Lead Stories

The struggle to remain Mission True

"The struggle to remain Mission True" Continued...

Peter Greer
HOPE International
Peter Greer
“On the cold nights, they are found on the streets, alleys, doorways, and so forth, but these boys are precious in the eyes of the Lord. And Christ died to save them,” said Swanson.

Swanson walked the streets of Seoul daily, praying for these hurting children. One morning, with the cold air stinging his face, Swanson saw policemen scoop up piles of rags from a street corner. As he walked closer, he realized these were not rags, but orphans who had died in the freezing conditions overnight.[14]

The experience haunted him. Swanson couldn’t rid his mind of the images.

What do you intend to do about it?

The question burned in his heart. He began asking this question of others. In each church where he spoke, he challenged the congregants to respond to the needs of the people of Korea, not knowing he was creating an organization as he did so. But this simple question planted the seeds of Compassion International. In 1952, Swanson and his passionate sponsors provided food, education, clothing, and spiritual nourishment to a group of thirty-five orphaned and vulnerable children in Korea.

Today, Compassion International serves over 1.3 million children across twenty-six countries. Compassion helps them through local churches, improving their health, education, and life skills, and introducing these children to Jesus Christ.[15]

Reverend Everett Swanson knew his purpose. He founded Compassion to provide for the social, material, and spiritual needs of at-risk youth around the world. Today, over sixty years later, Compassion precisely embodies Swanson’s convictions. And their commitment to the Gospel has not waned. It has only grown more resolute as Compassion has aged.

Despite facing an onslaught of pressures to drift from its founding identity, Compassion hasn’t backed down from its core purpose of meeting not only the material, but also the spiritual needs of children. Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International from 1993–2013, reflected:

When I was the director of development at Compassion back in the 1980s, I brought in outside experts to study our marketing and donor base. I asked, “What do we need to do to grow?” I’ll never forget their answer: “Well, you’ve got the best name in the business, ‘Compassion International.’ Who doesn’t want to be a part of something called Compassion? But you’ve got this Jesus stuff mixed in there. Not everyone compassionate cares about this Jesus that you keep putting out with every piece of material. Our advice is really raise up the name Compassion and sort of soft sell the Jesus stuff. Then watch what can happen.”

We thought for ten seconds, and said, “No, not now, not ever.”[16]

The reason Swanson founded Compassion is the reason Compassion exists today. Compassion has remained Mission True. Their story gave us great hope. They figured out how to protect their mission. They understood their Christian identity and built safeguards around it.

On the surface, ChildFund and Compassion International look like twins. They were founded just fourteen years apart. Both were started by Presbyterian ministers, each with a passion for helping the poor. Both founders had missionary friends who encouraged them to start their organizations. Both were created to help children orphaned after wars in Asia, one in China and the other in Korea. Both use child sponsorship to fuel their missions.

While we read the stories of their foundings, we couldn’t believe the parallels. These two organizations could not have started out more similarly. And today, both are among the 100 largest nonprofits in the country. But they now look radically different. One—ChildFund—stripped “Christian” from its very name. The other—Compassion—beats to the same heartbeat as its founder. How did Compassion manage to protect its identity, even as it grew to become one of the largest charities in the world?

Mission True Defined

The more we learned about Compassion, the more we were encouraged. We began looking for more organizations like them. Finding and celebrating Mission True organizations became our passion. So what is a Mission True organization?

In its simplest form, Mission True organizations know why they exist and protect their core at all costs. They remain faithful to what they believe God has entrusted them to do. They define what is immutable: their values and purposes, their DNA, their heart and soul.

This doesn’t mean Mission True organizations don’t change. And it doesn’t mean they aren’t striving for excellence. In fact, their understanding of their core identity will demand they change. And their understanding of Scripture will demand they strive for the very highest levels of excellence. But growth and professionalism are subordinate values. To remain Mission True is to adapt and grow, so long as that adaptation and growth does not alter the core identity.


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