In my Sept. 21 profile at www.gazette.com, I write about Wess Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International, a worldwide outreach for impoverished children with a $412 million budget and 2,500 employees.
Please read the story here.
The son of missionaries, Stafford, 60, grew up in a poor village in the Ivory Coast. For
nine months of the year, he attended a remote Christian boarding school where he was verbally, physically and sexually abused.
Living among the poor and suffering regular abuse were major factors in developing Stafford’s passion for helping needy children.
Below are edited excerpts from my interview with Stafford at his Compassion International office in Colorado Springs.
MARK BARNA: “Your speeches this summer at Woodmen Valley Chapel and in Chicago, in which you talk about the full arc of your life, were very well received. Will you do more?”
WESS STAFFORD: “I don’t want to take it on the road.”
BARNA: “Why do you choose to funnel the help from Compassion International through some 5,000 churches in 25 countries?”
STAFFORD: “If anyone is going to get thanked for the good in these children’s lives, we want it to be the local church. I don’t let us walk around in Compassion T-shirts. We don’t have the logo on our vehicles. If anyone gets thanked, I want it to be that local pastor, that local church. It gives the church credibility to preach the rest of its gospel message.”
BARNA: “What did you learn while growing up in the impoverished Ivory Coast village?”
STAFFORD: “When people think of the poor, they think they must be taking. That’s not true. The worst thing you could do in that village is withhold something. The cruelest thing you could do to me as a boy was give me two pieces of candy. We shared everything.
“I know two things: You can’t out-give God and you can’t out-give the poor. We don’t understand the amazing dignity and generosity of the poor.”
BARNA: “In your book you write about the abuse you suffered at the Christian boarding school, as well as the moment when at 17 at a Christian event, you chose to forgive your abusers. Tell me about that.”
STAFFORD: “At age 17, I was a completely brokenhearted and lost soul, but I heard a talk at a campfire about forgiveness. (The counselor) said, ‘You are carrying around on your back a burden. It destroys you and it is not costing them anything at all.’
“So I said to myself, ‘OK, I know you are not sorry, but I choose to forgive. Now get out of my heart. What you did I refuse to let define me. I forgive you, now get out.’
“What I learned is that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean that what happened is OK, or that they should pay the consequences. But it does mean that you have to give up your right for revenge.
“It is that that redeemed my life. Instead of being destructive and passing on that hurt, it made me a very different person. I have been through so much. By God’s grace it gave me a tender heart and not a hard, bitter, vengeful heart.
“I escaped what should have been the destruction of me and everything about me. I am useful. I am a tool in God’s hand. It is a surprise to me and pretty much to everybody else.”