Student Volunteer Movement

Student Volunteer Movement
   The Student Volunteer Movement is a fellowship that had a significant impact upon world Protestantism by motivating young adults from across denominational lines to become foreign missionaries. It dates to 1886, when founder Robert P. Wilder (1863-1938) attended one of Dwight L. Moody's summer conferences of college students at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts.
   Wilder was the son of a Presbyterian missionary, Royal Wilder, who had been sidelined by poor health. Robert himself eventually attended college at Princeton, where he founded the Princeton Foreign Missionary Society. At the Mount Hermon Conference, Wilder convinced 100 attendees to sign a statement indicating their willingness to go abroad. He began to travel to different college campuses to recruit students for missionary service.
   The Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) emerged in stages over the next years. Among his early recruits to the missionary cause were fellow Presbyterian Robert Speer (1867-1947) and Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952), a minister in the Reformed Church in America. The keystone of the SVM program was a pledge it asked students to sign: "We are willing and desirous, God permitting, to become foreign missionaries." By the time that the SVM held its first conference in 1891, it had recruited some 6,000 young people for the mission field.
   In 1891, Wilder graduated from the seminary and was ordained. By this time, one of the original hundred from Mount Hermon, John R. mott (1865-1955) had become a charismatic leader in the SVM. Mott, national secretary of the Y.M.C.A. (see Young Men's Christian Association), became the chairman of SVM's executive committee and the effective American leader. He used his position with the Y.M.C.A., SVM, and later the World Student Christian Federation to spread the missionary vision. Wilder departed to spend a year recruiting students and building the SVM in England and Scandinavia, and then to settle in India as a Presbyterian missionary.
   Mott adopted as the SVM motto, "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation." Many recruits believed that by the time their ministry ended in the mid-20th century the Christian message would have been presented to every individual on earth. Mott spoke of the need for 20,000 laborers to evangelize the world. Church leaders rallied to support SVM as they accepted the idea that the students might be able to move the church into many unevangelized areas.
   Most of the students recruited by the SVM were actually sent out by the mission boards of the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches. Thousands of others became advocates of the missionary cause in churches across America. SVM leadership helped found the World Student Christian Federation, did much of the preliminary work for the 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh, and provided the leadership for the early stages of the Ecumenical movement.
   SVM declined after World War i. Mott focused on ecumenical work. In 1919, Wilder became general secretary of the SVM. Against his own desires, he oversaw the group's transformation to meet a widespread critique of missions among Protestant churches. Many were concerned more for social justice than evangelism in the countries in which SVM worked, while others wrote that missionaries needed to honor the cultures among which they labored. Those who championed the older and simpler missionary approach became the minority, and the number of missionary recruits dropped considerably. The SVM officially disbanded in 1969.
   Further reading:
   ■ Ruth E. Braisted, In This Generation: The Story of Robert P. Wilder (New York: Friendship Press, 1941)
   ■ John R. Mott, The Decisive Hour of Christian Missions (New York: Student Volunteer Movement, 1910); , The Evangelization of the World in This Generation (New York: Student Volunteer Movement, 1900)
   ■ Robert P. Wilder, The Great Commission: The Missionary Response of the Student Volunteer Movement in North America and Europe: Some Personal Reminiscences (London: Oliphants, 1936).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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