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Detective work and serendipity

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We couldn’t have done it without For A New World!

In 2021 the IofC conference in Caux, Switzerland, celebrated its 75th anniversary, and a group of us rashly decided to put one story up on Caux’s website for each of those 75 years. Each story would focus on someone who had come to Caux that year and the difference their visit made to them and the world around them.

We posted the first story in March and squeaked the last one in on 31 December. The project was stimulating, fun, relentless – and something of a treasure hunt.

Some of the stories could be told in the first person, by those involved; others by people who had known their subjects well. Some of our international team were veterans of the IofC magazine For A Change and could draw on articles and interviews they had written 20 or 30 years before. But when it came to the earliest years – when we were either all children or not yet born – we had to rely on secondary material: books, articles, speeches at Caux, films.

Some of these early stories fell to me. My first port of call was the library of MRA/IofC books on the top shelf of my husband’s office, accessed by climbing precariously onto his desk. My second was For A New World (this website), where I discovered sources I was not aware of and tracked down ones that weren’t on the shelf, in a combination of detective work and serendipity.

For 1955, for instance, we decided to tell the story of the creation of Freedom, thought to have been the first full-length feature film written and acted by Africans and filmed in Africa. It dealt with the issues facing an African nation on the verge of independence and was dubbed into many languages and shown all over the world. A million Kenyans saw it in the run up to independence in 1963.  

The film started out as a play, written during a Caux conference over a period of 24 hours by a Nigerian, a Kenyan and a South African, on the suggestion of Frank Buchman. Two weeks later, the cast embarked on a tour of Europe before being filmed in Nigeria in 1956.

The story is an IofC classic, but none of our team had had any connection with it. I agreed to have a go.

I started out with Frank Buchman a Life, in which my father, Garth Lean, tells the story of how the play was written. Then I turned to foranewworld.

It led me, by a route I can’t now retrace, to a memoir by Loël Ferreira from South Africa, who had been director’s assistant during the filming. She gave a vivid picture of a mammoth project – one scene involved 10,000 extras – accomplished in often suboptimal conditions.   Much of the filming had to be done at night because of the heat and noise, and the film was stored in the cold room of a butcher’s shop to prevent it expanding in the heat.

The other treasure that I found through foranewworld was an article by Robert Webb in For A Change in 2001, describing seeing Freedom as a young journalist from the American Deep South in 1957. ‘It drove a stake into my racist heart,’ he wrote. After the film he apologised to the first Black person he saw, who happened to be African. ‘I will never forget his response: “After the apology, what?” I have been trying to answer that question ever since.’ When he died in 2018, after a distinguished career, his obituary spoke of his ‘vision for journalism as a force that could help the deepest hurts and bridge the most bitter divides’.

Once I had written the story, I handed it over to Ulli Ott Chanu at IofC Switzerland, who designed and posted all 75 stories. She found some amazing photos (some of them through foranewworld), including one of the film crew in action and a shot of the play’s cast, warmly wrapped up in the snow in Kiruna, Sweden, during their European tour. 

So, thank you, For A New World! We couldn’t have done it without you.

You can find all 75 stories on the IofC Switzerland website or buy them as a book from the IofC UK online shop (if you would like a copy in French or German, please email

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