A letter from Compassion's president, Wess Stafford, written in 2002 to the future Compassion president of 2052
Dear Leadership of Compassion in 2052:
Congratulations on Compassion's Centennial!
This message comes to you not across distance, but across time. This paper last saw the light of day 50 years ago as the Compassion family gathered in Colorado Springs to commemorate our 50th anniversary on September 26, 2002. With hearts full of gratitude to God for His blessing, we are aware of the tremendous debt we owe to those who served so faithfully before us, and we pay tribute to our past. But we are also thinking forward, to you who will lead this ministry into its second century, and feel compelled to include you in this celebration. Who you become will, in large part, be shaped by us and the world we try to influence on your behalf, and we feel heavily our responsibility to you. I pray we serve you well. We do take comfort in the knowledge that while we don't know the Compassion of the future, we do know in Whose hands Compassion's future ultimately rests.
I am Wess Stafford, Compassion's president for the past decade. It has been my joyful privilege to serve our Lord through this ministry for the last 25 years. As you read this, I am very surely gone or, by some miracle, I am the 103-year-old guy in the wheelchair napping in the back row! In an effort to connect the Compassion generations, we are commissioning today two young people to serve as our "Ambassadors to the Future." They are old enough to know us well, yet young enough to very likely live to be among you in 2052. They are Ammanuel Beeftu (age 9 now 59), and Allison Anderson (age 14 now 64). When they present themselves to you, please welcome them as our representatives. Through them we send you our love, and pass the torch of our greatest challenge: to live up to our name, "Compassion."
To pinpoint for you our moment in history as we begin Compassion's next half-century, I ask you to remember a sad date you probably studied about in your history classes - September 11, 2001. Thousands lost their lives that day when terrorists flew hijacked airplanes into the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and into a field in Pennsylvania (falling short, thanks to passengers' heroic actions, of its intended target - the Capitol or the White House). As we place this box into the ground, we have just days ago marked the one-year anniversary of that national tragedy. Especially since these attacks, the world in which we seek to serve is very tense, anxious and dangerous. It is strange to realize that our uncertain future is your "ancient" history. As always, it is the smallest, weakest and most vulnerable among us who suffer the most, so we feel that Compassion's ministry to children is needed in this frightened and anguished world like never before.
The contents of this "time capsule" will surely bring a smile to your faces at the thought of us - so enthusiastic, so committed, so full of vision for what Compassion could someday be. From the perspective of where you now stand, we may seem very small indeed, so seemingly insignificant in a huge and hurting world. In our first 50 years, we have reached out to well over 1 million children. Nearly 500,000 in 22 countries are currently in our program, each lovingly linked to a "Good Samaritan" (a sponsor). While being able to minister to half a million children in poverty warms our hearts, and at times overwhelms us, that number might amuse you. If you continue to grow during the next 50 years as we have in the first 50, by now Compassion could be a powerful international entity ministering to tens of millions of children! But we think of you and smile too, aware that though you may lead a massive and hugely influential force for children, you are today, in 2002, likely either yet unborn or very small children yourselves. Perhaps you are even fidgeting here among us, holding your parents' hands, bored by the grown-up speeches at this ceremony in which we are sending this message into the future.
I have allowed myself to dream that this box may never be opened because the world has already experienced the unspeakable joy of our Lord's return, which has completed our mission! That God has already wiped away all tears, and that there is now no more hunger, sickness, sorrow, or death. That you who have seen Jesus face-to-face will truly know that our work was worth it all. That God has looked upon Compassion's years of ministry and said, "Well done, good and faithful servants!" (Matt. 25:21).
Short of that, it would be my prayer that by 2052 the world will have at least found its heart. That no child is allowed to go to bed hungry, abused, frightened or unloved. That every child is now cherished. That every child knows God loves him and delights in his unique and immeasurable worth. That the bountiful resources God has bestowed on our world are, at last, available to all. That mankind has taken 2 Chronicles 7:14 to heart and has indeed humbled itself, prayed and sought the face of God. And that He, as promised, has heard from heaven, and has forgiven our sins and healed our land. That you are finally living in a world where peace and justice reign.
But as courageously as we have fought to be a beacon of love and hope in the wounded world of our generation, I fear our efforts may pale beside the demands on your faith, courage, and resolve in yours. Our generation's selfish greed has fouled our nest shamefully. And while I hope that you in the future have done better, I'm afraid that the disparity between the rich and the poor has worsened, and that the battle you fight on behalf of the children has surely escalated from public ignorance and apathy to open hostilities between the "haves" and the "have-nots." But - never give up! "Never tire of doing what is right" (2 Thess. 3:13). We encourage you to "not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9). Though we are no longer in the battle with you, we are witnesses from heaven. Be assured we are proud of you, cheering your every victory, and suffering with you in every defeat. "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).
A century is a long time for an organization to remember, much less remain resolute, regarding the cornerstone of its mission. There are so many battles, so many needs, so many changes in leadership. There are altered circumstances, new opportunities, the pressures of growth and managing a dynamic worldwide ministry. Few organizations succeed in navigating the minefield of changing times with their original purpose intact. Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." God never promised to bless organizations, but He does promise to bless people who honor Him. And honoring Him has always been our greatest goal. I sincerely hope that this passionate priority still beats in the hearts of those who are writing your chapter of Compassion's story.
At this 50th anniversary celebration, we have been looking back over five decades. Our founder, Rev. Everett Swanson, was moved with compassion in South Korea at the plight of what were surely in his day the poorest of the poor - the street children orphaned by the Korean Conflict. We still hold, as he did, that the most strategic and loving thing we can do to help children escape the horrible confines of poverty is to bring them to their Heavenly Father. As they experience His amazing love, they discover their great worth and unique giftedness. Through their years in Compassion's program, they grow and have the opportunity to develop into who God intends them to be. They emerge loved, hopeful, and equipped to be a blessing in their world. Rather than becoming part of the problem, they become part of the solution in making the world a better place. But never forget, it all begins by experiencing the transforming love of God. Bringing children to Jesus is not only our mandate, it is our joy. Each child is so precious to his Heavenly Father. We are pleased to have standing in our lobby the bronze artwork we commissioned of "Jesus and the children," which moves us to tears. Does this beautiful expression of the heart of our ministry still stand at the center of Compassion? What a sacred calling is ours - to love the children in Jesus' name!
Evil draws society ever downward as surely as gravity. The erosion of values, morals, and character wears away at the human soul and can deaden our spirit, ideals, and resolve. I pray that among the victims of any future downward spiral are not the vehicles of the local church and sponsorship, upon which our first 50 years have so carefully been built. We have the honor of providing the bridge of love between the sponsor and the child (and his family, church, and community). Our sponsored children are ministered to daily by one of 2,400 churches that Compassion partners with around the world. Some organizations have chosen to bypass ministering through the local church, thinking it is easier to work with other entities. But it is only the Church that is sanctioned by God, and carries His promise of success. Jesus vowed that "the gates of hell will not overcome it" (Matt. 16:18).
The behavior of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) on behalf of another was as close as Christ could come to explaining true compassion and the importance of individual relationships spanning race, language, creed, and geography. Compassion has sought to emulate that example, and has served as a viable, credible connection for building loving relationships of mutual faith, hope, and love. Sponsorship is a powerful two-way process, blessing both sponsor and child, in which the distinctions between giver and receiver are often blurred. We've witnessed its unique power to transform lives - a million times!
Even now, this effective instrument for reaching out to needy children is being threatened. Some organizations are finding shortcuts to sponsorship, sacrificing excellence for expediency. They would forfeit a child's development to "loftier" efforts of attempting to change the circumstances of poverty - forgetting that poverty is about people, and destroys lives one at a time. Changed circumstances can sometimes change people, but we have found that changed people always change their circumstances. Whatever means you are now using to bless the poor, please remember the child, the individual, the soul. If you have been able to preserve the integrity of sponsorship, by now you could be deeply engaged in the development and discipleship of millions of children and their families.
In addition to an all-consuming love for God, deep concern and respect for children, commitment to the local church and the vital importance of sponsorship, there is one pivotal value I trust you have clung to with unwavering devotion - integrity. To lack integrity is to lack everything! If Compassion cannot be trusted, it has nothing to offer. Choose good, honest, competent, godly leaders, and hold your standards high, worthy of our God's blessing.
The heart of my message to you is that, by God's grace, we have remained steadfast, and we are praying that you will, too. I speak for all of us at Compassion today when I say, what matters most is that Compassion does not lose its heart for God or its zeal for bringing children to Jesus. "Doing good" is not good enough. "What good will it be for a man (or a child) if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). God calls us to minister to both body and soul. Some of us have risked our lives in this hostile world to fulfill His calling. If you have wandered from this core of Compassion, I urge you to search your hearts and return this ministry to the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. If you have remained faithful, be assured that we are gratefully rejoicing, and praising Almighty God, Who has blessed and sustained you!
As we seal this time capsule and send it into the future to you, we hope that the fruit of our first half-century has been the eternal transformation of a million precious children. We have worked diligently to provide a solid base from which you will be able to far surpass us in your service to God and His Kingdom. We are praying that while we have laid the firm foundation, by now you have built the whole cathedral, to God's glory!
May God bless you in this Centennial Celebration of Compassion. Please add our voices from the past to yours as you exult in all that God has accomplished through His great ministry. We look forward to another celebration with you someday - when generations of Compassion's family meet in heaven, and rejoice together over the untold millions who are also there because we were faithful in a ministry that is so close to the heart of God! We will see you soon!
Sincerely in Christ,
Wesley K. Stafford, Ph.D.
"The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace."