By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
PORTLAND — Terry Johnsson knows that the combination of strong faith and the YMCA can work miracles. He knows it because of the miracles in his own life, and he told his story last month at an annual event emphasizing the Christian roots of the “Y.”
Johnsson, executive director of mission intergration for Adventist Health in Portland, and a former presidential honor guard for three U.S. Presidents, was featured speaker at the 12th annual Christian Mission Advancement Celebration and Impact Event sponsored by the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette. The dinner event was held at the Red Lion Hotel on the River at Jantzen Beach.
Johnsson grew up in Portland and returned to the Rose City last year. As a boy he faced severe challenges due to an extreme case of dyslexia — to the point that some labeled him retarded.
“(But) Terry had a secret weapon, and let me tell you what it was — a praying mother,” he said. He explained that his mother persisted in finding a school that pledged to help her son overcome his reading problem. She found that in Columbia Christian School in Portland, where a firm but caring second-grade teacher who refused to let Johnsson give up patiently worked with the boy.
“At the end of six months there, I was reading for the first time at age 10,” Johnsson recalled. “Don’t tell me that God does not do miracles.”
The miracles continued, with Johnsson eventually earning a doctoral degree at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and later becoming operations manager of the second-largest Christian radio station in the nation before assuming his Portland job last year.
But a special chapter in his life was the years he spent as a presidential honor guard, and he entertained the dinner crowd with tales of how he unexpectedly caught the attention of Ronald Reagan and produced chuckles from the nation’s 40th President.
Johnsson expressed fond memories of his boyhood visits to the YMCA in Portland, “The Y was a safe place for me, from age 5 to 12,” he said. He compared himself as a boy to several youths that he saw in a promotional video shown at the dinner.
“Those are five little Terrys you saw in that video,” he said, explaining that today’s youth still “need a place where they can be nurtured and be safe,” and the Y is such a place.
The local regional YMCA has been a leader in national efforts to reinvigorate the “C” in YMCA by re-emphasizing the agency’s Christian mission, and Johnsson said it is an effort worthy of prayers and support.
“There are many in this room, if we are honest with ourselves, who are the product of someone’s prayer,” he said.
Among other speakers were Roger Button and Curtis Young, Clark County (Wash.) YMCA and east Multnomah County chaplains, respectively, for the Y; Bob Hall, president and CEO of the regional YMCA; Bob Reichen, chaplain and regional vice president for mission advancement; Bruce Patton, chief development officer; and Demaire Day, an employee at the Clark County Y who testified of the agency’s positive impact on her life.
According to Button, the prayerful Christian emphasis is bearing much fruit at his facility in Vancouver, where he says more than 1,000 people have come to faith in Christ.