Jump directly to the Content


Compassion Chooses Olympic Decathlete Turned Willow Creek Leader as New President

Current president Wess Stafford will retire in September after 20 years leading the international organization.

Compassion International has announced that Jim Mellado will succeed president and CEO Wess Stafford when Stafford retires from his role later this year. Mellado currently serves as president of the Willow Creek Association, a ministry that serves local churches.

Stafford has worked at Compassion for 35 years, including 20 years as president and CEO. Now, he says, he is "certain that Jim [Mellado] will both wisely steward the ministry of Compassion and boldly lead us into new areas of kingdom impact."

According to a press release, Mellado will be only the fifth president in Compassion's 61-year history. The full text of releases by both Compassion and WCA appear below this post.

"As I look back on my life experiences, I can see how God has been leading, stirring and preparing me for this role," said Mellado, a native El Salvadorean.

But Mellado's past experiences wouldn't appear to predict a Compassion presidency: Mellado studied engineering at Southern Methodist University, and then went on to graduate from Harvard Business School after competing in the Seoul Olympics for El Salvador in 1988.

CT previously has reported on Stafford, who also authored a cover story about his life as a missionary kid who was abused at a West Africa boarding school. Stafford also wrote in 2011 about why he is thankful for Colorado Springs, where Compassion's headquarters is located.

CT also has written about Compassion's child sponsorship ministry, including child sponsorship as one of the most popular strategies for helping the poor.

The press release from Compassion International is as follows:

Compassion International's Global Board of Directors announced today the appointment of Santiago (Jim) Mellado as the ministry's new president and CEO. Board members made the unanimous decision after a global search that began late last year. Since 1993, Mellado has served as president of the Willow Creek Association, a not-for-profit ministry dedicated to helping local churches thrive. Mellado will formally take his new position in September.

"My heart is full these days as I anticipate joining Compassion's team and giving myself fully to the cause of releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name," Mellado said, "As I look back on my life experiences, I can see how God has been leading, stirring and preparing me for this role."

During Mellado's tenure leading the WCA, worldwide ministry income grew from $2 million to more than $20 million, membership grew from 860 churches to over 7,000 and annual conference attendance jumped from approximately 10,000 to more than 180,000.

In 1991, Mellado graduated from Harvard Business School. In 1985, he graduated cum laude with a Mechanical Engineering degree from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, TX. Mellado is also a former Olympic decathlete, having competed in the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea for the country of his birth, El Salvador.

"Jim Mellado is the right person to lead this organization into the future," says Board Chair Karen Wesolowski. "His leadership at the Willow Creek Association coupled with his heart for the Church and children in poverty make him the ideal choice for this critical role."

"I've known this remarkable man for 20 years," says Dr. Wess Stafford, who has been with Compassion for 35 years, serving the last 20 as president and CEO. "I'm certain that Jim will both wisely steward the ministry of Compassion and boldly lead us into new areas of kingdom impact."

Jim Mellado becomes only the fifth president in Compassion's 61-year history. He inherits a robust ministry that has seen tremendous growth over the past six decades.

Under Stafford's leadership, the ministry has grown from just over 180,000 children in 22 countries in 1993, to now over 1.4 million children in 26 countries. Annual revenue for the organization has grown from over $55 million when Stafford took office in 1993 to now over $600 million. Stafford is an internationally recognized child advocate and author of two books on child advocacy, promoting his message of God's heart for children around the world. He will have a continuing advocacy role with Compassion's ministry following his retirement from the presidency in September.

Press release from Willow Creek Association:

Jim Mellado Resigns as President of Willow Creek Association to Accept Role of President at Compassion International

Gary Schwammlein, Executive Vice-President of WCA's International Ministries to Become WCA President

South Barrington, Ill—The Board of Willow Creek Association (WCA) announced that Jim Mellado accepted the position of president of Compassion International effective September, 2013 and will resign as president of WCA effective June 17. Gary Schwammlein, executive vice-president of WCA's international ministries will become president in June. Jim fills the CI role vacated by Wess Stafford, who will retire as president in 2013. Under his 20-year leadership, Compassion International grew sevenfold to serve 1.4 million children.

Mellado, the first president of WCA, has served the organization from its beginning in 1992 when it served a few hundred pastors and ministry leaders hungry to learn how to "do church" from Willow Creek Community Church, to a global ministry that reaches 170,000 leaders and 15,000 churches worldwide.

"The decision for Jim to step into the role at Compassion International was directed by God, so I am at total peace with this transition," says Bill Hybels, senior and founding pastor of Willow Creek Association and chairman of the board of WCA. "While we will miss him, his contribution to Compassion's future will be huge. At the same time, I've never been more excited about the potential of WCA to continue its growing influence around the world. None of this is a surprise to God. You watch; He will faithfully guide us into our future."

Mellado will serve with WCA through The Global Leadership Summit 2013 in August that includes faculty members General Colin Powell, Mark Burnett (executive producer of The Bible mini-series, Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Shark Tank) Dr. Brené Brown (best-selling author and research professor), Patrick Lencioni, (president, The Table Group and best-selling author), and more.

Gary Schwammlein brings to his new role vast experience as a corporate executive building and leading companies in many countries as well as 16 years' experience at WCA where he helped expand the organization beyond the borders of the United States to 90 countries.

"I have no doubt WCA's mission is well positioned to move forward with great strength to serve local churches and enable them to reach their full redemptive potential," says Mellado.

The Willow Creek Association, now in its 21st year, exists to help every church thrive.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to correct an error in the Willow Creek Association press release.

Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month


Read These Next