PADILLA: My first contact with the...the...the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students was through an Urbana [Missionary] Convention [triennial conference held at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, sponsored by Inter-Varsity for college students interested in missions]. I went to two Urbana Conventions while I was in the US as a student, first in 1954 and then in 1957. I guess in 1954 I was really challenged by the needs in the student world. As a matter of fact I started thinking of the possibility of going to Spain to study instead of staying in the US, but with the clear idea of helping in student work. I'm glad I didn't do it. Mainly, it was [pauses] a desire that developed, and all through college I started investigating the possibility of working with the students in Latin America. Then in 1957 I was approached by the...one of the pioneers of student work in Latin America, Bob Young, who was on the staff of the IFES. He had worked with the IVCF [Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship] in this country, and he said to me, "Well, Rene, I hope you join the staff as soon as you graduate." And right after that, I received a letter from Stacey Woods, who was the General Secretary of IFES, inviting me to join the staff right away. So he wanted an answer by the 31st of January of 1958. And he said, "You join the staff and go to Central America right away." He wanted me to go to Honduras. And, well, I was already starting the Graduate School here. And I...on the 31st of January I phoned him and said, "Well, no angel from heaven has appeared to tell me I should leave my studies. So I'm staying here." "Well," he said, "you don't need more studies. Why don't you just go? You'll learn more by doing." [I] say, "Well, Stacey, just give me time." And I'm glad I stayed.
INTERVIEWER: What was the cause of his urgency? Was there...?
PADILLA: [sighs] There was no staff worker. Well, there was hardly anyone working with the IFES in Latin America. The first Latin American staff worker was Samuel Escobar, and he joined the IFES in 1958. He was the first one. There were....
INTERVIEWER: Where was he stationed?
PADILLA: At first he was in Argentina, right at first. Then he was sent to Brazil for one year, and then he went back to Argentina. But I...I said to Stacey, in January of '58...I said, "Well, just give me one-and-a-half years of [chuckles]...to do the master's degree I have started. I don't believe in leaving what I have started. So, since then we kept in touch, and as soon as I finished I left for Latin America. My first appointment...my...my first task was, well, as a traveling secretary for four countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. There was no student work in any of those countries established as such. Well, there were the beginnings in Peru. And in Venezuela there was one student group in Merida. So my...my task was to try to find Christian students in the churches and encourage them and train them to form groups in the universities. And for two years, actually, I...I had no home, everything, all my belongings except for books were with me in my suitcase. I was a gypsy and traveled up and down in these four countries, with a salary of one hundred dollars, and, well, I had friends who received me often times in their homes, and so the expenses were kept to a minimum. But it was a tremendous experience.
To find out more about Rene Padilla or Collection 361 at the Archives