My father, World Vision’s founder Bob Pierce, often said, “You cannot feed a starving man’s spirit until you have filled his empty stomach.”
These were not the idealized words of a do-gooder. It was the seasoned conclusion of a man who spent his life taking the gospel to the uttermost parts of the Earth and who had been stopped over and over again in his tracks by the tremendous physical needs of the people he met.
Bob Pierce loved to preach the Word of God. Until the day he died, he was committed to lead men and women to Jesus Christ. But from his first trip to China in 1947 until his last trip to Papua New Guinea in 1978, the suffering and profound human need he saw pushed him beyond words to Godly action. His commitment to “do something” about the inhumane conditions he saw led to the founding of World Vision, and later, Samaritan’s Purse. Ever since, World Vision has been feeding the hungry; providing clean water, healthcare, and education; and advocating in Jesus’ name for those whose voices are silenced by those in power.
But once you have fed and nursed and educated, there comes a time to speak.
I have witnessed our World Vision staff sharing their faith with those we serve many times over the past 14 years. But I have never seen anything quite like the evening I shared with our Malaysian staff and the children of the Blue Sky Choir from our projects in Mongolia. For me, this was World Vision at its purest — at its best.
World Vision at its best
For nearly two weeks I had been touring with the children, who were speaking and singing in churches, malls, and auditoriums throughout Malaysia. As a result, nearly 500 children were sponsored and thousands of people were introduced to World Vision.
The staff thoughtfully made sure the kids had fun as well, taking for them to visit the aquarium oceanic exhibit in Kuala Lumpur. And on the last day of the tour, we all went to one of Penang Island’s beautiful beaches, where many of the Mongolian children put their feet in the ocean for the first time.
In celebration of our last night together, I invited the kids to gather together after dinner to see some pictures of my family and other photos from my trips around the world. About 20 bodies crammed into the room, spilling over the beds and onto the floor.
I spent 30 minutes randomly clicking through pictures of my family and telling stories about our sponsored children in Zambia, Kenya, and India. I finished up with photos from a safari in Kenya. (My audience was especially impressed by the close-ups I had taken of a lioness with her six cubs. You could count their whiskers!)
“Well, that’s it,” I announced, closing down my laptop. It was nearly 10 p.m. and seeing the sleepy faces staring back at me, I expected the room to empty in quick order. But no one moved.
A hush seemed to settle over the room. Suddenly I knew that while I was done, God wasn’t.
Coming alive with prayer
One of the Malaysian staff stood up. “We have been looking forward to this final time together with great joy and expectation,” she said emotionally. “You have been tremendous ambassadors for World Vision, and you have made us all proud of the work we do. There are hundreds of children who will now know the blessing of sponsorship because of you.
“But for us personally, the great joy has been getting to know you as people! You are all so amazing, and you have blessed every one of us with your sweet spirits and love. We want to give that blessing back to you before you leave. So, please gather into small groups with at least one or two adults in each group,” she directed.
Once we were all situated in a group, she said, “Now, I want the staff to pray for each of the children. Feel free to speak words of blessing over their lives and give prophetic words or scriptures of promise as the Lord leads you.”
I glanced around to see if anyone was uncomfortable with this instruction. But there was no hesitation, no need for further clarification, as the Holy Spirit began to work. The room came alive with prayer and praise and gentle weeping as one generation passed on the biblical blessings of God to the next.
I do not know how long we prayed, but no one wanted to rush or miss out on the things God wanted to do. By the time the room grew quiet, I felt completely spent yet gloriously full.
Still, no one moved. God was not done.
There was a stirring in a corner of the room and another staff member hesitantly stood up. Her voice was so soft that we all had to lean forward to hear her.
From rejection to acceptance
“You have all generously shared your stories with us. Tonight I feel that God would have me share my story with you. When I was a baby, my parents abandoned me, much as your parents abandoned you,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes with a shaking hand.
She went on to describe a heartbreaking story of personal rejection and hopelessness. Then, one day in her late teens, someone told her that God loved her enough to send his Son to die for her, and she accepted Jesus as her Savior. Only then did she find the love and acceptance she had always longed for.
The children’s eyes grew wide as they related her story to their own. This was a World Vision staff member speaking. She was educated, beautiful, kind, and doing something important with her life. Yet her story had begun as sadly as theirs.
When she finished there was not a dry eye in the room. One of the other staff whispered to me, “This is amazing! She has never shared her story publicly before. Most of the staff doesn’t know.”
Hers was a story of redemption, of a broken life made whole, of a sinner saved by grace. And I knew God wanted me to do one more thing.
I stood to my feet and looked out over the stricken faces.
“Now you have heard about God’s amazing love and his power to give us a new life through a relationship with his son, Jesus. But I cannot let the evening end without making sure that you know how to become a child of God. It doesn’t happen because you are sponsored through World Vision or live at the Light House (our project name for Mongolian children living on the streets). It doesn’t happen because you go to church or even pray. The Bible tells us that the only way to become a child of God and have all your sins forgiven is to ask Jesus into your heart. You must make that decision. You must pray that prayer. So if you would like to pray for Jesus to come into your heart tonight and know you are a child of God, I want you to see me or one of our staff and ask for prayer. We will agree with you.”
I honestly do not know how many children asked others for prayer after that meeting. But a girl whom I had prayed over earlier ran to me as we left the room and threw her arms around me.
“Yes! Yes, Mama! I — Yes!” she declared with great joy, her words limited, but her meaning clear.
“God sees your heart and hears your prayer!” I agreed, hugging her back.
At World Vision, we often say we are changing the world, one life at a time. I would like to add that we change the world with the power of our testimony, one prayer at a time.
Marilee Pierce Dunker travels the world as an ambassador for World Vision, the organization her father, Bob Pierce, founded in 1950. Like he did, she shares stories, pictures, and personal reflections, bearing witness to the extraordinary ways God is using his people to share the gospel and care for the poor.
Visit World Vision’s Speakers Bureau site to request Marilee or another World Vision speaker to present at your upcoming event.