October 19, 2010

My New Hero

I am adding Wess Stafford, President and CEO of Compassion International, to my ever-growing list of heroes. This excerpt of an article sums up why:

"A humble leader
Stafford and his wife, Donna, live a quiet, frugal life on a 35-acre ranch in Black Forest, where he likes nothing more than to mend fences, dig drainage ditches and perform other outdoor duties — a respite from the long hours and frequent travel he puts in for Compassion.
The couple own one car, a 1995 Subaru with 180,000 miles, and a 25-year-old Honda motorcycle. A large chunk of Stafford’s salary — listed by Charity Navigator as $206,673 in 2008 — is given away, Donna said. Some of the money goes toward the eight children the Staffords sponsor. Some goes to other programs within Compassion, and some goes to other missionaries and nonprofit groups, she said.
While in the field in remote villages, Stafford blends in with other Compassion workers, said Mark Hanlon, senior vice president of Compassion International USA, the marketing and fundraising arm of the organization.
“He likes to see how long he can mingle with people before they realize he is president and CEO of Compassion,” Hanlon said. “He is very down to earth.”
But beneath the friendly and engaging exterior, Stafford has a broken heart. “I am never more than 10 seconds away from tears,” he said.

Learning forgiveness
The heartache began thousands of miles away from his birthplace, Chicago.
From age 6 to 15 he lived in Nielle, a sweltering shanty town in the Ivory Coast of Africa where his parents were missionaries. There, he lived among families enduring brutal poverty, an experience that helped foster his lifelong commitment to help needy children.
But something else he rarely speaks of also informed his passion: For nine months of the year in Africa, Stafford attended a Christian boarding school where he was verbally, physical and sexually abused.
Two years after the family left Africa and returned to the U.S., Stafford — a confused teenager with low self-esteem and deep emotional pain — attended a Christian event in Colorado. He listened to a pastor talk about forgiveness, and chose to forgive those who abused him. After that, his life began to change, though to this day Stafford sometimes wells up when talking about his past.
Stafford went on to earn communications degrees from three Christian institutions, including Moody Bible Institute, and a doctorate in education from Michigan State University.
He joined Compassion in 1977 as a relief worker in Haiti. Two years later, he married Donna and soon after started a family, raising two daughters. In 1993, at age 44, he became president and CEO of Compassion.
“He’s legit,” said Mark Yeadon, senior vice president of Compassion’s international program. ““He is one of those wounded heroes that God is using, and it’s bearing fruit.”

Read the whole article here.
Listen to his own personal testimony of child abuse here (click on Why Children Matter, then Radio Special: Silencing the Lambs)

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