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Imperfect Instrument

World Vision's founder led a tragic and inspiring life.
2005This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Bob Pierce was an extreme version of post-WWII evangelicalism: entrepreneurial, energetic, independent, and out to evangelize the world. In 1947, the young Youth for Christ evangelist started toward China with only enough money to buy a ticket to Honolulu. That was how things were done in Youth for Christ: God's work overcame all obstacles, and God's workers should "burn out, not rust out." Pierce eventually made it to China, where thousands came to Christ during four months of evangelistic rallies. Hunger was everywhere; communism hammered at the door. A compassionate Pierce was hooked. "My father went to China a young man in search of adventure," his daughter Marilee Pierce Dunker would write. "He came home a man with a mission."

Pierce later wrote haunting words in the flyleaf of his Bible: "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." Dragging a movie camera across Asia—China was soon closed—Pierce showed the resulting pictures to church audiences in North America. He asked for money to help children. He showed their faces and begged Christians to "adopt" one. In 1950 he incorporated this personal crusade as World Vision.

In 1959, journalist Richard Gehman wrote that "[Pierce] cannot conceal his true emotions. He seems to me to be one of the few naturally, uncontrollably honest men I have ever met." When asked by Franklin Graham how to "shake people out of their complacency," Pierce said he had "become a part of the suffering. I literally felt the child's blindness, the mother's grief. … It was all too real to me when I stood before an audience. … It's not something that can be faked." Pastor Richard Halvorsen wrote that Pierce "prayed more earnestly and importunely than anyone ...

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