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After spending 20 years immersed in the humanitarian world, I’ve learned a lot about international development, geopolitical trends, and disaster mitigation. Some might even say I have a Ph.D.-level understanding. But in the twilight of my World Vision U.S. presidency, those aren’t the learnings I’m compelled to share. What’s on my mind are the timeless lessons of God’s truth, recorded in the Bible and borne out in my experience.

The first and perhaps most important lesson came at the very beginning of my World Vision journey before I even accepted the role of president. God powerfully used the story of Moses to teach me about obedience.

In Exodus 3, God told Moses he was planning a dramatic rescue of his enslaved people to deliver them to the Promised Land. He needed a leader, and he tapped Moses for the job. Moses didn’t want it. Whining through an exchange with God lasting nearly 40 verses over two chapters in Exodus, he protested, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Say yes to God

In 1998, I was every bit as insecure as Moses when the World Vision U.S. board of directors selected me as the next president. I was convinced they had the wrong person. I had never been to Africa. I knew very little about global poverty. I had no theological training, and I’d never done much public speaking. I was running a luxury goods company, of all things — selling expensive baubles to the wealthy.

Like Moses, I argued with God and pleaded with him to send someone else. Facing a job offer that to others might seem exciting and important, I was fearful and reluctant.

For me, the key moment in Moses’ story comes in Exodus 4, when God asks Moses, “What is that in your hand?” Moses had his wooden shepherd’s staff in his hand. God told him to throw it down, and as we know, God then performed a miracle by turning the staff into a serpent. Essentially God was saying, “Moses, I’ve got this. I am the God of miracles. You don’t need to worry about how this will turn out. I can use even a lifeless stick of wood to accomplish my will. I’m only asking for your obedience.”

God was saying the same thing to me in 1998. “Look, Rich, I’ve got this. I know what’s on your résumé. I am well aware of your shortcomings. I need your obedience.”

Like Moses, I finally said yes to God, trusting he would use what I had in the same way as he used Moses’ simple staff to part the Red Sea and perform miracles. The same way Jesus took a few loaves and fish — the simple lunch of a small boy — and fed 5,000 people. God needs far less than we think to change the world, and all of us have something God can use, even if it’s only a stick. He will use what we have, if only we give it.

Now, saying yes to God is only step one. Faith involves long obedience in the same direction. Along the way, it’s easy to doubt God’s promises when we don’t see results. Moses did, questioning God when the going got tough with Pharaoh: “Why did you ever send me?” (Exodus 5:22).

Faith in God’s promises

Over my 20 years at World Vision, I sometimes wavered in my belief in what God was doing. At times I felt like I was riding a roller coaster of success and setbacks, record-breaking revenue and poor financial forecasts, progress against poverty and heartbreaking encounters with hurting children.

I learned a lesson in trust from Abraham, another biblical figure with reason to doubt God. It had to have been difficult for Abraham to believe that at his advanced age, and with a wife who couldn’t conceive, he would be “the father of many nations.” He went years without any sign of these descendants. But as Romans 4:20-21 says, Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he promised.”

I’ve come to see the remarkable truth in this Scripture. While leading a billion-dollar ministry that works in some of the hardest places on the planet, I’ve learned it’s God who delivers the results, not me. You see, what God is accomplishing through us involves us, but it doesn’t depend on us.

‘God calls each of us to join him’

We see this in Scripture time and time again: Moses was involved in freeing God’s people and leading them to the Promised Land. Abraham was involved in God’s promise of a son. Joshua was involved in toppling the walls of Jericho. The Apostle Paul was involved in leading the first-century church. But in every case, the outcome didn’t depend on them. They simply obeyed, and God delivered the outcomes.

That’s what the past two decades, 2 million air miles, hundreds of church visits, and trips to 60-plus countries have been about for me: obeying God and trusting him for the results.

These are lessons for you, too. God calls each of us to join him in changing the world. But maybe you’re feeling underqualified or unready. Maybe you’re wondering “Why me?” and focusing on the pieces that seem to be missing. Just look at what’s in your hand. God never asks for what we do not have — but he cannot use what we will not give.

Most of all, God wants our obedience. Mother Teresa said it best: “God has not called me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.”

Remember that God always makes good on his promises. You may not always see it or feel it. But you can believe it because God is doing it!

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On Oct. 1, 2018, I’ll be handing over the reins as president of World Vision U.S. The best part of traveling the globe these past 20 years has been witnessing positive change. Not just wells drilled, children fed, and loans disbursed, but deep and lasting transformation in people’s hearts when they’re freed from poverty.

Because you see, poverty isn’t only about lacking material things. It’s also mental, spiritual, and cultural. We live in a world that places price tags on people. Wealthy, successful, powerful people are highly valued. Poor, homeless, powerless people are not.

But this is not how God sees people, and Jesus proved it. In his public ministry, he went out of his way to embrace every category of unacceptable, undesirable, and undervalued people in his culture. His inner circle was a motley crew of fishermen, a zealot, a tax collector, and even women (taboo at the time). He touched and healed people with skin diseases, disabilities, and demons. He publically interacted with Samaritans and sinners.

Jesus’ actions challenged the status quo and spoke to the dignity and value of all people. He changed the price tags. He crossed out the paltry figures and replaced them with one word: PRICELESS. He did it for the outcasts of his day, but also for you and me. We’re all so priceless he was willing to die for us.

When people once deemed worthless discover how precious they are to God, everything changes — their relationships, their work, their worldview.

That’s why World Vision provides the foundation of a biblically empowered worldview in our programs in many places. It emphasizes how God created all people in his image and for a worthy purpose. When people understand these fundamental truths, it empowers them to take charge of their lives as never before, exploring all the possibilities God has in store.

I saw this during a recent trip to Rwanda. Robert Niyigena, a father of three, showed me his tailoring business in his home, set on the slope of a verdant valley with breathtaking views of the terraced hillsides. Before taking training last year as part of an economic empowerment project, Robert was barely getting by on small sewing jobs.

The training encouraged him to look for his own solutions, so he and his wife, Esperance, decided to sell their cow and invest in a sewing machine and other tools of the tailoring trade.

“My life drastically changed,” Robert tells me. With his new business, his income has doubled. He built a new house for his family, adding a solar lamp so he could work at night and his children can study after dark.

“I learned that everything comes from God. When you trust in him, you can do anything,” Robert says. “I’m now at another level of faith and believing. A lot has changed in my heart.”

As a champion of people living in poverty, you are part of this transformation. Through child sponsorship, you are investing in the potential of children and their families.

In your generosity, you affirm the true value that the blood of Jesus wrote on their lives: priceless.


Rich Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and the author of The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished. Follow him at twitter.com/richstearns.

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Many people are surprised to learn that I’m a big fan of superheroes. I see all the Marvel movies, and I love to troll through eBay looking for vintage superhero comic books to add to my collection.

This fascination started in my childhood when I was growing up feeling like an underdog. My dad was an alcoholic who went bankrupt twice. The bank foreclosed on our home, evicting us. My parents divorced. During those years, I felt deeply insecure, like I could never overcome the odds against me. To cope, I escaped into superhero comic books.

Superheroes had hot cars, cool suits, and powers that a vulnerable kid could only dream about: great strength, super speed, extrasensory powers, X-ray vision. Superheroes fought for underdogs like me, always winning out over the bad guys. The world was a better and safer place when they were around.

It didn’t escape my attention that several of these characters had difficult backgrounds. Spider-Man’s Peter Parker was an orphan and a weakling who was often bullied. As a child, Batman’s Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents’ murder. Steve Rogers, who became Captain America, suffered from childhood polio.

Despite their weakness and hardship, these guys became heroes. They were repurposed to fight evil and injustice. That happens in real life, too. But not by radioactive spider bites, special costumes, or science experiments — by God, the ultimate source of power in the universe.

People who are willing to serve our all-powerful God go through a “holy repurposing” as dramatic as that of the characters in my comic books. The Bible is full of examples: Moses, a condemned Hebrew baby, was repurposed to be the deliverer of Israel. David, a shepherd and the runt of his seven  brothers, was repurposed to be a king.

Peter was a fisherman repurposed to be a fisher of men. Mary, a poor Jewish teenager, was repurposed as the mother of the Messiah. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, was repurposed as Paul, the proclaimer of the Good News.

God wants to repurpose every single person who has chosen to follow him. He repurposed me. He looked at my tough background and saw tools he could use.

That comic-book-loving kid from a broken home eventually became, as president of World Vision U.S., a champion for vulnerable children everywhere.

Sadly, there are many children in the world today who need someone to fight against the forces that imperil them: poverty, violence, exploitation, and discrimination.

They need someone to stand up for them so they can have a safe and happy childhood like our own children do.

This isn’t the work of Superman or Wonder Woman. It’s my job and your job. We’re the superheroes God wants to repurpose. If we’ve said “yes” to caring for the precious children he loves, he will infuse us with his power and turn our weakness into strength.

We can make the world a better, safer place for all children — no cape or spandex required.

Rich Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and the author of The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished.

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Last year, on a brisk May morning in Seattle, I participated in World Vision’s Global 6K for Water. The sky threatened showers, and mud from a recent rain squished under my tennis shoes. At the race midpoint and finish line, volunteers handed out bottled water.

Water was everywhere! This made it difficult to imagine what it’s like to live where clean water is nowhere.

In America, we’re blessed. We seldom have to think about clean water because it’s readily available.

But I’ve been to many places where people can only dream of such a thing. I’ve met men and women in their 70s who have never taken a bath or shower with clean water. Can you imagine living your whole life without a decent bath?

I’ve also seen the remarkable ways clean water changes a community. It’s a turning point — leading to consistent education for kids, higher incomes for parents, and better nutrition and sanitation for everybody.

A month after the Global 6K, I saw that process underway in Kalawa, Kenya — home to my newest sponsored child, 9-year-old Nicholus. At the Global 6K, I made the same decision as thousands of other participants to sponsor the child on our race bibs. Nicholus was on mine.

World Vision has been working in Kalawa for five years, and when we started, only 4 percent of the population had access to clean water and sanitation. Now it’s 44 percent and climbing, as the community expands the yield from aquifers with pipeline extensions and solar power. All this clean water has cut the prevalence of water-related diseases by half.

The effect on healthy Nicholus was clear as he and I played an energetic
game of Frisbee. He’s in school, and he also attends Bible club, devouring Bible verses and singing songs about Jesus. His mother, Jennifer, told me, “He doesn’t let us eat before we pray.”

Which brings me to another benefit of clean water I encountered in Kalawa: a rise in baptisms. You see, local churches previously held baptisms in the crocodile-infested river. Not surprisingly, pastors and new believers alike were reluctant to risk too much time there. But clean water piped into churches has removed that obstacle.

And people are making the connection. “The water is here by the mercy of God — the glory goes to God,” says Pastor Elizabeth Kyeva. “This has transformed the community.”

The dream of clean water is coming true for residents of Kalawa. And this year, I have my own dream.

World Vision has a bold plan to provide clean water to everyone, everywhere we work by 2030. We’re close to realizing that goal in Rwanda. My dream is to finish the job and provide clean water to all people in our project areas in Rwanda in five years.

I’m inspired by the change clean water has brought to Kalawa. It promises a life for Nicholus much like the one my own children enjoyed, marked by the absence of thirst and a relationship with Jesus, the Source of living water. I pray for this for all children — in Kenya, Rwanda, and across the globe.


Continue the relationship with the child on your Global 6K for Water bib by becoming his or her sponsor.


World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns is the author of The Hole In Our Gospel and Unfinished. Follow him at twitter.com/richstearns.

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Twenty-four years after the Rwanda genocide, children like Julius — a top student in his school — continue to die from poverty and lack of clean water.

As Rich Stearns wraps up his tenure as World Vision U.S. president, he is dedicated to ending this needless loss of life, in Rwanda and around the world.

*     *     *

The room on the second floor of the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda’s capital is quiet, tastefully arranged, and thoroughly gut-wrenching. This is the Children’s Room, featuring photographs of small boys and girls along with their names, single-digit ages, likes and dislikes — and the brutal ways they died during the 1994 genocide.

It’s not easy to face the horrific loss of precious young lives. But I’ve learned it’s necessary. A broken heart motivates change. That’s why Rwanda, through its memorials and a weeklong period of mourning each April, continues to confront its national tragedy in which 800,000 people, young and old, died during 100 days from April through June 24 years ago.

Children still die needlessly in Rwanda, but not from ethnic violence. The killer is more benign but just as effective: poverty. Unsafe water plagues about half the population.

Last November in Gatsibo district, a 17-year-old boy named Julius waded too deep into a dirty pond to fetch water. He got stuck and drowned. Julius was a standout student in his community. The headmaster of his school says, “Our country lost a very strong young man. His performance indicated that he would make a great contribution to Rwanda — his marks were above distinction.”

Julius died before finding out that he scored high enough on his national exam to qualify for a scholarship to a top-notch college.

The pond that snuffed out Julius’ promising future was his family’s only water source. Francisca, Julius’ heartbroken mother, appealed to me, “Please help us get clean water, because we don’t want any more children like Julius to die.”

Twenty-four years after the genocide in Rwanda, children like Julius — a top student in his school — continue to die from poverty and lack of clean water. As Rich Stearns wraps up his tenure as World Vision U.S. president, he is dedicated to ending this needless loss of life in Rwanda and around the world.
Julius’s mother Francisca holds his death certificate. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

That’s what I intend to do. In my last months as World Vision U.S. president, I’m committed to making sure every person in our Rwanda project areas will have access to clean water within five years. This is part of World Vision’s goal to provide clean water for everyone, everywhere we work by 2030 — Rwanda is where we’ll finish the job first.

We’re working with the Rwandan government, which has its own ambitious plan to bring clean water to all citizens by 2024. “Your goals are our goals,” Prime Minister Édouard Ngirente tells me.

This partnership has already brought change in Gicumbi district, where a new 6.8-kilometer pipeline provides clean water for about 8,000 people. There I met 15-year-old Isabelle, a standout student like Julius had been. Her headmaster and teachers rave about her. I watched in amazement as she vigorously scribbled on a chalkboard in her home, solving a complex calculus problem and smiling the entire time.

Twenty-four years after the genocide in Rwanda, children like Julius — a top student in his school — continue to die from poverty and lack of clean water. As Rich Stearns wraps up his tenure as World Vision U.S. president, he is dedicated to ending this needless loss of life in Rwanda and around the world.
Rich Stearns visits Isabelle at her home in Rwanda. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The new water tap is a short walk away, so Isabelle can quickly fill up in the morning before school and spend her time afterward on homework. These days she doesn’t get sick and miss class as she used to from drinking water from a contaminated stream.

Isabelle and Julius: two exceptionally brilliant, beloved youngsters, one alive, one dead — and the difference is clean water.

But Rwanda is hardly the only place where this happens. Every day, more than 800 children under age 5 worldwide die of diarrhea, which as we know is completely preventable with clean water and proper hygiene. These are utterly needless deaths of precious children. We must face this.

And then we must change it. It’s not only the job of large organizations and governments to solve the global water crisis. We need everyone to push in the same direction. Most of us easily spend $50 in one restaurant meal or a trip to the grocery store — that’s how little it takes for World Vision to provide lasting clean water for one person.

Are you willing to change a life? Next month is World Vision’s Global 6K for Water, an event mobilizing water-wealthy people like us to walk or run the typical distance developing-world women and children have to go to get water. Every person who registers saves a child from the desperation of dirty water.

By participating, we protest the needless loss of precious children. With each step, we signal hope to brokenhearted mothers like Francisca.


Read more about World Vision’s Global 6K for Water here.

Read more from the World Vision blog here.

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God’s greatest messenger of our time is silent today.

The Rev. Billy Graham’s death brings a significant sense of loss to people throughout the world. Believers and nonbelievers everywhere knew and admired him as a man of personal, professional, and spiritual integrity.

That integrity enabled him to cross national, racial, and class boundaries. No matter the audience — be they world leaders or everyday people — Billy Graham’s message was the same: the power of Jesus Christ transforms lives. He had the courage of his convictions to bring that message to some of the most influential people of our time.

In addition, 12 U.S. presidents looked to Billy Graham for advice and counsel. My wife Reneé and I had the pleasure of a short meeting with Dr. Graham in 2010. It was one of the most meaningful and profound times of my life.

Billy Graham had the extraordinary ability to take complex problems facing humanity — war, poverty, disease, prejudice — and explain them simply in spiritual terms. And he did it so effortlessly that one would think he had been discussing the issue with God just moments before.

He probably had.

Billy Graham played an important role in the early years of World Vision. Alongside World Vision’s founder Bob Pierce, he visited children’s homes and preached to U.S. troops in Korea and later served as chair of the World Vision board.

In 1950, Billy Graham announced he was canceling an order for a new Chevrolet and instead giving the money to World Vision to help orphaned Korean children. His gift and his endorsement helped the fledgling organization to survive the early years and grow into an agency that today has more than 42,000 staff helping serve victims of poverty and injustice in nearly 100 countries.

Today, Billy Graham has been reunited with his wife, Ruth, who probably introduced him to Jesus Christ face-to-face. And I’m certain the Lord greeted him with the words, “Welcome home.”

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I will admit it wasn’t the most romantic date. But that sunny afternoon in 1974 was definitely memorable for me and my wife Reneé.

I was just 23 and a brand-new Christian. Reneé and I were in Oceanside, California, where she grew up, not far from Camp Pendleton. When we heard that the Rev. Billy Graham had agreed to come to the base to speak to the Marines, we couldn’t pass it up. What I witnessed that day was one of my first glimpses into the supernatural power of God working through a life surrendered to him.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.—Hebrews 13:7

At Camp Pendleton, we sat in an amphitheater among several hundred people. In the row in front of us were three young Marines, no older than 21 or 22. As the event began with music and testimonies, they joked and snickered. It was obvious that they had been commanded to attend. We were irritated by their rudeness.

Then Billy Graham got up to speak. I cannot remember what he said, but during his message, the three young men gradually began to quiet down. One hung his head, another put his head in his hands, and the other sat stoically. Billy gave his predictable invitation at the end, asking all who were willing to come forward and commit their lives to Christ. Many began to work their way down the bleacher steps.

We saw tears running down the face of one of the Marines in front of us. He stood and left his buddies to go forward. Then the second stood and followed, leaving only one still sitting. More tears appeared on this last young man’s face as he wrestled with his decision. Finally, almost at the very end of the call, he too went forward.

Reneé and I were stunned. These three had not come that day thinking their lives would change — no, they came to poke fun and to ridicule. But they had not counted on the power of the gospel message of forgiveness and redemption. In the end, they could not resist it.

Thirty-six years later, Reneé and I had the profound honor to meet with Billy Graham on the occasion of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s 60th anniversary in November 2010. Then 92, he was frail, mostly deaf, and partly blind, and his thundering voice was now weak and raspy, but he remained a giant of the faith — the man who advised then 10 but eventually 12 presidents and countless world leaders, the evangelist who preached the good news of Jesus Christ to more people than anyone in history, the towering figure who dominated the latter half of the 20th century as one of the most admired men in the world.

Billy Graham would say he doesn’t deserve such praise or recognition. Unlike most figures of public adulation, he has always asserted that it was God who was the power behind all of the amazing events and outcomes that characterized his life’s work.

And I agree. It was not he who orchestrated those great events; it was not he who led millions to the cross; it was not the 17-year-old farm boy who himself had come forward to answer a similar call in 1934. It was God working through him. It was God. This same God was the power behind Moses’ staff, David’s sling, and Paul’s pen. He is the same God who has also promised to use all who are willing to lay down their lives for him.

Billy Graham dared to take God up on his amazing offer — and then he spent the next six decades spending himself in service to the One who paid such a high ransom for him. My prayer is that God will find a few more men and women with the same willing heart.

 

This column originally appeared in the spring 2011 issue of World Vision magazine. It has been updated to reflect the Rev. Billy Graham’s death.

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