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Student Christian Federation looks to future

 


Student Christian Federation looks to future

Sept. 27, 2004

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - When Ken Guest attended the recent assembly of the World Student Christian Federation in Thailand, he was struck by the diversity of the participants.

Many of the students, representing 70 to 80 nations, had never traveled out of their home country before, he told United Methodist News Service. "These are not the elite, these are not the children of well-placed government officials or wealthy families," he explained.

These particular young people had come to the federation’s 33rd assembly in August to take advantage of its reputation as a training ground for young church leaders and as a forum to discuss significant world issues with their peers.

Now more than a century old, the World Student Christian Federation has long enjoyed Methodist support and involvement. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries remains a major source of North American support for the organization, which is headquartered in Geneva and has regional offices in Hong Kong; Beirut, Lebanon; Budapest, Hungary; Nairobi, Kenya; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Guest, an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Baruch College in New York, became involved with the federation when he worked as an executive with the Board of Global Ministries. At the assembly in Thailand, he was elected chairperson of the organization - the first North American to hold that position since the 1970s.

"Historically, a lot of the leaders of the ecumenical movement and even our church agencies have come out of the Christian student movement," he said. One of his goals is to reclaim and strengthen that history. He believes the movement continues to have "incredible potential to influence the lives of students."

One of his tasks will be to continue seeking new ways to finance the federation’s work. "All the ecumenical funding patterns are changing," Guest explained. Former big donors, such as the German churches, have less income than in the past, he noted.

A centennial endowment fund established in 1995 to help with grants for international programs has raised $1.1 million so far, and the federation’s U.S. trustees have started a "second century" campaign. "Senior friends" or alumni of the organization are being encouraged "to enable this generation of students to have the same kind of experiences that they’ve had," he added.

Although Guest participated in assemblies in France in 1990 and the Ivory Coast in 1995, the Thailand event in August reminded him of "how unique and rare an opportunity" such gatherings are.

Besides the diversity of students, he said he appreciated the richness of theological differences apparent at the assembly and concern over issues such as the effects of globalization and HIV/AIDS. His small-group discussion on globalization included students from India, Poland, Mexico, Singapore, Italy, Ecuador, Bangladesh, South Korea, Lebanon, Sweden and the Philippines.

Although many of the assembly participants were female, concern arose over the lack of women in leadership roles. "What became clear was there was an absolute commitment to having women in a leadership position, but it would require a slightly longer process to find the right person," Guest said. A search process was begun to name a woman as a federation vice chairperson by the end of the year.

Advancing work on gender and women’s concerns also is a goal of the new executive committee for the next four years. Other goals include engaging in biblical and theological reflection, encouraging the federation’s student focus, securing organizational and financial viability, exploring how to be a global community and expanding global programs, and enhancing the visibility of the World Student Christian Federation.

Visibility also is key in North America, represented by the Student Christian Movement of Canada and a U.S. council of six denominations - United Methodist, Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal, Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ. "They’re working to rebuild the student Christian movement here in the United States," Guest said.

Besides Guest, other new federation officers are Udan Fernando of Sri Lanka, vice chairperson, and Youhanna Kamal of Egypt, treasurer. Michael Wallace of New Zealand was appointed as the new chief staff executive.

More information about the federation is available by contacting Guest at kenguest@earthlink.net.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org ·

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