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Stearns ’73 Announces Retirement from World Vision 

By Tom Campisi, Managing Editor

After two decades of ministry to orphans, refugees, and those impacted by AIDS, Richard Stearns announced that he will retire as president of World Vision U.S. at the end of the year.

Stearns (Cornell ’73, Wharton School of Business ’75) joined the relief organization as its fifth president in 1998 after a successful, 23-year corporate career, including roles as CEO of both Parker Brothers Games and Lenox. Under his leadership, World Vision’s annual revenues grew to more than $1 billion and the organization expanded its work in serving children and other humanitarian causes.

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“Serving as World Vision U.S.’s president for 20 years has been an honor,” he said. “Reneé and I have enjoyed this remarkable journey, seeing first-hand the depth and breadth of God’s love for the world. We’ve had the great honor of meeting thousands of children and families, being welcomed into homes, and hearing stories of faith and courage.”

A corporate CEO with a very comfortable lifestyle, Stearns sensed that God was calling him to make a radical change when he was offered the position at World Vision. In 2008, he told his story to students at Christian Union’s Ivy League Congress of Faith and Action in New Haven, Connecticut.

“God was asking me that day to choose,” Stearns said. “He was asking me what kind of disciple I was willing to be. What was the most important thing in my life? Was it my career? My financial security? My family? My stuff? Or was I committed to following Christ regardless of the cost – no matter what?”

At the Ivy League Congress (now known as the Nexus Student Conference), Stearns asked the students, “What does God expect of us as followers of Christ?” 

“You are young, gifted, accomplished, successful, and ambitious,” he said. “How will your Christian faith influence the kind of person you will become both personally and professionally?” Click to Tweet

“As a Christian, you can have only one goal: to serve Christ, to bring the whole Gospel to the whole world, and to demonstrate the values of God’s coming kingdom. Everything else then becomes a means to that end. God is not impressed with your Ivy League degrees. He looks at the character of your heart…You are called to be agents of change in the world for Christ.”

In 2010, Stearns issued a sobering exhortation to Christians with his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, winner of the Evangelical Publisher’s Association Book of the Year award.

“I wrote this book because I believed there is something fundamentally missing in the way that Americans understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Stearns. “It is a wakeup call to those who feel justified by their salvation, yet exhibit no active love  and compassion for their neighbors.”

For Stearns, his journey as World Vision president began with a trip to Rakai, Uganda, where he stood at Ground Zero of the AIDS pandemic and witnessed the pain and poverty of orphaned children. “What I saw in Uganda broke my heart and changed forever my understanding of just what it meant to follow Christ,” he said. 

He left Uganda seeking the presence of the church in the midst of the pandemic. Over the years, World Vision developed strategies and tactics for AIDS prevention, cared for the sick, and lobbied for orphans, in addition to advocating for better governmental policies and programs.

In recent years, Stearns has challenged the church to engage in the global refugee crisis and “follow Jesus into the most difficult places in the world to alleviate human suffering and care for the world’s most vulnerable children.”

“Rich Stearns put compassion over career, leaving business leadership to serve the poor and vulnerable,” Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told Christianity Today. “His Christian faith has been strong and practical from the board room to backwaters of the world. (He is) truly a man of world vision.”

World Vision U.S. recently announced that a national search was underway for a successor to Stearns, who graciously reflected on his time as president and serving alongside tens of thousands of World Vision staff members in 100 countries.

“Their passionate commitment to stand in the gap for the world’s poorest children has inspired me every single day,” he said.

“I’ve had the privilege of leading an organization that transforms the lives of both the wealthy and the poor in profound ways.”