Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Monday, May 14, 2007

Questions with Richard Stearns, President of World Vision

Sometimes I think I should just link directly to Guy Kawasaki's blog. His blog consistently makes me think. Here's some excerpts from a recent post where he interviews Richard Sterns, the President of World Vision.
Question: You had a nearly seven-figure salary, a corporate Jaguar, moved and took a seventy-five percent cut in pay. Why did you leave the corporate sector in 1998 after twenty-three years to run an international Christian humanitarian organization?

Answer: It wasn't something I planned. At the time, I didn't even want the job. I had been a donor to World Vision for fifteen years when, through a long series of circumstances, I was approached by World Vision, interviewed and offered the position. As a committed Christian, I felt I couldn't say no. When God gives you an opportunity to serve, you obey. I had "talked the talk" of being a Christian for many years, now I needed to "walk the walk." It has turned out to be the greatest privilege of my life to serve the poorest of the poor in Christ's name.

Question: Are you trying to end poverty or evangelize Christianity?

Answer: As a Christian organization, we are motivated by our commitment to Christ to love our neighbors and care for the less fortunate. That's why we do what we do. We don't proselytize. We do not force our religious beliefs on anyone, and we don't discriminate in our delivery of aid in any way. If the people we serve want to know why we are there, we tell them. St. Francis once said: "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." Love put into action is a compelling and attractive worldview.

Question: How can people who do not want to radically change their lives make a difference in the lives of the poor?

Answer: To really change the world, values must change. Consider the civil rights movement. Racial discrimination was once openly accepted in the United States. Today it is unacceptable to our mainstream culture. Very few of us are civil rights activists, but we let our values speak in our work places, our schools and to our elected officials.

Today, we live in a world that tolerates extreme poverty much like racism was tolerated fifty-plus years ago. We can all become people determined to do something to change the world. We can speak up, we can volunteer and we can give. Ending extreme poverty will take money, political and moral will, and a shift in our value system. When enough ordinary people embrace these issues, things will begin to change. Margaret Mead once said: "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Question: In the eyes of God, do you think someone who goes to Africa and helps AIDS victims is better or worse than someone who writes a check every month?

Answer: I can't speak for God, but I believe God is pleased whenever anyone does something out of love to help the downtrodden. Hands, hearts, and checkbooks are all vital. If we all just did a little--our part--we could change the world.

Question: What are biggest hurdles to alleviating poverty?

Answer: One word: apathy. The very frustrating part is that we actually have the knowledge and the ability to end most extreme poverty. The world just doesn't care enough to do it. The U.S. government has spent more than $400 billion on the war in Iraq to date.

Our annual humanitarian assistance budget for the whole world is only about $21 billion. We spend less than a half percent of our federal budget on humanitarian assistance and less than two percent of private charitable giving goes to international causes. People and governments make choices based on their priorities. Poverty is still not a high priority for the world.

Question: What's the biggest obstacle to get rich people to care about poor people?

Answer: The obstacle is that poverty is often not personal. If your next-door neighbor's child was dying and you could save her for $100, you wouldn't think twice. But a child 10,000 miles away whom you have never met, that's just different.

About 29,000 kids die every day of preventable causes--29,000! These kids have names and faces, hopes and dreams. Their parents love them as much as we love our kids. We've got to make poverty personal. Stalin once said: "A million deaths is a statistic, one death is a tragedy." We must try to see the face of the one child.

Question: What advice would you give to someone reading this who is considering leaving a corporate job to "change the world?"

Answer: There's a tendency among those uninformed about global poverty to say, "This ain't rocket science. People are hungry; let’s feed them." What they don’t realize is that the deeper you get into relief and development, you realize it really is rocket science. Problems like poverty, disease and hunger are humanity's most intractable problems. They haven't been solved in 5,000 years, and they won't be solved overnight.

We need to systematically address a wide range of social, environmental, cultural, political, and religious issues. But the good news is that we do have the answers. Now, we just need the resolve to make poverty reduction a priority and persevere until we see results. We can fix this; we really can.
Great stuff. When you get the chance, check out Guy's post and read the reply comments... (Thanks for the great material, Guy...)

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