The Colossus of Care
Sometimes big is beautiful. When the tsunami devastated South Asian shorelines the day after Christmas, 2004, World Vision's far-flung partnership already had 3,700 staff in five of the most affected countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and Myanmar. Warehouses in each of those countries contained emergency supplies. India's long-standing resistance to foreign aid made little impact, since World Vision is not considered a foreign organization-it has decades of experience in the country.
Additional relief supplies were airlifted in from stocked warehouses in Europe, the Middle East, and North America. A team of 24 trained disaster specialists flew in. Two days after the tsunami, World Vision U.S. purchased full-page ads in major newspapers such as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The ads read, "World Vision is there." It's true. Almost anywhere you care to nameand in places you probably can'tWorld Vision is there.
World Vision has become one of the largest Christian organizations in the world, employing 22,000 people in 100 countries. The group raised $1.5 billion last year, and its budget dwarfs such substantial relief and development groups as CARE, Doctors without Borders, World Relief, and Samaritan's Purse. (World Vision's budget is roughly three times that of CARE, thirty times that of World Relief.)
As World Vision has grownit has tripled its budget in the last eight yearsit has become an increasingly important player in world humanitarian aid. International president Dean Hirsch has addressed the U.N. General Assembly, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. A U.S. ambassador once exclaimed, "You've got more people in Mozambique than the U.S. government has in all of Africa!"
It's huge. It's impressive. It plays on an international field like no other Christian organization. Nevertheless, World Vision usually flies under the radar. The organization takes few controversial positions. Much of its funding comes in small monthly gifts that sponsor 2.2 million individual children. Who would question the value of linking Western donors to poor children in the developing world? But World Vision is too big to ignore, and even its lack of controversy raises questions. Who runs this extensive network, and what do they stand for? Of particular concern to evangelicals: Does World Vision continue to witness to Jesus Christ?
Orthodox and Pentecostal
Full disclosure: Dean Hirsch is an old friend of mine. As a young missionary in Kenya, I was curious about development, the "science" of helping people out of poverty. Hirsch, also young, was working for World Vision on his first foreign assignment. He told me war stories about development projects and took me to visit some. We have continued the conversation over 25 years.
In August 2004, Hirsch made my wife and me his personal guests at World Vision's Triennial Council in Bucharest, Romania, which gathered 350 of its top leaders from around the world. The first morning we went with a World Vision contingent to worship at a Romany (Gypsy) Pentecostal church. Joshua Banda, a bishop in the Zambia Assemblies of God and a World Vision Zambia board member, was the guest preacher. He brought a hot Pentecostal message. After the sermon, the church's pastor stood to tell of a vision that had come to him that week. It involved military helicopters and threatening clouds, with sunshine breaking through a dark sky. He said he had just grasped the meaning of the vision. It had to do with the church's relationship with World Vision (most of whose Romanian staff are Orthodox).