COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – November 4, 2022 – In the fall of 1952, 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. 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. Swanson could not turn his back on these unwanted children and vowed to find a way to help them.
Upon his return home, 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, now known as Compassion International, in the basement of his Chicago home. By September 1961, Compassion supported 108 orphanages and homes in South Korea, and that program grew into Compassion’s child development program through sponsorship.
Today, the organization partners with more than 8,000 local churches in 27 countries, delivering a blend of physical, social, economic, and spiritual care to over two million babies, children, and young adults in poverty. Compassion’s child development program helps children fully mature in every facet of life and transcend what is often a generational legacy of poverty.
Compassion’s name and brand has been prolific in the Christian and gospel music industry, as well as among churches and influencers. The organization has grown into a billion-dollar charity and consistently ranks in the top 10 of Forbes’ America’s Top Charities List, thanks to the faithfulness of many sponsors and donors over the years.
In honor of Compassion’s 70th anniversary, president emeritus, Wess Stafford, and current president and CEO, Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, sat down together to reflect on Compassion’s history and their experiences leading the organization.
Stafford recalled his favorite day at work. He was in Kampala, Uganda at an alumni gathering with a crowd of graduates from Compassion’s program. Two of the graduates had grown up in different parts of the city and later met and married. The couple recently had their first baby and brought the baby up to the platform and asked Stafford to bless the child. Before blessing the child, he asked, “Do we need to find a sponsor for this little one?” The mother, with tears running down her face, responded, “No sir, you don’t. We know how to take care of our little child now. Poverty stopped with us.”
Mellado talked about a memorable visit to a Compassion church in Nicaragua, literally a half a kilometer from where he lived as a child. The child development center was throwing a party, and more than 300 children were singing and dancing and enjoying the festivities within the walls of the compound. Mellado noticed a little boy peeking over the seven-foot wall, and he asked the staff members to invite him and his family inside.
The boy’s mom shared that they knew Compassion was expanding in the area, but they had missed registration and had to wait for another spot to open. So, the little boy kept hanging around the church and waiting, and he had climbed a tree stump to look inside. Mellado was broken by his story, explaining, “That is the picture of the hundreds of millions of children who are not in the party, and Jesus wants them all in the party. So, we have to find a way to reach the most of them that God is calling us to reach.”
The little boy, Carlos, became his seventh sponsored child, and this sponsorship reflects Mellado’s heart for the future of Compassion. He hopes Compassion will be able to reach the most children possible and “fully realize the potential that God has birthed into this ministry.”
Stafford concludes, “As we grow big, my prayer is that we will never lose our heart, that we’ll stay centered on Christ, that we will grow the number of children that we’re able to minister to, and that God will use our credibility and our platform to inspire his church around the world.”
Happy 70th Anniversary, Compassion! Here’s to many more years of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.
To learn more about Compassion’s history, visit compassion.com/history.