World Vision@60 | Daughter recalls family’s trials, healing, and following dad’s footsteps

May 3, 2017 - 11:24 AM
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World Vision International Ambassador Marilee Pierce-Dunker at the commemoration of the organization's 60th year on March 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of World Vision.

In the 60 years since it was established, Christian, child-focused organization World Vision has sponsored over four million children in almost 100 countries.

In the Philippines, it has sponsored almost 100,000 children, providing them with education assistance, health and nutrition assistance, protection from child labor and violence, and improved disaster resilience. Their families have been given livelihood assistance, as well.

As World Vision commemorates its anniversary, it has launched “It Takes a World to End Sexual Exploitation of Children”, a “global battle against child abuse”. Its efforts in the Philippines will be focused on sexual abuse in the home and over the internet.

When one traces back the organization’s roots, however, its success and scale become even more impressive.

Marilee Pierce-Dunker was born on the same year World Vision was founded by her father, American evangelist and journalist Bob Pierce. She recalled in an e-mail interview with InterAksyon her father’s trip to China in 1947, as part of Youth For Christ.

He witnessed people living in extreme poverty, and how missionaries and churches helped them meet their needs.

He realized, said Marilee, that Christians should not just share the Gospel, but also live out their faith in meaningful ways.

At the end of his trip, a missionary introduced him to a little girl named White Jade, who had been abused and abandoned by her parents. The missionary then challenged Bob to do something to help her.

So Bob gave the missionary his last US$5 and promised to send more once he returned to the United States.

Three years later, he went to Korea as a war correspondent during the Korean War, and saw more children suffering from hunger, homelessness, and abuse. According to Marilee, he wrote a prayer in his Bible in response: “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”

By documenting what he saw on film, he was able to show these in American and Canadian churches, where he challenged attendees to do something to help, in the same way he was challenged by the missionary in China.

World Vision was born, but the movement would entail a lot of sacrifice on Bob’s part, as well as that of his family.

“Dad traveled an average of ten months out of every year and the long separations made it difficult to keep our family relationships healthy and close,” Marilee recalled. “My parents’ marriage suffered, my father’s health was broken, and my sister Robin and I barely knew our father. Most heartbreaking of all, shortly after my Dad retired from WV for health reasons, my older sister, Sharon, took her own life. She was only 27.”

Four years after Bob resigned from World Vision in 1966, he regained his health enough to establish Samaritan’s Purse, an organization inspired by the biblical story of the Good Samaritan by helping communities facing crises around the world.

“I am also happy to say that right before his death from leukemia in 1978, my family experienced a wonderful and healing reconciliation,” Marilee said.

At the time, she “had little to do with World Vision, other than sponsoring a child”.

It was only in 2000, when her family was invited to an anniversary celebration, that she felt God calling her to return to the organization. She became a member of its staff in 2001, and had since traveled to over 40 countries as International Ambassador, speaking in churches, universities, and other venues. She also writes articles for World Vision’s magazine and website, and helps take care of the staff.

“As I have followed in my father’s footsteps, I have been deeply moved by his heart for the poor and his amazing faith to believe God would use him to ‘do something about it’,” Marilee said.

She visited the Philippines in March to celebrate the organization’s 60th year, as well as to launch the “It Takes a World to End Sexual Exploitation of Children” campaign, which, according to her, will be implemented in 23 areas in the country over the next four years.

The following are its components: “raising awareness on the issue of the proliferation of online sexual exploitation of children; empowering of caregivers and children; supporting front-liners, rescue operations, and legal interventions; and supporting safe shelters and reintegration programs.”

They aim to have three million Filipino children protected from sexual exploitation by 2020.

Here are relevant statistics from World Vision.

Image courtesy of World Vision Philippines.

Marilee recalled how Bob first came to the Philippines in 1947, on his way to China, and went on to support missionaries and church outreach programs for the poor. In 1957, World Vision’s first office in the Philippines was established. Its programs have been able to reach 28 provinces.

Thankfully, the organization has been sustained through international grants, corporate sponsors, and private donors.

“Our vision is for every child to live a full life—and we could not do that if we do not have donors who give wholeheartedly because they find joy in giving and transforming lives,” Marilee said.

Here is how you can get involved with World Vision’s campaign.

Here are ways to support the cause of World Vision. Image courtesy of World Vision.