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Purpose Part 2: Our World Vision

January 24, 2008

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As I mentioned in my last blog, Taya and I recently attended the World Vision Artist Associate retreat in SeattleWA. If you’ve never heard of World Vision, they are one of the leading humanitarian relief and development agencies in the world. We believe they are the best at what they do and we’re grateful that we get to serve the poorest of the poor with them.

You may also recall I recently posted about purpose, why we do what we do (click here to read that blog). I’m reminded of this very thing every time we get to attend the World Vision retreat, where we sit in on sessions that educate us on the needs of the poor around the world, what it looks like for World Vision to address those needs with a Christ centered focus, and how we can better educate our audiences on how their involvement is what gets the job done. We go to retreat to get our heart broken and to be inspired to take up the cause of the poor.

We learned surprising statistics like the fact that churchgoers who attend the approximately 345,000 churches in America only “tithe” an average of 2% of their income, and of that 2%, only 2% goes to foreign missions/aid. 2% of 2% is a pretty small piece of pie. If I remember correctly, that ends up being around 7 cents per person going to the cause of the poor in the poorest countries of the world. We are tempted to think of America as a country abounding in generosity, while in fact we are number 21 on the list of most generous countries per person in the world, coming in only slightly ahead of Greece.

We heard from Rich Stearns, a great man and the president of World Vision, who inspired us with stories of the difference our work is making and the work that lies ahead of us still. He told the story of how following his stirring speech and call to involvement at a recent World Vision fund-raising dinner, his wife made him sponsor two more kids, bringing their total up to 10 sponsored kids in the Stearns home. “Honey, we can’t sponsor a child at every event I do! Remember, I’m no longer making the wages of a CEO of a major corparation,” he protested, but relented after his wife gave him what he referred to as “the look”.

(personal note – In my experience, “the look” from a spouse has gotten more kids sponsored than any of my most impassioned pleas. In fact, “the look” is responsible for the 5 kids we sponsor in the Gray home.)

So out of obligation, he wrote the check that night for two more kids and thought little about it after that, leaving the responsibility of writing the children with his wife. Later that year Rich was touring one of the World Vision projects in Africa and was told that two of the kids he sponsored were in the village he was visiting and would he like to meet them? 

When he arrived, the boy’s grandmother came and, kneeling at his feet, thanked and praised him through her tears for being the answer to her prayers. Through her he learned the story of these kids: that their parents had both died of AIDs with them caring for them up ‘til the end. After that, with no way to earn income, they had to beg for food, often going for a week at a time with nothing to eat. After months of this, their grandmother learned of their situation and spent what little she had on a bus ticket to retrieve the children and bring them home with her to the other side of the country. With barely enough to feed herself let alone these two newly arrived grandchildren, she prayed daily for God’s help and was nearly forced to send the children away when they were sponsored by none other than Rich Stearns and his wife. These were the kids from – you guessed it – the fundraising banquet.

To this righteous old woman, he was not known as the president of one of the largest humanitarian agencies in the world, but known only as God’s answer to her prayers. Her outpouring of gratitude was humbling to him as he remembered his less than enthusiastic attitude the night he wrote the check out of obligation to his wife. He was reminded again that these are no small decisions that we make, and that child sponsorship is more than a financial transaction – for many it is the answer to their most impassioned prayers. Each child has a story.

His message to us was that our faithful giving through sponsorship – no matter how meager it may seem to us – matters and is for many the difference between hope and despair, life and death.

I met two of our own sponsored kids last year during our trip to Africa and think often of them (to read the blog about our trip to Africa, click on 3.13.07 in the journal archives). Through our ministry we’ve seen close to 1500 children sponsored around the world. We have a plaque hanging in our hallway to commemorate this milestone with a picture of myself surrounded by a group of African boys. Currently, there are approximately 3,000,000 children sponsored through World Vision throughout the world. An impressive number, but with 14,000,000 children alone orphaned by the AIDs virus in sub-saharan Africa, there is still much work to be done. And sometimes when I wonder why I spend more than half my life away from home and wade through the rejections that go along with being an artist of my stature, I look at that picture. It makes me grateful for what I do and gives me a reason much larger than a career to continue in “a long obedience in the same direction.”

(if you’d like to learn more about how you can make a difference through child sponsorship, click here

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