How YMCA founder George Williams changed the world

Date: 31 May 2022

United States pastor and author David Newman shared the history and vision of the YMCA in his recently published book, “The Shining Light: The Man, Mission, and Movement of the YMCA.”


What motivated you to write a book, and what did you hope to accomplish?

I have always been stunned and blown away by the story and global scope of the YMCA. It has impacted so many people for generations all over the world. And yet, I feel slight angst in my soul that it’s almost an unknown story. Many people do not know the YMCA.

For example, we were recently making tacos on the porch, hanging out with young people. They asked me what the YMCA was; mainly they think of the song or that it’s a gym and swim. It’s a painful reality that people don’t know some of the greatest mission work in the world is happening through the YMCA. I wrote the book because I wanted to share and amplify that story.


What first brought you to the YMCA?

I came to the YMCA about 20 years ago when I was in Massachusetts pastoring a church. I would spend the afternoons there playing basketball. Soon I noticed my more effective ministry and people interaction was at the YMCA. I began reading and learned that the vision of the YMCA of “putting Christian principles into practice” isn’t much different from the vision of a pastor.


Your book includes the story of George Williams, who founded the YMCA on 6 June 1844. What do you want people to know about him?

In the mid-1800s, George Williams lived in a time when the world was hurting and had all kinds of questions. He found there was something about this mission of showing God loved people in a tangible way that can bring hope to the world. He was a part of shining out a light that helped changed the world. Likewise, we’re in a time where there are a lot of questions, and the world is hurting. The vision that launched the YMCA through George Williams then is something that can help change the world now.


The world has changed a great deal since George’s time; has the YMCA mission evolved with changing times or remained fundamentally the same?

The YMCA mission adapts and changes to different cultural situations, but its essence and true DNA is still the same. People are searching for hope, and there’s something about them knowing God loves them and we can put Christian principles into practice in tangible ways to help the Spirit, Mind and Body. The world has evolved, but never has there been such a strong moment where the world needs the true mission of the YMCA.


For people who are neither young nor men nor Christian, how do you reach and bring them into the YMCA organisation?

The YMCA is open for all and is where everyone can feel welcome and loved. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a part of it, but we can say these Christian principles are transcendent and can be given to everyone. Everyone needs hope, kindness and forgiveness.

There’s a difference between audience and identity. Who’s our audience? Everyone is. What’s our identity? Our identity is an organization rooted in showing Christian principles. If you do that right, everyone can feel loved.

We should not force the Christian mission. Many YMCAs have a pool, for instance. Some people use it, some don’t. You don’t fill in the pool with dirt because some don’t want it. Similarly, with our Christian roots, we can make people feel loved and let them know it’s part of the YMCA identity, and it’s here if they ever want it.


The YMCA was founded by a young person to serve young people. What do you believe the role of youth is today in both the YMCA and in the world?

I love that one of the main focuses of our YMCA is to empower youth and hand the baton of hope to the next generation. Empower means to infuse different aspects of their lives with greater power than they had before. At the YMCA we show you not only how to play flag football but also how to be empowered with love and hope. Putting Christian principles into practice is a very empowering part of what we do.


You have been to many YMCA events and World Councils; what would you like to see emerge from Aarhus?

The theme is “Ignite,” and when I think of ignite, I think let’s shine with the true mission and purpose of who we are. An ignition happens with just the right amount of air and energy. I’m hoping we go back to our original spark and energy. Coming on the 200th anniversary of the birth of our founder, I’m hoping to see what sparked him igniting our movement again.