“Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever,” Daniel 12:3 (NLT).
As you may know, the concept for International Students, Inc. began more than 60 years ago with a vision from a young, ambitious follower of Christ. During a mission trip to China and Korea with Billy Graham and other evangelists, Bob Finley noticed that many world leaders had trained in the US. So, Bob, a staff member of InterVarsity and Youth for Christ at the time, listened to that "still, small" voice and took action. The ways in which God has used Bob and so many other believers in the early days of ISI, which was officially founded in 1953, have been a huge blessing to us.
We are very excited to begin sharing the story of ISI’s humble beginnings and miraculous, continual growth! ISI staffers dug into our historical archives to research and review some of the major events in our ministry’s history. We are also blessed to have the living testimony of a former ISI employee who joined the organization in 1953: Betsy Guffey. During our 60th anniversary celebration in 2013, Betsy graciously shared with us her story of being a part of ISI in the early days. We have combined her testimony with historical research to create a series of blogs outlining our beginning years.
Hopefully these stories will bless you and remind you of God’s amazing provisions for our past—and future. Our history reminds me greatly of how: “Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever,” Daniel 12:3 (NLT).
Today’s blog is the first in our historical blog series:
When Betsy Guffey joined International Students, Inc. in 1953, she thought she was unqualified. The young woman spoke no foreign languages and felt unprepared for the journey of unknown variables ahead of her. Looking back, though, after more than 60 years with ISI, Betsy says that God often uses unlikely people to do His work.
“Think of their responses,” she said, pointing out that Amos replied to God’s calling by claiming he was just a fruit picker. Saul proclaimed, “Not me! My family is the least of the tribe!”
And then there was Jonah, she says, who fled from the Lord when He asked him to preach against the wickedness of Nineveh. But God had other plans for Jonah, just as he did for Amos and Saul. And Betsy.
“And then it was my turn,” Betsy said, noting that she reacted much like these men from the Bible. She questioned the practicality of joining a staff that worked 24-7, where her pay was to be $200—when it’s available. She didn’t think she was a candidate—at all. “But, God said, ‘My power shows up best in weak people.” So, Betsy decided to listen.
The vision for ISI began following the vision of a young man who saw a need—a huge need right in our own country. Bob Finley was a staff evangelist for InterVarsity and Youth for Christ in the early 1950’s. While on a mission trip during this time to China and Korea—with Billy Graham, Dawson Trotman of the Navigators and Bob Pierce of World Vision—Bob discovered that the leaders of those nations had been trained in the US.
“We, the American churches at the time, had them right at our doorstep,” Betsy said, “and none of them had been reached for Christ. Some of them had a negative experience.”
After returning home from the mission trip, Bob asked InterVarsity if they realized the incredible opportunity they had to reach international students on college campuses throughout the US.
Betsy continued, “They replied, ‘You do it. It’s your vision. Bob went to Billy Graham and Billy Graham said, ‘You do it.’” When Bob approached Dawson Trotman of the Navigators, Dawson said the idea was great. Dawson also suggested that, “‘Bob should do it.’”
Bob then moved to Berkeley, California, got a house, and started meeting international students at the San Francisco docks. It was the early 1950’s, before air travel was common, and most students traveled by ship. Families from local churches graciously opened their homes to these students. Bob named the outreach FOCUS—“Fellowship of Overseas College and University Students.”
“The problem,” Betsy said, “was that students kept asking for ‘friendships,’ so it was changed to ‘Friendship,’” making it “Friendship of Overseas College and University Students.” Max Kershaw and Carroll Lindman joined Bob in the FOCUS ministry soon after.
Read one of the early ISI brochures for FOCUS!
In 1952, Bob moved from Berkeley to Philadelphia following an invitation from Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Dr. Barnhouse saw what was happening in Berkeley and asked Bob to start an East Coast outreach. He did—and the FOCUS office was located right on the Penn State Campus.
A year after the FOCUS office opened in Philadelphia, the ministry saw some exciting changes. In 1953, it was officially established as International Students, Inc. That same year, ISI moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C. Betsy joined the staff; Lindman moved to Berkeley and Kershaw joined the Chicago staff to head FOCUS, which remained an ISI-sponsored ministry.
Betsy recalls how an “unusual opportunity” evolved into a popular program with international students.
“Students had been asking us to help them find places to stay with families when they traveled anywhere in the US. That became so popular, but wore out the staff.”
“We had a great team,” Betsy said. “It was going so well that the time came to divide…and only a couple of us remained at headquarters.”
With it’s new official name and exciting new headquarters in the nation’s capital, ISI created a new program in 1954: the ACROSS ministry, American Citizens Residing Overseas for Study and Service.
“We were as good as the government was in naming projects,” Betsy said with a smile. “It was a very successful program.”
In the ACROSS ministry, American ISI staffers were able to enroll in the American Universities in Beirut and Cairo, where they served as witnesses for Christ.
Read some of ISI’s historical newspaper articles from the 1950’s documenting some of the amazing testimonies made possible through the ACROSS ministry.
“Another program called ‘Assisting Indigenous Developments’ or AID produced some good partnership overseas,” Betsy explained.
AID allowed Christian nationals who wished to serve Christ in their respective countries the opportunity to do so. ISI provided material assistance making it possible for them to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Read more about the AID program from a 1958 ISI newsletter.
With these successful and growing ISI-sponsored ministries, Betsy knew God’s blessing was upon ISI.
“Now we were really grown up,” she said, “and ready to be ‘big time.’”
Please join us next week as we continue our series highlighting ISI’s exciting beginning years and continual blessings. We look forward to sharing more of Betsy’s insight, which includes more details about ISI’s move to Washington, D.C., among other blessed events, including Betsy’s marriage to an ISI employee!
For More Information
Read “Bring the World to Your Home,” a magazine article Betsy wrote for Child Evangelism in the 1960’s.
Learn more about becoming a Friendship Partner through ISI.