I was saddened to hear this week of the death of a dear friend, Yvonne Woods, widow of the first IFES General Secretary, Stacey Woods, and herself an honorary Vice-President of IFES from 1995 to 2003. She died on 7 April 2014, aged 98. Yvonne had been suffering with Alzheimer’s for the past 18 months and had become very frail. I give thanks that she was at peace with her Lord and was ready to go to heaven.
I have fond memories of my most recent visit with Yvonne almost a year ago. Her mind was certainly failing, but we were able to talk of her memories of IFES and, most preciously, to pray together.
Yvonne was a prayer warrior for IFES and for many of us, including my family. She got to know my wife Halymah at World Assembly in Canada in 2007 and since then she has been our dear friend, praying for our children by name and from time to time writing a personal note to us.
It was a joy to me that Yvonne took part in World Assembly 2007, which saw the handover from Lindsay Brown to me as IFES General Secretary and where we also celebrated 60 years of IFES ministry. At that time, Yvonne was already over 90 years old, but she was full of energy, grace and love, both for those around her and for students. It gave us a small glimpse of the faithful and godly support she had been over many years to Stacey and their three sons: Geoffrey, Stephen and Jonathan.
In 1934, four years before Yvonne and Stacey’s marriage, Stacey received an invitation to become General Secretary of the Canadian Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. He oversaw the development of student ministry in Canada, and pioneered the work in the USA.
She was full of energy, grace and love, both for those around her and for students.
I recently read the continuation of that story in a talk that Yvonne gave in 2001 at the IFES International Office in Oxford, then at 321 Banbury Road. She was speaking at the dedication of a new resource room in memory of Stacey Woods. (You can read the full address in English here.)
'It is very exciting to be here in Oxford. It is a strategic place! Here in 1946 the members of the International Conferences of Evangelical Students were invited to gather. This was the turning point that led in the following year, 1947, to the official formation of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students at Harvard University in Boston, USA.
I remember well that summer. We, as a family, had sold our home in Toronto, put our belongings in storage, and were planning to go to Australia, my husband’s country, for an extended visit. Meanwhile we were all at an Inter-Varsity Training camp on an island in northern Ontario, Canada. My husband left us there when he went to Boston. When he returned, he said, ‘There will be no visit to Australia. If I travel anywhere, it will probably be to England. I have just been appointed General Secretary of the new IFES!’
Once Stacey had handed over leadership of the North American student movements, he and the family relocated to Lausanne, Switzerland in 1962. This helped IFES to be seen as a truly global organisation and also enabled Stacey to focus on his passion for teaching God’s Word to students from Eastern Europe. He worked to acquire Schloss Mittersill, an Austrian castle, as a place where IFES could connect with Eastern Europeans before the Berlin Wall came down.
If you would like to read more about Stacey Woods’ story, I recommend Don MacLeod’s book 'C Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University' (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007).
I thank God for Yvonne and Stacey Woods, for their faith and for their witness to us. I thank God that today, as then, he is transforming students around the world for his glory. I thank God that he has called us to be part of his ministry.
Yvonne closed her talk in 2001 with a reminder to us all to ‘continue to walk in humble dependence on our Almighty God and on our Saviour Jesus Christ, who died to redeem us, and on the Holy Spirit, who is at work in us to transform us into the image of God’s Son’. Then, she said, as we look ahead and experience what God will do, we can sing, 'To God be the glory, Great things He has done!'
Please feel free to add a comment below to leave a message of condolence, or share your own memories of Yvonne.
There are tributes to Yvonne on both the InterVarsity/USA website and the Inter-Varsity Canada website. A memorial service for Yvonne Woods was held on 15 April 2014 at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, USA. Please make any gifts to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, designated for the ‘Yvonne Woods Memorial Fund at Cedar Campus’.