Bob Pierce was a Baptist minister helping the group Youth for Christ hold evangelical rallies in China, where the depth of misery he witnessed among the poor had a powerful effect on him. When a Western missionary teacher brought a battered and abandoned child to him and challenged him to care for the youngster, he gave the woman, Tena Hoelkedoer, his last five dollars and promised to send the same amount each month for the child’s care. This was the seed of the child sponsorship model that became the heart of the charitable efforts of World Vision—the group Pierce founded in 1950 to relieve child poverty in Asia.
The original emphasis was on buying food and protection for children in orphanages in China. The effort spread to Indonesia, Thailand, India, and eventually to almost 100 countries. (And two decades later, Pierce founded another important Christian overseas charity, Samaritan’s Purse—see 1970 entry.)
Pierce filmed short movies to help Americans understand the penury of children abroad. His films also helped evangelicals understand how the communist revolution in China was causing problems in that country. He is considered a pathbreaker in popularizing the social-action movie. World Vision still relies on short videos of children it aids to connect them to small donors.
Today, World Vision describes itself as “a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide…as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people.” The organization retains a focus on individual child sponsorship, while offering aid in many forms. In 2014, the group raised $600 million in private contributions.