Ted W. Engstrom, former leader of several major evangelical institutions, including World Vision and Youth for Christ, died last Friday, July 14, in his home in Bradbury, California. Engstrom was 90.

As executive vice president, president, and chief executive officer of World Vision, Engstrom turned the fledgling and debt-ridden orphan agency into a major relief and development organization. Engstrom also served as editorial director and general manager of Zondervan Publishing House, executive director of Youth for Christ International, and interim president of Azusa Pacific University.

"Engstrom was best known for his uncompromising commitment to serving the poor and for helping others grasp God's perfect and immeasurable love," said Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S. "He also upheld a profound sense of stewardship and brought a business and managerial savvy to World Vision during his more than 20-year tenure."

Ted W. Engstrom

Ted W. Engstrom

Two major contributions "Dr. Ted" gave to evangelicalism, said World Vision acting vice president for communication, John McCoy, was his promotion of standard business practices in ministries and churches, which had often neglected balanced budgets as they focused on ministry, and his combination of "social outreach with evangelism."

"His ability to integrate the gospel with everyday life was absolutely inspiring," said Dean R. Hirsch, head of World Vision International. "Dr. Ted made work and faith walk together."

Building evangelicalism's institutions
Born in Cleveland, Engstrom became a Christian during his freshman year at Taylor University. He recalled, "It was 10:30 in the morning, April 1, 1935, when I responded to the claims of Christ. I was released, and I rejoiced in the grace that God gave me that day. I walked out and the sky was never bluer; the flowers were never prettier, and the birds never sang better."

Engstrom's lifetime love of writing—he wrote or co-authored more than 50 books over his lifetime, including the popular 1967 volume Managing Your Time—blossomed during his 11 years at Zondervan, as did his love for evangelism.

Amid his book work (which also included editing The Christian Digest), Engstrom volunteered as director of the Grand Rapids chapter of Youth for Christ. In 1947, Engstrom invited the soon-to-be-famous evangelist Billy Graham to preach in his first city-wide crusade.

After the successful, 10-day crusade, Graham asked Engstrom to "set up my organization for me," according to biographer Bob Owen in  Ted Engstrom: Man with a Vision.

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In 1948, Engstrom served as a delegate to the first World Congress on Evangelism, and three years later he became executive director of Youth for Christ International. He preached, toured, and wrote for the organization's monthly magazine, Campus Life (now a Christianity Today sister publication called Ignite Your Faith). Engstrom also recruited Harold Myra, now Christianity Today International CEO, to Campus Life in 1961.

Seeing red at World Vision
After health problems forced him to change his schedule, Engstrom accepted an offer from World Vision founder Bob Pierce (whom he had met at the World Congress on Evangelism) to be the organization's executive vice president. What he found upon arriving was disturbing. World Vision, notes Owen, "was nearly one half million dollars in debt and more than 120 days behind on some 'current' bills."

"Even if we sold everything we have, we couldn't liquidate our debts," Engstrom told the board. "We are behind on all our payments. We are behind on our child-care pledges to orphanages in Korea and elsewhere. We have not come even near paying for the Tokyo Crusade just a few months ago."

Regular prayer meetings, deep cuts (including canceling the ministry's popular radio program), as well as years of tight budgets helped the company get out of debt. "In the early days of World Vision," Engstrom recalled at an organization gathering in 2001, "we were bankrupt. I would call for a prayer meeting, and we would pray from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. And then in the morning, God provided the exact amount we needed."

After Bob Pierce resigned as president in 1966, the World Vision board offered Engstrom the position. He declined, saying he did not want to be seen as ousting Pierce, who was then having spiritual and emotional problems. When asked again in 1984, Engstrom accepted and served as president for two years.

Engstrom's influence on the evangelical movement has been widespread. "Ted both led and mentored others year after year after year," said Myra. He served as a board member for numerous organizations, including Focus on the Family (where he was featured on a broadcast last month), the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and Taylor University.

Engstrom was named layman of the year by the National Association of Evangelicals in 1970. He also received awards from the Republic of Korea, the International School of Theology, the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, and the National Religious Broadcasters Association.

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Celebrating his 90th birthday at World Vision this year, Engstrom said, "Whenever the Lord calls, I'm ready. I'm not only ready, I'm eager. I'll have all eternity to celebrate God's goodness and grace."

Engstrom, who attended Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena for more than 40 years, is survived by his three children, Gordon, Don, and Jo Ann. His wife, Dorothy, died in 2005. Plans for a memorial service and funeral are pending.

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Christianity Today International executive chairman and CEO Harold Myra on Ted Engstrom:

Ted has had a profound impact on generations of leaders. For instance, in 1961, he sought me out in Pennsylvania to recruit me for what became Campus Life magazine. In 1975, when I joined Christianity Today, he wrote me a letter of wise counsel. When we launched Leadership, he not only gave us good insights but for decades sent substantial critiques of each issue. During these past months before his death we've had lively and fruitful correspondence on leadership issues. Ted both led and mentored others year after year after year.

Related Elsewhere:

World Vision's obituary is available from the organization's website.

Many of Engstrom's books, including Reflections on a Pilgrimage and his new book (with Paul Cedar), Compassionate Leadership, are still in print.