ICYE’s early days, for over four decades he has continued to inspire and guide uncounted youth and adults in their commitment towards a better and more just world. Thanks to you Bill! “The Incomplete Story” of ICYE continues!
Comments on these historical notes are welcome and can be sent to Ed Gragert to email@example.com.
Historical archives for ICYE-US are hosted by the Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Illinois, USA. For information on these archives, contact the Church of the Brethren Librarian at 1-800-323-8039.
These historical notes represent an effort to tell an incomplete story about ICYE, a story which did not end in 1972. ICYE continued to grow and change and still thrives today over thirty countries around the world.
It is also incomplete because it is only one person’s perspective on the years 1958-1972, based on some documentation and undoubtedly faulty memory. Many others were key key participants in the growth and development of ICYE and would have important contributions to make to this story.
It also lacks objectivity, given my strong personal involvement during the years 1958-1972 as Executive Director. It expresses my own experience of ICYE during those years. The experiences of exchangees and host families, denominational directors, regional representatives, Board members and staff would be needed to supplement what is said here.
The ICYE story is worth telling. It has changed and enriched the lives of thousands of people – and not least those of us who served on the staff. Although exact statistics are lacking, a good estimate shows approximately 19,000 exchangees were part of this story from 1949 to 1999 – and of course an equal number of hosts.
ICYE has been able to change and grow in response to the changing world and society in which it served. It has fulfilled a worthy mission of international exchange, experiential education and ecumenical experience, reaching almost 50 countries in the course of its life.
Now that ICYE in the U.S. (known as VEI – Volunteers Exchange International since 1994) has suspended operations, this limited and partial telling of the story of ICYE aims to be a useful record. I hope that others will consider writing their story as well.
Part I, How It All Began is based on John Eberly’s 1964 presentation on ICYE’s origins and a U.S. State Department publication covering the early years.
Part II, Growth and Development, and Part III, Worldwide Partnership are based on my own files, records and memory of the years when I was privileged to served on the staff.
The archives of ICYE are now in the most appropriate location we could have hoped for, the library of the Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Illinois, whose inspired initiative for a youth exchange program developed into ICYE.
I want to express my deep gratitude to all those with whom I was privileged to share the experience of ICYE for fourteen years – exchangees, hosts, denominational directors, regional representatives, national correspondents, staff and other colleagues. Your friendship and support were integral to the story told in these pages.
This story is dedicated to the memory of two persons whose contributions to the life of ICYE were exceptional.
Steve Gooch, exchangee, national committee member, staff colleague and good friend, was part of ICYE from 1966-1994. His untimely death deprived us of his loyal friendship, warm personality, faithful commitment and wise counsel.
Ruth Cheney, Board member, denominational director, youth leader extraordinary and wise friend, left us last year at the age of 90. Her firm dedication to ICYE, her leadership and sense of humor was an example and inspiration to all.
This narrative would have been enriched by their contributions, as were our lives.
I: How it all began: 1949-1957
The origins of ICYE go back to 1949, to the Church of the Brethren and John Eberly.
It was 1949… Harry Truman was President of the U.S. and launched “Point 4” for “technical assistance to underdeveloped areas” of the world – there was an economic recession and 4 million people were unemployed – New York City had a four day taxi strike in April and a water shortage in December (no car washing allowed) – two-wage-earner families were noted as a new development in U.S. society – a U.S. bomber flew around the world in 94 hours – TV went national thanks to the newly invented coaxial cable – George Orwell’s 1984 was published, South Pacific opened on Broadway, Death of a Salesman entered American literature, and the bikini made its debut.
The world was recovering from the effects of World War II, four years after it ended – there was civil war in Greece – 12 nations came together to form NATO – the state of Israel was one year old, India two years old – Indonesia, the People’s Republic of China and the German Democratic Republic became new states – U.S. troops left Korea, one year before the North Korean invasion and a new war – the American airlift to Berlin, which supplied all necessities when land routes were blockaded, ended after 13 months and 274,718 flights.
America’s isolation had been shattered forever by the war – now the cold war and the iron curtain were becoming dominant issues in American foreign policy – suspicions of communists and communism were a domestic preoccupation – the “third world” hadn’t been discovered, but America discovered the world as a playground, for pleasure, for study and for politics – thousands of Americans were discovering Europe.
It is perhaps hard to realize what it must have meant in that postwar year for German parents who were brave enough to send their children to unknown people in a land far away that had been so recently an enemy country and for those American families who opened their homes so warmly to the first young Germans.
ICYE’s origins were like this, in experiences of reconciliation.
THE CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
This church grew out of a religious movement which, because of their pietist and pacifist views, was persecuted in Germany and had immigrated in 1719. In the U.S. they settled primarily in rural communities. The Brethren were people of stubborn faith who saw what needed to be done and went and did it. Soon after the Second World War they started what later became known as Heifer Project to supply cattle to needy European farmers. In 1947 they had started an agricultural exchange with Poland. They were people of John Eberly’s style, who said “don’t ask or explain – just go ahead until you’re stopped”.
This remarkable man represented his church in Europe in 1949, as he tells in the narrative below. In 1964 he was invited to speak to the annual consultation of the national ICYE committees from overseas and the ICYE Board. He told the story of the program in his own words, from which the following text is excerpted and edited.
How It All Began by John H. Eberly
The beginning of the student exchange was exceedingly simple, unpretentious, and certainly none of us knew that it would have any kind of future like this. I feel that here was a movement demanding to be started. Many, many factors in the world, coming out of the war, and many, many factors in the very nature of our Christian society and the countries now involved were calling for this kind of an effort, a kind of program which would pledge actual flesh and blood, our goodwill and our guaranteed faith and confidence in one another. I don’t know where the purpose or principle of the exchange came from. It just seemed as though it was present. The Brethren Service Commission just acted to meet needs. In 1949 an exchange of high school students was rather a daring thing.
I went to Italy in 1948 in an agricultural program called Heifer Project, dealing with cattle, and in 1949 moved to Frankfurt. I discovered that Brethren Service, through our director in Switzerland, M.R. Zigler, had been laying some tentative plans to do something for youth in Germany. (This goes back to an experiment we had in Poland in 1947 in which ten Polish young people had been brought to America to stay for a year with American farmers. Someone said, “Why couldn’t that be worked now in our various programs and efforts in Germany?” This seemed to be the seed which started growing.
Serious talk began with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Refugee Commission on the possibility of bringing some German young people to America to spend a year on an American farm. It was decided that if we could get young people to come to America, they should be from refugee families. But FAO was not the kind of organization which could move people from one country to another. It was different from moving cattle or seed wheat or things like that! Our next step was to relate our efforts to the appropriate U.S. occupation government office, which was the Cultural Affairs Department.
I think that when the fifty young people from refugee families were finally found, they were completely cleared, given visas, and were ready to come to the United States in a record time of approximately six weeks. I remember one morning I met Trudy Gunther of the Cultural Affairs Department. She was practically pacing the floor and said, “Oh, Mr. Eberly, do you realize what we have done? All last night in thinking about this, I couldn’t sleep! What if something goes wrong?”
Neither we nor the occupation government knew any way to bring them over to the U.S. except by military transport. The few girls in the group were given nice cabins. The boys slept in the general dormitory quarters and were required to do some swabbing of the decks and other chores that needed to be done. The occupation government perhaps recognized even before we did that this was a mistake, and at the end of the year (perhaps in compensation for this trip over in which the boys were not oriented in the spirit of what we wanted them to feel) each one of them was given a plane ticket to go home.
Then the next forty followed some weeks later. Families were found in America rather easily. This was a new thing, and from the beginning we had many families from other denominations who volunteered to help us. The second year we had 194 Germans who came to the U.S. Our numbers decreased considerably from then on. Three or four other organizations came into the program (to host students), all related to the Department of State.
Into the 50s we continued to receive a great deal of financial aid and other support from the State Department, which actually managed the program. They were largely responsible for finding the young people, arranging their travel, so that all we did was to meet them in New York and take them back to New York at the end of the year. But in 1953 they began to say that they were going to withdraw from administration of the exchange and that we in the organizations would have to continue on our own, though the State Department would continue with some financial assistance.
The blow fell in 1956, and the Brethren Service Commission attempted that year to set up its own program. This was a new beginning. We succeeded in getting only twenty eight students. We began to think that if we were going to have a program of our own, maybe we ought to have a name. So the program was called the ISE – International Student Exchange.
In a very short time we became aware that this was more than the Brethren alone could handle, without the cooperation of all the services that the State Department had abroad. So early in 1956 we began serious discussion of making this an ecumenical program.
This idea developed and we came rather suddenly to the time when five denominational representatives were willing to set up the corporation to do it: Jinny Harbour, representing the Protestant Episcopal Church, Ed Schlingman, representing the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Ruth Milner representing the Disciples of Christ, Joe Bell representing the Methodist Church and myself, the Church of the Brethren. These five met in the Witherspoon Building in Philadelphia, and there drew up the papers of incorporation. ICYE, an ecumenical program sponsored by five denominations, was ready to begin with the 1957-58 program.
* * * * *
John H. Eberly was the unassuming director who shepherded the student exchange program from 1949 until 1957, when ICYE was born. He became the first executive secretary of ICYE 1957-1958, and then served as denominational director for the Church of the Brethren until his retirement.
The U.S. Government
It is important to recognize also the important and generous role of the U.S. government in supporting the Church of the Brethren – and later ICYE and other exchange programs. The State Department and the Cultural Affairs Department of the occupation government in Germany considered this kind of exchange worthy of support and believed in it as an investment in the future. Though this might be considered to be paternalistic altruism, it represented funds well invested and well used. In 1951 the State Department published a booklet about the program which told the story of Ernst Taucher, a farm boy from Germany on a farm in Indiana, learning English, going to school, learning to be a good farmer, learning democracy and the American way of life, in order to take the experience home and “help rebuild their country into a peaceful democratic nation”.
The following text, excerpted from this document, tells “how it all began” from another perspective.
Preparation for Tomorrow – A German Boy’s Year in America
This story of Ernst Taucher’s year in America goes back to the Christmas season of 1948 and to some meetings that were being held in Stuttgart between some officials of the United States Military Government and some field-service men of the American Church of the Brethren. The privilege of foreign travel had recently been restored to German nationals, and the Americans in conference at Stuttgart were planning an exchange program to permit groups of carefully selected young Germans to study in American universities or to study and observe American techniques and institutions, such as the operation of a free press, the American legal system, teacher training, health and sanitation, city planning, and agricultural methods.
At that time occupation officials assigned a very high priority to the restoration of German agriculture, for the thinking of that period dictated the reshaping of Germany as a primarily agricultural country. The American occupation officials had called on representatives of the Brethren to assist in the planning of an exchange program that would be of special benefit to German farming.
In the course of these conferences the Americans agreed that young farmers, selected farm hands, and college-age students interested in the scientific aspects of agriculture should be included in the exchange program. One of the conferees suggested inclusion of some boys and perhaps a few girls of secondary-school age, those who planned to be farmers and were currently apprenticed to farmers and attending part-time vocational schools or seeking such apprenticeships.
The idea was startling; it was also attractive. One of the major purposes of the exchange program is to provide the German people with the democratically trained youthful leadership which they now lack but must have, and have soon, if Germany is to take its place as a cooperative member of the family of Western nations. … Hope lies with Germany’s youth, the boys and girls who were too young to have been firmly set in the Nazi mold, old enough to have suffered the common hardships of civilians under the total defeat of their military and the wholesale destruction of their nation, and blessed with the tremendous recuperative powers, the resilience, and the responsiveness of the very young.
The high-school age group best fulfilled these requirements, but the United States Government was not prepared to give personal supervision to the high-school-age youth of its own or any other nation. It could provide funds to get the boys and girls to America and, if necessary, to help with their support in the United States, but teen-age youngsters needed to be in homes. The Brethren men volunteered to find the right kind of homes for them; they believed that they could find good farm families who would be willing to take in a young German for a year and treat him as a family member, supporting him, sending him to the local high school, teaching him what they knew about farming, and providing him with the experience of average American living.
The field-service men said that their organization could work through local pastors in farm communities and through the local high school principals to insure cooperation in this experiment. Although the Brethren Service Commission had not much money if its own, the field-service men believed that they could work out arrangements for covering travel in the United States, maintenance, clothing, and incidental expenses.
Thus Ernst’s story is in part the story of the Brethren, without whose energetic cooperation the United States Government could not have undertaken a program involving such young boys and girls. In the first year of the experiment, the Church of the Brethren sponsored the entire group of 90 students, 50 of whom came to America in September 1949, 40 in October; in the second year. now in progress, it sponsors the majority of the 486 students who are here. The National Grange, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Field Service, and the Kiwanis Club have assumed sponsorship of the remainder.
CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN STUDENT EXCHANGE PROGRAM 1949-1957
During these years before ICYE was formed the Brethren program developed as shown in the following table. The majority of students were from Germany, although Austrians began to participate in 1952-53. American students also began to go abroad in 1952-53. In 1955-56 three Latin American students participated. These developments prepared the way for ICYE.
|From Latin America
And perhaps a few girls of secondary-school age, those who planned to be farmers and were currently apprenticed to farmers and attending part-time vocational schools or seeking such apprenticeships.
The idea was startling; it was also attractive. One of the major purposes of the exchange program is to provide the German people with the democratically trained youthful leadership which they now lack but must have, and have soon, en firmly set in the Nazi mold, old enough to have suffered the common hardships of civilians under the total defeat of their military and the wholesale destruction of their nation, and blessed with the tremendous recuperative powers, the resilience, and the responsiveness of the very young.
The high-school age group best fulfilled these requirements, but the United States Government was not prepared to give personal supervision to the high-school-age youth of its own or any other nation.
II: Growth and Development – 1958-1972
Families from other churches had already participated in the student exchange program of the Church of the Brethren in the years before ICYE was formed as an interdenominational organization to continue the Brethren program. The term “ecumenical” might have been used, but “interdenominational” indicated that five denominations or churches had come together to carry out this new program. The term “ecumenical” would be more in current usage some years later.
An Ecumenical Program
The “International Christian Youth Exchange” began its life in 1957 with new thrusts: to extend participation to other countries than Germany and Austria, which were already participating; to send American students abroad for similar experiences; to have each exchange sponsored by a local church which would pay to send a student abroad and/or to receive one.
Before the war there had been junior year abroad programs for college students, but sending high school students overseas for a year was something new. ICYE was one of only a few programs that offered overseas opportunities for youth 16-18 years of age. The intention was that ICYE be a direct two-way exchange: ideally an American student and one from another country would exchange homes, schools and churches. The reality proved to be different: good direct matches of families and students were rare and the ratio of one to one was never achieved.
In 1957, soon after its founding, ICYE asked the World Council of Churches (WCC) Youth Department in Geneva for advice and assistance in making contacts with other countries. It was agreed that Youth Department staff would meet with a delegation from ICYE during the WCC Central Committee meeting at Yale that summer to discuss matters further. The two ICYE representatives were Joseph Bell, the first chairman of the new ICYE Board and the person responsible for ICYE in the Methodist Church. and John Eberly, Church of the Brethren staff, instrumental in initiating the program in 1949, who was now serving part-time as ICYE Executive Secretary, pending appointment of a full-time executive. He accepted the WCC’s invitation to attend the annual European ecumenical youth leaders consultation in October, after which he visited several countries where he made useful contacts for expansion of the program.
Bill Perkins (Episcopal Church) was one of those present at the 1957 meeting, having served for several years on the WCC Youth Department staff in Geneva. His ecumenical and international experience led the ICYE Board in 1958 to invite him to become Executive Secretary of ICYE, replacing John Eberly, as of November 1, 1958.
Before leaving Europe, he met with some American exchangees of the first ICYE year (1957-1958) preparing to go home after their year in Europe and also with those arriving for the 1958-1959 year. He also visited several European countries to discuss with ecumenical youth leaders possibilities for developing the program in their countries.
The Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland housed the administrative services for most of the church’s overseas activities, including John Eberly’s office. It was thus the logical place for ICYE to base its first headquarters, taking advantage of the facilities and historical memory available there. In 1958 new staff set about organizing a new office, studying the files to know what had gone before, learning about ICYE finances, getting acquainted with the Board members who were responsible for the program in their churches, establishing contact with the State Department (the source of significant financial support), getting acquainted with other exchange organizations, and planning the program for the following summer.
The “denominational directors” were responsible for contacts with students and families, but when a serious problem arose a call would be received in the New Windsor office. Problems of adjustment or relations between students and families were expected. Events overseas also occasioned calls to New Windsor. In 1959, for example, worried calls came from parents of exchangees living in Berlin where Soviet actions threatened to cut the city off from the western world.
ICYE’s new leadership had much to learn also about international education, international relations, culture shock, and related concerns. In intercultural contexts as experienced in ICYE, orientation of students and host families became a priority. Preparatory documents were written to be sent to them in advance of the exchange year. As insights grew and emphases changed, these would undergo several revisions during the coming years.
New Windsor was a suitable place for ICYE’s first office, but it was not a central location for wider contacts. In 1959 the ICYE Board decided to move the office to New York City, where there could be good contacts with the denominations which had offices there, with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and World Council of Churches.
The move to New York City took place in January 1960. ICYE rented space in the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive from the National Council of Churches, next to its Youth Department.2 The first office there had three small (and windowless) rooms, but was adequate for the small staff – a secretary and a bookkeeper in addition to the executive secretary. As the staff increased to five, the office expanded to a larger suite (with windows), also close to the NCC Youth Department. In 1965 ICYE outgrew that and, since the NCC had no larger space available, it moved to the new Church Center for the UN at 777 UN Plaza, where there were eventually seven staff members.
The contacts Bill Perkins already had with ecumenical youth leaders and church youth movements around the world through his work with the WCC proved to be very useful. He maintained close contacts with the WCC and especially the Youth Department, attended annual consultations of European youth leaders and meetings of the Youth Department Committee. The growth and development of ICYE around the world depended on and was facilitated by the support and participation of ecumenical groups and church leaders. Relations with the WCC expressed a commitment and goal that ICYE should become an instrument for ecumenical experience and education.
The numerical growth of the program was encouraging. In 1957 ICYE had started by sending 23 Americans to Germany and Austria and receiving 93 from these two countries and six from others, recruited by the State Department or personal contacts. State Department financial support for travel expenses of exchangees coming to the U.S. continued into the 80s, but beginning in 1959 recruitment was done only through ICYE’s own channels. By 1972 there were 128 Americans abroad and 273 from overseas in the U.S. In addition, by then there were also 70 “multilateral” exchanges where students exchanged between other countries among the 27 participating in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
Orientation and Evaluation
For the summer programs of 1959 it was decided to have a homegoing conference at New Windsor for the returning overseas students, including a visit to Washington, DC, as had been done in earlier years. For the 1959-1960 groups orientation programs were planned for a new location, Pennington School in Pennington, NJ, not too far from New York. The program for U.S. students was planned for ten days to allow more time for orientation and some very basic language study. There were six consecutive days of intensive study in German, Dutch and Swedish.
Language study would be a continuing concern and different approaches were tried. In 1960 study courses were organized in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Later self-study programs on tape and records were explored. Groups went to the Experiment in International Living in Brattleboro, VT for an optional two or three week study program. Finally it became clear that language study was best done overseas. As national committees assumed responsibility for orientation for their incoming students, they also arranged for language study in their countries.
Orientation and evaluation programs developed in style and content also. When students traveled by ship, it was possible to have programs on board, but when plane travel began, other arrangements needed to be made. Orientation and homegoing programs of several days duration for overseas students in the U.S. took place at different college or conference facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Orientation programs for U.S. students going abroad were held at the same locations. Homegoing conferences for Americans came to be held in Europe, Japan and Mexico. The sequence of these meetings and travels came to be known as “the summer circus”. In 1959 transportation was still by ship, but in 1960 charter and group flights became usual. Several flights crossing the Atlantic each summer made it possible for Board members to travel for meetings and programs in Europe and likewise for overseas national committee representatives to travel to the U.S.
There were obvious limitations in trying to orient students for an experience the nature of which they could not possible anticipate. Overseas students had to recover from jet lag and culture shock, but they were welcomed and some glimpses of life in the U.S. offered. After a brief welcoming conference in the U.S. the American students traveled to Europe for a more serious orientation there. For several years this was held, as were homegoing programs for the U.S. students, at Woudschoten, near Utrecht in the Netherlands, a well known ecumenical conference center. After the first windmill on the way from the airport, they knew they were abroad and in for something different. One American wrote later of the orientation program, “It was like a great can opener, opening my head”.
Homegoing conferences tried to help them understand their overseas experience and prepare for the real culture shock they would experience back in the U.S. In one of the circular letters sent periodically during the year to the American students overseas Bill Perkins said:
“The end of this year is coming closer – a year in which you have probably thought about things you took for granted, discovered things you didn’t know existed, done things which surprised you, corrected false understandings and ideas, struggled with what gives life, and especially your life, coherence and meaning.
Let me suggest that returning home may be a challenge and opportunity equal to that of a year abroad, and that you look at with the same confidence you felt a year ago, tempered with the self- understanding and new perspective on living in God’s world you have acquired this year. This is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. ICYE was only the start: where do you go from here – as a human being, as a world citizen, as a Christian?”
In 1963 a traveling seminar (by bus) for U.S. exchangees took them to several significant places of ecumenical renewal in Europe before the homegoing conference. An ecumenical study conference was held in the U.S. in 1965 for overseas exchangees on the way home and American youth. In 1967 a European study conference took place in Germany, co-sponsored with the World Student Christian Federation, for the American exchangees and European youth on the theme “Living in a World of Interrelated Nations”. These programs were designed in an effort to help exchangees deepen and digest their experience and see the relevance of it for their own lives and future. During these years former exchangees began to be invited to participate in both orientation and homegoing conferences, where they were helpful with the current students to whom they could relate as peers having had similar experiences.
A Time of Growth
As the program grew, several other denominations joined ICYE. The original five – Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical and Reformed Church (which became the United Church of Christ after merger with the Congregational-Christian Churches) and the Methodist Church – had become seven by 1958, with the United Lutheran Church and the American Baptist Convention. By 1972 five more had joined – two Presbyterian churches (PCUSA and PCUS), Evangelical United Brethren (EUB), Reformed Church of America, and American Lutheran church. Merger of the Methodist Church and the EUB reduced the number to eleven.
The ICYE structure was special. Each member denomination had a person responsible for ICYE and these persons made up the Board of Directors. Each “denominational director” administered, supervised and implemented the program in their church. They recruited students and host families and maintained relationships with them during the year. Given this structure the staff and central office had only a secondary role in contacts with students and host families, except in problem cases. Their primary role was coordination of the denominational programs, administration and overseas liaison. This pattern was destined to change in the course of ten years.
In 1964 a new staff structure was implemented. The Executive Secretary’s title was changed to Executive Director, reflecting wider leadership responsibilities on the national and international levels. At the same time two new positions were created. Frank Gillespie, who had been on the youth staff of the Presbyterian Church became Associate Director and Bill Jones, came from the NCC Youth Department to be Assistant Director. Both made significant contributions to the program. Frank Gillespie took over direct responsibilities primarily for the program in the U.S. and Bill Jones did the same for finance and administration. In addition to overall coordination and program development, Bill Perkins was primarily responsible for international liaison and program. Coordinating the developing program overseas meant considerable travel (to all the countries mentioned in the above footnote except Congo, South Africa and Ethiopia), working with the national committees and visiting students overseas. It is worth noting for later generations that during all these years ICYE was administered without the benefit of fax or computers, international phone calls were rare and photocopiers replaced the mimeograph machine only in the late 60s!
Staff began to play more active and visible roles in summer meetings with students and on overseas trips they regularly arranged to meet exchangeesur life, coherence and meaning. Let me suggest that returning home may be a challenge and opportunity equal to that of a year abroad, and that you look at with the same confidence you felt a year ago, tempered with the self- understanding and new perspective on living in God’s world you have acquired this year. This is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. ICYE was only the start: where do you go from here – as a human being, as a world citizen, as a Christian?
In 1961 the idea of appointing volunteer “regional representatives” to assist denominational directors was first discussed. Implementation began soon thereafter with a few representatives in areas where exchangees were concentrated, developing then to seventeen regions by the 70s. The tasks of regional representatives were seen to be promotion and interpretation, work with local sponsoring committees, interviews with prospective students and host families, supervisory and pastoral work during the year with overseas students and follow-up with American students on their return. Inevitably they became the key persons also for recruitment, orientation, regional meetings, homegoing programs and liaison with the New York office and staff. Annual consultations for regional representatives were organized in different locations for coordination, strategy and support.
It was a heavy load for volunteers and teams were constituted to share duties in each region. ICYE was blessed with enthusiastic and dedicated, competent people, former host parents, parents of U.S. exchangees, local pastors, and before long returnees themselves. ICYE’s administrative focus shifted gradually from denominational directors (who were members of the Board), to the volunteer representatives, whose work was coordinated by the national staff. As denominations downsized with different priorities and Board members changed, primary program leadership came from regional representatives and staff. Board membership increased to include regional representatives and returnees.
Search for Purpose
Early in ICYE’s life it was felt important to clarify what made ICYE different from other programs with whom it shared common concerns and goals. The answer to this question was articulated in different terms over the years as the program developed. It was more than just being church sponsored; ICYE had an ecumenical base and purpose. What did that mean? There were other exchange programs for high school students, such as AFS and Youth for Understanding, but not many. (Since then there has been a great proliferation of overseas opportunities for young people of this age.)
ICYE was a product of its times and changed in response to changing times. Born in the 40s, a time of postwar hope and reconciliation, it thrived in the optimism of the 50s. European recovery was well on the way; peace was in the air, though Russia soon appeared to be somewhat less than a friendly ally; America’s isolation had been shattered by the war and it was exploring its new role in the world. Both in the U.S. and in Europe it was a time of church growth and attendance, of active youth organizations and church programs. International programs of all kinds were developing; international issues and concerns were on the agenda; ecumenical commitments were bringing churches closer together in significant ways; peace had brought growing prosperity to some, new lives to others, the horror of the Holocaust and the nuclear age to all. ICYE began to see its role in a wider perspective and with deeper meaning.
The following statement was agreed to by the Board in 1961 to express their understanding of ICYE’s purpose:
- Our basic motivation is rooted in the fact that God sent His Son into the world, and that Christ lives in the world today.
- Christians must exercise a ministry of reconciliation in the faith that He who has reconciled us to Himself will also reconcile us to others for whom He died and in whom he lives.
- Every Christian has an obligation to fulfill his calling as a Christian in the world, wherever and under whatever circumstances he lives. (In this context, this is our interpretation of the phrase “the mission of the Church”.)
- God is constantly moving His people by His spirit to new ways of expressing this mission.
- Teen-age youth today can and should be involved in this mission.
- The local church is the primary arena within which the individual Christian finds the supportive community for fulfilling his mission.
- ICYE intends to be a program which provides opportunities for young people of different countries to be involved in the “mission of the Church” in a different setting and culture, and which enables them, to return to their home land with deeper dedication to the fulfillment of that same mission through the Church and to the world of their own nation and time.
There were many questions. How were we to live in this world of two superpowers, in this post-Hiroshima, posload for volunteers and teams were constituted to share duties in each region. ICYE was blessed with enthusiastic and dedicated, competent people, former host parents, parents of U.S. exchangees, local pastors, and before long returnees themselves. ICYE’s administrative focus shifted gradually from denominational directors (who were members of the Board), to the volunteer representatives, whose work was coordinated by the national staff. As denominations downsized with different priorities and Board membersht me to exercise tolerance, and to fight prejudice. This year has strengthened me in my conviction that to better relations among nations is my task later on. Believing in God isn’t any more a tradition inherited from my parents.
This might seem naive and idealistic in the very different world of the 90s, but it was a great discovery for that young man and the experience changed his life – as it has done for thousands ever since. Much could happen just because someone went abroad and entered into a new way of life, but was that all? ICYE had to deepen its understanding of what it was doing and why, and how its goals could be implemented. It was not only international understanding and exchange students were not only ambassadors for their nation, community and church.
In 1963 a parent whose son was overseas sent to the ICYE office the following hymn which he had written for ICYE to express what the program meant:
Now Christian youth exchanging ownhome for friendly home;
in trust now sons and daughtersdepart for lands unknown,
The puzzle of new customs – the language bar to dare;
but these be minor matters to life in Christ we share.
Across the rolling ocean kind hands in friendship reach,
despite the walls of culture, despite the barrier – speech!
In Christian love united; in Christian brotherhood
now youth from homeland parted learn tolerance and good.
Each culture has its virtue; each way of life its right;
in fellowship in Jesus Christ may man unite.
let man to man be open; let prejudice be still;
Let man to man be friendly; let hearts with love now fill.
To gain in understanding, to friendship over the sea,
now pledge we all our being; good Christians may we be!
Inspire our hearts, O Father, to follow in Thy way;
Let this, our year, bring closer the dawn of Christian day.
Also in the mid-sixties ICYE produced a promotional filmstrip entitled “ICYE – Journey to Understanding”, the last line of which says, “For students, families and churches ICYE provides a remarkable journey to understanding and life”.
Translating the words “International”, “Christian”, “Youth” and “Exchange” into other languages raised questions to which little thought had been given. In English, but not in some other languages, there is an ambiguity which avoids the question. Does the adjective “Christian” modify “youth” or “exchange” or both? Was ICYE an exchange of Christian or church youth, or a Christian exchange program for youth? Many were committed to the latter, but not everyone agreed. But what made it Christian? The “C” continued to be an unresolved and divisive question – and remained so. (In the 60s some would feel that this was not the real question; the real one behind it was: what is the Christian faith all about anyway?).
Participation was rooted in churches and youth movements, locally and nationally, in the U.S. and in other countries. From speaking of reconciliation and international understanding, ICYE probed the meaning of interchurch or interdenominational cooperation and explored what it was to be ecumenical. In 1961 it was said that, “Christian experience is central in ICYE. Ecumenical education has the dimension of personal encounter with Christians of different backgrounds, traditions, cultures and a discovery of the wholeness of the Church and one’s place in it”. The understanding of the ecumenical movement had developed considerably in the 60s and ICYE began to be understood as an ecumenical program. The ICYE logo showed a globe, a cross and “ICYE”.
“Mission statements” hadn’t been invented, but in 1962 a consultation between the Board and European national committees agreed on the following statement:
ICYE intends to be a program which provides opportunities for young people of different countries to be involved in “the mission of the church” in a different setting and culture, and which enables them to return to their home land with deeper dedication to the fulfillment of that same mission through the Church and to the “world” of their own nation and time.
Then the 60s burst upon society and things were never the same again – fortunately! The prelude was getting caught indirectly in the independence movement in Africa. In 1960 Belgium abruptly gave independence to its unprepared African colony, the Belgian Congo (its name changed to Zaire by Mobutu, but back to Congo by Kabila), and civil war broke out. All available aircraft were called into service to evacuate foreigners from the colony, including the plane chartered for transporting our U.S. students to Europe. This was learned only three days before the group was to leave New York for Frankfurt. The airline provided space on two regular commercial flights, but one went to London and the other to Paris! The situation was complicated by the fact that all the baggage for the entire group was sent on the flight to London! How it was sorted out remains a mystery, but finally all arrived with baggage where they were expected to be.
In that same year the Congo led to a new venture and a new program. Through personal church contacts ICYE was able to receive one student from that new nation, followed by others the following year. It became apparent that there were few facilities for higher education in the Congo and these young people would be at a great disadvantage if they had to return to their country after a year. A new and separate program was therefore inaugurated to enable them to stay for four years of college after their high school year. (This required a totally different visa as that for regular ICYE students required them to return home after one year.) All together 20 students came on this new program. It meant a lot of work, finding scholarships and support funds, visiting them, organizing get-togethers, etc. Almost all returned home as planned, but, with a few exceptions, little news came about what they did.
Two ecumenical conferences were important events of the early sixties. A European Ecumenical Youth Conference took place in 1960 in Lausanne under WCC auspices. Ed and Ginny Schlingman, Bill Perkins and several ICYE students were there. That conference is remembered particularly for one of the first church youth challenges and confrontations of the 60s. Some progressive youth leaders felt that there should be a service of Holy Communion for the conference, though, following ecumenical tradition and policy, none had been planned. Some believed that the time had come in the ecumenical movement to hold a communion service in ecumenical conferences in which all participants could share. They made their convictions clear in no uncertain terms. The more traditional church youth, Anglicans, some Lutherans and of course the Eastern Orthodox, were firm in their convictions that they could not participate and that therefore this was not yet possible in the ecumenical movement. The conference leadership was unable to bridge the differences (some of which are still unresolved in the ecumenical movement) and no service was held in the program.
The following year a similar regional conference, the North American Ecumenical Youth Assembly, too place in Ann Arbor, MI. Bill Perkins was on the planning committee and responsible for recruiting overseas youth in order to have significant participation in the conference by youth from outside the U.S. and Canada. Those who came represented almost 40 countries. Two aspects of the conference were signs of things to come. It was an important opening for North American youth and churches to the rest of the world and what was happening there. And it also showed self-criticism of the church and the need for change and renewal. A musical written for the occasion, “For Heaven’s Sake”, was a satirical review of what passed too often for Christianity and the church. The planning committee had seen and liked the script, but the live performance was even more exciting. There were some negative reactions, of course, but for many it was liberating and refreshing. Later events would confirm that this was the right thing at the right time and the 60s would fortunately bring more of the same.
One of the results of moving the ICYE office to New York was, as hoped, more contacts with the National Council of Churches and the denominations who had national offices there. In this way ICYE entered into the mainstream of ecumenical youth work in the U.S. and staff participated in many conferences and meetings of youth and leaders. These were very relevant to what ICYE was becoming and offered opportunities to encourage a more ecumenical and international perspective in what otherwise might only be national and interdenominational activities.
ICYE participated in several worthwhile non-church-related areas of work. The Council on Student Travel (CST) had been formed in the 50s as a non-profit organization to facilitate transatlantic travel for American students going to Europe. All travel was of course by ship, onboard orientation programs were arranged and different groups had their own meetings, etc. ICYE students traveled on these ships until 1960. ICYE was an active member of CST and made all travel arrangements through them. Most of the CST members were colleges with overseas programs, but a few others, of which ICYE was one, had high school programs. In addition to travel arrangements, CST was developing program activities and standards and guidelines for overseas programs. Bill Perkins was chairman of the Committee on Overseas Programs for Secondary School Students (“the COPSSS”) which was involved in this process, and also served for several years as Vice Chairman of the Council. For ICYE it was convenient that CST offices were also in the same building at 777 UN Plaza, the Church Center for the UN, where ICYE was also located from 1965-1970.
In the 60s CST changed its name to the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) to reflect its developing educational work as well as travel. In addition to the annual meetings, which were programmatic and not just business, ICYE was represented at two major conferences sponsored by the Council in Bogota, Colombia (1962) and in Cannes, France (1965) by Ed Schlingman, UCC denominational director and chairman of the Board and Bill Perkins, and at Cannes, also by Ted McEachern, Methodist denominational director. In one session discussing the future of exchange programs, Ted McEachern said prophetically, “We should turn around and look out the window [at the Mediterranean]; that’s where the future is” – the third world, the global south.
Though ICYE had limited direct involvement in their work, it was represented at annual meetings and occasional programs of two other organizations dealing with international education, the Institute for International Education and the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA). Though these organizations dealt primarily with college students and adults, these were stimulating contexts and relevant to ICYE. The concept of “experiential education”, learning from the experience of living, was the key to understanding education in many programs, including ICYE.
Change in the Churches
Meanwhile — Pope John XXIII who had been elected in 1958 surprised everyone by being a reformer who wanted to open the windows and let fresh air into the church (as he demonstrated to a visitor who asked what he wanted to do). He called the Second Vatican Council and invited other churches and international church organizations, including the WCC, to send observers – an unheard of gesture by the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). He turned out to be committed to ecumenism and renewal and brought changes to the RCC that, had they happened in the 16th century, might have changed the history of the Reformation. The mass was to be celebrated, not in Latin, but in the language of the people. Medieval traditions and liturgies were changed and updated. The RCC moved fully into the ecumenical movement, and for a while there was talk of joining the WCC, though that was later seen to be unrealistic. Warm relations between Protestants and Roman Catholics mushroomed. Bishops and lay people in many countries became very progressive in social action and ecumenical relations. Many nuns and priests left their orders and moved into secular work and some of them married. John XXIII’s fresh air became a mighty wind, which affected almost all churches and the ecumenical movement.
It was said that if Protestant churches didn’t wake up and modernize, they would be left far behind the Catholics. And many did, bringing fresh air to many. New prayers and new hymns in contemporary language were written; folk songs were used in worship; masses were celebrated in homes. Many Protestants found themselves welcome to receive communion in liberal Catholic parishes. Many rejoiced in new openness and freedom in church life. Non-traditional practices were found in local churches, youth conferences and ICYE. It was a major development of the 60s in church life.
On the political front, the Berlin Blockade of 1948-1949 had been succeeded by the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, plugging the escape route, the hole in the iron curtain, and further dividing Europe. No one knew if the Wall would ever come down. The Christian Peace Conference (based in Prague) facilitated useful Christian-Marxist dialogue until the Soviet invasion of Prague which crushed the “Prague spring” in 1968. The Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955 had given significant impetus to the movement for national independence in what would be called the “Third World”. Global politics were transformed. International economic justice, poverty, hunger, development, liberation theology began to fill the agenda of the world, the church, the ecumenical movement and ICYE. Peace, disarmament and the war in Vietnam polarized Churches, Christians and nations. The struggle for civil rights in the U.S. mobilized people of all generations. The assassinations of John Kennedy (1963), Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (both 1968) shocked the world. The Paris uprising of 1968 in which students played a major role was a strong impetus for social change.
A New Generation
Youth came to play a very visible and important role in society – in antiwar and civil rights protests, in the hippie culture, at Woodstock, etc. Students integrated restaurants, waiting rooms, buses, helped register voters and marched in the South, especially in the “Freedom Summer” of 1964. Some of those who went south lost their lives in this cause The 1970 tragedy at Kent State College in Ohio when national guardsmen killed four students and wounded thirteen who were demonstrating against the invasion of Cambodia “raised the American crisis to a new level of anguish”. Folk singers with their commentary and protest songs were the ballad singers of the era – Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and others. And the wonderful Beatles – an enduring reminder of the enthusiasm of those years!
Drugs and sexual behavior joined political items on the agenda. There were changes in lifestyles and societal mores. Moral and ethical decisions were based on different assumptions and commitments than those many adults had grown up with. Feminism and women’s liberation was a growing force in society. Margaret Mead, a famous American anthropologist and a committed Christian, said that it was only youth (born after Hiroshima) who could lead older generations into the future since they were “natives” of a new world, at home in the new culture. Some years later it was said that the true revolution of the 60s was “an inner one of feelings and assumptions: a revolution in the head”. For ICYE leaders it was an exciting time in which to live and to be involved and to share what was happening with ICYE exchangees and returnees.
All those active in ICYE, youth and adults, were confronted with challenges to established standards, ideas, commitments and more. Youth ministry meant understanding what was happening, being with youth in their search for identity and commitment, identifying with the issues and seeking with them what it meant to be a Christian in the new and changing contexts of the world. A strong wave of self-consciousness and self-determination on the part of youth had its effects on churches and organizations, including ICYE. Church youth work lost favor, finances and staff – and thus ICYE lost support and infrastructure.
The churches were changing and so was the understanding of what Christian commitment implied. Things which had always seemed important became trivial – such as whether you should stand or sit or kneel in church or whether you should close your eyes to pray. International politics was changing, and national priorities had to follow. Society was in flux; the ethics of right and wrong were no longer as simple as before. The ecumenical movement was a call to change, but it didn’t apply only to the church, but to everything! The ecumenical movement was changing and ICYE also was challenged to change.
A Process of Change
Already the Executive Secretary’s first annual report in 1959 raised questions which would bear fruit in years to come. Should ICYE be only for high school students? Should it be only exchanges to and from the U.S.? Was the direct two way exchange the ideal? Could exchanges not be sponsored locally by an ecumenical group of churches, rather than by only one denomination? What did it mean to be an ecumenical program? For one thing it meant to be open to change.
An Issue-centered Program
1967 was the tenth anniversary of ICYE’s founding, and the Executive Director’s report again raised questions about ICYE’s calling:
- What is the role of ICYE/US in relation to our partners overseas and how do we develop mutual confidence and a collegial spirit?
- What is a Christian exchange program?
- What are the issues we must be about?
- Why is ICYE so white?
- What is our ecumenical commitment?
- How shall we demythologize the foci of family, school and church?
- How do we intensify the quality of each person’s, each family’s experience, rather than the quantity of exchanges?
- How do we help the exchangees who find it difficult to readjust when they come home?
- How do we enable young adults to develop the traits of character needed for the future?
Reflecting the new context in which it continued its mission, the ICYE International Committee in 1967 made some important statements about developing trends:
We accept as a current primary concern for Christian thinking and action in the world today the issue of economic and social justice and peace, and we fully intend to face the implications of this for ICYE.
In our program we also seek honest encounter through exchange with persons of other convictions and faiths than our own. Therefore, we accept any person who wishes to participate in our program as defined in the statement on aims and purposes.
As ICYE became more “issue-centered”, the limits of commitment were tested. It was a difficult time for many churches, parents and some students as ICYE began to deal directly with what were considered to be controversial and “political” questions. The following text, part of a statement of the Committee on Returned [Peace Corps] Volunteers, put the issue of the Vietnam war in the proper context and was the basis for a resolution opposing the war voted by the ICYE Board in 1967, which included the quotation:
The dominant question both in Vietnam and in the rest of the developing world is not containment of Communism, but rather whether the poor and subservient will always be poor and subservient, or whether they will find ways to become full participants in their societies. When efforts to secure basic human rights in developing countries begin to have some effect, the U.S. responds far too often in terms of military aid and intervention to block these efforts rather than with technical aid to assist them.
The growing investment within the U.S. in military expenditure and military solutions leads to feelings in other countries that the government in the United States is committed to imposing its values and will on people around the globe, and makes little effort to put into practice at home the ideals it upholds in its rhetoric abroad. The war in Vietnam renders difficult, if not impossible, domestic efforts to eliminate poverty and to assure the civil rights of all U.S. citizens.
The Board continued with a strong statement of its own, about the best to be found in the records. ICYE was ten years old, and had come a long way.
We, therefore, commit our ICYE program itself to be a means of educating and sensitizing participants – students and families and sponsors – and all whom they influence by their lives to the revolutionary change that must be effected in order to achieve international social and economic justice as the only firm and permanent foundation for peace. As an alternative to relations between peoples based on economic exploitation and military policies of repression, containment and imperial domination, we offer our program of exchange, exposure, involvement and mutual commitment to the coming of the Lord’s Shalom.
Some students and families felt that reading lists and articles sent by ICYE to U.S. exchangees as preparatory reading were too political, un-American, un-Christian or “demoralizing”. Of course, many changed their minds during and after the ICYE experience. These issues provided a new context for the day to day experience of being an exchangee. It was a context in which new understandings of what it meant to be the church or to be a Christian, of what Christian faith impelled us to do and believe about the world and the issues were discovered. How do we live in a world of interrelated nations, a conflicted society, a church divided by social issues, lifestyles and activism?
ICYE had entered another dimension of ecumenism. These issues were ecumenical issues; they brought churches and Christians together to respond and act; they called for commitment based on faith; they forced us to look at the life and needs of “the whole inhabited earth” (the usual translation of the Greek word “oikoumene”, which is the origin of the word ecumenical). ICYE was trying to be a Christian program for those who were learning what this meant. Ecumenism was a new (or rediscovered) way of being the Church, the people of God, not a building or an institution. Many learned to distinguish between religion, which is institutional and binds people with beliefs and rules, and Christian faith which frees us be human. The title of one of the best books of the time, God’s Revolution and Man’s Responsibility by Harvey Cox, which was used in some ICYE conferences, gave the theme.
In 1969 the International Committee once again defined ICYE aims and purposes in a way appropriate to ICYE’s growing diversity.
We find ourselves in a world of misunderstanding, conflict, divergent interests and misleading myths about one another. Moreover, the world is divided by political and economic conditions in which poverty, hunger and hopelessness is the situation of the majority of humankind.
Thus it is that ICYE sponsors the exchange of young people between nations as a means of international and ecumenical education to further the Christian commitment to and responsibility for reconciliation, justice and peace in the world.
ICYE seeks to enable all participants to discover the common bonds they share with the whole of humanity. ICYE therefore seeks encounter with persons of all convictions and invites participation of those who share its aims and who wish to take part in its program.
It must be recognized that the way these fine-sounding goals were implemented by different national committees in diverse cultures with differing local contexts varied considerably. The experiences of exchangees depended on their family situation and their own personality and interests. They appropriated the experience of a year abroad in very different ways. As ICYE’s interpretation of its goals and purposes developed, the content of orientation and evaluation changed. Many testified to the value of the incredible learning experience and almost all spoke of the remarkable personal growth that had taken place in their lives:
- My preconceptions based on how I experienced life at home had to be changed, sometimes radically turned around, to meet the realities of my new situation.
- The present institutional status is unsatisfactory, not only for the vast majority of poor and hungry but also for us in the privileged parts of the world; one great discovery this year for myself: the need for a cultural revolution that brings with it social justice.
- I can’t possible say that I’ve found all the answers or even all the questions. I can’t really describe it but maybe it comes to that I’ve found a little of what I am. What it means to be an individual and at this one instant of my life what it means to be me.
- I see how much I have yet to learn.
The following quotations from various sources, maybe still relevant, spoke of what ICYE was trying to promote and inspired ICYE’s thinking.
The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement of danger….
It demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. (Robert Kennedy in South Africa, 1966)
[He felt it necessary to] develop the instinct to look at the world from the viewpoint of its casualties and victims. (Arthur Schlesinger of Robert Kennedy)
It may just be that here in this field, with small flags flying and tiny blasts from tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy – and not only may be ours, he may be us. (Pogo, in an unfortunately now defunct comic strip)
The dominant traits of character of the new adult will be flexibility rather than stability, trustworthiness rather than predictability, curiosity rather than knowledge, an experimental attitude rather than certainty, meditation rather than preaching, listening rather than proclaiming. (Albert van den Heuvel, WCC staff)
Christianity is not primarily an explanation of the world or even how to live. It is an invitation to enter a pilgrimage. Instead of setting you straight on everything, it leads you straight into more perplexities and more excitement that you would ever find if you left it alone. That is why many people reject it. They don’t want to be bothered. They want to stick to safe and easy ways. God does not promise a comfortable life with no troubles and no haunting questions. He promises an adventure, where every accomplishment leads to new problems and every answer raises new questions. But in the midst of it all, He promises enough light to live by, and His Spirit to go with us. (Roger Shinn, professor at Union Theological Seminary, NY)
In the beginning Christianity was anything but a respectable creed. Its founder moved among the outcasts of society – among the prostitutes, racial minorities, political traitors, misfits, vagrants and thieves; among the hungry, the naked, the homeless and the prisoners, [seen to be] a religious heretic, an enemy of the status quo. (Pierre Berton, Canadian author)
I simply argue that the Cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek (or shall we say in English, in Bantu and in Afrikaans?); at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died. And that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen should be and what churchmen should be about. (George MacLeod, Iona Community, Scotland)
To be a Christian is not to be religious in a particular way, but to be a human being. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison, before his execution by the Nazis in 1945)
It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price. One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. (Morris West, Australian author)
I should like to be able to love my country and still love Justice. … Freedom consists not principally of privileges, but especially of duties. (Albert Camus, French writer)
A Changing Program
In the late 60s things were changing internally in ICYE in the U.S. as well as overseas. In the recession, denominational staffs were being downsized. New denominational representatives came on the Board, with different interests and experience. Financial resources became more and more limited. Aims and purposes were being reinterpreted in light of the new thinking described above. Increasingly there were serious discrepancies between the expectations of staff and leaders and those of exchangees, between exchangees and their host families, and between national committees.
Many denominational directors and regional representatives as well as ICYE staff kept in touch with some exchangees after their return. Gradually some became involved in regional ICYE work; others helped in the summer orientation and homegoing programs; eventually some became members of the Board/National Committee. Some conferences were initiated by the national office for returnees in New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles to enable them to reflect on their experiences and how to remain involved in ICYE and what it stood for. Many who had come home with new perspectives, new convictions and questions about Christianity, often with more liberal or progressive attitudes that those they held when they had gone abroad were relieved that ICYE leaders shared their opinions.
So many trends and ideas were developing that it was time for a thorough reassessment of the program. A special committee on “structure and function” was appointed and made far-reaching and ambitious proposals in 1968, which were approved by the Board. Staff had been excluded from the committee work, though they answered questions and provided background information when requested. The existing seventeen regions were to be combined into three areas, each with a national staff person. Frank Gillespie was to be the staff person for the eastern region. The National Committee would be increased to include some regional representatives and returnees. There was a strong emphasis on local and ecumenical approaches. The following text shows how much ICYE had changed since 1957.
Participation of local churches and interested groups will be primarily through local units to be known as “clusters”. A cluster will consist of a group of exchangees (about five to eight) assigned to a limited geographical area and their host parents, an equal number of American students, representatives of the sponsoring churches or groups and resource persons. Together they will form a task force of persons committed to realization of the goals of ICYE in the area, to confrontation with the issues of social and economic justice.
The plan was creative, progressive and had many advantages. The Board agreed to implement it, but not exclusively, and the staff supported it. The theory was excellent but the implementation was a disaster. Local churches were wary of the political tone. Leadership was difficult to find for such an ambitious project. Adequate financial support was not forthcoming. It became clear that clusters could only be an alternative to the traditional pattern, not replace it. In fact, they remained rare experimental ventures.
In March 1969 recommendations of a special committee were made on staffing, which clearly implied that a change in leadership would be desirable. Incumbent staff were informed that their jobs were only guaranteed to September 1970. In September 1969 they were invited to accept three year terms, with new job descriptions, to expire at the end of 1972. The definition of the roles of Board, staff and committees made clear that strong central leadership was not desired. In 1970 the Board decided for financial and other reasons, but against the opinion of the staff, to open the first regional office, as had been proposed, in Philadelphia, with Frank Gillespie. The New York office moved back from UN Plaza to the Interchurch Center, where space was rented from the Presbyterian Church.
In 1970 a new paper was drafted, “New Dimensions for ICYE”, which was well received by exchangees, less so by families and local churches. It said, “ICYE wants to be open to discover in new ways what an ecumenical and international exchange experience is in the 1970s. We therefore seek new dimensions, new patterns of exchange and flexible and experimental opportunities”. It described new roles for exchangees, families and sponsoring committees, outlining all that many would have liked to see ICYE become. It tried to achieve what clusters had been designed to do. The situation, however, was too much troubled, and countervailing forces, political and financial, ensured that new directions would not be implemented. It was a major effort to design a new model for ICYE, but those making decisions had not read clearly enough the signs of the times. It was what exchangees wanted, but not what the traditional sponsors would pay for, and those who could provide the experience couldn’t pay.
Supervision of the program had moved from denominational directors to regional representatives and the national office. It was hoped that this would enable the churches to concentrate on promotion and recruitment, but it didn’t happen. In a time of shrinking staff and funds, denominations had other priorities. It was not fully realized how much the good working relationships and mutual trust enjoyed with denominational leaders had been eroded and with it the support base in the churches. An eastern regional office had been opened, but the rest of the regional and area plan was never implemented. As the financial situation worsened, the Board decided that the Philadelphia office had to be closed and three staff persons (Frank Gillespie in Philadelphia, Steve Gooch and Cindy Wineman in New York) terminated. The worsening financial situation was primarily due to the lack of applicants, both students and host families.
The political, financial and internal crises that plagued ICYE in the years 1970-1972 were difficult and painful. The severe financial crisis now threatened ICYE’s existence, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, especially Germany, and the International Council. Income was down and reserves had been depleted. In addition, the separation of finances between the U.S. committee and the International Council revealed a critical cash flow problem. It was easier to diagnose the condition and its cause than to prescribe the cure. ICYE would need new leadership if it was to survive and continue its mission. Bill Perkins announced that he would not apply for the redefined staff position and would leave at the end of his term in December 1972.
By the summer of 1972 it was possible to report to the International Council that the financial situation had improved and the budget was under control, though recruitment was still very difficult. By now most American students going abroad were high school graduates taking a year between high school and college; the extra cost made it a luxury. Compared to 1958 there were now many other possibilities and overseas programs. Being older, exchangees were often looking for a more flexible, independent and different type of experience, such as voluntary service, not another year of school. Fortunately some national committees were willing and able to provide this. Exchangees (the terminology of “exchange students” was no longer used) coming to the U.S. who were older than ICYE had received in earlier years often had expectations of more freedom than the traditional family-school-church pattern allowed. ICYE was promoting new thinking and patterns (clusters, etc.) to which there was local resistance. ICYE was at a real crossroads. It would survive but eventually become a very different program.
Between 1958 and 1972 ICYE had experienced worldwide growth and development as an ecumenical program in its structure, relationships and content. But the winds of change were stronger than expected. In the years that followed ICYE underwent many positive changes and serious difficulties. In 1994 the name had been changed to Volunteers Exchange International (VEI) to recognize its new focus. In 1997, confronted by serious financial problems and a lack of strong leadership, it was deemed necessary to suspend operations. ICYE/US had served its purpose well and had remarkable influence on many persons, but its time had run out. On the international level, however, ICYE continues to pursue its mission for peace, justice and reconciliation.
III: Worldwide Partnership
From 1958 when the program began to expand to new countries, it was ICYE policy to make contacts first with ecumenical youth bodies and churches in each country. After consultation a national correspondent would be appointed, who would form a national committee to share responsibilities for the program with the U.S. Board and staff.
Beginning in 1959 there was steady growth in partnership and sharing of responsibility. Representatives of national committees in Europe met with Bill Perkins in Hamburg, Germany, September 1959, and in Seengen, Switzerland, October 1960. These meetings enabled national committee representatives to become acquainted with one another and view the European program as a whole. It was agreed that such annual meetings should continue in order to establish policies and principles for the program in Europe and to provide opportunities for a common discussion of basic issues. In 1960 Jan-Erik Wikström, representing the Swedish ICYE committee, was the first overseas representative to attend the annual meeting of the ICYE Board, to be followed by others in succeeding years.
A further important step was taken in 1961 when the full Board of Directors met in a consultation together with the European national committee representatives at the Woudschoten center in Zeist, Netherlands, in July. At the annual Board meeting that year the Executive Secretary proposed that ICYE envisage multilateral exchanges between all regions of the world, not only between Europe and the USA, and formation of an “International Committee” to oversee the program, in which the U.S. Board of Directors would become “the USA unit” (later to be called the U.S. Committee).
Growth in sharing
Two important personal elements characterized this time of growth. Few Board members or national correspondents had experienced another culture as exchangees themselves did. Over the years through regular contacts and meetings a positive understanding developed between Board members and national correspondents in terms of cultural habits, sensitivities, attitudes and administrative styles. In addition, trust, friendship and good working relations developed among these persons, all committed to ICYE. As people changed work and were replaced by others, this could not be assumed and some of the crises in ICYE resulted from this.
The U.S. staff carried heavy responsibilities during these years of development and internationalization, but several others need special mention for their contributions. David Holm, national correspondent in Sweden, was instrumental in guiding the European Committee of which he was chairman for many years through its formative development. Ed Schlingman, Chairman of the U.S. Board, gave strong support and led the Board to international partnership and its development. As co-chairmen of the International Committee David Holm and Ed Schlingman led it as a team with wisdom, skill and humor through the turbulent 60s. Henk van Andel, as national Correspondent in the Netherlands and then European Secretary, was a consistent driving force for change and relevance.
The major internal issue during the 60s was the development of appropriate structures for partnership between ICYE as an American organization and the national committees abroad. ICYE had not established national offices overseas, but relied on nationally formed independent committees. However, legal authority and decision-making, as well as finances, were in the hands of the Board of Directors and the U.S. office. The Board was quite accustomed to making decisions for the whole program and slow to recognize the need to consult fully with overseas partners and share responsibility as equals. After the Woudschoten meeting in 1961, further Annual Consultations were held from 1962 to 1965. In 1962 it was decided that these consultations should increasingly assume joint program responsibility with the U.S. Board of Directors, which still retained financial and legal responsibility.
During these years the development of national committees continued in new countries participating. In 1964 concern on the part of some national committees for a stronger European role in ICYE to counterbalance American dominance was discussed at a meeting in Neuhaus/Fischhausen, Germany. At this meeting proposals were made for the development of inter-European exchanges and regional coordination and the establishment of a European committee and secretariat. Soon thereafter the Board of ICYE agreed to appoint and finance a staff person for Europe (Henk van Andel of the Netherlands), who would be based in Geneva and work closely with the WCC Youth Department.
In January 1965 a European Committee was established at a meeting in Geneva. A significant development took place in 1964-1965 with the first multilateral exchanges: two Dutch students went to Sweden and Switzerland. In 1965-1966 there were six such exchanges: two from Germany to Sweden and Switzerland and four to Germany from Iceland, Sweden, Finland and France. Ethiopia, Japan and Korea joined European committees in the Annual Consultation.
In 1966 at a meeting in Zeist, Netherlands, fourteen national committees (out of twenty seven countries then participating) voted to constitute themselves as the “ICYE International Committee”. The committees overseas rightly claimed a share in decision making and the Board agreed to hand over full responsibility for the running of the program in each country to its national committee. The International Committee now had more authority than the earlier consultations and – importantly – the U.S. Committee now had only one vote.
1967 saw an international consultation in Paris (sponsored by ICYE and the WCC Youth Department) which explored a spectrum of international issues and questions relating to the future development of ICYE around the world. In the 60s an international research project was undertaken to project the future shape of exchanges in different parts of the world. One person each from Europe, Latin America and Asia undertook this responsibility in those regions. The results were presented to the International Committee, but other internal developments resulted in little thought being given to the reports. Through all these years national committees contributed to overall costs according to a scale based on national resources, but the ultimate financial responsibility remained with the U.S. Committee.
David Holm has written about the development in ICYE during these years as follows:
The sixties were years of deep seated unrest and ideological confrontations between East and West, North and South on a global basis. It was a real challenge to try to make our exchange program of more than 30 participating countries relevant to the needs about us. ICYE’s original purpose, coming into being right after World War II, was that of reconciliation. Later on, it shifted to underscore the need of an ecumenical encounter in order to foster a deeper understanding between the various church traditions. However, we discovered that “oikoumene” is a global concept pointing to the entire inhabited world, and so we changed our accent of purpose to dramatize our mutual interdependence in the world village. In order to avoid any kind of elitism or exclusive thinking, the word inclusiveness then characterized our policy of exchange. Finally, we could not avoid looking more specifically at the flagrant injustices in the world, and therefore more or less dedicated ICYE to the cause of development and peace.
A New Organization
The question of financial and legal responsibility was, however, not changed by these developments, and the director of ICYE in the U.S. still served also as executive for the International Committee. It was therefore decided that a new legal body for ICYE International should be formed with staff and office in Geneva. This led to the creation of the International Council for ICYE in December 1969 at John Knox Centre in Geneva. This was the final act which separated the international organization, administration and finances from the U.S. Committee and Board of Directors. The Board recognized itself as the U.S. Committee, one member among others of the International Council. Henk van Andel remained on the staff in Geneva and a search was undertaken for an Executive Secretary for ICYE International.
During these years there was a growing conviction that ICYE needed a new image and new program thrusts as an international organization. For some national committees this meant new leadership and less from the U.S. committee and staff. This led to strong support for appointing a new executive from the Third World. In a long and difficult closed session of the International Committee in Berlin in 1969 many Europeans demanded a Third World executive while many from other countries supported the present leadership. It was finally decided that the search for a Third World executive should continue and that the office of ICYE International would remain in New York for a year, separate from the office of the U.S. Committee, with Bill Perkins as executive.
Also at the Berlin meeting Hans Schmocker of Switzerland was appointed to serve as administrator and finance officer for the International Council. In January 1970 he came to New York together with Maxine Gilhuys as administrative assistant. Together with Bill Perkins they were the staff of the new “International Council for ICYE” until the summer. In April three persons from Brazil (Eber Ferrer), Liberia (Charles Minor) and Japan (Tosh Arai) were interviewed for the position of Executive Secretary for the International Council. Eber Ferrer was nominated and then appointed in the summer of 1970 at the first General Assembly of the new International Council.2 Henk van Andel had moved to a position with the WCC. Eber, Hans and Maxine opened the new international office in Geneva in 1970. Bill Perkins returned to his responsibility as Executive Director of the U.S. Committee.
By the end of the 60s financial problems and internal issues emerging from the socio-political context were challenging ICYE’s stability. The ideology, leadership and structure of ICYE were questioned. A few national committees in Latin America and in Europe criticized the U.S. Committee for failing to live up to its objectives and for being a paternalistic institution rather than a real movement. The undercurrents of European radical leftist politics would continue to trouble ICYE and become even more serious after 1972.
A French student returning from the U.S. in 1971 said:
ICYE should provide the opportunity of discovering a different society and being involved in the process of progressive social change, but … returnees are not involved enough in the decision-making process. … Host communities are not always willing or even able to provide opportunities which could meet the aims and purposes of ICYE. … The fact that ICYE is called a Christian organization keeps a lot of people from joining us in our struggle for social justice. … The exchangee is often limited by the local church and community which restrict him. … The family should not be considered as the only suitable living situation. …
Strong voices insisted that ICYE should become a movement of youth, not just a program for youth; that exchangees should have a primary role is shaping their own experience, rather than have it determined for them by others. Different patterns of an exchange year were called for. The winds of change were blowing hard. At the General Assembly of the International Council in 1972 the continuation of the program (at least as it was) was questioned and definite proposals made:
The high school based program should be reduced to 50% of the total. The issue-study involvement program will involve students ages 18-25. The work-based and [voluntary] service program shall be increased. We stress the necessity of trust between the national committees. [The ‘C’] could mean…that Christians who are themselves committed to justice, reconciliation and peace serve in a program that enables persons of all convictions to work toward conscientization and liberation.
It was clear that some national committees wanted more freedom to develop their own models of ICYE and less centralized control, especially by Americans. A new generation was assuming leadership, many of whom didn’t know one another. It was no longer possible to rely on the friendship that had developed among national committee leaders and staff and ICYE suffered from a lack of trust. A difficult meeting was held between representatives of the Dutch and U.S. committees in the summer of 1971, requested by the Dutch, where the U.S. committee was challenged on its policies and practice and what was considered to be its conservative political stance.
Behind the programmatic differences were ideological issues which, together with other convictions, were finally responsible for the dissolution of the International Council and the formation of a new “Federation” of autonomous national ICYE committees in 1977. The challenge had come from the political left in Europe and a very vocal minority that believed that working for social change, justice and peace meant taking a Marxist position, even for Christians. It is a matter of great regret that Christians committed to justice and peace were unable to find common ground or engage in rational debate.
ICYE is still active in over 30 countries worldwide, with the International Office located in Berlin. Although it is difficult to find exact statistics for some years, it can be estimated that since 1972 about 13,000 exchangees have participated. Beginning in 1985 six month exchanges in addition to full year exchanges took place.
“The Incomplete Story” continues.