By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Choosing to positively influence the lives of others not only honors God but also brings much personal fulfillment, a leader in a national YMCA project emphasized at a prayer breakfast here last month.
“How do we serve God? We serve other people. We make a difference,” Larry Whittlesey told more than 500 attenders Nov. 9 at the 17th annual Clark County Prayer Breakfast at the Vancouver Hilton.
Service to God and to others has long been a theme of Whittlesey’s own life. A Portland-area resident, the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard veteran graduated locally from seminary and worked as a pastor in California and Oregon He also became a national event director and then church relations director for the men’s ministry Promise Keepers. He then launched the School Partnership Network for the Luis Palau Association to help connect hundreds of local public schools with faith partners. In 2013 he became national director of the U.S. Mission Network for the YMCA, for which he now travels the nation helping to promote a renewed Christian focus for the organization.
To emphasize that effectively serving others requires a deliberate, conscious effort to do so, Whittlesey utilized the word “choices” as an acronym for the process involved. Breaking that word down by letter, he called for the Clark County community to:
•Continue to open eyes, ears and hearts to needs;
•Honestly assess available financial and material resources;
•Offer personal gifts of time and energy;
•show an Inclusive love for all people;
•Courageously face obstacles and opposition;
•Earn respect through demonstrated integrity; and
•Seize the power of collaborative effort.
Whittlesey also cited several scriptures, such as Joshua 24:15 and Micah 6:8. which point to the need to choose a God-honoring path of service to Him and others. He acknowledged that it is not necessarily easy, but that a heart that seeks to reflect God’s attitude is a big motivator.
“If anyone should demonstrate the love of Christ to the diverse world we live in, it should be those of us that call themselves Christian,” he said. “God loves people more than anything. Do we see people the way God sees people?”
As many YMCAs nationally seek to focus again on the organization’s spiritual foundations, there are fresh ideas coming forth on how to better serve their local communities, said Whittlesey.
For example, he said one Minnesota woman’s deep pain over her divorce prompted a “Y’ in her town to start a divorce recovery group. Similarly, other YMCAs are being challenged to set up classes and support groups regarding marriage, parenting, addictions or grief counseling.
On the local level, he said, there are a wide range of social problems in Clark County community organizations could potentially address. These include homelessness, child abuse, loneliness, sex trafficking, violence, materialism, mental health challenges and more.
It’s not hard to discern local needs, Whittlesey said. “I’m convinced that everyone who walked through the doors here this morning carries with them a ‘bag of life,’ ’’ he said, referring to the burdens so many people carry today.
Quite often, cooperative efforts go a long way toward meeting needs, Whittlesey said. He cited, as an example, the close working relationship that has developed between the Clark County YMCA and a local congregation, Rhapsody Church.
“What could we acomplish, if we put aside our differences and actually worked together?” he asked the breakfast crowd.
The event also included special honors for Clark County resident Joanne Kendall, who in 1986 spearheaded, with her husband, the founding of Open House Ministries, a Vancouver outreach to the homeless. She still serves on its board.
The annual breakfast is presented by Serving Our Neighbors, the YMCA, and Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship in America, and supported by numerous businesses and ministries. For more information go to www.clarkcountyprayerbreakfast.org