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The roots of our movement are with students at the University of Cambridge, England in 1877. There, a group of Christian students began to meet together, in spite of the disapproval of some University officials, to pray, to study the Bible and to witness to fellow students. Soon, similar groups sprang up on other campuses. Eventually, they formed the British Inter-Varsity. (Hence our name, inter – meaning between, varsity – the British term for college level students.) From the very beginning they had a strong concern to take the gospel to those all over the world who had never heard it – a concern that continues in InterVarsity today.
In response to a plea for help, British InterVarsity sent Howard Guinness, a medical school graduate and vice-chairman of the British movement, to Canada in 1928. Students helped raise the money to provide one-way passage to Canada. Between bouts of seasickness, Guinness led his cabin mate to Christ during the crossing, As God supplied the funds, he slowly worked his way across Canada, starting up and assisting evangelical student groups.
By 1937 the Canadians began to hear requests for help from students in the United States as independent evangelical student groups began springing up. In 1938 Stacey Woods, the Canadian InterVarsity director, met with students on the University of Michigan campus. As an immediate result of that visit, students formed the first InterVarsity chapter in the United States.
By May of 1941 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA was an organization with three staff on loan from Canada and Stacey Woods at the helm as Secretary General. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA dates our official beginning to our incorporation, which took place in November, 1941. In 1947 InterVarsity USA became a founding member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, a federation of national Christian student movements. The other charter members are Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, Holland, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland. (To see which of more than 150 countries are currently members of IFES go to www.ifesworld.org)
By 1950 there were 35 staff serving students in 499 InterVarsity chapters across the country. InterVarsity Press had been started to supply quality literature suitable for the campus. And the Urbana student missions convention had begun the tradition of calling every student generation to consider global missions. In 1969 InterVarsity moved our national office from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin. By the early seventies there were more than 200 staff.
Today, there are more than 1000 InterVarsity staff serving more than 40,000 students and faculty nationwide. In addition we produce training materials, camps, books, and media tools which serve both church and campus. Our work touches every kind of student including graduate students and faculty. We are seeking to build witnessing communities on the campus which are bold, broad and ethnically diverse.