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June 2017: When Urbana Was in Toronto

The commitment card filled out by Arthur F. Holmes, then a student at Wheaton College. These cards were used at the conventions to record a student's intent to serve as a missionary. It is very likely that Holmes completed this card after attending Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship's first student missions convention in Toronto in 1946 (from Collection 300, box 389).

When InterVarsity was established in the United States in 1940, based on the model of IV movements in Great Britain and Canada, it launched what has become one of the most enduring and influential American Evangelical parachurch institutions. IVCF students and staff have presented the gospel on college and university campuses and provided a means for Christian fellowship and nurture for almost 80 years.

Also in the 1940s, IVCF hosted a missions convention that became a tradition that still continues. In 1946, the United States and Canadian IVCF organizations hosted the Student Convention for Missionary Advance in Toronto. (Arthur Holmes was probably one of those attendees among the 575 registered, although we do not have a list of the attendees to confirm that.) Two years later, the second convention was held on the campus of the University of Illinois—Champaign-Urbana (Illinois), which missionary Jim Elliot attended. From 1946 to the present, the convention, mostly on a three-year cycle, has been known as the Urbana Student Missions Convention, or "Urbana," and in 2015, IVCF hosted its 24th convention (1946, 1948, 1951, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015). The convention was intended to inspire missionary and evangelism passion among students, solidify a commitment to missionary service, and bring potential missionary candidates together with mission agency representatives, who were always a regular feature of the conventions. Another consequence of the conventions has been to invigorate a sense of calling and vocation among students for various careers. Over the last 70 years, these conventions have been a prominent platform at which to capture the spiritual imaginations of American college students and motivate them to devote their energies to the global spread of the gospel.

The documents featured here tell some of the story of that first convention.

Promotional flyer for the convention in Toronto (from Accession 15-21, box 15)
These and the following items are part of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA records (Collection 300). IVCF's records, covering the period from 1940 to 1991, consist largely of the organization's correspondence, reports, publications, and promotional materials. The records describe its organizational development and include the administrative files of individual leaders, such as the files of each of its presidents from 1940 to 1984 and evangelist Paul Little, and records of its Urbana conventions. There are also departmental records, such as those from regional offices, the Missions Department, and the Nurses Christian Fellowship, and research data compiled for the 1991 official history, For Christ and the University. The BGC Archives also holds not-yet-processed records from InterVarsity, its Canadian counterpart, and International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), the international association formed in 1947 of which InterVarsity and its 160 global counterparts are related.
Letter to a registrant for the convention from J. Christy Wilson, Jr. the director of the convention. At that time he was also the Mission Secretary for the U.S. and Canadian organizations, and later went on to lead an influx of Christian witness into Afghanistan in the 1950s, teach at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and advocate "tent-making missions" as a strategy for bringing gospel witness to countries that were resistant or closed to missionary efforts (from Accession 15-21, box 15).
Back cover of the convention booklet "Hymns," outlining the schedule of plenary speakers (from Accession 15-21, box 15).
Photo of the attendees in Toronto from the published convention report that consisted mostly of the texts of selected messages, including those from Harold J. Ockenga, Samuel Zwemer, L.E. Maxwell, Robert C. McQuilkin (from Accession 15-21, box 15).

Handwritten notes by convention attendee David M. Howard. The sampling of his notes shown here were from the messages by C. Stacey Woods (IVCF general secretary ), Clyde Taylor (Executive Secretary of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association or EFMA), and Indian evangelist Bakht Singh (from Accession 07-68, box 115).

Howard, like Arthur Holmes, was a Wheaton College student, and went on to to become an InterVarsity staff worker, assistant director for the 1951 Urbana convention, missionary with Latin America Mission and later its president, Missions Director of InterVarsity USA, director of the 1980 Consultation on World Evangelization hosted by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and International Director of World Evangelical Fellowship.

Post-convention report from C. Stacey Woods, general secretary of both the U.S. and Canadian InterVarsity organizations (from Accession 15-21, box 15)

Arthur Holmes's trajectory never left Wheaton College. After graduating from Wheaton in 1950, he began teaching philosophy at Wheaton in 1951, which he continued for 43 years until 1994, 30 of them as chair of the department. While teaching, he earned his masters degree in Bible and Theology from Wheaton's Graduate School in 1952 and a PhD from Northwestern University in 1957.

Also see larger versions of the promotional poster for the 1946 convention at the Archives' July 1998 Bulletin Board and an online collection of posters in the Archival Seminar Room.


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Last Revised: 6/01/17
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