At 22 years old, George Williams created the largest youth charity in the world, the YMCA. His intention was to create a safe haven of Bible study and prayer for young men to escape the streets of impoverished London in the mid-1800s.
Williams was born in England and raised in the church. He lived during a time of great adversity and despair in London. During the Industrial Revolution, many young men in the city were looking for employment, but they were surrounded by poverty. Williams and a group of his friends wanted to provide a “home away from home,” an escape from the toxic environment on the streets. The Bible study and prayer group they started in 1844 became known as the “Young Men’s Christian Association” (YMCA).
About 50 years after the YMCA began, Williams was formally recognized for his good deeds and knighted by Queen Victoria. After Williams died, the Westminster Abbey also dedicated a stained glass window to him and the YMCA.
The impact of the YMCA organization was drastic and so influential that the YMCA expanded to 24 locations with 2,700 participants, all within just a few years. Additionally, the YMCA grew internationally to the U.S. and Canada by 1851. By 1853, the YMCA had expanded to around 4,000 locations and 30,000 participants. The YMCA crossed many denominations, races, and social classes.
In describing the YMCA’s mission, Williams stated, “Our object is the formation of the spiritual condition of the young men engaged in houses of business, by the formation of Bible classes, family and social prayer meetings, mutual improvement societies, or any other spiritual agency.” The organization began with spiritual growth as the focus, but then expanded to include physical and intellectual growth as well. Thus, it evolved to include physical education and sporting events. The YMCA mission now reads, “Our mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”
CENTERED ON CHRIST
Williams was a devoted Christian who intentionally put God first in all that he did. Williams once stated, “What is my duty in business? To be righteous. To do right things between man and man. To buy honestly. Not to deceive or falsely represent or colour.” Williams was committed to following the teachings of Jesus about right living in both his personal and professional life.
As time went on and the YMCA was growing abundantly, Williams prayed, “Oh Lord, you have given me money. Give me a heart to do your will with it. May I use it for you and seek to get wisdom from you to use it aright.” Williams acknowledged that His work was for God, and he publicly displayed his dedication to his faith.