InterVarsity and IFES

The story of the relationship between InterVarsity/USA and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) begins before either of the organizations officially existed. On the eve of World War II, the Fourth Conference of Evangelical Students was held in Cambridge, England. Here students from 33 countries, including the United States, met for fellowship and to plan for the advancement of the gospel within the university community. The war interrupted many of those plans. However, British students did send Howard Guinness and Stacey Woods to offer the gospel to their fellow students across the Atlantic. Colleges and university students in the United States responded to the message, and InterVarsity/USA was officially established in 1941.

In 1947, the British student leaders invited the participants of the Cambridge Conference who had survived the war to meet together. Delegates from national student Christian movements from Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, Holland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States agreed to form a federation of national Christian student movements. The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) came into being in August of 1947.

According to an article in the October 1947 issue of InterVarsity’s student magazine, HIS, the purpose of IFES is two-fold: “to bring together the existing free movements which possess the same doctrinal basis and evangelical outlook and to give the utmost possible assistance to evangelical students who desire to take the gospel of Christ to the universities of the world.”

InterVarsity embraced these purposes and was soon sending people to other countries to share the gospel with students. In 1949 Edward Pentecost was sent to Mexico. He enrolled in Mexico’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma to study Hispanic literature and worked with the local students to organize a Christian witness in Mexico City. Gwen Wong, an InterVarsity staff worker from California, went to the Philippines in 1953 to pioneer student work in the universities there. From a small beginning of fifteen students in a Bible study, it took just six years to establish an indigenous national Christian student organization.

Over the years, InterVarsity continued to send workers around the world. Bill McConnell went to Brazil in 1972. He was instrumental in the establishment of a Portuguese language Christian publishing house that translated and published such Christian classics as C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Jan Sordyl (now Jeanette Kibler) answered the call for help from the Kirisutosha Gakusei Kai (KGK), InterVarsity in Japan. There she spent over twelve years training students and staff. Dave Ivaska and his family moved to Africa in the late ’70s, where he pioneered the work of racial reconciliation before the dissolution of apartheid. In the late ’80s Tom and Nancy Balma went to Italy. There they worked to develop a national Italian leadership team for Gruppo Biblico Univeritario, the IFES member in Italy.

In 1981 Terry Morrison developed a more organized relationship between InterVarsity and other IFES national movements with the establishment of the InterVarsity Link program. Today over 65 American InterVarsity staff persons work with IFES movements around the world, training and encouraging national staff and students to proclaim the gospel.

Students as well as staff participate in the global student movement. Bob Baylis began the student exchanges in 1967. He took InterVarsity students to Europe. They stayed with local host families, studied church history, and fellowshipped with students in various countries. Forty years later, hundreds of students from the United States participate in dozens of mission projects around the world, from inner city slums in Asian cities to student camps in Eastern Europe. All of these projects pair American students with students from the local IFES movement as together they shared the love of Jesus with those who may not have heard of him.