The Colossus of Care
That evening, back with the full council, we heard a different sort of message. Metropolitan Daniel of the Orthodox Church in Moldavia and Bukovina came in his imposing black hat and long robe to offer a careful, theologically astute explanation of Christian transformation"theosis" as the Orthodox call it. He commented on World Vision's new statement: "Our vision: for every child, life in all its fullness. Our prayer for every heart: the will to make it so." The metropolitan wanted to underline the theological content of "life in all its fullness." It means Christ in us, he said, no more, no less.
The next morning Stephen Lewis came to speak. A Jewish Canadian, Lewis serves as Kofi Annan's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. He spoke passionately about the AIDS crisis, referring warmly to World Vision's response to children and calling for more. His appeal was strictly secular, and his language the dry irony of the seen-it-all diplomat.
I describe these three speakers because they suggest how World Vision has broadened since founder Bob Pierce began in the 1950s. He started by funding evangelical Protestant missionaries. Soon, funding shifted to emerging Asian churches as they took charge. Korean Presbyterians might run an orphanage, while World Vision provided funds and expertise.
As World Vision grew, working through churches proved impractical. Churches were unsuited to run multi-million-dollar programs, which often overwhelmed their administrative expertise and distracted them from their primary church mission. Working with just one local church brought charges of discrimination and sectarianism from other churches. A church controlling so much cash could be accusedsometimes accuratelyof using the money to induce people to join their church. If funding went through multiple churches, coordinating their efforts was a nightmare.
So World Vision runs its own programs now. "We work with all the churches in the community," Hirsch says. "Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant." In fact World Vision pledges to work with the entire community, including people of other religions. In some places an imam might cooperate.
World Vision also works with governmental and bilateral authorities. Within weeks of the South Asian tsunami they were awarded millions in U.S. government grants. World Vision consults with experts like Stephen Lewis on AIDS. They produce papers aimed at influencing World Bank policy. They are well known in the mainstream, and thoroughly part of it.
The Problem of Careerism
Given their mainstream credibility and ecumenical outlook, some have questioned whether World Vision's passion for Christ has been diluted. These concerns are difficult to address, considering the 22,000 staff and great local variations from country to country (or even within countries).
One Asian church leader told me that in his country, "they are so large and their salaries are so much higher than those of [other] Christian organizations that many of the staffI would say the majorityare there for the money." World Vision pays employees reasonable local salaries, which may mean paying better than the local church. Friction comes when talented people leave other Christian work to join World Vision.
A deeper worry is careerism, the in-it-for-the-money syndrome. Doug McConnell, dean of Fuller's School of Intercultural Studies (formerly the School of World Missions) points out that this problem isn't unique to World Vision. Pastors, for example, have been known to show more interest in the perks of leadership than in the sacrifices. But World Vision's career opportunities, stability, care for its employees, and decent salaries mean that some are attracted to the job more than the mission. World Vision operates in European countries where the church is small, in Islamic countries where a visible church may not exist, and in many places where the church is weak. Since they hire local people, Christian commitment will vary.