Affirming the Least of These
About the Guest
One word can sometimes make or break a person. Compassion International President, Wess Stafford, swaps stories with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine about who in their lives influenced them for good or bad. Stafford tells how Tony Dungy, Adolf Hitler and others were shaped for life by key persons around them.
Wess StaffordFrom the poor of Africa's Ivory Coast to President and Chief Executive Officer of Compassion International, Dr. Wesley K. Stafford - Wess - has maintained one simple belief: God's children are priceless resources. To that end, Wess leads Compassion's efforts to break the cycle of poverty for children everywhere. Wess joined the staff of Compassion International in 1977 and has worked with the ministry, both overseas and at headquarters, for 34 years. He has served as president since 1993. Wess l...more
One word can sometimes make or break a person.
Affirming the Least of These
Bob: For those of us who know Christ, God is at work in our lives, conforming us more and more to the image of His Son. Now, if that’s true, it ought to affect the way we interact with children because Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me,” and He blessed them.
Wess: Children are often at the end of the line, the least important. They are the weakest, the most vulnerable. Anything evil that happens in the world finds its way down on their little heads. That’s why I maintain that the womb has become the most dangerous place on the planet to be a child, either because of poverty or because of inconvenience. Either way, it’s a miracle to survive the womb.
In early childhood, they are incredibly vulnerable to these moments because, I think, Satan understands, “If I can destroy them and their sense of worth before they are five years old, ten years old, I probably don’t have to worry about them the rest of the time.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today, we’re going to talk to Wess Stafford, the President of Compassion International®, about the tremendous power that comes in blessing the life of a child. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know if you have one of these minutes like we’ve been talking about this week—where our guest, Wess Stafford, is talking about a minute that kind of sticks with you and points you in a right direction?
I remember when I was—I would have been 18 years old—I was a freshman on the college campus at the University of Tulsa. One of the reasons I went to the University of Tulsa was because they had a campus radio station, and I thought it would be cool to work at the campus radio station. I went in and applied, and I got a job. I was working Tuesday nights from 9:00 at night until 1:00 in the morning. I don’t think anybody was listening.
Dennis: I was going to say, “Millions of listeners—”
Bob: I don’t think anybody was listening. I was dating Mary Ann at the time, and I think she listened occasionally. That was about it. (Laughter) I had worked for three or four weeks, and I came into the studios one day. The station manager, who I had met once or twice, he said, “You’re the guy working Tuesday nights; right?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Where did you work before you worked here?” I said, “This is my first time working at a radio station.” He said, “Really?” He said, “Well, you’re pretty good.” Well, I could take you to the spot where I heard those words. Here I am, talking on the radio all these years later, maybe, because Gary Chew said, “You’re pretty good.”
Dennis: Well, he was recognizing something that was obvious.
Bob: Well, you’re kind.
Dennis: No. Well, I mean, you were good back then, undoubtedly; and ultimately, those words fueled something that was within you. You were already gifted to be able to make a difference.
Bob: Have you had a minute like that in your life that comes to mind?
Dennis: Well, it’s interesting. Let’s introduce our guest, Wess. Wess, welcome back to the broadcast.
Wess: Thank you. It’s good to be back.
Dennis: Your book, Just a Minute, is stimulating a lot of thoughts in Bob’s mind and mine, too.
Wess: We’re all little boys again.
Dennis: Yes, really. No doubt about it. Wess is the President of Compassion International. He’s an author, a speaker, has written a number of books. This latest one, Just a Minute, really talks about the power that we have in the life of children, how we can impact them for good and for bad.
The one that I thought of was not a good one. You’ve heard me tell it here on FamilyLife Today. It was my typing teacher, who had good reason to say what she said, most likely, because I was a stinker in her class.
Bob: What grade was this?
Dennis: I think this was a senior in high school.
Dennis: It’s interesting that the class that caused me so much pain, typing—that I would still use today. Thank God for Mrs. Whittington. I mean, seriously; you know? I got a “C”, and here’s how I got a “C”. I had an “A” on speed. I figured this out, “If you had an ‘A’ on speed, which was 60/70 words a minute, you could make an ‘F’ on errors and still pass the tests.”
Wess: You can land in the middle.
Dennis: You really can. I don’t think Mrs. Whittington appreciated that a whole lot. One day in class, she pointed her bony finger at me—and I think rightly so—probably calling me out a bit. She said, “Dennis Rainey, you will never amount to anything.” When I graduated from college and I went back to the little town of Ozark, Missouri, a town of 1350 people back then—.
Bob: Did you look up Mrs. Whittington at that time?
Dennis: I went over to her house. (Knock, knock, knock) “Mrs. Whittington, do you remember me?” There was this look like, “How could I ever forget you?” I just looked at her and I said, “Mrs. Whittington, I want you to know I just graduated from college.” I didn’t say it but I was thinking it, “And I want you to know, I will amount to something.” I did tell her that I was going to go work with high school students.
To your point, those words, those minutes, can be profound; and you really can turn it into lemonade. I mean, your life is lemonade today, out of some pretty tough stuff. One of the areas you kind of lump a bunch of stories around—there are 68 stories in your book—is the area of building character in a child’s life. You tell the story about—was it a father and son that went fishing?
Wess: Yes. A father and son are going fishing. It’s the day before the actual opening of the bass season. They are out fishing. They’re catching little other things—little crappies, little bluegills, and such. The son changes his bait, just kind of practice his casting. Wham! He gets a hit on a very big fish. His father watches with admiration as the little boy reels the fish in to the dock that they’re sitting on. When they pull it out and look at it, it’s a bass!
Well, it is 10:00 in the evening. Bass fishing season doesn’t start until midnight, but it’s the biggest bass that either one of them have ever seen. The father lights a match, looks at his watch and says, “Son, you’re going to have to throw him back.” The son said, “Dad! It’s the biggest fish we’ve ever seen! There’s nobody around. Nobody will know.” The dad said, “Put him back, son”; and he let the fish go. He went on to become an engineer in New York. He says, “You know, I never forgot that fish, and I never forgot integrity. That fish shows up every time I try to fudge a deadline, anytime I fudge a budget. That fish has guided the rest of my life in integrity.”
Bob: How many parents have had the moment, when they’re buying tickets for the theater or the kids’ meal is for kids ages 2 through 11, and you’re sitting, looking at your rather small 12-year-old who just turned 12 two weeks ago. You’re thinking, “This is a $3 decision. If I can just say, ‘He’s 11,’ you can get the break.”—but $3? Is our integrity worth $3? Is it worth a big fish? Those are the issues we’re really asking here.
Wess: The point I make in the book is you never know when you’re making a memory.
Dennis: Yes, I’m thinking of a story that was told here on FamilyLife Today. We’ll leave the person’s name anonymous—
Bob: The guilty party.
Dennis: —but he’s a seminary professor. He has two PhD’s, and he teaches theology. He teaches godliness. They went to the fair, and they were pulling in like you’re talking about. He looked at the sign; and the guy asked him, “How old are your girls?” He lied about the ages of his girls, paid their way in to the fair, and went in there. As they’re finishing their drive on into the fair to park their car, there was this little voice in the back seat that said, “Daddy, I’m not 12 years old.”
Here’s this great guy, great theologian. It’s like the Spirit of God goes, “Go correct it.” He turned around, backed up and admitted his mistake, and paid the guy. Which, who knows? Maybe those lessons end up being more power—
Bob: Just as powerful, or maybe more powerful. Yes.
Dennis: Maybe more powerful, as well.
Bob: You tell the story about Coach Tony Dungy—a fishing story about him in the book; don’t you?
Wess: It’s another fishing story, yes. His father, who was a very quiet scientist man, took Tony and his younger brother out fishing. He was teaching them how to cast out of the boat. When all of a sudden, his father says, “Lyndon, now hold very, very still. You want to keep track of two things when you’re casting—“Where is your pole?”, and, “Where is everyone else around you?” Tony looked up to see his father, as he was speaking so calmly, pulling the fish hook out of his ear, as he was calmly teaching his son how to cast. (Laughter)
Well, later on, you see this man at the side of the football field in the heat of battle. It’s just like a fish hook in the ear. He learned, in that minute, two things. He says, “I learned to stay calm in the midst of confusion, and I learned to communicate clearly.” There are stories like that all through the book.
Dennis: You also tell a story about a little boy whose name was Adolf, whose character was shaped in a negative direction.
Wess: Yes, like we said, just as easily you can destroy the life of a child. This little boy’s story is Adolf Hitler. If you understand what happened to Adolf Hitler when he was 11 years old, while it’s unforgiveable what he did, you can actually make some sense of the path that would lead a man to that point. Adolf Hitler grew up in a very confused home. His mother was a church-goer. He used to sing in the choir; but his father was a government administrator, a customs official, a drunkard, a very, very violent man. Adolf’s older brother was the focus of a great deal of abuse and beating. He finally ran away from home when he was 14 years old.
Adolf was the next in line, and so the beatings fell his direction. When he was 11 years old, his father got word—wind, somehow, that he, too, was going to run away. He locked Adolf Hitler in the upstairs room in the tavern that they were living in. Adolf was desperate to run away. He stripped off his clothes and was completely naked as he tried to slide between the bars in the window when he heard his father coming up the steps. He didn’t know which direction to go.
He had already thrown his clothes out onto the ground. He had to grab a tablecloth, and he wrapped it around himself. There he stood, shivering in his fear, as the door opened. His father, this time, instead of beating him, simply called down to the people downstairs, “Hey, everybody! You want to see something? Come up and see my toga boy.” Adolf Hitler determined in that moment, “I will not be laughed at. I will not be abused. I will lead any environment in which I find myself. I will not be that kind of vulnerable.” He went on to become this amazing tyrant.
Bob: Wess, you experienced that kind of abuse toward a child, growing up, that Hitler experienced as a boy. What is it that causes one person to move in a direction where that fuels a righteous anger versus that fueling a selfish, unrighteous anger?
Wess: The only answer I can give you is my own personal experience. It is simply God’s grace. I believe God had a purpose for that, ironically. I used to think, “Where’s my guardian angel? Why? Have I been issued the laziest guardian angel in heaven?” As I got older, I began to realize, “I’m sure my guardian angel ran to the Father, all the time and said, ‘Don’t You see what he’s going through? Don’t You feel this?’”
I think now, in retrospect, God said, “I do, but I’m building something here. He needs this in order to be the champion for children, to be the man that I’m asking him to grow up to be.” I now recognize it as grace. In the writing of the first book, Too Small to Ignore, up to that point, I had been looking at the wrong side of the tapestry—all the knots and tangles—the ugliness, as Adolf Hitler. God allowed me to turn the tapestry around.
That kind of pain takes you down one of two roads, as we said. It can either make you give up on life, or it can make you absolutely fight to prove that person wrong. Adolf Hitler took that path. As I see now, ironically, many Christian leaders and leaders all across—I rub shoulders with these guys now. They have said, “If someone said, ‘You’re stupid,’ well now they’ve got three PhD’s.” Why did they do that?—to prove that person wrong.
They said, “You’re fat,” and now they work out at the gym; and they’re all fit. Where did that come from? What they have done is allowed that person to put them in a prison of its own that says, “I will prove them wrong.” Ironically, that causes people to rise high. We reward people who work harder than anybody else, who speak up more powerfully than anyone else. You find these guys at the top of these pinnacles, often; but when you get one-to-one and you get quiet and confidential with one another, you discover there’s desperation in some of the top leaders, that you ever find. It is in response to great pain. They are proving that person wrong. The sad thing is, when you get up to the top, it’s pretty lonely up there. You may discover that this ladder that you have fought your way, taken on every windmill along the way, is leaning up against a pretty pointless wall.
Dennis: I have a buddy who would listen to your story, and he would have a difficult time picturing the guardian angel going to the Father. I guess what I want to ask you, because you can uniquely speak about this, not only from your own life of having had terrible evil done to you, but you travel the world. Children are being abused by evil in country after country around the world—horrific things, hellish things.
Dennis: Yes, unspeakable. How do you rationalize your way that the Bible speaks of our God being a sovereign God—Who is ruling in the affairs of men and nations—when a child, a helpless little child, doesn’t have somebody there to push back against evil—but the evil is defining him and is preying upon him? How do you work that through because you, undoubtedly, have images that push up against that.
Wess: I do. I recognize what, I think, is going on in the world. As I said in the first book, children are often at the end of the line, the least important. They are the weakest, the most vulnerable. Anything evil that happens in the world finds its way down on their little heads.
My understanding of what’s going on is—I believe that, over every child, there is a battle raging between heaven and hell. Satan is in the business, I think, of breaking God’s heart. I think he watched creation. I think he watched all of the steps of it—until the last day, day six, he sees God—not just speak man into existence, but fashion him with His own hands, and then breathe His own breath into him.
He must have said, “Aha. There’s the chink in God’s armor. He loves mankind. If I want to break God’s heart, I go after what He loves most. Now, when is the best time to attack?” He’s discovered that the best time to attack is the sooner, the better.
That’s why I maintain that the womb has become the most dangerous place on the planet to be a child, either because of poverty or because of inconvenience. Either way, it’s a miracle to survive the womb. Then, early childhood—they are incredibly vulnerable to these moments because, I think, Satan understands, “If I can destroy them and their sense of worth before they’re five years old, ten years old, I probably don’t have to worry about them the rest of the time.”
I don’t understand fully the sovereignty of God. I can’t understand it in my life. I can look at me, who was abused as viciously as anyone I know, and I can see that out of that, God was working something good. By faith, I believe that all things do work together for good. I am convinced, that when I walk into Heaven with all of those kinds of questions, that the first words out of my mouth aren’t going to be, “God, I’ve got some questions for You!” I think the first words out of my mouth are going to be, “Oh-h-h. That’s why!” We are going to understand that, in the mystery, in the darkness, God was working out everything to His glory.
Dennis: And back to Bob’s question he asked you a few moments ago. As a result, you’re not a victim. You’re not going to live the rest of your life blaming other people for your condition, trying to punish them, find ways to get back at them. Instead, you’re going to learn to love the God—Who does rule in the affairs of men, and nations, and children—and yield to Him, and experience that grace.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about God forgiving us, and then putting that love in our hearts, and then beginning to tutor us over our lifetimes so that we learn how to love, as well.
Wess: Yes. Frankly, you can’t do that in your own strength. Only God can do that in your heart and in your life. I’m a testimony to that. I don’t know—I could go out in a parking lot and snipe people with a rifle. A good attorney would get me off. They’d say, “Well, of course, that’s what he does. Look where he came from.”
I don’t know if you saw the story last fall of a judge, in an absolute rage, grabbed his 16-year-old handicapped child and beat her with a belt. I saw that; and you wonder, “So, Wess, are you okay after all of that?” because I had that 17 times a week, if you remember that. I can tell you how it is a daily fight because my pulse, which is normally 45—I’m quite fit for a guy my age—as I watched that beating, it raced to 145—just reliving that moment, vicariously, and seeing what went on there. It is a battle. It is a day-by-day moment of reminding yourself, “You have forgiven,” and reminding yourself that, “God is good today, and I can trust Him with my life.”
Dennis: I was having this conversation with my friend; and he says, “I just don’t know how you can believe the way you believe.” I said, “You know, here’s the thing. If I’m left with a God who’s not in charge, that makes me crazier than trying to deal with these unanswered questions that also cause me to scratch my head, as well.”
I mean, I don’t have all the answers for this; but the Bible does teach clearly our God is in charge. He’s either ruling—100 percent sovereign and He knows what’s going on. I don’t understand how evil occurs, how He allows it, but He does. We have the promise of Scripture that if we love Him, He’ll use it for His good.
Bob: The Bible also teaches that we can have an impact in the lives of those around us. In fact, that’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to be involved as agents, as ambassadors of reconciliation. He wants us to be blessing those around us. That’s what’s at the heart of the book that Wess Stafford has written, called Just a Minute. It’s about how we can have an impact in the lives of children who cross our paths, by taking just a minute, and by being intentional, and being purposeful.
In fact, there are three little girls at church. I think they’re probably three or four years old. At the end of church every week, these three little girls come running up to me. I get down, and I give them big hugs. I thank them for coming up and giving me hugs, and I tell them how special they are. They love it. They love getting their hug every week. That kind of thing is going to stick with them. That’s something that, for whatever reason, they’ll remember—getting hugs from that man. They may not even remember who I am—but that man who used to hug them after church every Sunday.
The point is, “Are we being intentional like that in the life of a child?” That’s what you call us to do in the book, which is called Just a Minute. We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I want to encourage listeners—go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Wess Stafford’s book, Just a Minute, about how you can bless and affirm the children around you, whether they’re your children or somebody else’s child. Again, the title of the book is Just a Minute. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information; or call toll-free at 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
And if you’d like more information about child sponsorship for Compassion International, the organization that Wess gives leadership to, we have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Find out how you can sponsor a child who is in need, somewhere in the world—just click on the link to Compassion International when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; and get the information available there.
I should also take a minute and just say, “Thanks,” to those of you who have a heart of generosity. We know you do because a number of you help support FamilyLife Today by making donations from time to time; and some of you are Legacy Partners, monthly donors to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
In fact, this month, we’re asking our listeners to consider signing up and becoming Legacy Partners. We’re hoping that one family in each city where FamilyLife Today is heard would step forward and say, “We’d like to sign on as new Legacy Partners.” If we did that, we’d have 1,100 new Legacy Partners because that’s the number of cities where FamilyLife Today is heard. Actually, we’re hoping that in some of those cities, instead of one family, it will be two families. We’re hoping to get to 1,500 new Legacy Partners this month.
We have a thermometer on our website that tells you how we’re doing toward that goal. If you sign on as a Legacy Partner, we’ll send you a welcome kit that has some resources for you—a couple of travel mugs, with the FamilyLife logo on them, and a special CD of a conversation Dennis and I had recently on the characteristics of spiritually-strong marriages and families.
In addition, throughout the year, we’ll make new resources available to you each month as a Legacy Partner. We want to help strengthen your marriage and your family. To find out how to become a Legacy Partner, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link that says, “Become a Legacy Partner”; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information. I want to say, “Thanks,” in advance to those of you who sign up and join with us. Glad to have you on the team, and we appreciate your support of FamilyLife Today.
And we want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow. Wess Stafford is going to be here again, and we’re going to continue talking about how we can bless the children in our lives and in our world. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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