Birth of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
I had two weeks left of what would be my final term at Trinity College (Cambridge). It was as if the Spirit "came on me," as in the Acts of the Apostles. I had a strong inner compulsion to spend those last weeks in calling on all the men with whom I was acquainted there or in other colleges. Likely it would be the last time we should meet on earth, and I wanted to have a final word with them. So I did just that.
One by one, I called on them in their rooms. These were not the normal students of college age, but returnees from the war–sophisticated and mainly ex-officers of various ranks. But I spoke boldly. If I knew the one I was visiting had no saving faith or a very weak one, I spoke to him as either lost and going to hell or obviously with some inhibiting sin blocking Christian growth.
The results were phenomenal for those days, though very different from the present thrilling responses in the student world. About 16 took various steps in accepting and committing their lives to Christ. This was "news" among our CICCU friends, and they asked me to meet with them and tell more about it. I did, and as I did, once again that inner voice spoke clearly to me. "Should not every university and college in Britain, and then in the world, have some kind of union of Christian students like the CICCU?"
Might it not be possible, even before I sailed for the Congo, to arrange some get-together where some of us in the CICCU could meet with some from other universities? I turned to two of my special friends–Clarence Foster, later Secretary of the Keswick Convention, and Leslie Sutton, who later joined us in the Congo–and asked if they would meet me in Leslie’s room in Queens. Even in these last weeks before Christmas, could they get the loan of a hall in London and ask others from Oxford and London and Durham Universities to join us in a first InterVarsity Conference? They agreed, and about 60 of us gathered.
What I only dimly realized then was that this was the birth of a world-wide movement in the colleges of the world. What actually happened was that it was agreed upon to have an annual InterVarsity Conference (IVC). This then became the beginnings of the InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF).
Dr. Douglas Johnson gave up his medical profession to become the first Secretary, and really developer, of what is now so strongly established all over Britain. Dr. Howard Guiness did the same in Canada and Australia, as did Stacey Woods in the USA under the title of IVCF (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship).
Now throughout the colleges of every nation, students gather under the title of InterVarsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions (IVFEU). Many thousands of students have been brought to Christ and built up in the Word and Spirit these 65 years, since we had that first InterVarsity Conference in London in 1919!
Behind it, as ever, there was the intercessor death by which, as Jesus said in John 12:24, a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, if it is to bring forth fruit. I did have that death in leaving my degree behind in order to hasten to the Congo. There was also the "obedience of faith" in which we refused to be linked to any Christian movement which did not have Christ crucified at its center, no matter how popular or widespread it was.
Amazingly today, in Cambridge, Oxford and many other universities, the evangelical unions are actually the biggest unions. They are larger than the debating, drama or sports unions; and students by the hundreds attend the weekly Bible sessions and Sunday evening evangelistic services. The formerly flourishing Student Christian Movement, without its firm Bible foundation, is almost nonexistent.
Nothing was schemed or planned or even foreseen, but there was simple absorption in gospel witness among students by all means then available. All "signs and wonders" which have followed have been by the direct guidances and leadership of the Spirit. But always there has been the "obedience of faith" in the present calling, accompanied by the death and resurrection intercessory process.