Milestone achievement of Jaffna College YMCA
Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah greets the YMCA on its historic milestone
I am immensely pleased to congratulate the Jaffna College Young Men’s Christian Association, popularly the College YMCA, as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. This celebration is even more remarkable with ours not only being the oldest school YMCA in Asia but also the first student YMCA outside North America.
The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in London, England forty years earlier to our own founding year of 1884. The architect of this great vision was George Williams, a farm hand from the country who went to London and worked in a draper’s shop, forerunner to today’s departmental stores. It was here, Williams and a group of fellow drapers organized the first YMCA as an alternative to Bible study and prayer to a life of action serving the needy on the streets.
This was their response to the unhealthy social conditions that were on the rise in the big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution lasting about 100 years. This was the time of the growth of the railroads and centralization of commerce and industry. This led to a great deal of migration, as never before from the rural areas to the cities like London. People were working in the industries up to twelve hours a day and six days a week. There was social upheaval and living conditions of the workers were often pitiful and pathetic.
Williams and his friends saw the need for concerted and committed action as Christian volunteers. The YMCA ideal became so popular that within seven years of its founding there were 24 YMCAs in Great Britain with a combined membership of 1,700 highly committed members.
In the same year the first YMCAs were established in North America, the first one Montreal, Canada November 25 and in Boston, USA four days after Christmas 1851. In 1853, Anthony Bowen, a freed lave founded the first YMCA for Afro-Americans in Washington D.C. A year later the first YMCA International Convention was held in Paris, France. At that time there were 297 YMCAs in seven countries with a total membership of 30,369 members.
Service regardless of race, religion and nationality
There was a spirit of openness about the YMCA and this crossed the rigid lines that separated different churches and social classes. Eventually this spontaneously led to including men, women and children, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Despite its fast growth, the YMCA was focused on the target of meeting the social needs of the community that was its founding spark.
Honouring the work of George Williams, Queen Victoria knighted him 1894 and at his death, his remains were interred under the floor of St Paul’s Cathedral among the nation’s heroes and statesmen. A stained glass window in Westminster Abbey complete with a red triangle was dedicated to the founder, the YMCAs and especially the work of this great organization during the First World War.
The popularity of the YMCA ideal was inspirational to the founding of the Jaffna College YMCA by Dr Frank Sanders, an American missionary. It is a matter of great pride that the Jaffna College YMCA apart from what it was actively engaged in and around the college, had a student evangelistic project in Thondi, South India which inspired a number of Christians in that area. This work inspired the setting up of an Inner Mission in Dornakal in South India and the one who was principally responsible for it, the Rev V Azariah became the first Indian Anglican Bishop of India.
The Challenge of Wanni
The YMCA has a great tradition though its younger than the activities of the American Mission in Sri Lanka and we have a great task ahead of us with the many challenges we face to create a new hope for our people especially in the Wanni. This is an ideal ground to commit ourselves as we celebrate this historic anniversary to work for the people in this particular region specially inspired by what the founder of the YMCA George Williams and his friends were able to achieve in the circumstances of social turmoil following the Industrial Revolution in cities of the United Kingdom.
I wish the Jaffna College YMCA God’s guidance, strength and inspiration.