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IN THE SPIRIT: Grand Forks Youth for Christ names new leader

Naomi Dunavan

Sean Patterson stepped into the emcee's shoes when his church, Grace Baptist in Grand Forks, served as a viewing site for the "Stepping Up" simulcast.

Thousands of men across the country watched it the day before the Super Bowl.

The purpose of the men's ministry event was to "try to get as many men as possible to focus on stepping up to be the men the Bible says we should be," Patterson said. "During that event I had to step up. We spent all day developing our own personal creed and I stood in front of all these men asking them to hold me accountable to mine. The first thing for me was that I wanted to be a better spiritual leader in my family."

The second part of Patterson's accountability declaration was "God inspired," he added. "I wanted to be a spiritual leader in the community. When I made that statement, things started changing very rapidly for me."

As of this week, Patterson is a spiritual leader in the Greater Grand Forks community. He is the new executive director of Grand Forks Youth for Christ.

"It really is a work of God in His time and according to His plan," Patterson said. "I'm very excited."

Previous executive director, Cody Weckerly, left in 2012 to attend Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.

"The position has been gapped since July and even in the absence of the director the mission continued," Patterson said. "It did not miss a beat. The volunteers and board are very strong. They continued to minister and offer programs to the kids."

In the last six months, Patterson has been pondering "God's plan for me and my life," he said. "I spent 20 years in the military working with 18-year-olds and older in various stages of their lives, leading and challenging them to aspire to Air Force core values. The core values in the Air Force are integrity and excellence in all you do and service before self. I had been leading and mentoring and calling young men and women to live by those values."

When Patterson heard the GFYFC position was open and saw the job description he thought, "I think I can do this. This would be fulfilling. I think I would be good at this. I talked to my wife and she was supportive."

Keith Becker is a member of the GFYFC board. In Patterson, "We saw an individual who had the calling, the chemistry, the character and the competency to lead GFYFC," Becker said. "He's seasoned coming from 20 years in the Air Force. He wants students to have a foundation in Christ and a compass for their direction in life."

Youth for Christ is a worldwide Christian movement that began in the 1940s. Grand Forks YFC has been helping young people for more than 20 years. Every day volunteers who lead Campus Life clubs, Bible studies, camps, retreats and other projects are helping young people realize their God-given potential.

Their mission is carried out through programs such as Campus Life Ministries. After school hours, staff and adult volunteers provide a positive influence on school campuses. Weekly meetings include games, events and discussions. It's a safe, friendly place for youngsters to think through important issues as they develop quality relationships with peers and caring adults.

Pittsburgh native

Patterson was born and raised in Pittsburgh. "My father was a police officer and my mom a homemaker," he said. "I had a very comfortable life and was raised in a Christian home. I went to church but it wasn't where I am today in my walk with the Lord."

Patterson graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor's degree in American history. As a member of the Air Force's ROTC program, he was commissioned a second lieutenant.

He served at seven stateside Air Force bases, two overseas bases and had many deployments to such places as Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt. His last assignment was Grand Forks Air Force Base where he was the 319th Mission Support Group Deputy Commander. He retired on March 1, 2012.

He and his wife, Judy, have two sons, Hayden, 12, and Cullen, 7, and a daughter, Crosby, 10.

Throughout their time in the Air Force, the Pattersons lived in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, the Washington, D.C., area and Hawaii.

"When we got here to North Dakota and Grand Forks specifically, we felt at home from day one," Patterson said. "The more time we spent exploring what it had to offer, we just fell in love. We decided this would be the best place to call home. We'll stay here and plant some roots. Since I left home (Pittsburgh), I've never stayed in one place more than two years. We all had the desire to become part of a community."

This week, Patterson has been meeting with members of the GFYFC board and volunteers to get a feel for what's going on with the ministry and to set goals for where he'd like it to be five years down the road.

"I was led by God to be a spiritual leader within the community," Patterson said. "What I am being is an obedient servant. Hopefully I can be a good and humble servant and do the things I need to do to lead this organization the best I can."

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