More than 70 years ago, Rev. Everett Swanson flew from Chicago to South Korea to minister to American troops fighting in the Korean War. During his time there, he 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.

Rev. Everett Swanson and a group of Korean War orphans


Appalled by the great number of small, shivering and starving war orphans on the streets, Rev. Swanson began including his experience in Korea into his revival meetings, and Christians responded by donating funds to purchase rice and fuel for the children.

Soon after, he developed special sponsorship programs for individuals, families or churches to help support orphans for a few dollars a month. The sponsorship money provided Biblical lessons, food, clothing, shelter and medical aid on a regular basis.

To handle the funds and attend to the day-to-day business of ministering to the orphans, Rev. Swanson formed the nonprofit Everett Swanson Evangelistic Association in the basement of his Chicago home.

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 low- and middle-income countries.
South Korean orphanage sign


By September 1961, the Everett Swanson Evangelistic Association supported 108 orphanages and homes in South Korea.

Compassion, Incorporated

Two years later, Rev. Swanson's increasing uneasiness with seeing his name represent a growing ministry and inspired by Jesus' words in Matthew 15:32, "I have compassion on the multitude. I will not send them away hungry," he changed the name of the Everett Swanson Evangelical Association to Compassion, Incorporated. Compassion of Canada, Ltd., is also formed in 1963.

The First "Sponsor Trip"

In November 1965, 113 friends of Compassion travel to South Korea to visit Compassion-assisted orphanages. The trip is so successful six more trips occurred over the years.

Our first official sponsor trip, in which sponsors visit the children they support, occurred in 1986. Today, we conduct numerous sponsor trips each year, visiting every country where we work.
Going Global

On November 15, 1965, Rev. Swanson dies, after 13 years of pioneering ministry. After several months of prayer, the board of Compassion, Inc. selects Rev. Henry L. Harvey as president. During Rev. Harvey's eight-year tenure, we started projects in 17 new countries.

In 1968, we established the Family Helper Plan in Indonesia. By providing children with school tuition, nutritious meals, medical care, Bible lessons and other benefits, our staff workers helped keep impoverished families together.

The Family Helper Plan's success in Indonesia allowed us to expand into three other countries.

A baby girl wearing green, lies on her back as her height is measured with a stadiometer.


Building Minds and Futures

In 1970, we organized Special Care Centers to treat children with disabilities, offering relief through surgery, training, physical therapy, adequate nourishment and special equipment.

We also:

  • launched our ministry in the Dominican Republic as a relief program donating food, medicine and money for children selected by the local churches.
  • designed a school-related sponsorship program to serve children in Haiti, Colombia and Thailand.

The school-related sponsorship program helped children of subsistence farmers or widows, unable to attend school because of fees or because no schools are available, attend school regularly. Students also received medical care, supplementary meals, clothing, and biblical instruction.

Today, we partner with thousands of churches in low- and middle-income countries to provide tutoring and after-school activities. Because they work one-on-one with children, our church partners are keenly aware of the children’s individual needs and are able to help them with what they need most.

In 1972, we begin work in the Philippines and in the United States Native American field.

Two years later, we began our ministry in Honduras and Ecuador, Rev. Harvey retired as president, and we established a program of school projects to assist children who otherwise would not have the chance to receive an education. These projects paid for teachers' salaries, books, supplies, school uniforms, medical care and, in many instances, a hot, nutritious meal each school day.

A Critical Step

In June 1975, Wally Erickson became our third president. During Wally's term as president, the number of sponsored children climbed from 25,000 to more than 180,000.

TEAR Fund, a Christian relief agency in Great Britain, affiliates with us for child sponsorship in 1975, and we began working in Brazil and Bolivia.

We expanded our Family Helper Plan into Guatemala in 1976, and in 1977 began our ministry in El Salvador with the Child Sponsorship Program.

In 1978, Australian sponsors helped create Compassion Limited of Australia, and we established a fund to meet critical needs caused by natural disasters and medical crises that afflict sponsored children and their families.

We began working in Mexico in 1979.

Compassion sponsored children sitting in front of computers at their child development center


A New Home and a New Direction

From our new home in Colorado Springs, Colo., we introduced the Non-Formal Education (NFE) program in 1980.

The NFE program included 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 began addressing more than physical needs. Children learned how to overcome obstacles to their future development. They learned vocational skills, principles of hygiene and nutrition, and leadership skills to 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.

We also launched our Child Sponsorship Program in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and changed our name from Compassion, Inc. to Compassion International, Inc.

Complementary Interventions

In 1983, we establish the MEALS and MEALSPlus programs to provide food and daycare for young children and to and assist our other programs in providing nutrition and health-related activities.

In 1984, we introduce The Compassion Fund to provide extraordinary medical and education assistance to sponsored children and set up the Unsponsored Children's Fund to help provide support to newly registered children waiting for a sponsor.

In 1985, we begin our ministry in Peru, and in 1986, Tear Fund New Zealand becomes a cooperating country partner.

Four children holding Bibles they received from Compassion


In 1990, Bibles for All Kids is organized to provide Bibles for all Compassion-assisted children and to support our goal of giving each child the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. Service d'Entraide et de Liaison (SEL) of France became an affiliated partner country.

In 1991, the Overseas Scholarship Grant Program is organized to financially support older children who have completed their formal education and would like to continue in secondary school, vocational training or university.

In 1992, we began work in the United States with American inner-city and rural youth, as well as Native American children, and in 1993, we simultaneously stop working in Korea after 40 successful years of ministry and began working in Ethiopia.

A New Era of Leadership

Rev. Wally Erickson retired in 1993 after serving as president for 18 years, and Dr. Wess Stafford assumed the presidency. The following year, Miriam Swanson Westerberg, Director Emeritus and Everett Swanson's widow, passed away on February 4.

The Netherlands became a Compassion Partner Country in 1996, and we also launched the inaugural version of that year.

By 1998, over a quarter million children are sponsored through our worldwide ministry, and in 1999, we began child development work in Tanzania. Compassion UK also opened in the United Kingdom in 1999.

Several children leaping into the air


In 2001, we relocated our Global Ministry Center to the north side of Colorado Springs, Italy became a partner country and more than 400,000 children in 21 countries around the globe receive assistance through our Child Sponsorship Program.

50 Years of Releasing Children from Poverty in Jesus' Name

2002 marked 50 years of child development ministry, and we celebrated by expanding our Child Sponsorship Program into Nicaragua, bringing the total number of assisted countries to 22.

Survival of the Smallest

Building on the experience of our Meals and Meals-Plus program in the 1980s as well as our early child development program in the 1990s, we launched the first Compassion Survival interventions in Haiti, Peru, India and Ecuador in 2003. Compassion Survival focuses on home-based programming and includes the mother/parent/caregiver.

The home-based activities of Compassion Survival are an ideal way to accurately assess challenges and potential dangers for moms and babies, while providing customized education, mentoring and learning opportunities that will address their needs.

We also launched YouthPartnersNET in 2003 to take ownership of our work in the U.S. YouthPartnersNET provides services to a national network of ministries meeting leadership and practical needs in inner city and Native American communities.

Rapid Expansion

Compassion Suisse opened in Switzerland in 2003, and we began our Child Sponsorship Program in Bangladesh that December.

South Korea became a partner country in 2004, and we began our Child Sponsorship Program in Burkina Faso.

In 2005, we began our Child Sponsorship Program in Ghana, and by 2006, we assisted more than 800,000 children in 24 countries.

In 2007, we provided a start-up grant to YouthPartnersNET to launch CityConnexx, a grassroots effort to meet the growing need to create direct relationships and collaboration between urban, suburban, rural and Native American communities in the U.S. Compassion Deutschland (Germany) became a partner country.

One AND a Million

In 2009, Compassion Togo became the newest country we work in, and Fellow Kpodo, a quiet 8-year-old boy in Togo, became our 1 millionth sponsored child.

Three Compassion alumni


We began our ministry in Sri Lanka in 2010 with Compassion Survival. Our entry into Sri Lanka marked the first time we began working in a country with a program other than child sponsorship. Child sponsorship began in Sri Lanka two years later.

Child sponsorship does work!

Independent research conducted by Dr. Bruce Wydick, a professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, along with two colleagues, concluded that our Child Sponsorship Program has large and statistically significant impacts on the educational, employment and leadership outcomes of children. The peer-reviewed research was published in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Political Economy—one of the most prestigious economics journals in the world.

Legacy and Vision

After 36 years of service to children in poverty, including two decades as President and CEO, Dr. Wess Stafford welcomed Santiago "Jimmy" Mellado as his successor in 2013. 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
Withdrawal From India

In 2017, after 48 years of serving the children in India, we stopped our work in the country. Nearly 147,000 babies, children and young adults registered in our child development programs are affected.

Looking to the Future

In December 2018, less than 10 years after reaching the milestone of 1 million sponsored children, we registered our 2 millionth child.

"We are deeply thankful for and humbled by this milestone, but with a billion children still living in poverty around the world, we are committed to building capacity to serve far more. With God’s help, we are setting our sights on reaching as many children as possible, and we pray that exponentially more supporters around the globe will join us in this life-transforming work." — Compassion President and CEO, Santiago "Jimmy" Mellado


Remaining Focused on Christ

After more than 70 years serving children in Jesus' name we continue to devote ourselves to helping children of all faiths, cultures, backgrounds and races without imposing any religious belief or conversion requirements upon them.

We continue to offer our programs to the poorest of the poor, to the children in greatest need, without ulterior motive, and we continue to rely upon and trust the ability of our church partners to create environments of unparalleled stability where children experience God’s love and acceptance in tangible ways.

Working in Jesus' name is not a platitude; it’s a strategy we’ve followed since Rev. Swanson first created our ministry to children in 1952.

Read Our Commitments to Sponsors >