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Prayer breakfast speakers' faith, tragedies spur selfless dedication

Photo Joe Lewis/Special To The Town Crier Skip Vaccarello, left, chairman of the Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast Committee, introduced speaker Joe Ehrmann during the March 31 event.

Finding meaning and purpose in life has nothing to do with business success or accumulating real estate. It’s about relationships, unconditional love and reaching beyond self to help the needy.

Two powerful speakers made these points to a crowd of approximately 400 early-morning risers during the March 31 Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Cabaña Hotel in Palo Alto. The annual event, in its 16th year, offers testimonies from those whose altruistic efforts are inspired by their faith.

Joe Ehrmann, a National Football League defensive lineman in the 1970s and 1980s, shared the defining moment of his life – when his brother died of cancer. During a bitterly cold day in Buffalo, N.Y., his brother was laid to rest. After the priest said, “Amen,” people walked away.

“This is it?” Ehrmann said he thought. “Where’s the purpose? What are life’s answers?”

Like Ehrmann, speaker Tim Borland’s spiritual journey began after a tragedy. The daughter of a friend was diagnosed with an incurable, little-known and fatal disease, ataxia telangiectasia (A-T). The rare disease affects only approximately 500 patients nationwide. The cruel irony is that cures for such diseases are elusive because the population involved is not large enough for extensive research.

Seeing the young girl in a wheelchair moved Borland to tears.

“I thought of my daughter,” he said, struggling to keep his emotions in check, “in that wheelchair on the dance floor.”

Ehrmann (now an ordained pastor) and Borland are convinced both epiphanies came from God, along with a calling to “risk it all,” as Borland put it, to aid those who are suffering.

Borland followed the call by founding the organization Race For Good. Maximizing his talent as a long-distance runner, Borland made national headlines in 2007 and 2008, running 63 marathons in 63 consecutive days in 63 different communities to bring awareness to the work of the A-T Children’s Project. His efforts raised more than $750,000.

Ehrmann and his wife, Paula, Baltimore residents, co-founded Building Men and Women for Others to help people reach their potential. They also co-founded The Door, an innercity ministry that addresses poverty, systemic racism and social justice.

Ehrmann’s involvement in sports these days is that of an educator working to change the macho culture. The concept of masculinity, he said, pushes competition, proving oneself in the boardroom and on the field and “separating your head from your heart.” Ehrmann’s epiphany made him realize that all he had achieved was “a lie, and wrong.”

Both Borland and Ehrmann asked themselves similar questions during their transitions from self to selfless.

“Is this life for my comfort or God’s calling?” Borland asked.

Ehrmann asked his audience to picture themselves on their deathbeds, then measure what meaningful impacts they’ve made in their lives. He offered two criteria for their judgment: foster loving relationships and commit to a cause to relieve suffering.

He referred to “Man’s Search for Meaning” (Beacon Press, 2008), authored by concentration camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl.

“The greatest of all human freedoms is the capacity to choose how to respond to any given situation,” Ehrmann quoted. “Life asks you what your meaning is.”

The prayer breakfast also featured brief talks by Don Johnson, Sunnyvale Chief of Public Safety and former Los Altos police chief; and Susan Kammerer-Herman, executive director of Los Altos-based Help One Child. The non-profit, a recipient of the Town Crier’s Holiday Fund, connects foster children with welcoming families. Skip Vaccarello of Los Altos served as master of ceremonies and is chairman of the event’s organizing committee.

The Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast, founded in Los Altos, is a volunteer-driven group seeking to provide inspiration through personal Christian testimonies.

For more information, visit www.svpb.net.

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