Losing troop contact: Three conferences without earth's luxuries...
(Note: this article by Dad (Joe Bayly) was published in the August 1978 issue of Eternity magazine.)
Losing Troop Contact: Three Conferences without Earth's Luxuries
by Joe Bayly
Last month I wrote about a conference convened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Evian-Les-Bains, France, in July 1938. This gathering of world leaders, to consider the perilous situation of Jews in Hitler's Germany and in recently subjugated Austria, ended without significant action.
Its failure is considered by many to have given Hitler's Third Reich the go-ahead signal in their subsequent drive against the Jews. "More than any other factor," wrote Manchester Guardian correspondent Peggy Mann, it "underwrote the death warrant for six million European Jews."
Ms. Mann concluded: "There are few people today who even remember the momentous conference... However, when I visited Evian last summer, I did find one man who remembered: Rene Richier, the elderly concierge a the Royal Hotel. He was a concierge then, at the time of the conference.
"'Oh, Yes,' Richier told me, 'I remember the Evian Conference well. Very important people were here and all the delegates had a nice time. They took pleasure cruises on the lake. They gambled at night in the casino. They took mineral baths and massages at the Etablissement Thermal. Some of them took the excursion to Chamonix to go summer skiing. Some went riding; we have, you know, one of the finest stables in France. Some played golf. We have a beautiful course overlooking the lake...
"'Meetings? Yes, some attended the meetings. But, of course, it is difficult to sit indoors hearing speeches when all the pleasures that Evian offers are waiting right outside.'"
I was reminded of the Evian conference by a recent item in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Local officials from 125 cities gathered in Washington over the weekend to be briefed on impending changes in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.
"This is the government's employment operation geared to finding work for the poor. To kick off the meeting there was a reception at the Hyatt Regency hotel, complete with ice sculptures, shrimp cocktails and petit spareribs--leading one participant to question whether the generals weren't perhaps losing contact with the troops."
It is difficult to think seriously about the desperate condition of persecuted Jews when surrounded by all the pleasures of a resort in France. It is difficult to think seriously about the desperate condition of the unemployed poor when nibbling shrimp in a Hyatt Regency hotel.
And it is difficult for our Christian conventions, conferences and seminars--whether church or parachurch--to think seriously about problems of evangelism and race and hunger and poverty and the Third World in similar plush surroundings.
We are not different from diplomats and bureaucrats: we too love remote resorts (albeit owned by Christian organizations), Hyatt Regencies and other creature comforts. And we easily "lose contact with the troops."
I can recall three that were different.
The first was the founding conference of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (worldwide Inter-Varsity) in 1947. It was held at Harvard University, which was what the organization was all about.
Archbishop H.W.K. Mowll, primate of the Anglican Church in Australasia, slept in a dormitory room. So did Calvin Chao, pioneer of Christian student work in China (so soon to be aborted by the communist government); D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, minister of London's Westminster Chapel; C. Stacey Woods; Douglas Johnson; and 30 or 40 other equally strategic leaders. We ate in the dining hall.
The second, sponsored by the same organization, was a year later in Switzerland. Now that's more like it--only it wasn't. The board met in conjunction with a camp of European students at Emmaus Bible Institute at Vennes sur Lausanne. I remember being given a ticking bag and being pointed in the direction of a pile of straw and told to fill it. That was my mattress.
We all ate outdoors under a shelter. The second or third meal, conference leaders brought in two enameled pans from the kitchen--each would have held less than two quarts--filled with garbage from the previous meal. "This is too much food wasted," we were told.
I could hardly believe it--after all, almost 300 people were eating, and that amount of waste would have been minuscule in the United States. But postwar Europe, especially Germany, was experiencing great shortages in 1948, and we were not permitted to forget it, or do less than our part to conserve food.
The third was the Thanksgiving, 1973 conference of Evangelicals for Social Concern, held in Chicago. We were considering a Christian response to the poor, the neglected, the disadvantaged. And so we met at the downtown Y.M.C.A. hotel.
It wasn't a pleasant weekend (I unwittingly almost precipitated a racial incident in the cafeteria; I didn't really belong there, and a black man, filled with rage, wanted to make me aware of that fact).
But it was a profitable weekend, a time of experiencing to a small degree the life of those we were talking about, and setting some fresh directions. And out of it came The Chicago Declaration.
Maybe this is why Jesus' disciples were able to set the world of common people on fire after he left them: for three years he lived the life of the dispossessed with them; he didn't spoil them by taking a suite of rooms in the Jerusalem Hilton.