World Vision President Richard Stearns and his wife, Renee, talk about their passion for transforming the lives of poor people in poverty-stricken areas around the globe, and encourage listeners to consider how they might help do the same. (Part 1 of 2)
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Group Singing in African Language
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John: The joy of singing praises to God. Those are Christians who are transformed by the power of Christ and you're going to hear stories on today's "Focus on the Family" about how you can be a part of making that kind of miraculous change possible. Our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, those people are not just singing, they're celebrating in Christ and that is wonderful to hear. You know, they finally have those necessities that you and I take for granted, whether it's good food to eat every day or clean drinking water, maybe clothing to wear. You know, we can take that for granted, as well, perhaps a house to live in instead of a mud hut. But that's what life is like in many of these villages around the world.
Jim: And you know what? Also a school where they can become educated and get the skills they need to create a more vibrant economy in their village. Most of all though, they have hope and hope for the future and hope, because they know God loves them because of what Christians have done to care for them.
Jim: And we're gonna hear about that today through the ministry of World Vision, which is providing all of that and so much more to needy children and families around the world.
John: Yeah, and our guests today are Richard and Renée Stearns. Richard is a former business executive. He became president of World Vision USA in 1998. Renée is a former lawyer and they've raised five children together and now have a couple of grandchildren and they have a book called He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World.
Jim: Rich and Renée, first let me welcome you back to "Focus on the Family."
Renée: Thank you.
Richard: Well, thanks, Jim. Great to be here.
Jim: And you know, I'm looking forward to the conversation, as John just mentioned your book, He Walks Among Us. I want to talk about that. It's such a great theme and it's so much a core to the Gospel and what we talk about as Christians. But first, Rich, we've gotta hit this issue. Last March, World Vision, you made some decisions at the board level and it really created quite a dust up. I want to say, you know, as a leader of a Christian organization, the courage it took to reverse that decision, I mean, that's tough and let's talk about that for a minute. What happened in March? What was goin' on? And what prompted the decision and then where are we at today?
Richard: Yeah, sure, Jim. Well, first of all, let me say we made a pretty big mistake or misjudgment in March when we announced that we were changing our employee conduct policy in a way that would've allowed people from churches that sanction same-sex unions to work at World Vision and even be in a same-sex union.
We had looked at this issue for many years and we'd seen how divided churches were over this. It was tearing churches apart. It was even tearing families apart as family members were you know, coming out to their parents, saying that I have a same-sex attraction. And so, we actually were trying to avoid stepping into this divisive issue. And so, we thought, well, why don't we just defer to the churches. We … you know, we're not a church. We're an organization helping the poor around the world. Our employees come from many different expressions of the Christian church in America and around the world.
Richard: And so, we thought by deferring to the churches and opening up our conduct policy a little bit, we could kind of avoid this issue. But it was a mistake and we heard from a lot of our trusted Christian partners and advisors and friends and supporters, who said they were very confused now about where did World Vision stand on this very important issue of marriage and the authority of Scripture. And what we realized is, that we now had a conduct policy that was inconsistent with World Vision's long-held belief about the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. And we made the mistake of sending a very confusing message to our partners and friends.
You know, Jim, Renée and I have five kids and one of the things that I used to say to my teenagers over and over as they were growing up is, kids, don't let other people define your values. Be who you are. Define your values clearly and let people deal with it. And I made the mistake; I didn't listen to my own advice and we, by deferring to a few churches on this important issue, we were letting other people define World Vision. That confused our supporters and so, as you said, within 48 hours our board met and reversed that decision and we took a strong stand on biblical authority and marriage.
Jim: Well, and Rich, I appreciate that and I think people need to hear that, that you feel obviously that it was a mistake. I think of Peter. I mean, when that happened and how quickly you kind of recalculated and came back to the truth of Scripture, I applaud you for that. And I think you know, we in the Christian community, so often we're so hard on missteps. And we've got to relook at the Gospels. And again, Peter's example, I mean, think of denying Christ.
Jim: And what that must have felt like in his heart and we as Christians need to extend that forgiveness when mistakes are made. And so you did the right thing in the end and I just so appreciate that you're carrying on the great tradition of World Vision as a Christ humanitarian organization. So, thank you for that. Thank you for your leadership--
Richard: Yeah, thanks, Jim.
Jim: --and moving ahead. Let's talk about your book, He Walks Among Us. You have and Renée, standing alongside your husband, you two have seen some amazing things around the world as the head of World Vision. Describe for us, because so often it's far from our daily encounter here in the United States, describe for us what poverty looks like around the world.
Richard: Yeah. Well, I think, Jim, most Americans, unless you've been on an international mission trip to a country that's really poor, we have a very vague understanding of poverty. And you and I were talking in your office just a few moments ago, that earlier this summer, Toledo, Ohio had to go without clean water for three or four days. And the National Guard was called in and people were brought in to bring in bottled water and the population was all upset. Well, that's the way almost a billion people on our planet live without access to clean water, not just for three days, but for 365 days a year. So, if you look at poverty in the world, there are 2 billion people that live on less than $2 a day. There's almost a billion that lack clean water. There's almost a billion that go to bed hungry every night.
I've been to communities, Renée and I've been to communities where 1 out of 5 children are dead before their fifth birthday because of malaria, because of water-borne diseases. The water they're drinking is making them sick. They die in childbirth. Our world is a tragic place with a great deal of need and of course, we try to look at the world through God's eyes. God loves these children and He calls us as Christians to not just to preach the Gospel, but to be the Gospel and to demonstrate the love of Christ to the world. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son to die.
Richard: Well, if God loved the world that much, shouldn't we love the world more than we do?
Jim: One of the stats, too that shocked me, because again, it's relative, but a person making $40,000 a year is in the top 1 percent of breadwinners in the world. It may not be true in the United States, but if you're making $40,000 a year, you're in the top 1 percent in the world of income. That is amazing to me, 'cause it doesn't sound that high.
Richard: You just made a lot of your listeners really feel good, because they just discovered that they're wealthy. And they never knew that until today. But here's a statistic that blows my mind even more. Three quarters of the world's population live on less than $10 a day—three quarters of the world's population, less than $10 a day.
Richard: So, we are wealthy in this country and we are blessed.
Jim: Let's bring it home, Rich. There's a story that you share in the book about Tchafule, I think from Mozambique. He was a boy. Tell us about your encounter with him.
Richard: Yeah, a pretty amazing story. A few years ago I traveled to Mozambique to visit some of the World Vision programs.
Jim: That's in Africa.
Richard: In Africa, yeah and kind of the southeastern corner of Africa. As I like to say, after I came on that trip, it's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. And we literally had to fly in, in a bush plane and land in a field to get to this place. It was so remote and the roads didn't go there.
We drove through a very dense jungle and we came into a clearing and all these people gathered around our Land Rover in this clearing. And when I got out of the car, the little children started to cry and run and scream. And they ran into the forest, because they had never seen a white man. It was that remote. They had never … and I'm convinced that people who lived in this remove village, probably didn't even know where the United States of America was or that there even was a country called "the U.S. of A." And so, a very remote place and we got to see this one family in particular that was kind of a representative family. And this little boy, 8-year-old, Tchafule, with two sisters and a mother. His father had died the year earlier and this family was destitute.
No clean water. No food to eat. No school for the children to go to, disease. You could see the children were just dirty and sick and runny noses and you know, their hair was kind of orange colored, which signals malnutrition. And when we heard this little boy's story, he became the man of the house, 8-years-old. He was the only male in the house and every morning he went out with a sharpened stick, hunting for food.
But what he hunted for were field mice and rats. And when he was lucky, he would skewer a few of these mice and rats and he would hold them by the tail and bring them back to his family. And we watched these little children, literally holding mice by the tail over an open fire to cook them.
Richard: And then it's kinda gross, but just eating them by breaking open their bodies and eating them, because it was the only thing they had to eat. It was just so heartbreaking; this little boy was shouldering this responsibility to take care of his family, 'cause his father had died. And no child, no family should live in those conditions.
And I am glad to say that World Vision was opening a project in Mozambique in that area and now a number of years later, there's a clean water source. There's agricultural development and food for the families to eat. There's a school that the children are going to. And conditions have changed dramatically in that village and in that community. But I've had a little picture of Tchafule, carrying his rats back to his home on my office wall for probably 10 years now, to remind me that there are children out there that still need to be helped.
John: And that's a really good reminder for each one of us. This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and today our guests are Richard and Renée Stearns. He's the president of World Vision USA. And I hope you'll use today's program as a reminder to pray for those suffering families that we've been hearing about and to consider what role you might play in helping meet their needs.
We'll recommend you get a CD or a download of the entire conversation with the Stearns for yourself or to pass along to someone else. You can do that when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
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Jim: You know, Jesus talked a lot about taking care of the poor. I mean, that seemed to be one of His core themes and expressed that to the disciples. And when you look at it today, again, when we look at our own little world, it's so hard, because we do have so much here in the United States. Even for those that are in poverty, there seems to be enough. You may not feel it, but there doesn't seem to be that kind of destitute poverty that you're talkin' about with Tchafule's story. How do remember what the Gospel is telling us there in an environment, in Western Civilization, Western culture, where there seems to be so much, how do we rise above the material blessings that we have, to say there are others who need our help?
Renée: I think we have to be careful to be very intentional. Obviously, we live in a culture where we have enough. But there are people around the world who need our help. And you think, I'm just an ordinary person, what'll I do? Well, one of the things that I did to sort of identify with what people around the world are facing is, I had to give a speech on what it meant to go without water. And I thought, you know, the truth is, I really don't know what that's like. So, for a day, I decided to go without water. I turned off the tap, didn't brush my teeth. Didn't wash my hair. Didn't have my morning coffee. And I took a turquoise Rubbermaid bucket. We live about a mile and a half from Lake Washington and walked to Lake Washington, waded into the water, filled up my bucket and carried it that mile and a half back home--
Jim: Just to feel it.
Renée: --just to feel what that was like. Now I have to say that I didn't use that water for the day. This was just an experiment and I remembered all those times during the summer when Lake Washington was closed because of pollution. But I did measure out how much water I had collected and refilled the bucket with clean water, I have to say and used that for the day for the needs of our family.
Renée: How often I would go just automatically to the tap and turn it on and want to wash my hands or fill a glass of water. And I thought, you know, there's not always an opportunity for me to go and I'm not an agronomist. I'm not a hydrologist. I'm not even a medical doctor, all of those kinds of skills that might be available. But every time I brush my teeth, I can be reminded of the people around the world for whom brushing your teeth would be a luxury that they can't even imagine and I can pray for them.
Renée: When I take my morning shower, I can pray for those women around the world for whom a shower will never be more than wading into a muddy pond. When I buy a flat of water at the Costco, I can think about those children who have to walk miles every day to secure water.
Renée: One of the things that I often recommend to young moms is, maybe not to be so dramatic, but just for a day, to put a bucket of clean water at the end of your driveway. And so, every time your family wants to get a drink of water or needs to wash their hands, they have to go outside and walk to that bucket.
Jim: What do you see in kids that do that? That's a very good idea.
Renée: Well, it's a way of expanding our horizons, of identifying with kids around the world, who up until that time, we had no idea had needs like this.
Jim: In fact, in the book, you talk about the seven steps to poverty. What are those and how can we use them to help teach our kids to think of these things?
Richard: Well, Jim, I like to use this little exercise to help Americans and children, as well, understand what poverty feels like. And I ask them to just imagine the following. You know, No. 1, seven steps, step No. 1, imagine that tomorrow you'd wake up and the only clothing you have is the clothing on your back. Your closets are empty. All of your clothes are gone. You will wear the same clothing now every day and to wash it, you have to take it off and wash it and then put it back on.
Richard: So, all of a sudden, you're feeling pretty poor, especially if you're a teenager and what you wear to school is important to you. But then step two is we're gonna take away electricity and all power. So, now none of the light switches, none of the appliances in your house work. Your automobiles are out. Your iPads, iPods, cell phones, none of those things work.
Jim: Night time is dark.
Richard: Night time is dark. When the sun sets, there's nothin' to do but go to sleep. And so, imagine now living in America, but now you've lost your clothing and you've lost your electricity and power, but all of your neighbors still have these things. How do you feel?
No. 3, no clean water. Now there's no more water in your tap. You can't use your washing machine, 'cause you lost electricity, but you can't even wash your clothes in the sink, 'cause you don't have water. And now every day you have to organize the family to walk down to the lake or the pond to get buckets of dirty water that is all you have to drink, all you have to cook with, all you have to bathe with.
Now you're really feeling poor, but I've only taken away three things. The fourth thing, I'm gonna take away your house. No more comfortable home to live in with a TV room and a recliner to sit in or a couch. You're now in a 10 x 10, 10 x 20 mud hut with a dirt floor. Your whole family sleeps in one room on the floor, because there aren't bedrooms and multiple rooms in your home.
Take away No. 5 is, there's no food anymore. You have to forage now for food, because you can't go to the grocery store. There's no food available. You find yourself, actually picking through your neighbor's garbage, you know, to find leftovers that they scraped off their plates and didn't eat, because it's what's keeping you alive.
Richard: And through all of this now, imagine that one or two of your children have gotten very ill. They're malnourished. They've got diseases. They're very sick, but unfortunately, No. 6 takeaway is healthcare. You can't go to a doctor. There's no medicine. There's no pharmacy. And you actually watch your 4-year-old die from diarrhea, something that could've been remedied for about 15 cents of stuff you could buy at a drugstore, but you don't have access to that.
So, you talk about despair. I've just taken six things away from you that have brought you from happiness to total despair and living on the edge. And yet I said I'd take seven things away from you. What is the seventh thing? Well, you've already lost it. It's hope. Now you have no hope for the future, no hope for tomorrow. No hope for a better life tomorrow. You're just trying to survive and that's what poverty feels like.
And you might wonder, imagine again you're in America and you're the only family in this neighborhood that's got this problem. You might wonder, why does no one care? Why is no one seeing us? Why aren't they helping us? Doesn't anybody see our pain? And I think that's the way the poor around the world sometimes feel, as they look at wealthy America or wealthy Europe and say, does no one care about what's happening to us?
Jim: The key thing there, Rich, when you see someone who is hopeless, I mean, that is at the core of the Christian message. I mean, when Jesus came, He's giving us hope, hope for an eternal life, hope for maybe not an easier life, but a life that is rewarding and has purpose and meaning. When you're living in the way that you described, it paints a picture of almost being an animal, doesn't it? That you're just--
Jim: --scratching out, you don't feel human. You don't feel, you know, that anybody cares for you. I mean, those human emotions that make us distinctly human and made in the image of God. In fact, you're talking about that, in 1 John there's a verse there. And again, we're using the Word. We're not talking about social goodness and all that. Here's the Word of God. Don't listen to what Rich and Renée or Jim Daly talk about. What does the Word of God say? It says, "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God love abide in him?" Ooh!
Jim: That tough.
Richard: And then, you know, there's that wonderful passage in Matthew 25, where Jesus is talking about the final judgment, separating the sheep from the goals. And He turns to the people on His right and He said, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty and you gave Me to drink. I was naked and you clothed Me. I was sick and you came to me. I was in prison and you visited Me." And then people say, "Well, when did we do this? We didn't see You sick or naked or thirsty, Lord." And He says, "I tell you the truth, if you have done this to the least of these of my brothers, you have done it to Me."
And so, Jesus holds up this concern for neighbor, this love of neighbor, this love of other human beings as one of the highest values of His message and His expectations of us.
Jim: Hey, Rich, again, how do we in this context … this paradox of God's love and God's truth, so often the accusations will fly. We're just talking about social justice, social issues. And it seems almost in some circles in the Christian community a disparaging term, that if you 're fighting on behalf of the poor and those living in poverty, that you're doing less than what God will want you to do, if you're not fighting the battle of truth.
Jim: It's not an "either or," is it?
Richard: No, it is not either or. It is very much "both and." And Jesus had a vision for a changed world, a world where the poor were cared for and lifted up. where Christians and His followers would stand up for right and justice, you know, in their societies. We would be kind of this healing salve on humanity, that we would go to the broken places. We would go to the hurting places and we would be the healers and the reformers and the redeemers and the rebuilders and the repairers of human life.
And Jesus called this whole idea, "the kingdom of God," the kingdom of God. And we are at our best, we are demonstrating the love of Christ, not just speaking about it or preaching about it, but we're demonstrating it in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our communities. And we are showing people that there's a different way to live. There's a different way to be in relationship with one another. And of course, that compassion, that relationship extends not just to the neighbors on our street, but our neighbors in Mozambique and around the world. And so, the Christian mission is to go out and change the world and to do it for Christ.
Jim: Rich and Renée, we have covered a lot of territory talking about poverty around the world, and the very difficult struggles people are facing with disease and famine and the last of clean water. But I think it'd be good to have you come back next time to share your own story, Rich, your own experience, how you left the business world and that affluent lifestyle that you enjoyed. I'm sure you, too Renée, it's comfortable. And how the Lord took you on a journey to change your heart toward the world and how to impact it for Him.
In fact, I think you used one of your kids to point that out. Let's come back and have you help us better understand to apply this practically. I think when we look at famine around the world and lack of drinking water, it's hard for us to get our hands around that. But for you to give us the handles to say, here are three things that we can do. Let's dig into that a bit and better understand what we can do practically to help people.
Richard: Absolutely, we'd love to do that.
Renée: Be glad to.
John: Well, I appreciate the big vision that you cast for us, Richard and Renée in responding to the needs of suffering people. God has given you such an awesome way to do that and you've encouraged us to serve and reach out and offer healing to those. And it is really important for us to hear your message.
Now you can find more in sights and stories and some wonderful, beautiful photographs in the book that Richard and Renée have written, He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World. It's a devotional book. It'll touch your heart and it'll expand your horizons about how God is transforming lives around the world in the midst of some very difficult circumstances. And it'll also reveal some biblical truths that you can apply to your own life and in your family, as you pursue a closer walk with the Lord.
Now I have a copy of that at home. I've set it on the counter and it gets looked at repeatedly throughout the day. It's really a very well-done book and you can order your copy when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or you can see more at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Now when you get in touch, please consider a financial gift to this family ministry. Focus on the Family is listener supported. We rely on the generosity of friends like you to produce radio programs and distribute resources like the Stearn's book and to develop online websites and video and follow-up services like our counseling team. We do this to help your family thrive, but we can't do it without you. Let me ask you to contribute to our work today. When you do, as our way of saying thank you for your financial support, we'll send a complimentary copy of He Walks Among Us. Our website is www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or you can call us at 800-A-FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back for more faith-building, world-changing encouragement from our guests, Richard and Renée Stearns. That's next time, when we'll help your family thrive.
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