Sam Wolgemuth YFCI Internationalisation Pioneer

Ajith and Nelun Fernando

25 Kassapa Road, Colombo 5 Sri Lanka

Phone 94-1-590009; Fax 94-1-501976; e-mail


10th September 2001




Today, when I asked my wife what comes to her mind when she thinks of Sam and Grace Wolgemuth, she said, “Humility.” She had hit upon a key to their greatest legacy. I think of Dr. Sam as the father of the internationalisation movement within Youth for Christ. And to truly internationalise one must be humble enough to treat the poor with respect and listen to their aspirations. This Dr. Sam was eminently successful in doing.


Today there is a lot of talk about globalisation and internationalisation, but the violent protests against it that we are seeing show that many people in the Third World are not happy with this trend. They feel that the affluent west is thrusting economic and development policies upon them that they do not like but must accept if they are to get development aid. Many in poorer nations feel that we have entered a new era of colonialism where we are being subjected to economic domination by the affluent nations.


Sam Wolgemuth was accustomed to listening to people of other nations and cultures. So he wanted an international structure that ensured that each entity could make an equally powerful contribution. The “experts” have found this structure difficult to fathom, for their models of “effective” multinational organisations are very different. This was a structure that allowed for equal participation; that ensured ownership by all sides. Those who are more accustomed to the paternalistic type of relationship between the rich and the poor have found had difficulty in understanding and working within this structure.


But for many from the developing nations of the world, YFC has been an organisation that they were proud to associate with. We feel an ownership in this movement. We want to contribute to it. We feel it gives due place to our aspirations.


When I started my tenure as Director of the Sri Lankan YFC program 1976, there was a general antipathy towards YFC International among our staff. Some YFCI representatives who had visited Sri Lanka did not exemplify the principles the staff valued. A few years later, Dr Sam and Auntie Grace (as we call her) came to Sri Lanka. Our people loved them! They had found two leaders about whom they could be proud. Gradually the attitude to the international movement also changed!


Auntie Grace has always lived up to her name. Grace must make us gracious, and this is what it did to her. I have spent many wonderful times in the Wolgemuth home, relishing the love and hospitality that she provided and recovering from the strenuous round of ministry that had usually preceded the visit to their home.


Sri Lanka YFC salutes the parents of our international movement and ethos.