The Founding of the YMCA Movement Worldwide

The idea started with a spark in the heart of one young man – by his own testimony, an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Soon that spark fanned into a flame of passion and it was burning in the spirit of George Williams.

At the age of 20, he was employed as a draper’s assistant in London. The firm employed 140 live-in assistants. Living conditions were horrid and moral standards were even worse. It was in this dehumanizing environment of despair and suffering that the young man’s burning heart and passion became a vision. He sought to satisfy his strong desire to glorify God by serving man and, in particular, to serve the young man living under these wretched conditions and improve their quality of life. Williams inspired and mobilized other colleagues to attend regular prayer meetings in his dorm room. As the numbers at these meetings steadily grew, Williams soon envisaged spreading this evangelical movement throughout the various businesses in London and thus conceived the idea of forming Christian associations for young men in each business firm. This simple idea of challenging and mobilizing men of goodwill to take action and direct their Christian beliefs toward improving the human condition and ministering to the spirits of young men, continued to grow and develop in size and reputation throughout the city of London and the countryside.

The first formal meeting of the Young Men’s Christian Association (with 160 young men present) was held at Radley’s Hotel on November 8, 1844. The objective of the YMCA was then defined as the improvement of the spiritual condition of young men employed in the drapery and other trades. So rapid was the growth of membership in this movement that an international convention was organized in Paris, in 1853. By this time there were YMCAs in many parts of Europe and North America. The appeal and scope of the YMCA movement far exceeded anything envisaged by its founder, George Williams. Leaders of the new international movement desired to share the vision of the YMCA and the methodology of establishing Associations with people worldwide. It was in this spirit of unselfish service that the YMCA came to Hong Kong.