Paulu: Revisiting YMCA Christian roots

By Christian News Northwest

A national effort to re-emphasize the Christian mission of the YMCA has its roots in the Portland area, but while that might seem surprising, it really shouldn’t, says Kevin Palau.
Palau, president of the Luis Palau evangelistic team founded by his famed evangelist father, says that even though politically liberal Portland has a reputation nationally for a slant against the gospel, it is actually a great launching pad for effective outreach by Christians who are committed to teamwork.

“It’s not an accident,” Palau said. “It’s because Portland is not the ‘Bible Belt’ that we recognize we need each other.”

Palau was featured speaker Nov. 5 to about 240 people at the 10th annual Christian Mission Advancement Celebration and Impact Event sponsored by the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette and held at Washington Square Embassy Suites.

Years ago, when Bob Hall became president and CEO of the local “Y” organization, he deliberately sought to reinvigorate the “C” — to refocus the agency on its original Christ-centered purposes.
“I was disappointed when I witnessed what was actually taking place in the organization,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to work for a YMCA that was ashamed of the gospel.”

Hall asked committed followers of Christ to serve on the board, and increased staff awareness of the agency’s original aim — to strengthen spirit as well as mind and body. But he didn’t want the Y to become an exclusive Christians-only club, so he also sought to communicate it to the community “in a winsome way.”

A big step was the hiring of a local minister, Bob Reichen, as the YMCA regional chaplain and vice president of mission advancement. Under his leadership, other local chaplains have been added, including Roger Button in Clark County, Wash., and more recently Curtis Young at the agency’s Camp Collins, and Bruce Feathers at the Beaverton Hoop YMCA.

Those local efforts expanded nationally this past year, with the hiring of another local pastor, Larry Whittlesey, as director for the YMCA’’ U.S. Mission Network. Whittlesey criss-crosses America, encouraging local Ys to re-emphasize their Christian mission.

The response has been tremendous, said Whittlesey, who this past year has flown 225,000 miles to dozens of states. “We have momentum I can’t even describe.”

But often, the people he meets are shocked to learn about his home base. “When I tell people that I am from the ‘pagan Northwest,’ they say, ‘What good can come out of of Portland, Oregon?’ ” he quipped.

Palau said similar surprise was shown by leaders of local public schools when the Palau team first ap-proached them with what is now called CityServe. That program sees churches volunteering at local schools, not to proselytize, but simply to be friendly, caring neighbors sharing God’s love in practical ways. A similar effort assists the state’s foster care system.

“There are many more examples of what it looks like for the gospel to be lived out in crazy ‘Portlandia,’ ” said Palau.

Mark Burris, YMCA board chair, commended Hall for pursuing his vision in spite of the obstacles. “Fortunately, our CEO paid more attention to God’s will than to the naysayers,” Burris said.

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