The Student Volunteer Movement
As HMCC looks into the future with its 2020 Vision, we as a church are very excited for how God will continue to propel us towards our mission "to transform lost people into Christ's disciples who will then transform the world." Looking back into history, there were several distinct movements of God through which we saw the Holy Spirit mobilize the masses to commit their lives for building His kingdom. One of these was the Student Volunteer Movement, which began during the 19th century and resulted in thousands of university students from the Western world being sent to nations far and wide to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we look back and understand the context and circumstances through which a desire to build God's kingdom resulted in so many university students being sent out into the world, we will be further empowered to see how God is speaking to today's generation for world evangelization.
Setting of the Movement
The setting of the Student Volunteer Movement started on advantageous grounds due to the favorable social and religious environment that precluded it. Christian historian, missionary, and educator Kenneth Scott Latourette spoke of four distinct avenues that made up the ethos that catalyzed the start of the movement; namely, a sense of advancement, greater accessibility to the world, an agreement within the body of Christ for missions, and a strong accountability between believers at the time. Post Civil War America united the American people with threads of the Industrial Revolution, advancements in technology, and a thirst for knowledge and fame. For the first time people were gaining access to different parts of the world that had previously been logistically impossible to come by. A rising sense of burden to live up to Jesus' Great Commission helped to create a ripened hunger through which many people could be sent out into the missions field. Conditions were ideal for a movement to begin!
The Start of the Movement
The actual time period known as the Student Volunteer Movement can trace its roots back to several foundational events through which a burden for world evangelization was birthed. In the year 1808, a group of college students led by Samuel J Mills Jr. started the first foreign missionary society in America, The Society of Brethren. It was through this organization that America was able to send its first missionaries to foreign lands in the coming years.
Throughout the rest of the 19th century, God's spirit for missions continued to spread across various parts of the country, before finally culminating with three distinct events that formed the precursor for the Student Volunteer Movement. First was the launch of a foreign mission society on the campus of Princeton University by a man named Robert Wilder, who met with students to study the Bible and regularly pray for missions. Second was the impactful sharing of a vision for foreign missions by a man named J.E.K Studd, who came from England testifying to the power of absolute surrender to God's plan for world evangelization. Finally, in 1886, a missions conference bringing together 251 students from 89 colleges was held, where for one month students fellowshipped, prayed, and studied the Bible. This conference ultimately produced the Student Volunteer Movement's watchword, namely: "the evangelization of the world in this generation." As God's spirit was moving powerfully through the hearts of people during and between these events, the groundwork for the official launch of the Student Volunteer Movement was being laid.
The Spread of the Movement
As foundations for the Student Volunteer Movement were laid in place, several advantageous factors played into allowing the organization to make quick but impactful influence around the world. Firstly, the movement was well structured between levels of authority to provide stability, reach, and support for the expansion of the movement. The Student Volunteer Movement also benefitted from having effective representation to travel and speak worldwide on behalf of the movement. As momentum was gained over time, Student Volunteer Movement conferences were eventually organized and hosted, with hundreds of students joining in, some even from foreign countries! These gatherings lasted some 76 years as students were trained and sent out as foreign missionaries. Ultimately, as the spirit of God was speaking to multitudes of people to join in on the vision of the Student Volunteer Movement, its goals slowly became reality as people took up the call to take part in world evangelization.
The Significance of the Movement
The Student Volunteer Movement in history represented a significant work of God in a sustained mobilization and empowerment of students to share the Gospel message of Jesus Christ around the world. Through the favorable circumstances and faithful response of students to God's call to share Jesus with the world, we witnessed a powerful start and spread of a mission movement in the early 19th century through the mid 20th century. We at HMCC are actively praying and believing by faith that God would start another Student Volunteer Movement in our generation. It would be our privilege to witness and to be a part of God's great plan of "making disciples of all nations." It is our desire to take the Gospel to every nation in our generation and beyond!