Richard Stearns: ‘Every Day Is a Celebration’

After 20 years of tackling the “hole in our gospel,” World Vision's most recent president is fine retiring from World Vision with some tasks unfinished.
Richard Stearns: ‘Every Day Is a Celebration’
Image: Jon Warren / World Vision

You’ve grown World Vision US from $350 million to $1 billion over your two decades as president and CEO. Today 40,000 international staff serve children in 100 countries, and you just visited Rwanda to launch a five-year plan to make it the first developing nation with universal access to clean water. Why retire now?

I believe that everything has a season. Like Moses with the staff in his hand, I brought what I had to offer World Vision and made it available to the Lord. I’ve had a wonderful season here, but I don’t want to be that guy the board is whispering about: “When’s the old boy going to leave? Isn’t it about time?” I’m 67. It’s time for World Vision to have a fresh vision and a new leader who has new things to offer.

When World Vision first courted you, you said it was looking for a leader who was “part CEO, part Mother Teresa, and part Indiana Jones.” Is that who you’ve become?

I think to some extent [yes]. The Mother Teresa part is you got to have a big heart for the poor and a passion for the least of these. The CEO part is it’s a billion-dollar organization, and it’s more complex today than when I started. And the Indiana Jones part is sometimes you find yourself in places like South Sudan surrounded by AK-47s. You’ve got to have a certain amount of adventuresome-ness in your bones to do that travel and enter into the world’s heartbreak.

What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

AIDS, refugees, and WASH [water, sanitation, and hygiene] have all been major passions of mine. When tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 2000s, my marketing VP said, “We’re a G-rated ministry, and this is an R-rated issue. ...

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