Lead Stories
Bethany House Publishers

The struggle to remain Mission True

2014 Books Issue | An excerpt from WORLD’s Book of the Year runner-up for analysis

WORLD’s editors recently selected Books of the Year in three categories: popular theology, history, and analysis. One of the runners-up in the analysis category is Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst.

As the leaders of HOPE International, Greer (president) and Horst (development director) know intimately the problems Christian ministries continually face in their efforts to remain true to their founding principles.

“The authors are correct about an ‘unspoken crisis,’ which makes this little book both prophetic and practical,” writes Marvin Olasky in WORLD’s annual Books Issue. “They sketch the clear contrasts between Mission Drift and Mission True organizations, the latter distinguished by humility and faith.”

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The excerpt below chronicles the divergent paths taken by two child sponsorship organizations that had almost identical beginnings, ChildFund International and Compassion International. But only one remained “Mission True”: Compassion International, which is also WORLD’s International Region finalist for the 2014 Hope Award for Effective Compassion. —Mickey McLean

Chapter 2: The Tale of Two Presbyterian Ministers

Mission Drift is pervasive, but it is not inevitable

An International Orphan Crisis

“Do you feel that Americans are doing all they can to help?”

Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke, a Presbyterian minister, asked the question of a friend who had been a missionary in China. Clarke knew the right answer. He had traveled enough to understand the plight of orphan children around the world.

His friend replied, “Why don’t you do something about it?”

Clarke pondered the question, knowing his response would likely change his life forever. After a long pause, he responded confidently.

“Alright. I will.”[1]

Wars wreaked havoc throughout the world in the early 1900s. God-fearing men and women couldn’t help but be moved by compassion to care for the vulnerable, the orphan, and the widow. They sought to address the suffering, disease, and poverty they saw. World Vision, Compassion International, World Relief, and many other global ministries launched during the middle of the twentieth century.

The Birth of Child Sponsorship

One of these organizations was China’s Children’s Fund. After his conversation with his former missionary friend, Calvitt Clarke founded the organization in 1938. Clarke was a man of deep convictions about the poor. He had traveled on a number of mission trips around the world and had been affected most by the suffering of innocent children.[2] The first outreach from his new organization was to Chinese children in response to the orphan crisis following the Sino-Japanese War. The ministry expanded and soon changed its name to Christian Children’s Fund.[3]

Clarke cared deeply about ministering the Gospel in word and deed to orphaned children in China. To fund the efforts, Clarke invented child sponsorship, an innovative approach built around connecting donors directly to individual children.[4]

Clarke’s organization escalated to charity celebrity status. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Christian Children’s Fund was all over television. They ran lengthy documentary infomercials hosted by Hollywood pseudo-star Sally Struthers.

During the shows, Struthers covered provocative and tragic stories of global poverty, famine, and war. By 1994, the organization served nearly 2 million children through child sponsorships with a budget of over 100 million dollars.[5] In 2011 Forbes named Christian Children’s Fund one of the 100 largest charities in the country.[6]

An Identity Crisis

But by the 1990s, Christian Children’s Fund’s very identity was called into question. In an interview with Christianity Today, Thomas Naylor, a former board member, said, “This organization has nothing to do with Christianity.”[7]

A decade later, a charity watchdog issued a “donor alert,” warning Christian Children’s Fund may be “misleading many Christian donors” because of its marketing as a Christian organization.[8]

Its president, Anne Goddard, acknowledged the change in the identity of the organization: “An organization changes slowly, and then all of a sudden you realize the changes have happened so much that you need to step back and [see if you are] putting out the name that really reflects who you are.”[9]

In 2009, it changed its name to ChildFund International.[10]

The Second Presbyterian Minister

Just over a decade after Clarke founded China Children’s Fund, a fellow Presbyterian minister, Everett Swanson,[11] visited orphans in war-torn Korea. A missionary friend asked him a dangerous question: “You have seen the tremendous needs and unparalleled opportunities of this land: What do you intend to do about it?”[12]

Swanson was in Korea often. Following the Korean War in the early 1950s, he preached the Gospel throughout the country, wherever he was invited: training camps, military academies, and detention centers.

At the time, the Koreans were a people uprooted—broken by the horrors of war. Through these challenges, tens of thousands professed faith in Christ. Swanson began to mourn for more than the hearts of the Korean people. He grieved that war had ravaged the country, propelling millions into abject poverty. Specifically, he lamented the plight of Korean children. Approximately 100,000 were orphaned from the war.[13]

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