“Before we left for Angola, we were told ‘You will leave Africa, but Africa will never leave you. It was very, very true.” says founding Crossroader Alan Lane.

Some fifty years ago the charismatic African American preacher and civil rights crusader Dr. James Robinson delivered an impassioned message to a group of young people in Elgin Hills, Ontario. He urged them to get involved in building Africa’s democratic future.

Founding Crossroader Dr. Alan Lane remembers the evening well. It was the catalyst for a series of events that would profoundly shape his life.

“Dr. Robinson had an immediate effect on me… I was greatly taken by Dr. Robinson for he was a very great orator, and really stimulated interest,” recalls retired surgeon Dr. Lane.

Dr. Robinson’s address that evening sparked a commitment to social justice that would later form Canadian Crossroads International as well as a lifelong friendship between the two men. The twenty four year-old Dr. Lane was about to embark on a medical career. He wanted to volunteer overseas, but didn’t know where to start. “Without James Robinson, nothing would have happened…there was no organization, nowhere where you could go out and do something like this.”

Dr. Robinson believed young people had an important role in building democracy and peaceful co-existence among nations. With this vision he founded Operations Crossroads Africa in 1958, the forerunner to Canadian Crossroads International.

Inspired by Dr. Robinson’s commitment for social justice, Dr. Lane went to Angola in 1960 with Operations Crossroads Africa to participate in a work camp program. In those early days of Crossroads, the contribution of volunteers was always something physical, says Dr. Lane, with the hope the hard work would break down cultural barriers.

And the barriers did come down. Dr. Lane remembers meeting an African-American volunteer at a Crossroads camp in Angola who was deeply moved by her experience with her new friends – and torn that such friendships would be difficult to maintain in a racially segregated America.

“With almost tears in her eyes, she said to me, ‘I have these wonderful friends here, black and white and I can never invite them down to see me in my home town’,” he recalls.

When Dr. Lane returned to Canada that summer, he remembers the shift that occurred in his own friendships. “The experience just had such a profound influence on our lives …we returned from these projects with a different outlook on life and unintentionally our relationships and friends changed…We tended to meet and associate with people with similar interests,” says Lane.

Within these circles people were still talking about Dr. Robinson’s impassioned address from the year before. With support of Dr. Robinson, Dr. Lane, together with a handful of future Crossroaders, decided it was time to expand on the growing momentum and they formed the Canadian branch of Operations Crossroads.

Dr. Lane has continued to support Canadian Crossroads International ever since, returning several times to Africa. For new Crossroaders, he offers just one piece of advice. “Your effect on Africa is hard to assess but you are going out to do good and it will show. Go with an open mind.”

Reflecting on his long friendship with Dr. Robinson, he says “it’s impossible to describe the extent of the influence he has had on us as a family.” Dr. Robinson married Dr. Lane who later asked him to be godfather to his son Jim. The two visited one another often, and Dr. Lane believes Dr. Robinson’s commitment to social justice had a lasting influence on his own children – three of his seven children have gone to Africa with Crossroads.

“The kind of experiences we had, it had to affect your life,” says Dr. Lane.

His friend foresaw the long lasting effect Africa would have him.

“One of the original things James Robinson told us before we left was ‘You will find, you will leave Africa, but Africa will never leave you.’ It was very, very true.”


Crossroads International gratefully acknowledges the support of: