Photo by Michigan Daily
Fifty years ago, at 2AM on October 14th 1960 at the steps of the University of Michigan Union, John F. Kennedy gave a speech inspiring students to give up two years of their lives to help people in developing countries. From that moment on, the Peace Corps was started to mobilize volunteers to address various global issues in countries around the world.
Today is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech.
As I was reflecting on this bit of news, I was reminded of the importance of college students in starting movements. There is something about the college years where things such as idealism, independence, and a desire to make an impact can be the fuel to some radical decisions. Sometimes the students’ willingness to take risks, coupled with their lack of attachment to things and their mobility, cause them to be good candidates to take the Gospel to various places around the world.
The harsh reality is that the older we get the more we long for security, stability, and solace in things and people, which make it hard for people to just drop everything and “go.”
It is our desire that in our church, we will see not only college students, but also single adults, married couples and families who are captured by the Gospel that they are willing to obey God, “whatever, whenever, whichever, and wherever” God leads. This is part of the radical call of a disciple of Christ – it is simply a follower of Christ, a person who is willing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
If the world can inspire people to give up their lives to go to different parts of the world to help make it a better place, then how much more should a Christ-follower, who has the message of transformation, be willing to give up their lives to bring the Gospel to the nations. It is a sad day, when the world can produce more people to surrender their lives and sacrifice two years of their lives to make a difference. Often times, people are motivated by humanism and altruism, which always exalts the self. But what would it be like if Christ-followers, who are dead to themselves and but alive in Christ surrendered and sacrificed their lives to serve Christ? I think people would be able to see the worthiness of our King, for whose sake we would gladly lay down everything because He is our greatest treasure.
Here is Kennedy’s speech on the steps of the University of Michigan Union 50 years ago:
I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933, mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigor of the executive, and the cooperation of the Congress. Through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference.
How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.
Therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can’t possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength.
So I come here tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort…
This university… this is the longest short speech I’ve ever made… therefore, I’ll finish it! Let me say in conclusion, this University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I’m sure you recognize it. Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign. I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade. Thank you.”
You can listen to the actual speech here.