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The following article was written by a committee of six appointed by the Harvard Delegation to the Des Moines Convention as a report of that conference to the University:
Speakers from a score of countries appealed at Des Moines to the students of Canada and America to aid in the work of missions abroad. Cablegrams from Hungary, and Cairo, and Central Africa, from the Russian student prisoners, from Buenos Ayres and Shanghai and Bulgaria were received on New Year's day and read from the platform by John R. Mott, the Chairman of the Conference--cable grams from men in the field, greeting the Conference and reiterating the plea for help. The opening speakers outlined the great progress of the Student Volunteer Movement, and showed by word and picture the immensity and vital importance to Americans of the problems of non-Christian countries.
After four days and a half of mentally whirling the globe around to look at the other side, one was sure to feel the hugeness and at the same time the nearness of areas which do not share the civilization of North America and Western Europe. A black line representing the Cape to Cairo railway was superposed on a map of the Western hemisphere; it wriggled south from New York, across the Caribbean and the bulge of South America, and came to an end somewhere west of Chile, at about the latitude of the Robinson Crusoe Islands. Startling facts were flashed on a screen: "If two-thirds of the population of the world were as highly educated as the other third, the productive capacity of the world would be doubled"; "Ninety-five per cent. of the population of India is illiterate"; "Less than half of the people of the world have ever heard of the Christian religion."
Aim to Give Best of Our Civilization.
The problem which the Student Volunteers have set themselves is--in general and with qualifications--to give to other nations what is best in our own civilization. The conference recently concluded was one of a series which have been held at intervals since 1890 with the purpose of obtaining the active co-operation of all Christian students of the United States and Canada in foreign missions, medical, educational, agricultural, and evangelical.
What is best in our civilization? Our scientific knowledge surpasses that of other nations; let us share it with them and lift them out of ignorance and ill-health into fuller and freer lives. The story of the men and women who have given, not their money, but their lives, to the task of founding schools and curing the sick in foreign lands was repeated with new fascination. Dozens of doctors, teachers, and agricultural workers came to inspire with their presence the new generation of collegians. But the best thing in our civilization, said the leaders of the convention, is our religion.
Religious Note Dominant.
The religious note dominated the conference. Strung across the ceiling over the stage of the Des Moines Coliseum in enormous letters was the motto: "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation." When the speakers of the afternoon--John R. Mott and Robert Speer--set forth the case for a strictly evangelical mission, some of the delegates were bored, and not a few had the feeling that the leaders of the convention were out of date.
The half-spoken demand for a reconsideration of the basis and aims of the movement was not faced before the second evening. Questions in the minds of listeners remained unanswered: Has Christianity not failed? Is it such an inspiration to us that we can in good faith carry it to others? Is our social order not founded on an un-Christian basis? Did the war have a Christianizing influence? Why did not our religion prevent the war?
"You don't ask, "Why didn't science prevent the war?'" said Dean Brown of Yale in answer to the last question. "The reason our Christianity failed was because there wasn't enough of it, and what there was wasn't of the right sort."
Put Humanity Above Production.
Bishop McConnell of Denver tried to answer the other questions. "The hardest thing the field worker has to contend with," he said, "is the example of his own country. Every time that a man puts a piece of chocolate in his mouth, he is exploiting the raw products of Africa. We must put humanity above production, and see in Mexico 15,000,000 human beings and not merely copper, and oil, and the possibility of rubber plantations."
Christianity, other speakers said, is the great reforming religion, and the one necessary religion for all mankind. Christianity is the only religion in the world which places woman on the same plane with man. Mohammedanism fails in five respects: there is no place in it for the little child; it has corrupted the home and degraded woman; its dogmatism has confined and demoralized the intellect; it is a great enemy to democracy; and it is spiritually a failure. Hinduism makes actions synonymous with sin, and has no doctrine of immortality in the highest sense nor of conflict with and redemption from sin.
New Spirit as End Approaches.
The effect of the conference was cumulative. Many who were most outspoken in their criticism were most anxious for the success and furtherance of the movement; and as the end of the four and a half days approached, a new spirit seemed to pervade the Collseum during the great mass meetings. Individual delegations congregated and talked about fundamentals; in little groups they met the splendid individuals who had come from all parts of the earth; the students talked and were talked to instead of being talked at and they came to feel something of the driving force behind the life of service as exemplified in the life of Jesus. One Harvard man went so far as to say, "The old phrases are all right; I never understood them before."
It was most unfortunate that nearly half the Harvard delegation was obliged to leave at about the middle of the conference, when there was some feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Those, however, who had hoped for a broader discussion, could not help recognizing that the foreign mission work as now conducted--in which pure proselyting is far less emphasized than formerly--has very decided social and international implications--for example, the education of the Mexican peons. Again, the convention, including as it did representatives of most of the Protestant denominations, was free entirely from the suspicion of sectarianism, and was narrow only in so far as it emphasized almost exclusively the work in foreign fields. It stimulated serious thinking, and the natural result of serious thinking is a quiet, sober, sensible, even religious attitude toward all problems.
The bulk of the Harvard delegation, among whom the majority have no intention of going to the foreign field, is agreed that the Student Volunteer Movement is worthy of support and that the convention has been for good, not only because of the religious attitude which it inspired and the help it secured for work abroad, but also because of the approach which it suggested for social and economic problems, and especially because of its instigation to serious thought
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