World Vision’s Rich Stearns on How His Dad Made Him Self-Reliant

Rich Stearns grew up wanting to be the complete opposite of his father. His father was an alcoholic and his drinking caused their family marital and financial problems – including being evicted out of their home. Rich’s relationship with his dad caused him to be self-reliant and he had no desire to follow God. We sat down with the President of World Vision three years ago and talked about how his relationship with his dad affected his spiritual journey and a trip to India that changed his perspective on how he does ministry.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization that works worldwide with children, families, and their communities tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. They can often be found in the middle of disasters and conflict providing emergency assistance to children and families.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” James 1:17-18

Rich opened up to us about how his hardships with his dad had an effect on how he viewed his heavenly Father.

“When I was about ten years old, my world kind of fell apart. My dad was an alcoholic and his drinking led to financial and marital problems. He filed for bankruptcy and the bank foreclosed on our house and evicted us. 

I can still remember when I was in bed at night and my parents were screaming in the kitchen – my dad came home drunk and they were having a big fight. I just realized that moment, that my parents couldn’t help me. That I was kind of on my own, and if I didn’t get ahold of my life and take it somewhere, then they wouldn’t be able to help me because they couldn’t get their own life sorted out. And from that day I remember just kind of having this sense of it’s all up to me; I have to make my own way…It gave me a trait of self-reliance- which was good in some ways and bad in other ways. I wasn’t going to rely on anybody else because everybody else in my life was letting me down. And that actually became a bit of a problem in me coming to faith because I didn’t want to rely on Jesus; I wanted to rely on myself. I developed a sphere of self-reliance…

I love my dad and until the day he died I would call him every week and help him out financially here and there. But he was just a person that was unable to manage his life. I came to not hold that against him, but to actually feel sorry for him. We had a great relationship after I became an adult.”

“Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds  rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”
Psalm 68:4-6

World Vision reaches 100 million people in 100 countries around the world and Rich has traveled to over half of those 100 countries. He reflects on one experience that changed him.

“A trip I made to India a number of years ago after the Gujarat earthquake [of 2001]. It’s a story that reminded me every child is precious in God’s eyes…There was a mother, who had a little boy, who looked to be about five years old. She, [the mother] was running beside the car…and held out her son to the window so I could see him, and when I looked, I just caught the glimpse of a mother’s face and a little boy who had no feet. And then the car pulled away and she was gone…

I sent an email to our Indian team and…a few weeks went by and they wrote back and said that they found him. His name is Vikas…when the earthquake happened his house collapsed on him and crushed his legs. He went days without medical treatment and finally a Korean medical relief team came in and when they saw his legs they had to do  a field amputation. Gangrene had set in and infection and both of his legs and feet were cut off below the knee. But then they said, ‘We’ve had a doctor look at him and he needs another surgery and he could be fitted with prosthetic limbs. But it would cost about $300, what do you want to do?’ I wrote back and said, ‘No, World Vision U.S won’t pay for that, but Rich Stearns is going to pray for that because this one’s on me. God put this little boy on my heart. Three hundred dollars is nothing I’ll gladly pay for that.’ A few months later I got an email with a photo…it was little Vikas holding his mother’s hand and standing on his new legs. 

We were helping thousands of children and families in India after the earthquake – I think 30,000 were killed in that earthquake. I think what God wanted to show me is that he cares about the one. He said, ‘Rich you’re looking at the wrong level. You’re looking at thousands and I want you to see the one. I want you to see the one child because that child is precious to me and I want that child to be precious to you. Great that you are helping thousands, but never forget the one.’ It was a powerful lesson for me.”

Risen Reflections

It’s time to forgive. Whether it is a small incident or years of built up bitterness, ask God to help you forgive your father. Your father might never admit to doing wrong or saying I’m sorry, but you can still forgive him. Forgiving someone does not mean you are saying what they did was okay. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit for insight into the situation and to give you Christ’s compassion towards your dad. If you are not ready to meet with your father or are unable to, consider writing a letter to help you process your thoughts.

How has your relationship with your earthly father affected your view of your heavenly Father? Take time this week to pray and ask God to show you His truth. Rich’s dad went bankrupt, making him feel like he had to be self-sufficient. But God’s truth is that He will provide for all of our needs (Philippians 4:19). Remember the only perfect dad is our Heavenly Father and He loves us very much.

To read our entire interview with World Vision’s Rich Stearns click here.

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