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By Peer Rødal Haugen
Editor, Fjæreposten, Norway
TAKING PART IN CHANGING THE WORLD
Read Ilene Andersen’s fascinating story
Ilene (born 1929) has lived in Norway since the end of the 1960s. She is the mother of Aage and grandmother of Dina, whom we wrote about in our last issue, and lives in Moåsen. She married Aage Andersen from Strømmen (died 1990), who became a medical doctor in Grimstad. The story she shares with Fjæreposten today, concerns her life in the years 1947–1969.
Everything starts somewhere. Like a seed that starts to sprout and grow. That is how a unique spiritual revolution started in one man’s heart, in a church in Keswick, England, in 1908.
The man was an American, Frank Buchman (1878–1961). After he had been changed by the Holy Spirit, his calling was to 'change the world'”. And he did. He started what later in Norway went under the name of 'the Oxford Group', then later 'Moral Re-Armament, MRA'. People from all walks of life and nations joined the movement. It had a decisive influence during the next two or three generations who experienced first one world war, then a second world war and – on top of that – they got a cold war with a nuclear threat for dessert. Leaders of state, church and industry as well as people from all possible backgrounds were caught by this spiritual revolution. They gave their lives to God, and the effect was enormous in many countries.
In Norway the Oxford Group had a decisive influence on the Norwegian resistance movement against the evil Nazi regime. Leading national figures within politics, church, education, culture and business had experienced a change in their lives which gave them clarity and courage to stand up to evil forces.
Most of these people continued their lives and lived out their faith where they were and made an impact on their surroundings. One of Buchman’s strategies was to work through key personalities. From there the influence spread like rings in the water. Was Buchman a Christian missionary or a democracy builder? The answer is probably 'both' – and a bit more!
Hundreds of people gave up their studies and careers to work for MRA. In Europe they had their headquarters in Caux in Switzerland. The men and women who worked full time constituted an army of smaller or bigger groups travelling the world on different missions to speak and listen to people, to help and guide everywhere – and to sing.
MRA used song and music as an important tool of communication. In their ranks they had both amateur and professional singers and musicians who wrote and performed their songs, musicals and drama. The point was always the text, carried forth by the music. On their tours around the globe, they performed for thousands, and the Holy Spirit worked wonders in and between people. The outreach of one man’s obedience to his staggering calling, and the speed with which it spread around the world is hard to fathom. But because it was the Holy Spirit that worked miracles, it was possible.
This became the life for Ilene Godfrey Andersen, a young girl from San Francisco, California. Ilene had always loved singing and had a natural gift for it. As she grew up everything pointed to a professional career in singing. Early on she mastered the classical repertoire in its various original languages; Italian, French and German in addition to English. Already at the age of 15, she gave her first classical concert. She had a strong feeling that her singing was meant to be used for something, but she wasn’t sure what.
From an early age she had gone to Bible classes and got her knowledge of the Bible. This led to her taking the initiative to be baptized. She went to the Baptist Church around the corner and was baptized on Easter Sunday morning, 15 years old. She tells how she almost drowned as the little pastor had a hard time lifting her out of the water after the submersion.
Eighteen years old she got a scholarship to Santa Barbara Academy of Music. But at the same time she was also invited to go to a conference on Mackinac Island in Michigan. To this day she cannot explain why she chose Mackinac.
'That’s just the way it went!' Ilene says with a smile. The choice she made then was decisive for the rest of her life.
At Mackinac, she met young people her own age and some older, and felt immediately attracted to them. They had something she had longed for all her life – a faith in God. These people had that.
'I felt that God gave me a gift', she says. Never had she met people who were so happy, free, caring and inspiring as those she met at Mackinac. 'Most of them were young people like myself, but with a view of what was important in life and who were totally different from the usual college attitude.' Mackinac was MRA’s American headquarters, and Ilene met for the first time 'the four absolute standards' which MRA became known for all over the world: absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love.
'We believe that God has a plan for the world and for each one of us. We can be part of that plan if we are willing to give our lives to Him and serve him. Then he will use us. And he will use you. But if you want to take part in the changing of the world, you have to start with yourself', they told her.
'Think through your life, and if there are things that don’t add up to the four standards, write them down. See where change is needed and try to put right what you can.'
'This is what Frank Buchman had realized. All the clever regimes, systems and plans of the world are doomed to failure as long as they fail to address the most important factor, the human individual and his or her way of life. He had seen the power and the potential for change that lies in an individual’s surrender to God and giving the Holy Spirit a place in their lives, that people were willing to be formed, guided and used by God. In the same way that Jesus started with 12 ordinary men who were willing to follow him.'
With this new experience, Ilene went home to California to work for one year. When MRA gave a performance of the industrial play, The Forgotten Factor nearby, she went to see it. It gripped her.
' It changed me there and then', she says.
She was invited to come full-time with MRA for a year and it was soon confirmed for her that her singing would be used for something. Only, she had thought that her life would continue as normal, with house, home and family. That was not to be the case, at least not for many years.
'But I experienced how all the pieces of my life fell into place', she says. 'Everything fitted together.'
How big and all-encompassing this was which she now became a part of, she had no idea about. This dawned upon her little by little as she got to know the extent of MRA’s work.
She went to work on the four standards relating to her own life, and began each day with an hour’s Bible reading, as was the practice in MRA, as well as praying and listening to what God’s will was for her – and indeed for the whole world.
The hate against Father
The soul searching, the prayers and the Bible reading led to her confrontation with her relationship to her own father.
'Because I hated him', Ilene says.
She had witnessed against him in court, he disappeared from her life, and nobody could ever convince her to forgive him. Never – not after the way he had treated her mother. But a miracle happened. Hate went out and love came in.
'I contacted him and for the first time in my life I could acknowledge that he was not the only guilty one. We were all guilty because I hated him so much that I couldn’t help him. So, I wrote him a letter and asked for his forgiveness for my hatred and for not having helped him. The hatred had blocked that.'
Ilene discovered her father anew and they became the best of friends for the rest of his life. She was sure that someday – even if it was the day he died – he would find back to his faith.
'That took many, many years', she says. 'But 10 years before he died he re-found his faith. He was completely changed and I was able to see my father as he always was meant to be. With his past as an alcoholic he was able to help others with the same problem. This reconciliation with my father is the greatest change I have experienced in my life. If this had not happened, I would not be the person I am today. A part of me would have been hard and closed', she realizes.
Experience has also shown her that we ourselves must change before we can help others to change. And she has realized that anybody can have anything in their lives turned upside down. That is possible when the Holy Spirit is free to act.
'This was my miracle. I received the faith I had looked for and it became the foundation for my whole life. God called me, he led me and he used me with all the gifts he had given me. My singing could be used for something, and I felt completely free.'
Ilene committed the next year to work with MRA in Los Angeles. When the year neared its end she received a message to board a plane and go to Mountain House in Caux in Switzerland, the MRA headquarters in Europe.
'Easter morning, three years after I was baptized, I stood on the stage in Caux as a soloist in the international chorus!'
It didn’t take long before she was 'on the road' with the international chorus and a play. Her first tour participation went to the bombed out Germany, to the mining district of the Ruhr, with The Forgotten Factor, the play that had so gripped her when she saw it at home in the US. It had been translated into German, with a German cast and with song texts like Es muss alles anders werden. As they were allocated in private homes it made it possible to have contact with leaders and workers. They experienced the misery of the miners’ families at close quarters, and their longing for anything that could brighten up their lives. Aage, who many years later should become her husband, was also part of the troupe. He had given up his medical studies after the war in order to participate in MRA.
'There were many like him who left their different career plans or jobs and joined MRA, because they saw this as a bigger challenge and more important than personal success.'
Ilene became a soloist in the international chorus, and during the following 22 years she had a leading role in four of the musicals, in addition to a wide range of solo performances and duets. This was to lead her out on missions across the world.
One of the characteristics of MRA was that Christians were challenged to really live their faith. When I read the Bible, I took it seriously, I am not saying that other Christians don’t do that, but many are satisfied with less. Frank Buchman said that he didn’t need “armchair Christians”. Our challenge was to live and care for the world we were part of. The same way, we challenged Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others to take their faith seriously. We also challenged communists. A system doesn’t change anything unless people become different. You cannot make a good omelet with bad eggs. Think how the world could be today if the different believers could work together. In that perspective it seems as if we were way ahead of our time.
Ilene came to Caux at the most hectic time with state leaders visiting. Thousands and thousands kept coming to the conferences – Germans and French – and people of all positions from different countries. Ilene and her team did everything that needed to be done: cooked meals and served at tables. At the most, there could be 1000 people seated. They also sang at the meetings – usually twice a day – as well as at theatrical productions in the evening, and talks with people afterwards. Many of the important talks took place around the tables at meal times.
'I loved serving at these tables. In a way, we created a homey atmosphere. Before meals we prayed for what could happen around the tables in the dining rooms. There the Holy Spirit was at work in people, and God guided them in what they should do, and how', she says.
The people who came here were people who wanted to do something for their countries. But when they realized that they had to start with their own lives, things became more real. There were white people from South Africa who fought against the apartheid regime and who humbly worked alongside colored people and who made a very important contribution to the situation in the country. And there were people who came from tense race situations in the USA, as in Atlanta, Georgia, where the law did not allow blacks and whites in the same theatre - MRA came there with a musical play based on a true history The Crowning Experience, where the black opera singer Muriel Smith had the lead role. She had dropped her career and joined MRA. The musical resulted in a change of the laws so that blacks and whites could meet in the theatre for the first time. 'Before we Americans can have the freedom to talk to the world, we must be free to talk to our neighbors,' she said in a statement that was published in newspapers all over the USA. She specially addressed students, whom she warned against getting caught in a new kind of slavery under unscrupulous people who wanted to rule the world. The musical was later made into a feature film.
Among the people coming to Caux were also leaders from church and industry. Fritz Philips, leader of the Philips company, had his whole life transformed and three of his children became fulltime workers for MRA. One of the daughters, Digna, is still one of Ilene’s good friends. Philips himself made industry his platform and arranged conferences about industry based on honesty, and how leaders and workers together could contribute to a better world. A special team had as its sole task to work for better industrial relations. One example was a bitter strike among dockworkers in Brazil. The play The Forgotten Factor dealt with this.
I am beginning to understand this. In the course of our talks together, Ilene constantly inserts small remarks that suddenly open yet one more door leading to still more unbelievable stories involving still more people, known and unknown. 'It’s endless', says Ilene. But she endeavors to keep on the track she has decided upon – but it’s not easy – and I can’t help but interrupt with extra questions…
The losers of World War II, Germany and Japan, found themselves isolated after the war. MRA was the first major group allowed into Germany, and the first Germans allowed out, were those who came to Caux. The same was the case with the first Japanese. Ilene was one of those receiving the Japanese delegation that was led by the mayors of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki on their arrival in Caux.
Ilene shows me a picture from the ceremony outside Mountain House in Caux where they received the guests in the national costumes of their different nations. They had written a song in Japanese with which they received the guests. The text songs included things like 'welcome, hope, we need you'.
'The Japanese are not known for showing their emotions, but during the song, tears streamed down their faces', she says. 'The Holy Spirit worked. And it was wonderful to witness it and be part of it. The music expressed things stronger than words, even if the speakers were great and gifted speakers.'
The Marxist Miracle
Europe lay with its back broken after the Second World War. Hatred had torn Europe asunder. For these wounds to heal, hearts had to be healed.
In 1947 an influential woman from France arrived in Caux. She was Madame Irène Laure, a leader in the French Resistance, a sincere Socialist and a fervent Marxist. The stay in Caux changed her. Her history is an example of how people with totally different mindsets, had their lives turned upside down and because of their central position, were instrumental in many other people experiencing the same change. This is how she tells about her change: 'As a Socialist, I believed passionately in the brotherhood of people. But as a Marxist, I fought the class war against the employers, and as a French woman I hated Germany that had tortured my comrades and my own son. When I saw a German enter the podium to speak in Caux, I left the hall immediately. Later I was introduced to Frank Buchman and he asked me only one question, "What kind of unity do you want for Europe?” Several days with inner turmoil followed, but the moment arrived when I realized that hatred never can create unity, and that class war is meaningless when you think of the brotherhood between people. I needed a miracle to uproot the hatred in my heart. I hardly believed in any God, but he worked the miracle. I was set free to fight for the whole world with the big wish to restore what the past had destroyed. I asked the Germans to forgive me for having wished the total annihilation of their country. Finally I was able to do something effective for peace in the world.'
Like many others, she became a key person on whom Buchman could build, and which again had wide repercussions.
In Berlin, Madame Laure met women who wandered around in the ruins after the extensive bombing and she understood that they also had suffered greatly. After this fundamental change, Madame Laure became a much wanted speaker and travelled with MRA through Germany and later, around the world.
'You could hear a pin drop when she spoke', Ilene says.
Germany’s first Chancellor after the war, Konrad Adenauer declared that she was the one person that had meant most in the reconciliation between France and Germany.
During the time prior to this interview, I spoke several times on the phone with Ilene and I understood that I had caused a great deal of thinking and work on her part. Among other things, she had dug up some authentic material from this period in print and recordings – what is left after so many years. She wished she had more to show her children and grandchildren. One recording I was able to hear is a song they performed in Japan, with lyrics written by a Japanese who should have been a kamikaze pilot. The whole point of the songs was the texts and they had of course to be sung in the local language, in this case Japanese. On the whole, they worked hard to learn the texts and melodies, language and correct pronunciation – and of course everything by heart. It was of uttermost importance that the message was understood, and there were many national anthems to be learned. ' I remember how hard I worked learning the Finnish and the Brazilian national anthems', Ilene says. 'I could sing from my heart and I felt how the message reached the audience.'
One of the musicals they created was Jotham Valley, based on a true story about a conflict between two bothers regarding the rights to a water well. The self-righteous brother who had the water rights created a crisis by closing the water pipe going to his alcoholic brother’s side of the valley. Buchman was on a longer retreat in Nevada with a team when he heard of the story.
'I don’t know all the details but in the end the two brothers were changed and united. In a way it was a simple story, but it was true and many knew about it. The story became the musical Jotham Valley and was staged on Broadway in New York.
'I had just come back from half a year in Germany, I was 21 years old and should sing a leading role on Broadway! The musical played for full houses for four weeks – couldn’t even get tickets for my own family!' – Ilene says.
'Jotham Valley was my favourite of all the musicals I took part in. I specially loved the song called Somewhere in the Heart of a Man, not least because the story about two men’s hearts that really were changed was true, and because the message we brought was so relevant and so important. I played the part of the wife of the self-righteous brother. I could sing from my heart and I felt how the message reached the audience. It was so directly connected to what we worked for, how a miracle can happen in a person’s life – what incredible changes can happen when the Holy Spirit is allowed to slip in and do its work.'
Much in the same way as Ilene had experienced it in her own life, the musical was about the things that stop many people from full freedom and peaceful co-existence. In the song Somewhere in the Heart of a Man, she and MRA’s star singer, Leland Holland have a duet about how to unlock the closed room in the heart, to open the door wide and throw the key away.
When I listen to some of the recordings of Ilene’s duets with Holland, among them The Fuji Aria, I don’t doubt for a moment that she could have had a brilliant career as a classical singer. Her clear and articulate soprano would certainly have been a success on the world’s opera scenes. But God had different plans, and as she herself was willing, her life took a different direction and a got a completely different value.
That brother hates brother or that people can fight over the rights of water, is well know for many, also today. Jotham Valley was one of the musicals that MRA took on their four months’ tour of India in 1952–53.
'We arrived in India just after India and Pakistan had gotten their independence, and the battle to be free both from the colonial power and the irreconcilable and bloody internal battle. That we arrived precisely at this time in history, was guided by God. The situation we came straight into was exactly 'the two brothers" who lived in strife with each other. The Muslims were to be moved to Pakistan, East or West, and all the Hindus in these areas, moved the opposite way, to India. It was chaotic and with roads almost impassable. People, whole families, lived and slept on the railroad tracks. They came no further.
'During the colonial rule, Indians rarely invited western people to their homes. But because of the message we brought, they opened their homes to us and we got to know them in a completely different way.
'It was imperative that we should stay healthy, especially we who had lead roles, so precautions were plentiful, she remembers. Milk food had to be avoided, fruit and vegetables had to be pealed. Because of the heat, a hat was a must, and two performances a day were all we could manage; one in the morning and one at six pm. Frank said we should avoid a third performance in order to save our strength, but in Madras the crowds were so large that there was no way around it. People had travelled a long way by train and walked for miles to see a performance. We had thought that the people who did not get in to the morning performance, would go home and come back again later, but they sat all day in the hot sun and waited. And still people kept coming. When several hundreds couldn’t come in at six pm either, we found that the only solution was to give a third performance at 10 in the evening. For us in the cast, it was a joy to give this third performance for people who were so hungry to see and hear.– And when you do something from the heart, you get the strength, she remembers.
To travel in India with 200 people and fifteen tons of equipment was a real challenge. The warnings beforehand were numerous. We were told it couldn’t be done. But Buchman knew that nothing is impossible for God. – So we did it, and it worked.
'Even so, transportation around the enormous country was a challenge. We travelled by train, and also here the heat was a problem. Cooling was simple but very much needed. At every station where the train stopped, railway employees carried boxes of ice into the compartments. Together with the fans in the ceiling, that was our air conditioning!' she remembers.
'In Kashmir, five of us were allocated to a guesthouse belonging to Miss O’Connor from Ireland. Earlier, she had run a hotel in Delhi but now she had retired to Kashmir with her cook and ran a charming little guesthouse with a fantastic rose garden and a superb kitchen. Buchman made arrangements so that each one of the 200 in the team got one meal at Miss O’Connor’s in the course of our stay. The evenings usually ended with us gathering around the fireplace singing and talking about the changes that had happened in people and between nations. Late on the last evening before we were to leave, my girlfriend and I got a short message from Buchman: "I believe Miss O’Connor will have victory over her drinking, and she will give her life to God tonight, and you must help her." Some challenge! The lady had already gone to bed, but thanks to our good relationship, we dared to knock on her door and say "Goodnight". She was still awake and invited us into her room. We chatted a bit and then she suddenly rose from her bed, knelt on the floor and gave her life to God – and decided to cut out drinking. We will never forget this little old lady and Frank’s care for her. Three months later we had the news that she had died.'
With statesmen around the globe
In the 1950s the world lived in a cold war, with the arms race and the nuclear threat. 'Division is the mark of our time,' Frank Buchman said. He had the idea of a Statesmen’s World Mission and to create a musical that would follow the tour around the world. It became very big in every sense of the word. Different statesmen joined the tour and travelled with it or received it in their respective home countries, from the USA to Japan, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, with Caux as their final destination. All told, they visited 23 countries, and more than 250,000 people saw the play. The musical they travelled with was called The Vanishing Island, where Ilene had one of the leading roles. It takes place on two islands called 'The Island of We Hate You' and 'The Island of I Love Me'. The first has no greater wish than to see the other wiped off the map. The other has enough with itself. The message was to 'Illumine the road that leads from heart to heart, from class to class, race to race, nation to nation – an ideology that can meet the needs of the entire human family and unite East and West', says the presentation. This led to many incredible gatherings and great moments like when–for instance–the student leader of Rangoon University in Burma, after a performance for 3000 students in a hall calculated to hold 2000, mounted the stage and said: 'I will make the spirit from this play to the spirit of my university and my country.'
When the group went on to Taiwan, the Japanese Prime Minister sent two government representatives with them. Before an overwhelmed and afterwards applauding audience they asked forgiveness for what Japan had done wrong during the Second World War. They said that MRA was engaged in building a new Japan and that through MRA the whole of Asia could be united.
In Nairobi in Kenya, the show played to five packed houses with people coming from several countries in East Africa. An outdoor rally gathered more than 7000 people, at another, 1500 jailed Mau Mau rebels attended. Six hundred of them officially broke with Mau Mau to start a new life. A white officer whose father had been killed by Mau Mau met the interned rebels with love and forgiveness. 'I thought he came to have us all killed. His words cut into my heart and I realized the wrong I had done and I wept and wept. I admitted my atrocities I had committed and decided to accept the four standards in my life. I will follow them for the rest of my life,' said one of the prisoners.
One representative of the white population asked forgiveness for aggressions committed by the whites. That made an indelible impression. One of the native leaders said that he had never experienced a white apologizing for sins committed by whites in Africa.
Thousands of communists and Marxists were also challenged by a higher ideology.
'The weakness of communist statesmanship is that you never can count on influencing non-communist statesmanship, and vice versa', said Peter Howard, the author of The Vanishing Island. 'The world must choose dictatorship under dictators or a new beginning under God.'
We have come to the end of our many and long conversations, at home at Ilene’s or over the telephone. Nevertheless, I sense that for me, this is only the first glimpse into an unknown history. I have received insight into something I had only known about superficially. And I ask myself, and her, 'What remains of this revolution today?'
'The movement is still alive and the Holy Spirit continues to change people, who in their turn change their surroundings. And the world would have looked different today without what God was able to do through Frank Buchman’s commitment and those who chose to take the same road. This is maybe the most significant imprint. I do not know everything that happened; I only had my small part, like so many others', Ilene says.
They took part in changing the world, not least in Scandinavia. All the Scandinavian countries have much to thank Buchman and his army for. But they did not heal the world. There is still much to come to grips with for new people who will accept change. That is a challenge. This makes me think of the Bible text for Sunday 2 February, from the gospel of St Mark, about the seed and the sower: 'The Kingdom of God is as if a man should cast seed on the earth, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he doesn't know how. For the earth bears fruit: first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is ripe, immediately he puts forth the sickle, because the harvest has come.'
For Ilene and Aage, their participation in this work ended in 1969. For a short period, they worked with what became an offshoot of MRA, Up With People in Japan, and the name MRA was after a while changed to Initiatives of Change. The aim remains what it always has been; to change people’s lives.
Ilene, Aage and their children settled in Grimstad, where Aage became a doctor, and they started their life as a family.
'God called me, He led me and He used me, an ordinary girl from California', Ilene says.
(Published with the permission of the editor, Peer Rødal Haugen. English translation by Karl Kaltenborn)
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
Purpose: We work to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves, in the areas of trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living.
Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International
'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'