The Mission of the YMCA: Relevance and Challenges – Biblical Reflection and Response

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Last Updated (Thursday, 01 February 2024 13:59)

Asia & Pacific Alliance of YMCAs
6th Leaders’ Quadrennial Roundtable
YMCA Kuala Lumpur
9 December 2023

The Mission of the YMCA: Relevance and Challenges

Very Rev. Philip Thomas
Asia & Pacific Alliance of YMCAs

We will start by observing a cursory overview of the World.

Who Runs the World?

After the Second World War, we had the United States on one side of the wall and the Soviet Union on the other side. Both superpowers were dominating the world, dividing it into a “Bipolar World” and pitching one against the other in a cold war.

About 45 years ago, the Soviet Union collapsed and left the United States as the sole superpower, dominating global institutions and exerting military power globally. This was the era of the “Unipolar World”.

About 15 years ago, things got a bit more complex and complicated. The US was reluctant to police the world, lecture on global values (human rights, democracy) or mitigate global trade.

Other countries were becoming increasingly powerful, and they could ignore many of the rules they didn’t like, sometimes setting new rules for themselves.

During the unipolar period and the last 15 years, three things happened.

a)      Russia was not integrated into Western institutions, and a former superpower now in decline is angry about it.

b)      China was integrated into US-led institutions, expecting it to follow the American way as it got wealthier and more powerful. This did not happen, and China crafted its way of dealing with the world, making the US very uncomfortable.

c)      Many citizens in the US and other wealthy democracies felt left behind by globalization. This predicament was not taken seriously by the US and the others which led to the loss of faith in the government and the institutions.

Over 90% of the geo-political tensions and conflicts in the world today are often related to the above 3 reasons. We now live in a leaderless world.

What kind of world order do we expect in the next ten years?

We are not going to have a bipolar, unipolar, or even a multi-polar world order. We now see the emergence of three different orders. This will be a little overlapping with the third one, having immense importance for how we think, how we live and what we want.

1. A Global Security Order

The US and its allies are the most powerful players spanning the whole globe (800 over bases). The US is the only country that can send its soldiers and military capabilities to Asia, though nowhere else. Lots of American allies in Asia are concerned about this, and as a consequence, they are dependent on the US for a security umbrella. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, US allies in Europe are becoming more dependent on the US and US-led NATO.

The Russian military was of great concern at one time, with the loss of a large number of troops and a lot of military hardware along with the sanctions they have shifted down. Our Security order is unipolar, and it will remain so far for some time.

2. Global Economic Order

Here, power is shared. The US is still a robust economy. However, it cannot use its military might to dictate to other countries what to do economically. The US and China are interdependent economically, registering the highest level of trade in history.

A lot of the other countries in the world want access to US military muscle but they also want access to the China market, likely to be the largest economy in the world by 2030.

The European union has the largest common market with their rules, regulations, and compliances. If you want to do business there, you must adhere to their regulations. India is playing a greater role economically on the global stage. Japan, South Korea, and Brazil are also significant. Over the decade, there will be the rise and decline of the economies, but the global economic order is and will remain a multipolar order.

The two orders are tensions because the US will use its polar in National Security to try and draw the world’s economies towards it. This is happening in semi-conductor, critical minerals and tik tok. The Chinese use their dominant commercial position to align more of the world diplomatically. Japan, Europe, and India will do everything possible to see that one will not dominate the other.

3. Digital World Order

This third significant order is not run by governments but by technology companies. We are aware of how much military support NATO countries provided Ukraine during the war, but it is technology companies that provide the tools. The same goes for the Israel – Gaza war. The drones, iron dome, missiles, and rockets are all supported by digital technology. The social media platforms and their abilities to create disinformation, conspiracy theories and narratives can cause the likes of the riot on Capitol Hill on 6th Jan and the support for Hamas by students from the Ivy League Universities in the US.

Our identities are increasingly determined now by algorithms. Our preferences, lifestyle choices, consumer choices and social lives are prompted by algorithms. We almost do not have the power to question the authority of technology companies. There is great power in the hands of technology companies.

If China and the US work to exert power over the digital world and technology companies are honed in their countries, we will end with a technology cold war, and the digital world order will be split into two.

If technology companies continue with global business models and retain competition between the digital and physical worlds, we will have a new globalization, a digital global order.

On the other hand, if the digital order becomes increasingly dominant and the government erodes their capacity to govern technology, companies will become the dominant actor on the global stage in every way, and we will have a techno-polar order.

This will ultimately determine whether we have a world with limitless opportunities or a world without freedom.

Artificial intelligence, as of now, is not governed by any process or act. The concern of how much control, authority, and power the state will have over technology companies is still worrying. The United Nations, Nation States, Scientists and Technology companies must come together with all stakeholders to set up a regulatory authority to manage something as powerful and impactful as AI.

Biblical and Theological Reflection

In this post covid World with the many challenges facing humankind and the Creation, it would be good to reflect on the Christian perspective of the purpose of the Creation within the backdrop of Vision 2030

Preparation of the creation

The created world itself is a “mystery” originating in the sovereign will of God accomplished by the action (energia) of the Holy Trinity.

Creation “Out of nothing.”

In the beginning, the Holy Trinity created the World (heaven and earth) “out of nothing” (ex –nihilo) and not out of pre–existent matter. The World is a production of God’s free will, goodness, wisdom, love and omnipotence. The World was in void and chaos, and the Creator transformed it into a Cosmos, i.e. a created order with its integrity as a positive reality. It is the good work of the good God (Gen1). The world was created by God for the blessed existence of humanity.

Human beings are a microcosm of the Creation.

Adam and Eve were created by God last of all – after the other created beings in a different way by God's direct involvement and action. This indicates the outstanding position of the human being in the whole of creation and its special relation to God.

“Let us make humankind in His image (Gen 1:26) after his likeness”. The reference to “the image of God’ is to be understood in terms of Jesus Christ since he is explicitly identified with it (2 Cor 4 :4, Col 1:15). Thus, for humankind to be in the image of God means to be in or assimilated to Christ. The “likeness of God” is often connected with the grace of the Spirit, who transforms us and assimilates us to Christ.

Man is created from the dust of the earth, and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). Adam was created from dust, which is pre-existent matter; he shares matter with the rest of Creation. In the created World only, the human being is combined with material and spiritual elements – hence, a microcosm of the whole of Creation. The notion of microcosm means that humanity, created in God’s image and likeness, transcends, the material world because it participates in God spiritually and consciously unlike the rest of creation. Humankind then stands on the boundary (methorion) between the material and spiritual worlds as a connecting link.

If we move in the direction of deification, our human nature, progressing towards God, will somehow carry the created material world with it. If we move in the opposite direction, the created material world will also suffer with us (Rom 8: 19-22).

In the incarnate God (Christ), we strive to restore back to the cosmos -the Creation that is moving towards chaos. It was God’s plan “for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth “ ( Ephesians 1:10 ; Col 1:14-17). In other words, Jesus Christ, the Son of God became human, restored humanity and the whole of creation, uniting both of them with the Creator in and through Himself. Jesus’ death on the cross made it possible “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32). By the Resurrection of Christ, we see the birth of a new Creation for He destroyed death, decadence and decay. We are called by Christ to continue this mission “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you “ ( John 20:21) .

Empowered by the Holy Spirit we are called to be co-workers with God (synergia) to be creative master’s to tend and transform the world in harmony with the divine will and purpose. Hence, humanity has been given the responsibility to work together with the grace of God in the process of salvation for personal transformation of all humanity and for the renewal of the earth which is our home.

Post Pandemic expressions

The post-pandemic era in our history is very different from the pre-COVID era. The Pandemic has taught us many lessons. It has enlightened us about our vulnerability as a human race. The Ecumenical Movement was always 20 years ahead of the Church in understanding its mission and the ability to be a prophetic voice. Have we slackened, or has our emphasis changed?  In view of this we can consider a few points for our direction.

Vision 2030 was hatched during the pre-COVID period and finally adopted at the World Alliance Assembly after the Pandemic.

We must relook at the diagnostic tools we use to analyze Society and the World. Our tools of analysis from the post-Cold War period may be outmoded and not relevant. We can use tools and employ methodology and expressions crafted from our Asian cultures, indigenous languages, art forms, literature and religion.

The UNDP report mentions that currently about half of the population of the world are urban dwellers. It is projected that by 2050, 70% of the population of the world will be urban dwellers.

The Pandemic has taught us that we are vulnerable to systems of power that make decisions for us regarding our lives, impose movement control, and be vaccinated or be subjected to discrimination. We see the erosion of personal freedom and legitimising unauthorized State power. For the first time, the State became dependent on Multi National Big Pharma companies to find a solution and colluded with them.

The pandemic also showed the ugly and selfish side of human beings.  When the announcements of a lock down were made. Ordinary people rushed to supermarkets to buy stocks of food and other merchandise. When stocks ran out in the supermarkets the consumers were fighting to grab as much groceries for themselves. The poor, elderly and sick were left out with nothing.

Dr. Jacques Attali a French thinker was asked what the most important quality would be that humanity should embrace after the post covid period. He said that it is ALTURISM .

As a Movement, we should embrace and manifest the Christian virtue of compassion and love when we engage with our sectors.

We as a Youth Organization allow God’s rule to manifest through the Kingdom of God principles that we adhere to when responding to injustices and oppression. This is a Faith aspect that is fundamental for our being and doing. We should distance ourselves from an activist mindset with a vigilante approach. NGOs and Activists are now tainted with a left culture which has a self-righteous and arrogant response to situations which at times are violent in nature. The recent pro-Hamas demonstrations by the students from the Ivy League Colleges in the US are but one example.

As YMCAs we are change agents that must Consecrate the creation and prevent the onslaught of Desecration. May our journey in this period ahead be a blessing to many.


This paper was presented at the 6th Leaders’ Quadrennial Roundtable of the Asia Pacific YMCA in Kuala Lumpur from December 8-11, 2023. The presentation on YMCA Mission: Relevance and Challenges was followed by three respondents. Dr Ramona Morales (Vice President of Asia Pacific YMCA, (South East, Asia) moderated the session.

Response- Mission of the YMCA: Relevance and Challenges

1. Ms. Amelia Shaw
Vice President (Pacific)
Asia & Pacific Alliance of YMCAs

Thank you, Father, for your reflection on the theme,  enduring relevance of the YMCA in the face of contemporary challenges. In a world marked by geopolitical complexities and growing societal divisions, the YMCA's mission remains a beacon of hope and unity.

There is no truer statement than when I was fortunate to attend the Y World in Denmark in 2022. This gathering was taking place while the Ukraine - Russia crisis had started a few months prior. At the global meeting of the ys we had delegates from both Russia and Ukraine. This, to me, was a powerful symbol of the y remaining true to our mission:

empower young people and communities worldwide to build a just, sustainable, equitable and inclusive world where every person can thrive in body, mind and spirit.

Our mission, rooted in youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility, is a steadfast commitment to building a better future. In navigating today's geopolitical challenges, we must acknowledge the importance of fostering global citizenship among our youth. By promoting understanding, tolerance, and cooperation, we can bridge divides and create a more harmonious world.

In an era marked by societal fractures, the YMCA's role as a unifying force becomes even more critical.

Our commitment to inclusivity ensures that, regardless of background or belief, everyone is welcome in our community. By providing a platform for diverse voices and experiences, we contribute to the strength of our society.

To remain true to our mission, we must also adapt to the evolving needs of the communities we serve.

As we face geopolitical challenges and witness societal divisions, let us not forget the power of collective action. The YMCA has a rich history of inspiring positive change through community involvement. By encouraging volunteerism and civic engagement, we empower individuals to contribute actively to the betterment of society.

By staying true to our mission, we can continue to be a force for positive change. Let us embrace the opportunities to foster unity, understanding, and inclusivity as we build a brighter future together.

With that said, I think there are three things we should consider over the next few days with our next QPP to ensure we are a movement that remains steadfast in this new emerging world order. We need to look inward and ensure we are a strong house to withstand the external pressures and the chaos:

  • Leadership and governance: leaders have a significant impact on individuals, the culture of an organisation and its reputation, be it positively or negatively. Let’s continue on the journey of strengthening our leadership capacity. Our leadership got us through COVID-19, but we must continue to ensure we can remain a strong and professional organisation and movement.
  • Role of young people: Young people have always been at the forefront of any societal challenge. Either as a directly impacted group or a group who can’t stand by the injustice. We need to ensure they are supported but also aren’t a token for engagement but meaningfully collaborated with.
  • Define the functions of APAY: being clear on what we expect of APAY not only sets our own individual associations up for success but the wider movement. We need to ensure we are collectively clear on what our regional body should be doing to ensure our associations stand the test of time and also are resilient to external factors like pandemics and financial disruptors.

2. Mr. James Tou
National General Secretary,
YMCA Taiwan

Many thanks to Father Philip Thomas for his insightful presentation.

We all know that the mission of the YMCA expresses the people it serves, the problems it hopes to solve for them, or the value it provides. The YMCA's mission is based on three important factors. The first is rooted in the Christian faith, which is the guiding principle of the Association. The second factor takes into account current environmental conditions and community needs. Finally, by understanding the above, the YMCA can use its own capabilities to make a positive impact.

Today Father Philip gave a clear perspective on our current reality. We live in a complex and uncertain world, where various issues such as the global security order, the global economic order and the global digital order have a significant impact on our circumstances. Consequently, these factors also shape our mission. I am grateful that he pointed out that in the complexity and change of our circumstances, Christian faith will remain a key factor in meeting these challenges. This reinforces the Christian faith as the cornerstone of the YMCA's mission. By responding to the challenges in our environment, we can ensure that our mission remains relevant and responsive. This enables us to meet the changing needs of the individuals and communities we serve through YMCA programs and initiatives.

At the same time, I would like to express my respect and gratitude to APAY for always organizing worship services at major meetings to emphasize the importance of the Christian faith. It also organizes a mission review at the beginning of the meeting. Remind everyone of the importance of these two things. In the future, we will share, inspire and support each other to contribute our respective YMCA capabilities in line with our mission. Working together, we can achieve the goals of the YMCA and make a positive difference in our community.

3. Mr Zed Teo Zi-Ming
Honorary Secretary and member of the Board of Directors
YMCA of Singapore

I thank Fr Philip for the insightful and thought-provoking sharing - about the changing world order and what it means for the YMCA.

This reminds me of two historical events - one that took place 2,000 years ago and one that occurred 180 years ago.

The first event took place 2,000 years ago in the land of Judea. It was a quiet evening when angels suddenly appeared to shepherds watching their flocks, proclaiming "Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men". They heralded the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World. Amid the oppression under Roman occupation and the crippling torment of sickness and disease, Jesus Christ was to reach the last, the lost and the least - bringing hope, peace and liberty to all.

Today, some 2,000 years later, more than 2 billion people around the world profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.

The second event took place 180 years ago, in London. Amid the vicissitudes in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the various ills of society, George WIlliams and a group of young friends gathered in their living quarters for prayer and Bible study - an oasis of peace, encouragement and support with fellow followers of Jesus Christ.

This was to spark the genesis of a movement - the YMCA - which has since reached millions of people in 120 countries. Who would have imagined that some 180 years later, a group of people from Asia would gather in Kuala Lumpur to further that vision. George Williams' legacy lives on!

These two events remind me that - even though the world is constantly changing and the challenges of the day will continually evolve, our work in the YMCA remains the same - to work within our local communities that God has placed us in, to love and serve others, to be peace-makers and not merely peace-keepers.

So let's continue to build peace where we are - in the power and love of Christ, and in honour of the legacy of George Williams!

The Moderator shared the Key Takeaways and Call to Action

Dr. Ramona Morales
Vice President (South East Asia)
Asia & Pacific Alliance of YMCAs

  • There are three world orders that affect and will affect our worldview, especially the youth: Global Security Order, Global Economic Order and Global Digital Order.
  • Proper acquiring, sharing, and accepting of information plays a vital role in the development or disintegration of societies
    • Human beings are the microcosm of the Creation, and the Resurrection of Christ is the impetus for the New Creation
    • The YMCA works with people; as Christians we believe that every individual is important, the image of the living God.
    • We remained to be the trusted stewards of the Earth since we are created in the image of God
    • We are guilty of being self-righteous and judgmental of the things we believe are wrong or are in need to be improved
    • In this complex and uncertain world, we owe our next move in understanding our past
    • Challenges will come and go but Christian beliefs and ideals will remain as a key factor in resolving these challenges
    • Christ called us to be peacemakers, and YMCA can do that in various ways

Call to Action

  • Let us and the YMCA be the beacon of hope in these moments of challenge
  • Maximize ethical use of technology and digitalization to accelerate the fulfilment of our mission
  • We need to embody our Christian ideals and identity
  • Let us be in the mission of bringing the Lord to our fellow human beings and consecrating the world
  • Revisit our diagnostic tools if they are still relevant
  • We should learn and apply the values of compassion, altruism, and love in creating our QPP
    • In creating our QPP, we must focus on leadership and governance, develop our young people, and define the function of APAY
    • We should not fight for peace in a militant way but in the spirit of humility.
    • Remain in the truth of Christ while loving our neighbor
    • We call to collaborate and use our diversity in creating a more inclusive and effective QPP
    • Let our mission direct us into identifying who we really serve and learn from them what they need