By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — In its more than 160 years worldwide, the Young Men’s Christian Association, better known as the YMCA, has sometimes faced tremendous challenges, but what the local “Y” is doing can only strengthen it to overcome future adversity.
That’s the message that Oregon businessman and former Harlem Globetrotters and University of Oregon basketball star Orlando Williams gave at an annual event focusing on the local Y’s Christ-centered emphasis.
“Why is the Y such a great organization?” said Williams at the eighth annual Christian Principles Celebration and Impact Event sponsored by the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette. “It’s the pioneering and dedicated commitment to the ‘C’, its commitment to Christ.”
The Nov. 12 evening event drew about 200 people to the Multnomah Athletic Club. Williams, who is now president and CEO of Motus Recruiting and Staffing in Lake Oswego, was featured speaker, The annual program raises support for the chaplaincy program headed by Bob Reichen and serving YMCA facilities in the Portland-Vancouver area since 2005.
“We’re more than a health club,” said Reichen in opening comments before Williams’ talk. “Our purpose is to engage the whole person.”
To that end, there is a growing effort nationally to “emphasize the C” — to refocus the YMCA on its Christian foundations, said Reichen.
Mark Burris and Eugene Wallace, members of the local Y’s board, also reiterated that theme in brief comments. “It is about Christian principles, and the witness of His love, poured out through our organization,” Wallace said.
Williams noted that the YMCA internationally is known for many good things, including strengthening families, providing swim lessons to more people than any other agency, for its daycare and after-school programs, and for having invented the game of basketball.
But in this time of challenges to the faith, if the YMCA shifts away from the spiritual truth on which it was founded — the Lordship of Christ — its successes are for naught, said Williams.
“I happen to think that if you’re wrong about Christ, then it doesn’t matter what you are right about,” he said.
Williams said the YMCA has the privilege of “leaving people better than we found them, the same way that Christ creates lasting change in our lives.”
To illustrate his point, he told a compelling story of his near-drowning off a Hawaii beach many years ago, and how he was saved when some people paddling by pulled him out of the water. People today are desperate for an outreach like the Y to provide such a helping hand in many areas of life, Williams said.
“We have the opportunity to extend that hand, and pull them out of their adversity,” he said.
For more on the chaplaincy program locally, contact Reichen at 503-221-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.