By Stephen Leonard
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He may give it to you.” John 15:16
This week is the celebration of Founders’ Day at the Paul Anderson Youth Home. It is such because of Paul Anderson’s Birthday on the 17th of October. He would be 90 years old if he were not in Heaven. We celebrate Founders’ Day on Paul’s Birthday. Paul and Glenda Anderson were co-founders of the Home way back in 1961.
The Home may well have started with a prayer and a lift in Melbourne, Australia in 1956. The prayer was by Paul, all alone in an empty back hallway at the Olympic Weight Lifting forum as the Super Heavy Weight Competition was about to conclude. Paul had failed on two previous tries at lifting the weight that was needed to win the Gold Medal. He had three tries to do it.
In his prayer, he acknowledged his failure in past years to be “all-in” in his commitment to Jesus Christ, either with his weight lifting or with his life. He now placed his life fully in God’s hands and pledged to serve him with all of his being in future days and years; for all of his life, with all of his life. In essence, he asked the Lord to give him a vision of what he wanted him to do and then help him fulfill it. Three things: “Lord, from now on, I am “all-in” to you; I am giving you my life; please give me a vision of what you want me to do, and, finally, help me fulfill it.”
Paul went out for his third try and completed the lift that won the Olympic Gold Medal, even though he had struggled for the previous three weeks with a virus and a high fever, while losing 30 pounds. He got the weight overhead with the help of the Lord! And the notoriety which followed in being an Olympic Gold Medalist was what helped him fulfill the vision God gave him.
That vision came soon from the Lord to Paul as he was serving the US State Department in lifting exhibitions at various venues in the United States. Some of those venues were in Reformatories, where he saw hardened adult criminals mixed with youth who were incarcerated with them. He strongly believed there should be better places where those youth could be encouraged to have a second chance.
Thus the vision was received and established to start the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Georgia, where Paul, in the Providence of God, was sent to perform an exhibition and give his testimony for the opening of a new Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store. The local sheriff heard Paul speak about his vision to start a Home for troubled youth and very soon approached Paul with some young people in hand.
So the Paul Anderson Youth Home began in a local motel, moved to a rented home, and then soon after onto the property, which has been the location of the Home for 60 years. Resources, money, and many prayers were immediately required to make this happen. Thus began Paul’s prodigious schedule of speaking around the country an average of 500 times a year and giving amazing exhibitions of his God-given strength before crowds of all sizes. Even today, folk come up to us and say, “I heard Paul speak and do his amazing feats of strength in my high school gym over fifty years ago. And I have never forgotten it!”
Of course, someone had to run the Home while Paul was away. That huge task rested with Glenda, his wife, which she accomplished with a maturity and skill far beyond her young years of life as God walked by her side and provided her with a staff to help with the load.
Consequently, with a three-pronged prayer, God raised up a ministry that has stood the test of sixty years with well over 1500 alumni who have passed through the Home in those years. “Lord, I am “all in” with you; provide me a vision; help me fulfill it to your glory!” And Paul did with God’s strength until God called him home at the age of 61. The Paul Anderson Youth Home continues to seek to lead young men to Christ to the present day!
“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art—thou my best thought by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.”
(1st verse of “Be Thou My Vision,” from Ancient Irish Poem ca. 8th Century)