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 2 of 2)
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.
End of Recap
John: Well, that's a great perspective, a good daily reminder of the many things that we enjoy that so many around the world don't have. Renée Stearns, the wife of Richard Stearns. He's the president of World Vision USA. She's describing ways she tries to connect to hardships of the poor around the world.
The Stearns are in the studio with us again on today's "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, I think it's pretty easy to go day by day without really recognizing the level of comfort that we enjoy here. And then, when we hear about needs, it feels like I can't do anything. It's hopeless.
Jim: It does feel that way, John. I think we're so overwhelmed, because we have 24/7 news. We know exactly what's goin' on around the world at any given time, very different from pretechnology days, where people would not know those things. But it can feel overwhelming. It doesn't give us the excuse not to respond though, especially those of us who claim the name of Christ and live in a Christian context. So, today's program, we do want to talk about what are those things that we can absorb the reality of the pain of this world and still respond through organizations like World Vision, who are helping so many around the world and our goal here is not to manipulate you or to make you feel guilty about these issues. You know, we're all human beings. Jean and I have to decide how we're gonna support different things and I'm sure you and Dena--
John: It's the same, yeah.
Jim: --and all of you are doin' the same thing. And what we really want to do is to simply make you aware of the problems and then share that message of hope, because God is using Christians like you and me to transform the experience of these families around the world. And many people are coming to faith in Christ because of that.
John: Yeah and there are simple things that you can do. Richard and Renée, will help us understand. They captured a number of wonderful stories in their book, He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World. And last time we started the conversation talking about some of the policy changes at World Vision earlier this year. If you missed that or any of the content, then please get a CD or a download of the program. We have those at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Jim: Rich and Renée, it's great to have you back at Focus on the Family.
Renée: Thank you for inviting us.
Richard: It's great to be here, Jim.
Jim: You know, one thing I find fascinating about how the Lord has brought you along, is you were in corporate America. I mean, you were, I think if I remember, you were the president of Parker Brothers Games. Is that right?
Jim: Board games.
Richard: And Lenox China.
Jim: Like monopoly. And then Lenox China. You're coming from the affluent, upper echelon of the business community, having great success and probably thinking you were gonna keep goin' and do all the things that you thought you would do and you would be rewarded accordingly. What got you out of that fast-paced, high-end business environment into helping the poor? That's a big change.
Richard: Well, it is a big change and you know, in 1998, my phone rang at Lenox. I was the CEO, as you've said and selling luxury goods, fine china and crystal. And I always like to thank the ladies in the audience for their support over those years, as they (Laughter) bought our products. But it was an executive recruiter who basically said, they had been retained by World Vision to find their new president.
And I remember saying to this recruiter, I said, "Gee, I don't know how you're gonna fill that job." I knew about World Vision. Renée and I were donors and supported that ministry. But I said, "You're lookin' for someone who's part CEO, part Mother Teresa and part Indiana Jones." (Laughter) And I said, "You might find two out of three, but you're not gonna find all three." And of course, at the end of that call he said, "Well, what about you?" And my voice went up three octaves and I said, "Me?!" (Laughter) You know, and uh…
Richard: Well, anyways, that's where it began. And I really tried to get off the phone. I realized that, that was a dangerous conversation. I would have to even to consider this job, I would have to leave my corporate career. We had five little kids. We were livin' the life, as you said. We had a wonderful 10-bedroom house on five acres that was built in 1803 and out of field stone in Pennsylvania. I drove a company Jaguar to work. We were living the American dream, there's no question. But the headhunter, the recruiter asked me a question as I was trying to get off the phone. He said, "Let me ask you a different question," 'cause I told him I wasn't interested and I wasn't qualified. He said, "Are you open, Rich, to God's will for your life?" Well, that's a pretty rude question to ask somebody, you know, 'cause--
Jim: It's a good one.
Richard: -- it's a good question to ask, but it's a hard question to answer. And over the next months, I went through a process of prayer and reflection and, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" And on the one hand, I could sell china and crystal to the wealthy. On the other hand, I could help the poorest of the poor in Your name. I wonder what I should do. And ultimately, Renée and I together made the decision that, we're gonna sell our house, quit my job, move our five kids to Seattle, Washington where the sun never shines and we're gonna take this World Vision job. But why? Because that's what Jesus calls us to do. He calls us to lay down our lives at His feet, to do with as He pleases, not to do with as we please.
Richard: And I felt a clear call from God. Renée felt it. And so, we came to World Vision and frankly, I think we feel like we've had experiences that a billionaire couldn't buy in this great opportunity that we've had.
Jim: Well, and another way to say that, if I could say it this way, the Lord has given you those experiences that money can't buy. Do you feel richer as a human being because of that?
Renée: You know, one of the things that people asked me when we first came to World Vision, is oh, how did you ever make that decision? Why did you come to World Vision? And for the same reasons that Rich has just talked about, but the implication was, that what we were leaving behind was somehow better than what lay ahead.
Renée: And the truth is that, that was just the opposite. God has, in ways that we couldn't have even imagined, exposed us and our children to the world that He loves. You know, who knows what would've befallen us in our pretty little house in Pennsylvania, raising children in a very affluent community. Instead of thinking about what it is we gave up, we needed to focus on what it was that God had in mind for us. And our children were wonderfully supportive. One of our kids said, "Well, we just have to fast and pray about this, mommy." And another one said, "Well, you know, if we're not where God wants us to be, we're never gonna be happy."
And so, we were affirmed in our decision by just a real godly attitude from our children and of course, the result has been a remarkable one. They've had opportunities now and again to join us in the field to see the work of World Vision. And I think because of that, they are different people than they would've been.
Jim: Well, I was gonna ask you about that. In fact, recently I was at Christ Church in Oakbrook and met one of your sons, Peter, who works there. That was a shock actually. He came up, introduced himself. I said, "Oh, I'm gonna talk to your mom and dad on the broadcast." It was a lot of fun to see him. But Rich, you shared a story with me a few years ago. I hope you remember this one. (Laughter)
But you talked about your first trip with World Vision. You went to Africa. You saw the head of household with the epidemic of AIDS taking out an entire generation in some of these villages, meaning you have young children and you have grandparents, but you had no parents, because of the disease of AIDS. And you talked about meeting a head of household, I think that had three siblings and they were scratching out an existence with a little vegetable garden and the impact that made on you. But you came home and shared that with your almost 16-year-old and his response shocked you. Talk about that, because I think it's where many of us live with our kids today, trying to connect what's real in the world, versus that materialism that we have in the U.S. What did that conversation look like?
Richard: Yeah, so to set the stage, Jim, I was the brand-new president of World Vision. Still was a deer in the headlights. I had never been to Africa. I'd only been on the job like 30 or 60 days and they sent me kind of on an immersion trip into Africa. And [I] went to Kenya and Uganda in 1998. And in Uganda, it felt like I'd been punched in the stomach because for the first time, I saw what grinding poverty does to children.
Richard: And that part of Uganda was considered ground zero for the AIDS pandemic at the time in Africa, where that was just eviscerating Africa and killing a whole generation of young men and women and leaving children and grandparents behind. And so, they took me to the home of a little boy named Richard, and it was what they called a "child-headed household." Just those words should not be together in the same sentence, a "child-headed household." Children are meant to grow up with parents and a family. And…
And and we met this little boy, Richard. He had two siblings. But three boys, I think Richard was 13 and his brothers were younger. And right outside their mud hut—they lived in a mud hut with a dirt floor—were two big piles of stones that were the graves of their parents. They had buried both of their parents who had both died of HIV and AIDS. And now they were totally alone, Richard, 13, to raise his two brothers.
And it was just so devastating to me, my first trip ever, to see the poorest of the poor and to realize the suffering that was going on and how big the task was that lay ahead of me and World Vision. And I asked Richard, you know, you might ask an eighth grader here in the United States, what do you want to be when you grow up? And I was awkward and I didn't know what to ask him and I asked, "What do you want to be?" And he said, "I want to be a doctor so I can help people who had the disease that killed my parents."
Richard: But he was living along, foraging for food. He was the man of the household, kind of like Tchafule was. he brought me his new Bible. World Vision had given him a Bible to read. And I said, "Well, what do you like to read in the Bible?" And he said, "I love to read the book of John, because it tells us how Jesus loves the children." Well, by that time, I'm bawling like a baby, tears running down my eyes. So, that was the scene. And of course, World Vision was helping in that community and was helping Richard and his brothers and trying to come alongside families like that.
I came back to the U.S. Of course, my kids had just moved in. You know, they'd had to adjust to this whole lifestyle change, so we moved out of this fabulous house in Pennsylvania to a much smaller house in Seattle. And my son's birthday was coming up, Andy. Not Peter, but Andy. He was 16. All he could talk about was the stereo system he wanted to put in his car with the big woofer in the back and (Laughter) you know, and "Dad, it's only about $200 and that's what I want for my birthday." And you know, kind of nagging, you know. And I lost it as a parent. I said, "Andy, do you have any idea what I just saw in Africa, the way children live and you're talking about a car stereo? You know, how shallow can you get? And I'm lecturing him about, you know, his greed or his, you know, uh …
Jim: It sounds a little like "eat your peas, because there's starving children in …"
Richard: Right, that's what I was saying.
Jim: But it's a deep connection for you. How did you remedy that?
Richard: Well, and so, here's what Andy said. First of all, you know, he had told me before … he was 16 when we moved. I mean, so, this was a very hard move for him to leave high school and start all over. And he kinda said, "Dad, Mom, you've ruined my life." It was a little dramatic, but he said to me about this Uganda speech I gave him. He said, "Dad, that was your decision. That's your life, not mine."
Richard: And he was kinda saying, "Don't pull me into this helping the poor thing, because that was your decision. It was not mine. I didn't have a say in that decision." Well, nine months later, we put Andy on a plane to West Africa all by himself, Ghana. The World Vision staff picked him up there and for six weeks he rode around with a World Vision well-drilling crew in Ghana to see poverty firsthand for himself. Today, Andy is 32 and married and one of World Vision's major donors. (Laughter) He works for American Express and he gives very generously to World Vision. He runs marathons to raise money for World Vision. I mean, he came full circle…
Richard: -- over the next few years.
Jim: Hey, Rich, let me ask you that practical point, because so many of us are parents of children who haven't caught that experience. They haven't been able to go and be on the drilling crew. How can we do a better job of connecting them to this topic?
Renée: Well, I think one of the great ways to get our kids involved, you know, not everyone has the opportunity that we've had to actually take our children to see some of the work firsthand. But even before we were involved with World Vision with Rich as the president, we were child sponsors.
Renée: And each of our children had a child that they sponsored with their allowance and earnings, that shared a birthday with them. And they then communicated through letters with each of those five children. I know Pete would always baseball cards to his buddy in Colombia. Sara, our oldest made quilts. It turns out she ended up with three sponsored children and made them elaborate quilts, because she wanted to show them that there was somebody who cared.
Getting to know one on one communicating with these children is a great way for sort of a threshold for children to become involved with the work. And then to do those simple kinds of things that we talked about before, you know, the water bucket or just giving them a little taste of what it might be like for some of the children around the world.
John: Well, it has to gratifying to know that your ministry and so many other Christian organizations are really making a difference in this matter. This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we're talking with the president of World Vision USA, Richard Stearns and his wife, Reneé. And we'll have more information about World Vision at our website and you can also find details about getting the CD or the download of the entire two-day conversation with them when you go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or just call us, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Let me pick up on something you said at the very beginning. When you're working in these countries that don't have a connection with Christianity or they're very hostile toward Christianity, they seem to embrace World Vision. They want you to come. What are you learning through that experience? And how does that express the Gospel in an area of the world where again, Christianity is not viewed very highly? What takes place in a country like that?
Richard: Well, first of all, we were talking about this and how we're welcomed into countries where you would be surprised that a Christian organization would be welcomed. We're in China. We're in Pakistan, Afghanistan, places like that, largely because the governments of those countries realize how much help we can bring. And we go in there with no agenda except to love people in the name of Christ, to love on children and families, to help communities stand on their own two feet and begin to prosper.
And so, they sense that we're there to help, you know. We're there because we care. We talk about provoking the question, you know, that we love people so much, they end up asking the question, "Why would you come here? Why would you help us? Why do you care about us?
Richard: And the answer to that question is, Jesus. We love you because He loved us. So …
Jim: And what kind of impact does that make on them when you say it that way?
Richard: Well, it's profound. There's a story in our book, He Walks Among Us, about our national director in Mauritania, an Islamic republic; his name is Ray Norman. This happened right after 9/11 and Ray and his 10-year-old daughter were actually shot by a Muslim extremist on a day they were going to the beach. It was about two weeks after 9/11 and all kinds of tensions in the country.
Well, long story short, Ray rushed his daughter, you know. He survived the shooting. They were in a car, so he stepped on it. He got them to safety. She had been shot in the chest. He had been shot in the arm. She had to be medivacked to France for surgery. Both of them lived. But imagine now you're a family, a father of two children and your wife. And your daughter's just been shot in a very hostile context.
Three months later, that family prayed about it and said, we're going back into Mauritania to live again with our children to serve the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ. And Ray met with one of the head Imams of Mauritania, one of the top Muslim leaders when he came back. And he said, "Do you think we should stay in your country?"
And the Muslim leader said, "Mr. Norman, the Koran tells us that we are to love the poor, but we do not love our own poor. You at World Vision, you Christians have taught us what it means to love the poor and for that reason, I hope you will stay and continue to teach us what you believe about the poor and about God."
In 1 John, the shortest definition of God in the Bible, John says, "God is love." And I think God calls us to love, not conditionally. He calls us to love Muslims. He calls us to love atheists. He calls us to love the unlovely. Sometimes we're unlovely and hard to love. And I think, you know, I like to ask the question in any situation, what would love do? Not what would anger do? What would hatred do? What would love do in this situation?
You know, it might surprise your listeners to know that as we travel around the world, we have met so many lovely, caring Muslim people, good people—good-hearted people, who are mothers and fathers, just struggling to raise their children, helping out their neighbors in their community, very welcoming to World Vision and to Renée and I. In any religion, there's always a small minority that are violent, that are extremist, that you know, have doctrines that are warped and lead them to do terrible things. But they're not representative of all Muslims around the world and we find that World Vision is welcomed in these societies.
Renée: A good example that we experienced a number of years ago. We were in India and we had an opportunity to meet with a community of Dalits, the lowest of the caste system in Indian society. And so removed are they from the culture that we had to leave our vehicles and hike for some miles to go and visit this little community. And I sat with a group of women and their children and one of the women looked up at me and through the translator she said, "Why are you here? You know, people in other communities nearby won't come to visit us." And then she asked, "What is it that you see when you look at us?" You know, she saw herself through a Hindu culture that said she was not as good as anyone else.
Renée: Worthless. And she couldn't imagine why this American woman and her family and you know, all of these World Vision people had come to visit her. And it took me a minute to figure out what is it that I see? To me, she looked like anyone else we had seen in our travels, you know, hard-working, diligent mom who wanted the best for her family. But I realized that the same question might be asked of us. What is it that God sees when He looks at us?
And the truth is He sees Jesus. He sees us covered with the blood of the Savior. And that's how we should look at others. God died for them, as well. He sent His Son, Jesus to the cross for the sake of this little girl, Nagavini and her mother, living in this Dalit community. He sent Jesus to die for this man who shot Hannah and her father in Mauritania. When we realize Who is it we're representing, we need to see these people through the eyes of Jesus.
Jim: And I've gotta say, when you compare that message to any other religion in the world, there's nothing that comes near it in terms of what God's heart is. And it just seems like that would be the heart of God, that He would care so much for us, all of us, not just the pristine, not just the ones that look right or speak right, but the lowest of the low, that God's concern and care is for all.
And in many ways, that rich man, he dealt with very specifically in the Scripture, to be careful, rich man! Which if you're makin' $40,000 or more, He's kinda talkin' to us, because we're in the top 1 percent of the world's income earners, which seems like a low bar here, but He's talkin' to us. Be careful, rich man, because your attitude is warped by your wealth. And it's a hard thing for us to see and to understand.
Jim: In fact, Oswald Chambers had a great quote that we caught in preparation for the program. He said, "The great hindrance in spiritual life, is that we look for big things to do. But Jesus took a towel and began to wash the disciples' feet." What a concept. You know, and I think so often today we're talking about changing a government or changing something big and you know, when it doesn't swing our way, because it's such a big thing to change, we get discouraged and disappointed.
And Jesus was saying, just pick up the towel and wash their feet. That is what you're trying to do at World Vision. That's an awesome concept, but a hard one for us as human beings to grasp. We want to be known for the big things. To wash somebody's feet? Who wants to do that?
Richard: And you know, Jim, sometimes people read our books and they say, well, you know, we'll never be president of World Vision. We'll never fly to the Congo to help people. You know, what can we do? And the thing I like to remind people of, is that it is the small things. Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." And God magnifies the small things. There was a little boy who gave his lunch and Jesus fed the 5,000. The little boy did a little thing, but Jesus multiplied the impact of that.
And you know, I write in this book about, think of yourself as part of a domino chain reaction that God has arranged. And it seems like every single domino is insignificant, that one domino can't be that significant. We might feel like that one domino. But that whole chain reaction will not happen unless that domino plays its role.
And there's a famous story that I'm sure you've heard about a faithful Sunday school teacher in the 1800's named Ed Kimball. And he never did anything big. He just showed up every week to teach high school boys about Jesus in Sunday school. And he led one of the boys in that class, who was kind of described as unruly and a bit profane, but he led him to Christ through that experience.
That boy turned out to Dwight L. Moody, the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. And there is a direct chain of dominos from Dwight Moody through a couple of other men to Billy Sunday, who became a Christians as a result of their ministry. Billy Sunday was the great evangelist of the first part of the 20th century. That led to the conversion of Mordecai Ham, who gave a crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1934, when 17-year-old Billy Graham came forward and gave his life to Christ.
All because Ed Kimball showed up for Sunday school every Sunday and taught those boys — a chain reaction of dominos that God orchestrated, that started with Ed Kimball and it probably started before that, because Ed Kimball probably had a godly mother or father or grandmother or grandfather who invested in him. He was a Sunday school teacher and he changed the world. But he never made the front page of a newspaper.
So, don't ever look at the small things. The neighbor next door who's a shut-in, who needs someone to read to them and keep them company. The ministry at church that you can volunteer to help disabled kids. Those things will change the world if we all do them.
Jim: Yeah, it'd be good for all of us to remember to do that and you've done such a fantastic job, both you and Renée, in your book, He Walks Among Us: Encounters With Christ in a Broken World. Thank you for being with us and talking about the heart of the Gospel.
Richard: Thank you, Jim.
Renée: Thank you.
Richard: It's been great.
John: And I think you've captured the heart of the Gospel in this beautiful book. It really is encouraging to go through there and see the stories and learn about the way God is using His people to meet the needs of the poor and impoverished.
I hope you were encouraged by this two-day conversation with the Stearns and maybe even challenged a little bit to do something. We all have a role to play in fighting poverty and providing clean water and food and clothing. And we encourage you to think about that and pray about what you can do, what God is calling you to do in the weeks to come.
Now I mentioned the book. It's a wonderful took for your devotional time, for your children to look through. I've had a copy on our family table and the kids have been looking at it and I've been looking at it. It's a great reminder of the lives of so many around the world who are so poor, who have so little, but they do have God's love and His Spirit. And we can help meet some of those practical needs.
The book tackles important spiritual lessons like your true identity in Christ and discovering joy in expected places and being faithful no matter what. It probably most importantly though, will inspire your desire to make a difference in someone else's life. Please get a copy today for your own family or perhaps for a friend. We have details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or we can tell you more when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
Now your prayer support for Focus on the Family, along with your financial giving, allows us to produce radio programs like this one and to distribute resources like the Stearns' book and provide websites and other helps to needy families. Thanks for partnering with us and enabling us to make a difference. Please consider a gift to the ministry today and as our way of saying thank you for your donation to Focus, we'll send a complimentary copy of He Walks Among Us by the Stearns. Again, reach us when you call 800-A-FAMILY or online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, as we have a great conversation with Pastor Brady Boyd about how you can break the busyness habit. That's next time, when we'll have more trusted advice and encouragement to help your family thrive.
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