Learning from the Past

Thursday, June 11, 2020


As people around the world went into lockdown and face to face meetings ceased, IofC international initiated the hosting of online sessions, iListen, to provide the space for sharing and reflection. As part of the same program, each Saturday has been dedicated to hear from an IofC elder about their work and life lessons in working for change. These sessions titled Living History are based on the Human Library concept which aims to create a safe space for dialog and where topics are discussed openly between human books and their readers.

Christopher Mayor and Jim Coulter, who have both contributed immensely to the establishment of IofC in Australia and in Asia, were Living History guests on 9 May and 30 May 2020 respectively and had much to share with the international audience that gathered to hear them speak.

Chris Mayor

Chris Mayor, now 91, resigned as a young journalist from the Australian United Press in 1949, to take part in Frank Buchman’s (the founder of MRA Moral Re-Armament as IofC was then known) program to rebuild international bridges after World War II.

“My connection with IofC goes back to 1932, when my mother met a British actor, Ivan Menzies, who was very popular in Australia and she learnt from him the basis of this work.”  Chris’s mum had her own theatre in Sydney and was involved in the production of a musical review of an MRA handbook on the theme Sound home, Teamwork in Industry, a United nation around 1941-42. The musical review was to be shown to the then Prime Minister of Australia John Curtin and Chris remembers “...the first work I did with MRA was sweeping the auditorium to make sure it was clean for the prime minister.”

In the Living History session Chris shared the story of his early post-war involvement in healing work in Asia. In the late 1950s, he and three other young Australians (Gordon Wise, Jim Coulter, Stan Shepherd, all referred to as “the four musketeers”) went to Indonesia at the invitation of the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, and ended up showing an MRA film Freedom to President Sukarno and his cabinet. Chris also tells of interviewing the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who came to Caux seeking reconciliation, just five years after the atom bombs had been dropped on their cities. “The Four musketeers” stayed on to work many months in Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines and India.

Chris listed three Important lessons that he has learnt from MRA and feels they are still of importance today:

  • have a vision – as Chris said, “people who have no vision perish”
  • work as a team – Chris believed that one of the greatest qualities that Frank Buchman had was in building teams of people who could work together, “People who were of quite different backgrounds, different political points of view, and different religions were brought together to work as a team”  
  • embrace the concept that change starts with yourself – Chris was pleased that the name MRA was changed to Initiatives of Change (IofC) as it signifies that anybody, anywhere, can take an initiative to change something that is wrong, starting with themselves.

Chris highlighted what he thought were essential leadership qualities; care about those you lead, have a generous spirit and be willing to take risks, not gambles, but initiatives. He lists his simple mantra as, “put right things that are wrong in your life, get honest about yourself, listen daily for the inner voice, have the courage to carry out what you feel you are meant to do and work with others who are doing the same thing”

Learn more about Chris Mayor’s life, work and philosophies by watching the recording of his session.

Living History with Chris Mayor: IofC's strategic engagement with the post war world

“We can all do more than what we think we are capable of.” - Chris Mayor
Jim Coulter

Jim Coulter, now 97, was impacted as a young man in 1940 by a life changing encounter with MRA. He went on to be a journalist and then a pilot during the Second World War. Having survived three aircraft crashes he felt God had saved his life and decided, after the War, to give a year “to try and do something about peace”. This turned out to be a lifelong commitment. A sports buff, he has been a friend to a lot of ordinary people who went on to do extraordinary things. These have included several Prime Ministers and a couple of Wimbledon winners, as he recalls in his book Met Along the Way in War and Peace.

In the Living History session Jim Coulter talked of his first encounter with MRA and how the absolute values being promoted by the movement - honesty, purity, unselfishness and love caught his attention. The encounter also started off his close relationship with God. He feels God has guided him in many decisions through the years. “God has a plan” was Jim’s guide in critical moments of survival during the war; “Going into the war I decided that the only way to deal with everything was that no matter what happened to take time each day to put God first - and have the courage to do what I am told”, he said.

Jim recalled Frank Buchman’s time in Australia in 1956 and the eventual setting up of the MRA centre in Australia. Along with other colleagues, Jim had put in a bid for Armagh, the home of Industrialist Cecil McKay, at much below the market price. "McKay threw his arms up and laughed and showed us the door", recalled Jim. Six weeks later, to their great surprise, McKay gifted the house to them with the condition that his gift be kept confidential. The key to Armagh came with the tag: “MRA is a force for good in a troubled world. Keys open doors. Doors lead on. This one opens Armagh to MRA and may they both do each other good.”

Jim Coulter (2nd from R) and other aircrew receiving the Legion d'Honneur for their participation in the D-Day liberation of France.

During question time in the session Jim was asked for his thoughts on how the world might better recover from the current pandemic of Covid-19. Jim drew parallels with the Great Depression that took place before WWII, “ was also global and nobody knew what to do.” In the midst of great need people tramped across the country in search of work and at the same time people tried their best to help each other continued Jim and he feels that during the current pandemic, “people are doing similar things for others and perhaps it is these small things which will have lasting impact for the country.”

Another audience member asked,” what is unique about your life?” Jim responded that through the turmoil of the last century he had learnt from the poem, “I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me…I have been an ambitious person, but taking one step at a time helps you get to 97!”

Listen to Jim Coulter’s recollection of events that have had an impact on his life to learn more.

Living History with Jim Coulter video

 “Be prepared to take the challenge of simplicity if you want to change the world, change something in your own life and in your own country’s life. That is what is needed at this point of time. Look for fresh things that are needed to change for one’s self and one’s country…Put your fears aside and give it a go!”  - Jim Coulter