April 23, 2010 Volume 24, Number 03
Sixty years of living in tension
By Dave Toycen | Special to ChristianWeek
American missionary Bob Pierce founded World Vision in 1950. Globally, a lot has happened in the six decades since. Our planet's population has more than doubled from 2.5 billion to 6.8 billion. Technological developments have changed just about every aspect of our lives. Globalization, human migration, communications and climate change are just a few of the many factors that have contributed to the dramatic pace of change; a pace unlike that of any previous 60-year period in history.
Of course, World Vision has grown and changed too. Whether in the life of a personor of an organization60 years represents a significant milestone. And milestones offer reasons to celebrate as well as opportunities to look back, to reflect on past experience and to gain new insights. So as we mark this anniversary, I thought I'd indulge in a little bit of personal reflection.
The organization was in a growth phase when I joined World Vision Canada in 1988. We were experiencing excellent response in terms of the number of people who were sponsoring children. But one of our biggest challenges came as we struggled with the notion that God was calling us to engage the broader public in a bigger way. We knew there were people who didn't normally identify with the Christian faith but who understood the commandment to "love your neighbour." We felt called to engage more of them.
But we weren't prepared to minimize our commitment to following Jesus or to being a Christian organization. Our mission statement spells it out: "World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. As followers of Jesus, we are motivated by God's love to serve all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender."
So how did we communicate the invitation broadly? One strategy was to do so without a lot of Christian jargon. And people responded.
We trusted the Holy Spirit to draw those people whom God wanted to have a role in caring for children. God has. And in the process, we've been delighted to realize that the Holy Spirit often seems to touch people's hearts, compelling them to love their neighbour first, and then the vertical relationship of loving God follows.
As I further consider the way we've grown over the past few decades, I'd like to share a few final thoughts that I hope will have broader application, and that I believe have been critical to enabling God to work through World Vision.
As Christian leaders we need to be careful not to think too small. That's not to say that the solution to everything is bigger and larger, but we ought to think bigger in terms of our level of discipleship and our level of commitment to follow Christ.
Leadership is critical, not because leaders have all the answers, but because most people love to follow a really good leader. Our own personal call or passion for God's mission is not enough. Leadership skillsand our willingness to grow in those skillsare vital to helping build the vision and momentum of our organization.
And finally, don't forget to leave room for God to work in your organization. Often, the best things happen when we're not really sure how they're going to happen. It's possible for an organization to become too security-conscious, and the larger your organization becomes the more of a challenge this can be. There's danger in being too risk averse. When the Holy Spirit speaks, we have to be listening and responsive.
Dave Toycen is president and CEO of World Vision Canada. To sponsor a child, visit www.blessachild.ca