In 1939 InterVarsity did not have a national office in the United States, but a few people were ministering to college students through Inter-Varsity Canada. One of these people was Grace Koch Belden, the only staff member for the Philadelphia area.
In 1937 Grace Koch was a student at Swarthmore College. Swarthmore had been founded by the Quakers, but had drifted far from its Christian roots. The student body was often antagonistic toward the gospel. But Grace maintained her Christian commitment, meeting with fellow believers in the Philadelphia area.
Through one of these friends, Grace met Stacey Woods, general secretary of Inter-Varsity Canada. At his urging, she organized an InterVarsity chapter at Swarthmore. During Grace’s senior year, she led a small Bible study and encouraged other Christians to be bold for the sake of the gospel.
After graduating, Grace went to Moody Bible Institute for further training. One day she saw that Stacey Woods would be speaking on the Moody radio station. Grace approached him with her concern for the spiritual health of a student leader at Swarthmore. Grace asked Stacey to meet with this student and encourage her.
Stacey was impressed with depth of spiritual understanding and pastoral care indicated by this request. He agreed to make the visit, but he also asked Grace to consider coming on InterVarsity staff. After a short time of consideration, Grace agreed.
With no additional training, Grace moved to Philadelphia to take on the staff responsibilities for the schools in the area. For the next three years, she established new chapters, spoke at meetings and sold InterVarsity Press books. The chapters were often so small that large group meetings combined several schools in the area.
Like staff today, Grace met with students, trained them to study the Bible, and encouraged them in their Christian walk. She organized conferences which meant that she was responsible to find the conference sites, invite outside speakers, and plan the conference schedule.
Grace also had to deal with many of the issues that staff encounter in their ministry today: antagonistic school administrators, unsympathetic churches, and paper work. Grace told of at least one school in her area that did not welcome InterVarsity on campus.
Grace also had to deal with church leaders not understanding InterVarsity. She often traveled from town to town on the train. As a religious worker, she was entitled to a reduced fare. But she needed a document signed by a church leader. Grace commented, “When I asked my pastor to sign the train pass, he admonished me for ‘not working for a real Christian organization,’ meaning his denomination.”
Though the standardized reporting forms that staff fill out today had not been developed, Grace did have to write a weekly ministry update and send it to Stacey in Toronto.
Grace also encountered some differences in her experience on staff, notably the requirement that women staff be single. She met her future husband at a conference in 1940. As she says, “That was the beginning of the end of my time on staff.” She had to leave when she married in 1941. (InterVarsity no longer has this requirement.)
Over the intervening years, Grace continued her commitment to InterVarsity, befriending and supporting staff in various cities as she and her husband moved. At age 91, Grace currently lives in California.
The great truth of the gospel is timeless and some of the methods used to communicate God’s do not change over the years. Pray that God will continue to call people to be his ministers on campus.