An Easter message to the worldwide YMCA Movement from Carlos Sanvee, World YMCA Secretary General
Holy Week, Tuesday 30 March 2021
Easter is the greatest moment of the Christian year for me, as the time when I connect best – like so many in the community of like-minded believers – to the story of the highest and deepest expression of God’s love for humankind.
As a worldwide movement founded on the Christian faith, it’s a great moment for the YMCA too.
And as I write to you again this year, it feels like an even bigger moment in 2021, after a year of real disruption and real suffering brought about by a global pandemic which has upturned all our lives.
I hope that this Easter can be another landmark moment, as we continue to make sense of who we are and who we want to become.
‘Who we are’ derives in large part from what we believe.
What we believe is of course our individual choice, often influenced by our upbringing, by those around us, or the groups to which we belong.
That’s why we are rightly proud of the fact that the YMCA is a place called home for people of all faiths and no faith, and for people of every culture and origin.
A personal faith journey
For me, my faith and my work are inseparable. They are two sides of the same coin.
I was brought up as a Christian, but it wasn’t until I joined the Bible fellowship at the Université du Benin in Togo early in 1980 that I understood the reality of the social gospel.
And a very few years later, I came to the profound and wonderful realisation that the YMCA was the place where I could live and express my faith.
I also realised how my faith in Jesus aligned with my African understanding of Ubuntu: that a person is a person only through other people; and that I am, because you are.
The YMCA taught me triangles and trinities: of the interlinkage of body, mind and spirit; and the interrelation of me, my neighbour and God.
So my work has always been my faith, and my faith has always been my work.
The core of my faith is to endeavour to accept and understand the unconditional love of God, shown to us at Easter. And my work is to try and share that love.
Like anyone, I often stumble, yet God in His everlasting mercy gives me the grace to press on. I am as flawed as millions of Christians before me and still to come, but I have always tried to transcend my own and other Christians’ shortcomings, simply by being anchored in my relationship with the person of Jesus Christ: his life and teaching, his death and resurrection.
Regardless of the historical flaws linked to the practice of Christianity, I have never given up on my faith, because Christianity is not my religion, but my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Faith and the YMCA
In recent months, we as a Movement have been discussing what our Christian ethos and identity means, and how our faith informs our work at the YMCA.
My nearly-50-year journey within the YMCA has taught me that it is the light that we radiate, the torch that illumines our path, and the flame that we hold high above our heads wherever we go.
And there are 65 million different ways of carrying that flame – one for every person in or reached by our Movement – because we are all uniquely different.
Being underpinned by a Christian ethos is an invitation to be humble, to accept our differences, and to take the different paths that lead to the one who loves us, and whose love we are trying to reflect.
Jesus poured himself out in love and service. He preached and he lived the social gospel. He bridged the divides in society, and he reconciled us to God and to each other.
We in the YMCA are called to do the same.
I am currently reading and enjoying ‘We make the road by walking’ by Brian McLaren, in which he writes powerfully:
Before Christianity was a rich and powerful religion, before it was associated with buildings, budgets, crusades, colonialism or televangelism, it began as a revolutionary non-violent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society.
It dared to honour women, children and unmarried adults in a world ruled by married men. It dared to elevate slaves to equality with those who gave them orders. It challenged slave masters to free their slaves and see them as peers. It defied religious taboos that divided people into us and them, in and out, good and evil, clean and unclean. It claimed that everyone, not just an elite few, had God-given gifts to use for the common good.
It exposed a system based on domination, privilege and violence and proclaimed in its place a vision of mutual service, mutual responsibility and peaceable neighbourliness. It put people above profit, and made the audacious claim that the Earth belonged not to rich tycoons or powerful politicians, but to the Creator who loves every sparrow in the trees and every wildflower in the field.
It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement.
Can our own YMCA Movement be all of these things? Can it be a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement?
A healing Movement
As we and the world seek to emerge into the new, post-Covid world, can our YMCA Movement be a vehicle of the thing that the world needs most, which is healing?
It’s a healing that goes way beyond what a vaccine can do.
It’s a healing for our whole selves in body, mind, and spirit, and through our work to help our brothers and sisters worldwide to reconcile with themselves, with others, and with all of God’s Creation.
So that’s my Easter invitation to us all: to reflect again on what our faith means for us in the YMCA, and how – beyond words – we can live out that faith.
Perhaps these precious open hands can help us: open to receive love and healing; open to give them.
A joyous and happy Easter to you all in the worldwide YMCA Movement.