American Christians have some "Unfinished" business, Rich Stearns asserts, and not just because that's the title of a book he recently released via Thomas Nelson Publishers.
President of the Christian charity World Vision, Mr. Stearns suggests part of the "hole" in the Western Christian gospel is a lack of concern for those less fortunate around the world.
He may well have a point. The website GlobalIssues.org suggests that as many as 80 percent of the world's people live on less than $10 a day, and the World Bank has estimated that 2.7 billion people lived on less than $2 a day in 2008. However one views it, the numbers of absolute poverty in the world are astonishing and, well, chastening.
World Vision works with many of these poorest of the poor to bring essentials such as potable water and other sanitary needs, food, clothing, medicine and education where such is in scarce supply.
Although motivated by Christian concern, Mr. Stearns says that in nations where evangelism is discouraged or even outlawed, the group is respectful and doesn't impose, preferring to let its witness raise questions. This often happens when beneficiaries, or non-Christian staff, ask why the group and its leaders are there.
For the individual believer, Mr. Stearns said during an interview in the District on Sunday, the challenge is to "discover what God might be calling us to do." He asserts that the Christian's task is "to serve Christ and to build his kingdom," something which may or may not involve a different profession or lifestyle than a believer currently enjoys.
Fifteen years ago, that change in direction — what Mr. Stearns would say was a reprogramming of his life's GPS — came quickly and surprisingly. A graduate of Cornell University and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the latter being Donald Trump's alma mater, Mr. Stearns was a high-flying executive in the "luxury goods" business.
He was president and CEO of Lenox Inc., the maker of fine china, and was offered another position that would include an equity stake in a similar firm, valued at $60 million.
Instead, with five children in school, Mr. Stearns answered a call from World Vision, trading life in Philadelphia's ritzy "Main Line" suburbs for a base near Seattle and swapping travel to glittering industry events for visits to some of the world's most desperate places.
He didn't foresee this when, while in grad school, he gave his life to Christ.
"In 1998, Jesus came to collect," using an executive search consultant, Mr. Stearns said, to ask: "Would you be willing to be open to God's will for your life?"
That willingness is what Mr. Stearns is hoping other believers will undertake. It might not involve throwing over a career and family plans to traipse off to global hot spots, but it might involve a greater sensitivity to the needs of the poor.
Demonstrating the business acumen which propelled him to his former — and current — positions, Mr. Stearns laid out the case mathematically. If American Christians were to donate an extra 1 percent annually via their churches to alleviate poverty, that would translate to $52 billion a year. Over the course of 20 years, that would top $1 trillion.
"With that, we could eliminate global hunger, provide everyone with water, eradicate malaria, offer microloans to help the poor start businesses, and provide universal education," he said, "and still have money left over."
Mr. Stearns noted that people overseas "don't forget that Americans are helping them in their time of need," saying it's better to send "volunteers with baseball caps, rather than soldiers with helmets."
In a world where so much devastation and need exist, Mr. Stearns may very well have a point. How Americans, particularly those who call themselves people of faith, respond, may be another matter entirely.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.