History of Compassion

The work of Compassion International spans more than 60 years.

The Heart of Compassion Beats Stronger Than Ever
One man’s act of compassion in 1952 has blossomed into a ministry helping more than 1.5 million babies, children and students

Rev. Everett Swanson holding an orphan child.

More than sixty years ago, a preacher from Chicago flew to South Korea to minister to American troops fighting in the Korean War. During his time in Seoul, the Rev. Everett Swanson grew increasingly troubled by the sight of hundreds of war orphans living on the streets, abandoned by society.

One morning he saw city workers scoop up what looked like piles of rags and toss them into the back of a truck. He walked up to the truck for a closer look — and was horrified to see that the "piles" were not rags, but the frozen bodies of orphans who had died overnight in the streets.

Swanson could not turn his back on these unwanted children and vowed to find a way to help them. He raised money to support a Korean orphanage and soon established a unique program that allowed an individual in the Western world to provide Bible-based education, food, clothing, shelter and medical care for a Korean orphan for a few dollars a month.

Embracing children in need remains at the heart of who we are and has been honed over six decades of ministry.

Little Lives, Giant Needs (1952)

Appalled by the great number of small, shivering and starving war orphans he sees on the streets of Seoul, South Korea, the Rev. Everett Swanson begins a ministry to save them.

Rev. Everett Swanson holding a Korean War orphan.

For 40 years we played an important role in Korea, helping the children thrive and grow into the adults who built a prosperous economy. Today, South Korea is a partner country, with sponsors there now helping children in developing nations.

Bonds That Save (1954)

Swanson further develops the support ministry into a sponsorship program in the United States, enabling individuals, groups and churches to provide individual South Korean orphans with food, clothing, educational supplies, medical care and Christian teaching.

Everett and Miriam Swanson holding Korean War orphans.

Swanson's initial efforts have grown into a programmatic holistic child development model that meets the needs of children from birth to young adulthood, enabling them to become fulfilled, Christian adults.

Partners Around the World (1963)

Canada becomes our first partner country. Today, 12 partner countries continue to build a diverse network of caring sponsors around the world.

Face to Face (1965)

The first "sponsor tour" of 113 sponsors and friends visits Compassion-assisted orphanages and projects in South Korea.

Our first official sponsor tour, in which sponsors visit the children they support, occurred in 1986.

Today, we conduct numerous sponsor tours each year, visiting every country where we work. Sponsors frequently say how life-altering their trips are, and how they gain a new appreciation for the work we do together and God’s calling in their lives.

A group of Ugandan children make faces and wave their arms in the air.

Going Global (1968)

We begin growing internationally with the establishment of the Family Helper Plan in Indonesia. By providing children with school tuition, nutritious meals, medical care, Bible lessons and other benefits, our staff workers help keep impoverished families together. The Family Helper Plan's success in Indonesia leads to its implementation in India, Haiti and Singapore.

Although we no longer work in Singapore, our Child Sponsorship Program is in 26 developing nations today.

A smiling child and a serious child hold tightly to their mother.

Building Minds and Futures (1974)

Since education is one of the most important tools a child can have to break the cycle of poverty that often plagues generations of families, we begin setting up school projects to help sponsored children who otherwise couldn’t receive an education.

Three Haitian girls in blue school uniforms sit close together at a wooden desk.

Today, more than 6,500 front-line church partners provide tutoring and after-school activities. Because they work one-on-one with children, they are keenly aware of the children’s individual needs and are able to help them with what they need most.

A Critical Step (1978)

We establish a fund to provide sponsored children, their families and communities with additional relief and development support.

Today, these critical interventions cover a wide range of needs, including medical care, safe water, sanitation improvements, disaster relief, mosquito netting to prevent malaria, HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programs, and care for highly vulnerable children.

A New Home and a New Direction (1980)

From our new home in Colorado Springs, Colo., we introduce the Non-Formal Education (NFE) program. The NFE program includes educational activities and training outside of formal school to help children help themselves.

The Compassion-assisted, church-run child development centers participating in the NFE program begin to address more than physical needs. Children learn how to overcome obstacles to their future development. They learn vocational skills, principles of hygiene and nutrition, and leadership skills so they can improve their lives, and perhaps, even improve their communities.

The NFE program is the foundation for our current Holistic Child Development Model, a comprehensive approach to child development that requires more planning and deeper involvement with families and communities.

A New Era of Leadership (1993)

Rev. Wallace Erickson retires from Compassion after serving as president for 18 years. Dr. Wess Stafford assumes the presidency.

Wess Stafford holding a child

Now, as President Emeritus, Wess remains a passionate, global advocate for children in poverty.

Hope Amid Horror (1994)

During the carnage of the Rwandan genocide that claimed an estimated 1 million people — many of whom are women and children — we distribute relief supplies and offer trauma counseling to sponsored children and their families.

A Path to Higher Education (1996)

We launch our Leadership Development Program to help students receive a university education and Christian leadership training and mentoring.

Survival of the Smallest (2003)

Building on our previous experience with different forms of programming for young children, specifically children under age 5, we launch our first Child Survival Programs in Haiti, Peru, India and Ecuador.

A Tanzanian mother carries her baby on her back.

Our new Child Survival Program focuses on home-based rather than center-based programming and expands to include the mother/parent/caregiver. Specially trained partner-church workers visit the homes of registered families to offer education and practical assistance to the mother, parent or caregiver responsible for the child’s survival.

Wave of Destruction (2004)

A massive tsunami triggered by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, kills more than 220,000 people in 13 countries — including Compassion countries India, Indonesia and Thailand — and leaves millions more homeless.

Compassion donors help families of sponsored children in relief and recovery efforts. We also construct 83 new homes for families who weren’t part of our program in Loh village, on Breuh Island in Indonesia.

Homes constructed by Compassion International in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami which struck Indonesia.

One and a Million (2008)

Fellow Kpodo, a quiet 8-year-old boy in the West African country of Togo, becomes our 1 millionth sponsored child.

Fellow lives with his widowed father, brother and two sisters in a small cement row house. He doesn’t comprehend the significance of 1 million, but he knows the joy of one: his sponsor, South Korean Jang Mi-Ran.

Rising From the Rubble (2010)

A magnitude-7 earthquake destroys most of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving a million homeless.

A Haitian college student sits amid the rubble of her home as she reads the Bible.

Because we already have church partners and child development centers in Haiti, workers are able to spring quickly into action to provide Compassion-assisted children and their families medical attention, food and shelter.

At our child development centers, children and their families also receive access to mobile medical clinics, trauma counseling, safe water and temporary schools.

Legacy and Vision (2013)

It's time to look forward. After 36 years of service to children in poverty, including two decades as President and CEO, Dr. Wess Stafford welcomes Santiago "Jimmy" Mellado as his successor.

Jimmy Mellado and Wess Stafford

Jimmy’s unanimous selection by our Board of Directors is the result of an extensive, worldwide, several-year search process, and of much prayer and fasting by our staff around the world.

Jimmy is only the fifth president in our history.

"I will stand by the decisions Compassion made in the past to ensure that we keep a Christ-centered focus in our DNA." — Jimmy Mellado
Letter Power (2014)

Powerful and lasting relationships form when sponsors and children write letters to each other. Our Sponsor Donor Services representatives process over 1.5 million letters from sponsors.

An Indonesian sponsored child holds up a letter from her sponsor.

Through the exchange of letters, sponsors learn more about the lives, hopes and dreams of the children they are helping. And the children are uplifted by their sponsors’ news, photos, and words of love and encouragement.

What Makes Us Distinct?

A little boy is in a bright blue shirt puffs out his cheeks while pressing his lips together.

Our three Cs distinguish us. Christ Centered. Child Focused. Church Based.