Posted by: thebluemusicblog | April 7, 2014



The National Council of YMCAs of Korea was established in the midst of a very painful and difficult period of the modern history of the country, as Korea was occupied by the Japanese Empire. 9 student YMCAs and 1 city YMCA came together to form what was a very young National Council.




This week 64 international guests were invited to come to Korea to celebrate the 100 years anniversary together with a big group of local leaders and dignitaries, of whom the Mayor of Seoul took the first place, and second place was taken by the Prime Minister, who at the last moment was caught up by parliamentary responsibilities so that he could not be with us physically, but the Prime Minister had taken time to produce a congratulatory video film and he really joined the Mayor of Seoul in prising the Korean YMCA for its important role in the nation building of modern Korea. YMCA of Korea during its 100 years history has been one of the most important players in establishing civic society in this country, and both the Mayor and the Prime Minister belonged to the network of civic leaders from decades back, in very difficult times when YMCA was one of the few places where a political prisoner being released from prison could find shelter.


Leaders from political life as well as from University life and from the cultural sphere lined up to say thank you to the YMCA. Did I feel proud to be in the middle of this YMCA?

Again and again I am overtaken by pride when I have the privilege of witnessing the impact of our great YMCA movement in different parts of our planet. See above the big crowd assembled to celebrate a very young 100 years birthday kid!


The President of Korea YMCA is Dr AHN, Jae Woong, and he led us through the celebrations and ceremonies with elegant style and excellent form. Everything went according to schedule, seldom have I experienced a YMCA so clockwork and punctual, and still so warm, friendly and generous.


NAM, Boo-Won, or as we, his friends from around the world call him: Number One! Nam is the National General Secretary of Korea YMCA and he had masterminded the programme and was the grey eminence behind the very successful week of celebrations.



Friends from all over the world came to bring greetings, and here you see James Ekow Rhule, the President of African Alliance of YMCAs, as he is greeting the YMCA of Korea and handing over an African Panther, as a symbol of power and wisdom. (This reminded me of a very fun memory from years back when I was attending an African Executive Committee in Kenya, and Carlos Sanvee was about to give a speech and was introduced as “our Black Panther!” After him I was to give a speech, and I started that speech by introducing myself as “Your Pink Panther!” No modesty!




David Kwang-Sun SUH, was the President of World Alliance from 1994-98 and is still very active in Korea YMCA and I heard that he is invited as a resource person for the APAY Advanced Studies in November this year, to lecture about contemporary theological challenges. David is now the third former President of WAY I have met in a few months, and if I add Martin Vogler and Martin Meissner and Ken Colloton to Allesandro Vassilakis from Peru and KM Phillip from India, I have enjoyed to socialise with 6 Presidents and learnt a lot in the process.


Korea YMCA was founded by Missionaries from the USA, and from the outset very closely linked with the Methodist Church from those days. The International Committee of the YMCAs of North America, based in New York in the days of John R. Mott, was instrumental in the formation and support of the local YMCA. Jack Lunds, CEO in New York YMCA gave greetings on behalf of these historical roots. Jack was just a very young man in John R. Motts time.


 In between speeches there were fabulous cultural performances!



The future visions of YMCA Korea were presented by YMCA leaders of all ages, here three of the younger generation presenting strategic directions for the next years.


Despite, or maybe because of the traumatic history of Korea, Japan and China, we can observe a very close and deep partnership between the three national movements, and they all focus on peace and the need for building of peace. For this anniversary the three National Secretaries had prepared a peace prayer, and Mr Tu, Hanqiao,  the General Secretary of Chinese YMCA had also made three pace bells which were divided between the three YMCAs. Very impressive.


 Shigeru Shimada, the NGO of Japan YMCA, with his part of the peace prayer.


A glimpse of the crowd assembled for the birthday party.


Later the same day we were invited to a highly interesting symposium where historians and scientists from Korea together with two outside key note speakers delivered a 4 hours presentation and debate on their findings and conclusions related to the YMCA of Korea and its importance for the past, presence and future. Dr. Park, Jai-Chang, a good friend and former President of APAY led the symposium.


Ingrid Srinath is the General Secretary of CIVICUS, and she is based in Mumbai, India. I had the pleasure of sharing table with her the first evening and we had a very interesting conversation. She spoke passionately about civic society and civic engagement and she pointed out how much the terror attack of September 9, 2011 in the USA, and the so called war on terror had changed the frameworks and conditions for civic society around the globe. She challenged the YMCA to help facilitate the global conversation needed to reenergize civic engagement movements and enabling civic society to reorganize itself to win back the momentum and future perspectives. Youth Empowerment seems to be at the core of this challenge. It was a very inspiring speech.




Professor Toh Swee-Hin has worked for decades for peace education, and the last four years he has been based at the UN University for Peace  in Costa Rica. He talked inspiringly about the holistic dimension of peace education. You may focus on one aspect, on sustainability, or multicultural aspects or on environmental advocacy, but still not contribute to peace building. Genuine peace education grows into a very holistic dimension, integrating all aspects and components needed for true and just peace. I could not resist thinking on the old YMCA slogan of Body, Mind and Spirit!


This is one of the opponents, or rather commentators, his name is Shin, Dae Kyun,  and he is member of the National Board of Korean YMCA and chairman of its Citizen’s Movement Committee and a former Ombudsman for all Korea, a very interesting and impressive personality who had served time as a political prisoner in the times of dictatorship in South Korea.


It was like a big birthday gift to all the guests from abroad, this symposium. It gave us very valuable glimpses of the rich history of the Koran YMCA as an important builder of civic society, and it gave us a contemporary analysis of the YMCA, all well documented in both Korean and English language. I strongly recommend you to try to get hold of this valuable document. The learning outcome for me is great, and I see benefits for the whole YMCA movement in learning from these important experiences. The symposium and the whole 100 years celebration was very well covered by media, both in printed and in digital form as well as by national TV. And above you can see the symbol of the celebration.


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