The World Student Christian Federation recently held its 33rd assembly in August 2004. Students representing 70 to 80 countries gathered to partake in ecumenical leadership training and contribute to a dynamic forum for Christian views.
Though the headquarter is located in Geneva and regional offices are in Hong Kong, China; Beirut, Lebanon; Budapest, Hungary; Nairobi, Kenya, and Buenos Aires; Argentina, the assembly this year was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Ken Guest, an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Baruch College in New York City was recently elected as chairperson of the organization. Indeed, there hasn't been a chair elected from North America since the 70s.
The WSCF have divided the world into six major regions, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Carribean, Middle East, and North America, called "movements." This word is indicative of the organization's goal to develop into a worldwide movement organized by region. Each region is given its own impetus to develop and has its own priorities.
The region is the main block of life, but the students organize a world assembly every few years. Though there have been assemblies in France in 1990 and the Ivory Coast in 1995, this year’s assembly led Guest to remark on "how unique and rare an opportunity" the worldwide assemblies are, imparting to the listener the intrinsic value of such worldwide cooperation.
A U.S. council of six denominations as well as the Student Christian Movement of Canada represents the North America region.
The other new federation officers elected are Udan Fernando from Sri Lanka as vice chairperson, and Youhanna Kamal from Egypt as treasurer, while Michael Wallace from New Zealand was appointed as the new chief staff executive.
Guest remarks on the incredible diversity of the participants in an interview with UMNS. "These are not the elite, these are not the children of well-placed government officials or wealthy families," he explained. Actually, many of the students have never left their home country before, he told UMNS.
Besides the diversity of nationalities, he also noted the richness of theological differences apparent at the gathering, which became especially noticeable 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 (UMNS).
Begun over a century ago, the WSCF specializes in producing church leaders to lead the ecumenical movement. "Historically, a lot of the leaders of the ecumenical movement and even our church agencies have come out of the Christian student movement," Guest said. One of his goals as chairperson is to strengthen the student focus. He believes the movement continues to have "incredible potential to influence the lives of students."
Part of the mission statement, which was on the organization’s website states, “Our intention is to continue elaborating faith-based perspectives on globalization and related issues including education, ecumenism, economic justice, partnership between men and women, HIV/AIDS, and peace with special emphasis on exploring life-giving alternatives and solutions.”
Some of the most important issues discussed include the lack of female leadership within the organization, though many participants are female. The concern for women’s rights and equal partnership with men is a founding principle for WSCF, and so the lack of female leadership is a great cause for concern. However, Guest has indicated that a search process has begun to find a woman to lead the federation as vice chairperson by year’s end.
Besides the goal of raising the voices of women worldwide, other goals include engaging in reflection of faith, focusing more attention and resources on students, securing finances for goal advancement, expanding current programs, and enhancing its visibility (UMNS).
Actually, visibility is especially key in North America. "They’re working to rebuild the student Christian movement here in the United States," Guest said.
More information about the federation is available by contacting Guest at [email protected] or visit the website www.servingthetruth.org