By Cal Johnson, President & CEO
YMCA of Roanoke Valley
Just how ‘C’ is the YMCA? Good question. Most people know that ‘YMCA” stands for Young Men’s Christian Association, reflecting our earliest days when the name described our membership.
But the Y is no longer just for young people (the fastest growing age group for YMCAs is 50 and up) and we’re no longer male-only (we now have as many female members as male!). But what about the ‘C’ in the YMCA’s name?
In our culture, and indeed throughout the world, there are a lot of understandings and definitions of ‘Christian’. The word is used as an adjective for various behaviors, values, lifestyles, beliefs. In fact, it has probably been used so often as to have lost some of its core meaning, leading to much confusion and many disagreements among the many who call themselves Christian.
For us at the YMCA, the use of the word ‘Christian’ is very intentional and straightforward. It means that we do our best every day to model our operations, our programs, and our relationships on the Christ of scripture, through the core values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility.
It means that---like Christ---we are inclusive, open to every person seeking a better life. It means that---like Christ---we are focused on touching lives with positive influences, to help each person whom we reach become all that God intends him or her to be. It means that we work hard to provide a positive environment and a comprehensive program that recognizes and treats each person as a special child of God.
Indeed, our mission says it best: we put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. And we take the “for all” seriously, welcoming persons from all faiths, backgrounds, and perspectives.
One of the great American evangelists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Dwight Moody, served as a “YMCA missionary” on the Civil War battlefields. During that time, he helped define the Christian underpinnings of the YMCA when he wrote “we are called to be a beacon in this darkness, a light in the world showing people how much God loves them.”
Today, nearly 160 years later, almost 3,000 YMCAs across this country continue to strive to let that light shine. In after-school and tutoring programs, in swim classes and summer camps; through adult and teen health and wellness training, in basketball leagues, in flag football and pre-school soccer; in mentoring at-risk kids and in providing leadership development programs for the next generations, YMCAs continue to live by our Christian principles, making the world a better place one success story at a time.
I am reminded of the wonderful words of Sister Teresa several years ago, when she wrote: “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which his compassion will look upon the world. Yours are the feet with which he will go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he will bless others now.”
In the YMCA movement across the globe, and here locally in the YMCA of Roanoke Valley and in our sister Ys throughout the region, that is how we live out our ‘C’---putting Christian principles into practice, to build a better world.