Support for the Race

By Rich Stearns, World Vision U.S. President

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” —Hebrews 12:1

Whenever I speak somewhere on behalf of World Vision, people come up to me afterward to talk about their sponsored child. Maybe you’re like these folks; with the pride and enthusiasm of a grandparent, you tell friends your sponsored child’s name and country, what you’ve learned about him or her, and especially, how you came to sponsor that special child.

As a sponsor myself, I understand this—I’ve got my own stories. I’d like to share one that combines my pride in my sponsored child and in my own family.

I’ve written in this magazine as well as in my book, The Hole in Our Gospel, about how I came to sponsor two Zambian brothers, Morgan and Jackson. It was Reneé who prompted me, with a sharp elbow to my conscience, to fill in the sponsorship response card at a World Vision dinner in 2002. Technically, I sponsored Morgan, and my son Andy, then in college, signed up to sponsor Jackson.

Rich with Morgan and Jackson in 2004. (Jon Warren/WV)

Two years later, on a trip to Zambia, I met Morgan and Jackson and their grandmother, Mary. I’ll never forget Mary’s outpouring of gratitude as she grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “When I learned that a family in America had decided to sponsor Morgan and Jackson, I knew God had replaced the parents these boys had lost!”

It turned out the boys had watched both parents suffer and die of AIDS. Afterward, it was Jackson who, at 13, stepped up to become man of the household. He dropped out of school and scavenged for food, somehow keeping his two brothers and sister alive until Mary came to help.

Sponsorship enabled Jackson and Morgan to go back to school and provided a better house for the family. But then, in 2007, I heard some disturbing news: Jackson had dropped out of school again—for all the wrong reasons. He was neglecting his studies and getting into trouble.

I wrote Jackson a frank letter expressing my concern and stressing how important education is to his future, as it was to mine. The letter concluded: “Will you stay in school and finish the race you began so well? Will you set an example for Morgan? I pray you will.”

The “race marked out” for Jackson was a tough one. There’s plenty to hinder and entangle an orphan living in a poor community, and it’s not surprising that he stumbled. But Hebrews reminds us that Jackson, and each of us, is not alone in the race. I was privileged to be part of that “cloud of witnesses” surrounding him.

Andy Stearns with Jackson (third from left) and his family in 2007. (Jon Warren/WV)

There was also my son, Andy. After he graduated from college, Andy landed a good job and got married. He and Kirsten took over sponsoring Jackson (among 14 sponsored children). Andy took a special interest in Jackson, whom he met on a trip to Zambia in 2007. To give the boy every chance to succeed, Andy now supports him in private school and keeps in regular contact to make sure he’s applying himself.

I admire Jackson’s courage to step up after his parents’ heartbreaking deaths, and I believe God has a great plan for him. I’m also proud of Andy’s commitment to Jackson and other children in need around the world. He and Kirsten have joined the cloud of witnesses around these children.

As a sponsor, you, too, are helping your child run the race marked out for him or her. Thanks to your prayers, letters, and encouragement, you can give that child a better chance to finish strong.

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