World Vision’s founding idea was a simple and memorable prayer. “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God,” Bob Pierce wrote in his Bible shortly after starting the ministry in 1950. Time and time again, over the past seven decades, God’s broken heart has directed us to the bull’s-eye of the world’s suffering.
As we face our greatest challenge yet in COVID-19, I am hopeful and even inspired because God is at work. He is uniting World Vision and other followers of Jesus Christ in a movement of love and compassion that is cutting through fear and uncertainty.
In many ways, God has been preparing us for this for 70 years.
Born during a crisis — the Korean War — World Vision also responded to earthquakes, cyclones, and civil wars in our early decades, sustained by the Lord’s strength and our supporters’ faithfulness. The crises kept coming: conflict in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, famine in Africa in the 1980s, the Rwandan genocide and storms in Central America in the 1990s, AIDS and the Indian Ocean tsunami in the 2000s, and Ebola and Zika in the 2010s. Witnessing overwhelming suffering and working around the clock strained staff nearly to the breaking point, but the Lord taught us valuable lessons that are paying off now. As the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5:3–4, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
In the largest humanitarian effort in our history, we are leveraging our global reach and relationships like never before.—Edgar Sandoval Sr., World Vision U.S. president
Today, more than ever, we need this abiding hope. COVID-19 is a global crisis like no other. Affecting the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the weak, and leaving no country untouched from the north to the south and the east to the west — the new coronavirus, in the blink of an eye, made us all vulnerable to the same present and imminent danger.
But our experience immediately kicked in. Soon after the virus appeared, World Vision began supporting affected children and families. As the epidemic rapidly spread, our global partnership wasted no time preparing through robust planning. Within an hour of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, World Vision launched our first-ever global response.
In the largest humanitarian effort in our history, we are leveraging our global reach and relationships like never before. We have mobilized in more than 70 countries, focusing on four areas: scaling up prevention to limit the spread of the virus, strengthening healthcare systems and workers, supporting children and families impacted by the secondary consequences of COVID-19, and collaborating and advocating with others to protect and prioritize vulnerable children. This response leverages our size: A global workforce of 37,000, able to mobilize 220,000 volunteer community health workers and a network of 80,000 faith leaders who are helping us disseminate important information within communities. And we could do nothing without our supporters — in the U.S., more than 844,000 individuals and donor organizations and nearly 14,000 churches.
World Vision has a history of responding to disasters in the U.S. in partnership with these churches. During recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, we worked with pastors and their congregations to reach the most vulnerable. I was in Immokalee after Hurricane Irma and witnessed the critical support churches provided to families who had lost everything. Today, in the face of COVID-19, we are working again with churches and local school districts to distribute Family Emergency Kits and other aid to economically impacted families.
Globally, our response to COVID-19 relies on the knowledge we have developed over the decades to become world-class. For example, at a time when handwashing is a critical line of defense against spreading the virus, World Vision is the leading nongovernmental provider of clean water in the developing world, a service we combine with hygiene and sanitation programs. In 2019, we reached 4.3 million people with hand-washing education.
On a visit to Honduras last year, I saw how we empower children to practice handwashing from an early age and even teach it to others. I attended a session of WASH UP!, a hygiene and sanitation training program that World Vision and Sesame Street partnered to create. I sang and danced with kids as they practiced their hygiene lessons featuring Muppets Elmo and Raya. Then one of the boys led us adults in a quiz to test our knowledge. This is how kids become ambassadors to their communities about good hygiene — behaviors that save lives.
Another area where we excel, forged over our 70 years of working closely with churches, is engaging pastors and faith leaders. These influential figures play a key role in sharing prevention messages while also halting the spread of rumor and misinformation. During the AIDS pandemic, World Vision provided training so that pastors and faith leaders could combat stigma in their communities and help families protect themselves from the spread of HIV. We leveraged the same approach during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, and as a result, not one of our 59,000 sponsored children in Sierra Leone died of the disease. Faith leaders in Sierra Leone are now using prevention training from World Vision to combat COVID-19 in their communities.
While our experience makes us competent, our faith in Jesus makes us confident.—Edgar Sandoval Sr., World Vision U.S. president
While our experience makes us competent, our faith in Jesus makes us confident. Through God’s grace and the generosity of our donors, we have invested deeply in the lives of millions of people in extreme poverty who are now more resilient to this unprecedented threat. That’s evidence of the miraculous, God working through us to show His great love for all people.
Yes, COVID-19 is the biggest challenge in our history. But we are facing it with hope and our trust firmly in the Miracle Worker.
Edgar Sandoval Sr. is president of World Vision U.S. Follow him at twitter.com/EdgarSandovalSr.