Birth of the YMCA
The London YMCA is the first organisation carrying the name "Young Men's Christian Association". However, it is not the oldest of those organisations that founded the World's Alliance of YMCAs (or "World's Alliance…", as it was called until 1955). There are older associations in Germany (Bremen 1834)1, Scotland (Glasgow 1824)2 and Switzerland (Basle)3. These associations were founded with a different name and only later changed their names to YMCAs.
The diffusion of the YMCA idea started at Basle in Switzerland. The Basle Jünglingsverein, as the YMCAs were called in German-speaking areas up to the 1920s, emerged in the Basle Mission House.4 Thus, it was an implication of the Missionary Movement in Germany. The difference between the Basle Jünglingsverein and different Missionsvereine was that it did not limit its work to missionary activities in other countries, but intended to "be a place of refuge, a home for young people".5 Perhaps because of its connections to German mission societies, it seems that the Basle Jünglingsverein had no influence on other parts of Switzerland. Instead, from Basle the idea of the Jünglingsverein spread first to Bremen (1834) and from there to the rest of the German Confederation. However, the diffusion of the idea was not always as clear as in the case of Basle's influence on Bremen. Sometimes it happened that an existing group heard about Jünglingsvereine and sought contact with these associations. A few years later, the Jünglingsvereine in Barmen (1836) and Elberfeld (1838) were founded. These two associations were closely located and together they formed the centre of the German Jünglingsvereine. Their centrality was reduced when nine associations formed the Rheinisch-Westphälische Bund in 1848 in Elberfeld. From then on the board of the Bund was called the Elberfeld Committee. Elberfeld became one of the main nodes in diffusing the Jünglingsverein idea in Germany, among the German-speaking population in other countries6 and and in the Netherlands.7 When the World's Alliance of YMCAs was founded, there were already 130 associations with 6,000 members in Germany,8 thus forming the largest national movement in Europe. The associations in German-speaking Switzerland had contacts with Germany as well.9 However, in both the Netherlands and Switzerland new associations emerged independently and the kind of influence of German associations on other countries was more that of a midwife than a parent. Additionally, Dutch and Swiss associations got assistance and ideas from France. In 1855, there were 48 YMCAs in Switzerland and ten in the Netherlands.10
In Britain, the mother of YMCAs was the London YMCA, which was the first association with the name "Young Men's Christian Association". In contrast to the German situation, the British YMCA arose not from an emphasis on a Christian mission but from the British philanthropic tradition. The London YMCA was originally a self-help society for shop assistants.11 This association became the centre of the YMCA movement in the English- speaking world. The idea of the YMCA diffused from London through the network of businessmen, and branches emerged even in such distant cities as Adelaide and Calcutta.12 In 1855, there were 47 associations or branches with 5,640 members in Great Britain and Ireland.13
Along with Britain and Germany, the third root of the YMCA was in French-speaking areas. Since 1843 there had been a Christian association of young men in Nîmes (Société Philadelphique) and since 1847 in Geneva (Réunion du Jeudi). Later both of these associations changed their name to Union Chrétienne de Jeunes Gens. In spite of these earlier attempts, it was only in the 1850s that similar associations emerged in other parts of the French-speaking world. From Geneva the idea spread to Paris.14 In general, it seems that new associations emerged more out of the general atmosphere in the Protestant churches, or Zeitgeist, than by the propagation of the idea from place to place. Most of the 52 French associations with 700 members that existed before the First World Conference had emerged during a relatively short period between 1852 and 1854. At that time both Belgian associations were still part of the French Union Générale.
In North America the oldest YMCAs are Cincinnati (1848)15 and a German Jünglingsverein (1850) in New York. However, they did not play any significant role in the diffusion of the YMCA on the American continent. The diffusion of the YMCA began in Boston and Montreal, when some young men inspired by the London YMCA during their visit to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, founded those associations in the same year.16 In 1854, 19 associations formed the North American Confederation of YMCAs17 and a year later, in 1855, there were altogether 54 YMCAs with 14,000 members in the USA and Canada.18 The North American YMCAs formed more than half of the global membership.
The YMCA leaders were in correspondence and decided to come together when the Evangelical Alliance planned to have its conference during the Paris World Exhibition in 1855. At that meeting they founded the World Alliance of YMCAs and accepted a statement that was a manifestation of their faith that defined the identity, the ideology and the mission of the movement. It is known as the Paris Basis,19 which is among the most influential organisational documents in the 19th century. The full text of the Paris Basis, accepted in the First World’s Conference of the YMCA, contains three parts: the Preamble, the Fundamental Principle (in italics) and the Second Fundamental Principle:
The delegates of various Young Men's Christian Associations of Europe and America, assembled in Conference at Paris, the 22nd August, 1855, feeling that they are one in principle and in operation, recommend to their respective Societies to recognize with them the unity existing among their Associations, and whilst preserving a complete independence as to their particular organization and modes of action, to form a Confederation on the following fundamental principle, such principle to be regarded as the basis of admission of other Societies in future:
The Young Men's Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and saviour according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be His disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men.
This fundamental principle being admitted, the Conference further proposes:
1. That any differences of opinion on other subjects, however important on themselves, but not embraced by the specific designs of the Associations, shall not interfere with the harmonious relations of the confederated Societies.20
The Paris Basis laid the foundations for the further development of the YMCA. The first is the "independence clause" in the Preamble (presented in bold by the author), which was probably due to American, German and Swiss hesitation to adopt the British and French "mother association model", where local associations were just branches of the one in the capital without decision-making power.21 This principle can be traced to the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530)22 and its article VII, where local variety in ceremonies is approved. Thus, the federal structure emerged as a manifestation of the movement's basic beliefs. This "independence clause" had a significant impact on the movement's plurality in the future.
A second emphasis is on the requirement that future associations adopt the Paris Basis. In this way, the Basis, which was a model of the YMCAs in 1855, became a model for future associations. Although the interpretation of what is "according to the Paris Basis" was left to the local level, this expressed unity in diversity enabled both the flow of innovations in the YMCA and mutual help in times of trouble. Moreover, the basic YMCA model gave some sort of institutional credibility to new YMCAs when they started to work.
Third, from the Fundamental Principle, the YMCA developed its principle of "open membership – Christian leadership", which enabled the YMCA to serve people of other faiths and thus promote interfaith dialogue. Fourth, the first proposal, which later was adopted as the Second Fundamental Principle, promoted neutrality on issues not mentioned in the Fundamental Principle. This neutrality in political issues has given the YMCA the possibility to serve, for example, prisoners of war and refugees across frontiers as a neutral agency. Later, however, some political issues became also issues of faith – the first of these being anti-racism, which was put on the agenda of the 1926 World Conference in Helsinki.23
In spite of outspoken unity, the YMCA idea was not homogeneous from the very beginning. On the contrary, it was a combination of German, Latin and Anglo-Saxon lay religiosity from various Protestant denominations. Therefore, while some associations used the Paris Basis as a personal statement which individuals had to sign and others used as a basis for the associations, some national movements, such as the North American YMCA, kept their own bases and saw the Paris Basis as a bond between national movements. Accordingly, American associations have been free to make their own definitions as they see fit.24
Expansion and Developments in North America
After the beginning of the YMCA in Europe, the North American YMCA became the primus motor of YMCA innovations. These innovations were, then, introduced to Europe. Therefore, a short excursion to that continent is needed to understand the YMCA developments in Europe.
The YMCA expanded rapidly in North America. This was due to four main reasons. First, the organisation model was based on large city-associations with paid staff. Second, associations had buildings with sports facilitiesand social work. Third, Bible study (because of the Awakenings)25 and, fourth, work for young men exclusively.26
The American Metropolitan YMCA model ensured long-term stability when the Metropolitan office could direct funds and supervision to branches that would be in crisis if they were independent associations, like most associations in Europe. Whereas in Europe the average number of members per association up to 1955 remained under 100 (except in the UK, where it was 136), the equivalent number in North America was over 1000.27
Physical education became the flagship of the American movement and – from there – diffused to Europe and other continents. This, however, required dealing with the negative attitude towards sports. This was done by John H. Gladstone (1827–1902)28 from the London YMCA. In 1858, at the Second World's Conference of YMCAs in Geneva, he gave the theological justification for sport, arguing that associations should offer good recreational programmes to young men, and defended his thesis mainly with historical examples and some Biblical quotations. On this basis, Americans developed in the 1860s the philosophy of the triangle principle (a man is a combination of spirit, mind and body). It had its Biblical roots in Luke 2:52 (KJV): "And Jesus increased in wisdom [mind] and stature [body], and in favour with God [spirit] and man [society]." Another frequently cited verse that legitimated physical education was 1 Corinthians 6:19 (KJV): "know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?" Along with physical education emerged boys' clubs, camps, student conventions, international youth meetings, and the like. The aim of the Four-fold Programme was "to spiritualise the secular".29 Another legitimisation to the expansion of recreational work was the Social Gospel movement,30 a movement in American Protestant churches at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th century. By emphasising the social teachings of Jesus, it shifted its focus from reactive philanthropy to preventive social reformism. At the same time, it changed the concept of the Kingdom of God from transcendent to immanent. This led the YMCA to focus on the implementation of "justice and peace" on earth. In its approach to social problems, associations stayed neutral31 but educated young men to take responsibility in their country and societies. This led to some significant social innovations that had a far-reaching impact on the YMCA around the world.
The increase of population in Europe caused people to flood to America. The first YMCA activities in the field of migrants were launched in the US when the State Commissioner for Immigrants suggested in 1906 that the YMCA could help immigrants. The International Committee of North American YMCAs answered the challenge. Tens of thousands of immigrants were taught English in educational classes. Social and religious projects were carried out. Personal help was given from the ship to the point of destination. The work expanded from the US to 17 ports in Europe where emigrants were waiting. The work included information, educational classes, social and religious projects and personal counselling.32
Along with peaceful actions, the American YMCA also faced the perils of war. In 1861 the American Civil War had brought a totally new challenge: Young men joined armies away from the churches and local YMCAs. If the YMCA wanted to keep in contact with these men it had to go along. Thus, the YMCA organised a Christian Commission to work amongst soldiers. Beside the spiritual guidance, the work also included nursing and carrying messages home. This was the first time that any organisation placed mobile units at the service of soldiers during the war.33
The work among soldiers obtained its permanent place in the USA during the Spanish-American war in 189834 and later in other countries (in Britain in 1902, in India in 1907 and in Germany in 1914).35 YMCA Armed Services Departments were official organs of the British and American armies. During the First World War 90% of the welfare work among American forces in Europe was conducted by the YMCA.36 In 1940 the US war work aid system was changed when YMCA, YWCA, the National Catholic Community Service, Salvation Army, National Jewish Welfare Board and National Travellers Aid Association founded the United Service Organization to run the joint task of service for armed forces.37
Developments in Europe
Extension of the movement
The extension of the YMCA in Europe started from two centres: Elberfeld in Germany and the Central International Committee of the World's Alliance in Geneva. A closer look at those countries where the YMCA expanded during its first 40 years shows that – except for Mediterranean countries – all new national movements were influenced by the German movement, either directly or indirectly. The influence of the World's Alliance, in turn, was seen in Mediterranean and Eastern European countries. British YMCA missionary work in Europe seems to have remained in the British Isles. Other old YMCAs had a minimal influence on the YMCA extension in Europe.
The largest movements in Europe have always been in Britain and Germany. Both reached the milestone of 100,000 members in 1905. They have constituted more than half of the associations, 40–90% of membership, and 61–100% of paid workers.
In Britain, the movement expanded gradually up to a dramatic turnover between 1905 and 1938, when both the number of members and associations decreased. This was partly due to the fact that some countries (like Ireland) gained their independence and, thus, their YMCAs formed their own national councils, and partly that the Student Christian Movement organised itself as an organisation of its own, formally separate from the YMCA. However, perhaps the main reason was that with few exceptions British YMCAs were small and did not have the resources to raise a new generation, maintain facilities. Although the membership in the British movement later increased, it did not reach the 1905 number. Only the number of British secretaries grew steadily. This has been the only figure that has been (except in 1905) higher all the time in Britain than in Germany.38
German Jünglingsvereine formed – unlike in Britain, where associations were branches of the London YMCA – a federation that was centred in Eberfeld. When the World's Alliance of YMCAs was founded, there were already 130 associations in Germany,39 thus forming the largest national movement in the alliance. The German YMCA has continuously increased in all counts (except during the Nazi period, when the movement was abolished). After 1905, the German movement continued its expansion, reaching 3,300 associations and 300,000 members in 1955.40
There were several other differences between these national movements. One of these was that Germany was religiously much more homogeneous than Britain, since various religious movements had remained inside the main churches instead of separating from them. This means that the German Jünglingsverein was from its very beginning closer to parishes than Anglo-Saxon movements. They were actually founded and led by parish pastors.41 A third difference was that in Germany the old customs of apprenticeship and guild practices were slower to disappear than in Britain. For this reason, the German associations' membership basis was from the labouring class, their work focused on wandering apprentices, and most of them had established Christian Herberge.42 The fourth motivation for establishing Jünglingsvereine was the political situation. Although the Continental YMCAs had social projects, they did not arise from philanthropic activities, as in Britain. Instead, the Jünglingsvereine can be seen as a counter-movement to secular revolutionary movements. They were intended to be fortresses of Christian faith.43
Along with these Jünglingsvereine, an American-type city association was founded in Berlin in 1883. This was something that leaders of the German movement did not like at all: an interdenominational association in a country where previous associations had been Lutheran/Reformed/adherent to the Protestant Union.44 However, when Nazi Germany had merged all youth associations in a Nazi movement, all reborn YMCAs after the Second World War were of the American kind.
Beside these two movements, next in size among European YMCAs were the movements in the Nordic countries, Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland, each of which acquired over 10,000 members before the Second World War. Together they formed 42% of the membership and 54% of the associations in Europe in 1938. During the Second World War, the abolition of the Czech and Polish YMCAs reduced the combined share of these "middle-sized" YMCAs. In 1955, the rest of this group constituted 26% of membership and 35% of associations in Europe. As in Britain, almost all of these movements faced reduction between 1905 and 1955. The main reason was the same as in Britain: small associations have a higher organisational mortality rate than large ones. Finland was a special case: there the national organisation, which included both YMCAs and YCAs (Youth's Christian Association – in general, Scandinavian YMCA / YWCAs were for both sexes) changed its creed from Paris Basis to Lutheran confession. The local YMCAs founded a new national council, but it was only a quarter of the previous ones in all respects.
The smallest national YMCAs, with less than 2,500 members, were to be found in Mediterranean and East European countries – and in Iceland. As in other Fascist and Communist countries, the Spanish, Russian and Estonian movements were abolished before or after the Second World War.45
Activities of the European YMCAs
Urbanisation had already begun before the foundation of the World's Alliance and continued with increasing speed in Europe in the 19th and early 20th century. When young people moved into towns, they faced problems unknown to their parents. The YMCA tried to solve these problems by introducing special activities, like migration work and service projects for young people such as in secondary school pupils, street boys, vocational school pupils, railway men, youths in military service, etc.
The first appearance of special youth work (or "boy's work" as it was then called) is in a historical booklet published in Stettin, Germany. It mentions the founding of a Burschenverein (Boys' Club) in 1844. This first attempt seems to have collapsed during the 1848 revolution.46 The first YMCA that formed a branch of its own for boys was in the small Swiss town of Vevey in 1858.47 However, the YMCAs were still merely associations of young men, and boys' work did not gain general acceptance until the Geneva World's Conference in 1878.
In Britain, the leaders of the Junior Department of the English National Council took an active part in starting their own model for boys' Work: scouting. The first experimental camp was held in 1907 and R.S.S. Baden-Powell (1857–1941) held his first presentation on scouting in Birkenhead YMCA in January 1908. The Movement spread rapidly. At the end of the year there were 60,000 Scouts in England alone.48 Although the Scout Movement was formed as an independent movement, it has close ties to the YMCA. In many countries, YMCAs started Scout groups and formed their own National Scout Associations, or had some lighter organ for YMCA Scouts for co-operation. On an international level there were International YMCA Scout Camps and meetings of Scout leaders.49
On the World Alliance level, it was, however, neither the US nor the British movements but French-speaking movements that kept the boys' work in the international discussion. For example, the first international grouping of Associations concerned with boys' work was held in 1893, when French-speaking leaders of work among boys gathered in Geneva. They founded the "Central Committee of French-speaking Boys' Associations" which became a powerful factor in propagating boys' work in Belgium, France and Switzerland. A year later the total membership of this body was 1,720, with 165 voluntary directors.50
After the turn of the 20th century, boys' work was established as a permanent part of YMCA work. This was helped by a growing public interest in boys. There were new studies on adolescence and psychology. In education, the emphasis had turned to self-expression. All these phenomena gave rise to several new movements, like the Boys' Brigades and the Boy Scouts. Along with these, the YMCA started to develop its work with boys.51
An important aspect of the YMCA work was that it was international. This helped to diffuse ideas and models from one country to another. The First World's Conference of YMCA Workers with Boys took place in Oxford, England in 1914. The conference resolutions included two important points. First, the general mission of the YMCA was to serve churches and society by training leaders for them. In particular, the idea that a man serves his Lord in both church and civil life clearly separates the YMCA from those religious groups that locate the service of the Lord only in religious activities. Second, this mission cannot be done properly if the individual is not influenced during his youth. Thus, youth work is seen as an essential part of every association.52
While the First World War hampered work, the period after the war was a time of "a burst of enthusiasm for physical culture, sports, outdoor life and dancing" and "any organization with an attractive physical programme could get the attention of Youth".53 The Second World's Conference of YMCA Workers with Boys took place at Pörtschach-am-See in Austria in 1923.54 After this began a high tide for the work that lasted until the Second World War. Along with working methods, like various kinds of clubs, camps, international meetings, scouting, sports, Bible clubs, employment of street-boys, etc. research on the boyhood and training of youth workers was launched as well. In general, the pioneer stage of YMCA boys' work ended during the 1950s. After that, the work and methods diffused among churches and other youth organisations, and became standard work methods.
Work for the armed forces was important in Europe – not least because both World Wars started in Europe. This kind of work was first introduced in the Franco-Austrian War and especially in the Battle of Solferino in 1859. Henri Dunant (1828–1910) – primus motor of the Geneva YMCA – had found himself on the Solferino battlefield, helping the wounded. In 1864, when it was certain that there would be a "Geneva Convention", he returned to Geneva and urged the Geneva Association to remember the religious needs of soldiers. He planned that the association of Geneva could even be the centre, or at least one of the centres, of the spiritual branch of this relief action. When he gave a short presentation to the Geneva YMCA on the activities carried by the American Associations during the Civil War, members were interested, but thought however that "his ideas were too vague".55
Work among soldiers (mobile canteens, libraries, correspondence courses, sports, concerts and other recreational activities, etc.) obtained its permanent place in Britain in 1902 and in Germany in 1914.56 The young in armies was served by the national YMCAs in all the major wars.57 The YMCA was in that sense ready when the Great War burst out. The World Alliance began to serve both the men in the armies and the prisoners of war. YMCA Armed Services Departments were official organs of the British armed forces. In the British forces there was a YMCA unit in every division, and 50,000 women were working in the National Women's Auxiliary.58 The Indian YMCA had 591 secretaries in France, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine.59 This might have been the first time Christian religious workers came from the Third World to hold services in Europe.
In other countries the YMCA did not have an official status, but monarchs often supported it and sometimes asked the YMCA to start working for their armed forces.60 As a consequence the YMCA had a semi-official status in several countries. In Germany, for example, there were 1000 YMCA canteens in 1918.61 In Switzerland, the earliest records of YMCA Army work date back to 1856 (three years before the battle of Solferino).62
In practice, the task was shared in such a way that so-called 'big YMCA countries' took care of themselves, and the World's Alliance started the work in those belligerent countries where such work did not exist (Austria-Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria). Often this work was closely related to the work of the Red Cross relief activities.63 Reasons for the close co-operation between the YMCA and the ICRC are to be found in their common roots (Dunant) as well as in their "personal-union" relationship through Paul Des Gouttes (1869–1943), who was both the president of the World's Alliance of YMCAs and a secretary of the ICRC,64 also during the First World War.65 It is noteworthy that work among soldiers seems not to have been considered against the policy of neutrality. Perhaps it was categorised in the same class as distributing Bibles to the soldiers. It was easier for the YMCA to obtain permission for work among soldiers than among Prisoners of War (POWs).66 YMCA work with armed forces also created civilian YMCAs in countries where soldiers were served. For example, most YMCAs in the Balkans were founded during that time, as a result of the work among soldiers.67
Work for POWs was a natural continuation of the work with armed forces (prisoners were also armed forces). During the First World War the Prisoners Aid of the YMCA ran projects in Austria-Hungary, France, Belgium, Italy, Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria. In Great Britain the responsibility of the work for the POWs was assumed by the British National Council. In non-belligerent countries such as Denmark, Holland, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland, services were given to internees.68
The most serious crisis of the work came when the USA joined the First World War. Because the majority of YMCA work among POWs was done by Americans, the German War Ministry forbade all YMCA work among POWs. The World Alliance had to question whether American aid could be acceptable at all if it had such results. After the negotiations, the work was continued among the Central Powers by the Swiss and Swedish workers.69
In the Second World War, the question of neutrality was taken even more seriously. The Executive of the World's Committee negotiated with the National Councils before it started work in any country. The role of National Councils was to help with contacts with governmental and church authorities. The representatives of the World Alliance who ran the work for POWs were from neutral countries.70
Relations between the World YMCA and the International Red Cross remained good. There was a mutual understanding in the co-operation of these two organisations. No formal agreement was ever made, but unofficially the burden was shared in such a way that War Prisoners Aid of the YMCA took care of the educational, recreational, cultural and spiritual activities of prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross concentrated on inspecting camps, organising a central information agency with mail facilities as well as the handling of all shipments and distributing all materials sent by the national Red Cross Societies.71
Most of the work was on a reciprocal basis: all prisoners were helped in the same way on both sides of the frontier. Exceptions to this rule were the Soviet Union and Italy, which did not give the YMCA permission to work in their territory. Thus, Russian and Italian prisoners were excluded from help. Finally, out of sheer pity many of the camp commandants in Germany urged the YMCA to send supplies to the Russian POWs as well. Although War Prisoners' Aid was not allowed to work in Italy, it served Italian prisoners in Allied countries.72
The work among POWs was so important that it took the whole capacity of the World's Alliance staff during wartime.73 It also influenced the future policy of the World's Alliances to such an extent that one cannot understand the period after the war without it. After the war, the POWs were freed, but in many cases became refugees. In other cases it was the same camps, same soldiers, same YMCA workers – but now it was a refugee camp and refugees that were served.
At the end of the Second World War, the waves of refugees and displaced persons (DPs)74 burst out at the same time as the normal apparatus of government and social control collapsed in Germany and East European countries. The YMCA found itself in the midst of the wave. Without a clear understanding of what would follow, a start was made on what became one of the largest projects in which the World's Alliance has assumed responsibility – namely the World's YMCA/YWCA Refugee Services.75
It was estimated that in Western Europe there were half a million refugees after the war.76 Work among the POWs turned to work among the refugees and DPs.77 Officially, the YMCA joined seven other agencies by signing a common contract with the United Nations Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and officially started its work under the contract in 1945. But that was officially. The term that was used (PWX – Ex-Prisoners of War) describes the YMCA situation. The YMCA was already present in the refugee camps in two senses: first, the YMCA had been in these camps when they had been prison camps. Second, many of the refugees who had been YMCA members in their own countries organised the work by themselves in the refugee camps. In a way nothing new was added – the projects that had been carried out during the past decades were simply transferred to the new situation. A good example was the YMCA/YWCA warehouses full of supplies for POWs: this material was given to refugees. These houses also became the channel for distributing supplies from the UN, from armies and from churches to refugees.78 For two years the YMCA was "the umbrella" under which the churches initiated their spiritual ministry, until they secured their own agreements with the International Refugee Organisation (IRO – forerunner of the UNHCR).79
The work with refugees was done mainly in Europe, the Middle East and India.80 In Palestine, the Jerusalem YMCA membership was mainly Arab-Christian. When the state of Israel was founded, members of the YMCA had to flee with at least 850,000 other Palestinian refugees81 to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Since that time, local YMCAs in Jerusalem, Jericho, Nazareth and the World Alliance in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have organised activities for refugees and resettled people. In the 1940s, the YMCA was the only organization with Palestinian staff. The reason for this was the experience in Europe, where the work had also been placed in the hands of DPs.82 The work was carried on by the support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).83
In their work for refugees, the YMCA maintained at all levels close working relationships with most intergovernmental agencies, churches, the YWCA, Red Cross and other voluntary movements.84 When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) started its work after the war, the first and largest agencies that gave assistance were five denominational agencies and the YMCA.85 The vision of a social movement had been institutionalised.
Expansion and developments in the rest of the world
The YMCA movement spread to other continents as well. Although the YMCAs were relatively small in developing countries, some of them had an important impact on the whole movement – Europe included.
The Asian movements had the most significant influence on the whole movement. From the YMCA point of view, there have been three different environments to adapt to in Asia: the territory of Islam, Hinduism and Indian culture. Developments in all these modified the YMCA mission and influenced the World's Alliance.
During the last century, the Near East was mostly occupied by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Turkish YMCA started in the 1870s with small YMCA groups in Constantinople (Istanbul) and some other cities. The work was intensified in 1911 when a World's Student Christian Federation Conference was held in Constantinople (Istanbul). This meeting gave a huge impetus to both the student YMCA and the city YMCAs. This conference was also important to YMCA-Orthodox relations when, for example, the Ecumenical Patriarch gave the conference his blessing. These YMCA-Orthodox relations brought ecumenical experiences for the Greek Orthodox Church, which had been isolated from the rest of Christianity under the Ottoman rule. They were probably one reason why Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras (1886–1972) (a devoted YMCA member) approached the Pope to abolish the mutual condemnations of 1054. The movement had an interfaith constituency, but only men who signed the Paris basis could serve as board members. This changed between 1920 and 1923 during the political turbulences in Turkey, when the YMCA had to limit its activities to those of a purely social service or educational nature without any Christian emphasis. Gradually, more non-Christian staff joined the YMCA and boards, and the constitution was revised so that any member could sit on boards and committees, regardless of their religious affiliation. This development challenged the whole movement's core values: for the first time, non-Christians were accepted as leaders in the YMCA. As a consequence the Turkish YMCA served as a laboratory in the development of a mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.86
In the Levant the first YMCA was founded in Beirut in 1854, followed by the YMCA in Jerusalem in 1878. When the period of the League of Nations mandate ended and the state of Israel was founded in 1948, Palestinian refugees fled to other parts in the region. Among them, about 85% of the former leaders and members of the Jerusalem YMCA had to flee. New YMCAs were founded in Jordan (1961), in East Jerusalem near Jericho (1948) and in the Gaza Strip (1952). The Jordan YMCA has served refugees ever since and is the oldest continuous relief project of the World YMCA.87
The Indian YMCA has had a remarkable influence on the World's Alliance as well. The first YMCA in India was set up in Calcutta in 1854 and the National Council of YMCA of India, Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was founded in 1891. It contributed to the mission view of the World's Alliance mainly in the fields of rural projects (e.g. by 1930, 700 Cooperative Credit societies), and interfaith dialogue which was a pioneering project that gave models to European churches in interfaith dialogue. This commitment was also noticed during the Indian independence process when Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) asked the YMCA to "Help the Moslems and the Hindus to be Christian towards one another".88
Developments in the World's Alliance
As noted in the beginning, the World's Alliance of YMCAs emerged from the correspondence between local associations: secretaries informed of their activities and plans via mail to foreign associations. Contrary to many other organizations, the YMCA never created a strong central office. The emphasis has always been, as the Paris Basis declares, on the local and national level.
As communication was slow (railways were still in their infancy; sending messages across the Atlantic meant letters by post and crossing the ocean was only possible by ship), numerous "International Committees" (Red Cross, Olympic committee, YMCA) emerged in the 19th century – it was the only way to organize work, since attending executive meetings was only possible for those who lived near the headquarters.
After the First World Conference in 1855, the London YMCA acted as a centre of correspondence but did not exert any influence over other national movements. The board of the next host of the next World's Conference served as the planning committee of the conference.89
Later, when the world "grew smaller" through rapidly increasing means of communication and modes of transport, the development of the World YMCA structure followed suit. In 1878 the YMCA established its Central International Committee (CIC) with its headquarters in Geneva and appointed the first World's Secretary. In this way the YMCA made the change from a network of loosely attached associations to an international organization. However, because of the fear of centralization, the CIC was never given enough resources to enable it to lead the movement. Moreover, when most members of CIC resided outside Switzerland, one can imagine how difficult it was to make decisions via correspondence – even when the YMCA eagerly utilised the then latest innovation, the telegram.90
Without previous models, and in a rapidly changing world, the CIC developed and tested new organizational models that could best implement the YMCA idea of global unity and local independence. Because of the distances especially between North America and Geneva, there was continuous tension between needs for efficiency and needs for democracy. As a resolution to this tension, the YMCA created a yearly plenary system of CIC.91
The main decisive body of the World YMCA was the World's Conference, which met every fourth year – except in times when it was not possible. Some organisational innovations were necessary for meetings of this kind – as well as consequences. Practical innovations were group work as well as simultaneous interpretation of presentations – which were novelties at the Helsinki conference in 1926.92 The major consequence was that when young men and professional secretaries met at the conferences, innovations spread rather rapidly around the world. These World Conferences – as well as the whole World's Alliance – were especially important to smaller national movements which did not have similar resources to those of the big ones. For them, conferences, seminars, international youth camps, etc. were possibilities to have new models for their work – as well as opportunities to experience internationalism and ecumenism. For the Ecumenical movement this was especially important, because the YMCA (as well as the YWCA and the Student Christian Movement, which was closely attached to both) trained new leaders for various churches. These people made friends when young, matured and obtained offices in their respective churches – and came back as official representatives to ecumenical meetings. When old friends negotiate, there are no enemies or opponents at the table.
In general, the YMCA has been a successful organization throughout its history. It has been able to carry its mission and even diffuse its principles to other organizations. Indeed, the whole concept of youth work is a YMCA innovation. It was the YMCA which first appointed youth workers, first created professional training for them, first established youth centres and camp centres, soldiers' canteens, etc. Today these services seem to us self-evident.