Twenty years ago, if you worked in another country as a relief worker, you were considered a hero to the people in that country. Today, that Red Cross on your truck could be a target, and no one knows this better than Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. Earlier this year, two World Vision workers were killed while working in Sudan, and for the past several years, the Christian relief organization annually has had at least one staff member murdered while serving abroad.
This was just one of the things I learned in a wide-ranging conversation I had with Rich recently.
World Vision began in 1950 when a bear of a man named Bob Pierce visited orphanages in Korea after that peninsula nation’s civil war. He was so touched by what he saw that he started a small ministry influenced by a prayer he wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Today, World Vision is one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations, operating in more than 100 countries with 44,000 full-time employees whose work touches more than 100 million people. It’s an organization I’ve always respected not only because it focuses on children and families, but because it shares my belief that the gospel involves both show and tell. Or as Rich put it in his first book, The Hole in the Gospel, “God’s love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated.”
In my own organization, well-meaning Christians sometimes refer to our work of providing social services to children and families as “little ‘e’ evangelism.” The implication being that those who preach and proclaim the gospel are doing “big E” or real evangelism. As Rich explained, American Christians need to put their actions where their doctrine is.
“If your gospel doesn’t include tangible expressions of compassion and standing up for justice, then there’s a hole in your gospel.”
As leaders of faith-based organizations, Rich and I are deeply concerned about efforts by the government to force us to hire people who do not share our faith and mission values. Because World Vision successfully fought this battle in the courts, I asked him to comment on the issue, and I think you’ll be surprised at his take on “discrimination.”
In his new book, Unfinished, Rich helps all of us who follow Christ discover ways that we can actively live out the whole gospel. It’s a challenging and inspiring book that I would recommend to any Christian who goes to church, reads the Bible, yet still feels something’s missing. In our conversation, Rich talks about his book, World Vision’s partnership with churches, and why he describes the work of World Vision as “stump pulling.”