Berkley Center Knowledge Resources Home Berkley Center Home Berkley Center on iTunes U Berkley Center's YouTube Channel Berkley Center's Vimeo Channel Berkley Center's YouTube Channel Berkley Center's iTunes Page Berkley Center's Twitter Page Berkley Center's Facebook Page Berkley Center's Vimeo Channel Berkley Center's YouTube Channel Berkley Center's iTunes Page WFDD's Twitter Page WFDD's Facebook Page Doyle Undergraduate Initiatives Undergraduate Learning and Interreligious Understanding Survey Junior Year Abroad Network Undergraduate Fellows Knowledge Resources KR Classroom Resources KR Countries KR Traditions KR Topics Berkley Center Home Berkley Center Knowledge Resources Berkley Center Home Berkley Center Forum Back to the Berkley Center World Faiths Development Dialogue Back to the Berkley Center Religious Freedom Project Back to the Berkley Center Religious Freedom Project Blog Back to the Berkley Center Catholic Social Thought Back to the Berkley Center Normative Orders Collaborative
April 16, 2014  |  About the Berkley Center  |  Directions to the Center  |  Subscribe
 
Programs People Publications Events For Students Resources Religious Freedom Project WFDD

Thomas Getman

Thomas Getman is GEO of the Getman Group, a consulting firm dedicated to UN reform and improving partnership among humanitarian organizations. He previously served as World Vision’s executive director for international relations from 2001-09. From 1997 to 2001, Getman served as director of World...

RELATED PROJECT

Practitioners and Faith-Inspired Development

"What is the role of faith in your work?" This series of more than 200 interviews, made possible through the support of the Henry R. Luce Foundation, asks this fundamental question of leaders in the development field. The assembled in-depth conversations with activists and policy specialists...
read more >>

A Discussion with Thomas Getman, Retired Executive Director for International Relations, World Vision

Getmanthomas
Background: Thomas Getman, until March 2009 the director of international relations for World Vision, traced his career working for President Gerald Ford, in the U.S. Senate, and then for 25 years with World Vision in South Africa, Palestine, and Geneva. Getman talked about the gradual movement of World Vision, which has traditionally been a Christian-inspired organization, towards a pluralistic organization fueled by the social justice and humanitarian impulses of people of a range of faith backgrounds. He spoke passionately about the moral emptiness of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which he witnessed first-hand in the 1990s as a country director for World Vision.

Interview Conducted on February 26, 2009

>> click here for pdf

br>You have just retired after twenty-five years with World Vision (WV). Where are you going to take this knowledge that you've accumulated in your different roles?

A first chance for reflection will be the meeting of the “Abraham” conference group, that is fast approaching. This group was started by, among others, the Blue Crescent in Turkey, an NGO. It meets every year in Urfa, an ancient Hittite town in south central Turkey, almost on the Syrian border, where Abraham lived on his way to Egypt and Palestine. The population is now largely Kurdish. The Abraham group hosts an annual conference of mostly Muslim, but also some Christian and Jewish NGOs, to talk about faith-based development issues. I have had contact with the group over the years, and was on an executive committee with their executive director. This year, I'm a speaker at the conference, which is going to be held from May 23-25.

I'm glad my participation was postponed a year, because I'm better prepared for a contribution today. I've had time to think about WV's transformation in terms of the increasing integration of many of us with Muslim partners and communities. Some 18-20% of our staff is Muslim. We struggle with how to translate that into leadership & it's still difficult for board members to think about the senior leaders of World Vision being Muslim rather than Christian. I hope that this conference will represent another step along the way towards real integration and inclusion, somehow, of representatives of the three monotheistic religions with one another in meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed.

Have you ever met Sheikh Rashid Omar? He's the imam of the largest mosque in Cape Town and a very important figure in matters such as interfaith cooperation. He is active in World Council of Churches gatherings and just finished a Ph.D. in Christian theology at Notre Dame. When you see that famous picture of religious leaders, all of the heads of the different denominations and faiths, marching against apartheid in Cape Town, from the prison to St. George's Cathedral, there in the midst of the liberation leaders is Rashid Omar.

Some years ago I asked him “Why in the world are you willing to hang around with Christians?” He made a very poignant and insightful comment, saying, “We marched together, we were shot at together, we went to prison together, and we prayed together. You are my brothers.” He told me, “You are always welcome to come speak in my mosque.” Omar is one of those people who has survived the transition with a post- apartheid vision. Some of the Christian leaders are no longer active clergy. Many others found themselves suddenly without a cause equal to the one that had defined their lives. My daughter, who is a priest in Durban, wrote her thesis on the impact that apartheid had on religious leaders who lost their cause celebre.

I once said jokingly to Desmond Tutu, “Where would apartheid be without Tutu?” And he laughed and said, “Where would Tutu be without apartheid?” The fact is, people's lives were transformed by the experience of the struggle. Rashid is one of those people whose life was transformed into having an inclusionary attitude. More and more people within the Christian faith-based agencies have had that same experience, where they've discovered that we have more in common than not. We all are better in today's climate at “parking” issues that divide until such a time when our partner relationships are strong enough to debate differences.

Can we back up a little bit? Tell us where you come from.

I grew up in Luverne, Minnesota a little country town of 3,500 near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My home was the host home after World War II for the first American Field Service exchange student, a French student. We became great friends, and I still see a lot of him. Our three children each have exchanged with one another and stay close. My dad was an optometrist who taught child development courses at Yale and other universities and graduate schools. He hosted and ran seminars on special needs children, so I met people from South Africa, Australia, Japan, and other places when I just eight or ten. Those experiences gave me a vision that was much larger than just that small town.

Luverne is actually one of the four towns featured in the public television Ken Burns WWII documentary “The War.” Our county had more people per capita serve than almost any other in the nation. Quentin Aanenson, the first Air Force ace in the war, came from Luverne. These were the kind of people that I grew up with and was influenced by.

I played in all sports but especially in basketball and football, and my coaches were very important influences. I was an all-state quarterback, and we had championship teams. My coaches told me that if I wanted to travel the world and give those kinds of community building experiences that I'd gained on the field to others, it was possible.

Concurrently, I got involved in the Young Life Movement, which works with unchurched kids. That organization had a huge impact on my wife and me, and on all my family members. It was about translating relationally what we believed. This ecumenical organization had a significant influence on church structures in our town. An Episcopal theologian from D.C., Verna Dosier, wrote something that I have always remembered: “Tell me not what you believe, show me in your actions what you believe.” My dad was a Quaker humanist, but he was chair of Salvation Army Committee in Luverne. Every hobo and rail rider in that part of the country knew my dad, and would come to our house for a meal or other assistance. And so, the sum of all of that broadening experience that I had in my town prepared me well for life as an internationalist.

I went to Wheaton College, which had a training program for people doing relational work with youth. There I attended a “Sunday School” class on the prophetic biblical literature about responsibility toward the poor taught by psychiatrist - now congressman Jim McDermott - that opened my eyes and heart to Africa. From Wheaton I worked in Philadelphia with Young Life, and then ended up in Boston for nine years, where I was the regional director, in charge of five states, for the Movement. I spent time on the field education staff at Harvard Divinity School. I worked on high school campuses as a supplemental guidance counselor. Karen and I had amazing experiences of being with young people and their families going through the tragedies that young people do.

I also attended seminary at Fuller's Summer Institute in Colorado during this period, and worked in field education at the Gordon Cornwall seminary. I was never ordained as a priest. I combined work and studies and found it more appropriate to not be a “minister” while on high school campuses. My wife was an English teacher during this period, so we came away with an intense dose of real life as it is lived by real people.

While I was helping to run this youth ministry, one day the dean at Gordon Cornwall called me and said, “I have to talk to you about someone who's applied to the youth ministry program. It's quite confidential, and you might want to say no to this, because it might limit the scope of work you're trying to do.” But in fact it widened my scope in ways that are hard to measure.

The applicant was a young man named Michael Ford, who is the eldest son of Gerald Ford. Mike became my assistant on the north shore of Boston and also my best friend. He had a huge impact because of the force of his personality and strong character. In very short order after he joined us, his father became Vice-President and then President of the United States. I became an occasional speech writer for Gerald Ford, helping to inject into his speeches stories of real people. Often when he had something that needed theological underpinning or relational illustrations we would collaborate.

There's an interesting scene in the movie W where, during the 1992 election campaign, the younger George Bush tells his father that unless he's more overt about his Christianity, he's going to lose the election. I had a similar conversation with Gerald Ford. I suggested to him, “As a Christian your natural constituency is the born again Christian. You might want to reach out and be more overt about your commitment to Christ.” And he said, “Young man, I will never do it unless asked. My faith is private. I don't want to manipulate people to vote for me. I love Jesus Christ. If they can't see it in my life, that's their problem.” Jimmy Carter was different, of course, because of his background. He did talk about his faith, and people did respond to that strongly.

One night we were sitting in the living quarters in the White House, and Gerald Ford started giggling like a school boy. I said, “Mr. President, did I say something stupid?” And he said, “No, I'm just sitting here so tickled, that here we are, two country boys, and we're sitting here in the White House.” If he felt that way, you can imagine how I felt! I was so struck with his humility and kindness. Being around the Fords was a wonderful experience and a chance to see how faithful people live. I saw Betty Ford's struggles. I honestly believe if he had been elected president, Mrs. Ford might not have had the impact she did. Mike Ford is still one of my closest friends, and we talk regularly. Being at the President's funeral was a privilege and a deeply moving experience as many others were seeing the quality of these faithful people.

As a result of my engagement in politics, my career took a new turn. After Ford left the Presidency, I agreed to join Senator Mark Hatfield, with whom I had been serving as an “intern” on a fellowship provided by Young Life. For seven years, from 1978 to 1985, I was his legislative director. That is how I first became involved in South Africa. In 1977 Frank Ferrari from the African American Institute called the office and said, “I've got a little known but emerging African leader downstairs here in the Hart Building.” I said, “I've got 15 minutes before my next appointment.” And in walked a curly-haired little man with an infectious smile. Nearly an hour later I asked him to lunch the next day. That was how I met then-Dean of the Johannesburg Cathedral, Desmond Tutu. He subsequently invited the Senator to come for a tour of South Africa. In 1982, we went on Air Force Two with Senators [Thomas] Eagleton and [Paul] Laxalt. By then, Tutu was Executive Director of the South Africa Council of Churches, and he hosted us on our trip.

We visited many places, including Soweto and Durban, and it was during that trip that I saw a World Vision project for the first time. It was (and still is) a wonderful sustainable area development project. It was the project that Alan Paton had started in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, with his Nobel Prize money. We actually had dinner with him and other well informed South Africans. One was the lady, Mrs. Ken [Sarah] Burns, who was then head of the Black Sash in Durban and our guide on the project visit. World Vision is still running that beautiful transformative project; it was at least in part because of how impressed I was with the work that they were doing that I eventually came to work for World Vision.

At that time both Mrs. Burns and Desmond Tutu said, “Please come back.” Two years later, in 1984, I took my whole family there for three and a half months. Karen and I were doing a USAID project to ascertain whether sanctions were helping or hurting the people and to make suggestions about local agencies who would be willing and able to take US government grants. It was on that trip, while we were staying with the Burns household, that my daughter Eliza, then 13, met her future husband Jonathan, then 15. And in fact she is now a priest in the church where Alan Paton was the Senior Warden and a chaplain at the Durban School for Girls, which she visited on that trip. My wife, three children, and I drove all over South Africa, met many of the people who are common names today. We met Mamphele Ramphele, while she was banned to a small town working in a tiny clinic in the northern Transvaal, Alan Boesak, Beyers Naude, progressive parliamentarians and others.

What did you do after you finished your time on the Hill?

I then joined the World Vision staff when Senator Hatfield wasn't sure he was going to run again in 1985. I opened WV's government relations office in Washington DC. There were just two of us in the beginning, working off a card table and chairs. When I left to take a field assignment in 1997 there were 47 staffers, and now there are over 150, and the building has become a sub headquarters for both WVUS and WVI.

In 1989, Brian Sellers-Peterson, an Episcopal priest (and now Episcopal Relief and Development west coast director), Dr. Jamie Price. the director of the Sargent Shriver Institute at the University of Maryland, and I were invited by Desmond Tutu to come to the last beach liberation, at segregated False Bay, right outside of Cape Town. There were several thousand people on the beach that day surrounded by SA “Defense Force” soldiers. Afterwards, and by that time we had written the sanctions legislation, Tutu beckoned the three of us and said, “I want to thank you for all that you've done for us. But Mandela's going to be out of prison soon. And we're on our feet. So now you're dismissed.”

I don't know whether Tutu had seen that scene in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, where the Mahatma before the Salt March told the white British priest assistant, “You're dismissed, and you need to do your own thing now. I think you should take that job you've been offered in Timor.” But it was the situation with Tutu. He said, “If you want to prove your bona fides, you each personally and World Vision, you should turn your eyes to the Palestinians.”

We didn't make it to Palestine until 1997 because until then Bill Warnock was World Vision's director there, and he was doing a great job. When he was getting ready to leave, he was clearly ready for a change after more than nine years. I had been to visit a couple of times, to give him some support and to understand the situation for myself, largely because of the Archbishop's challenge.

In 1999, my wife Karen and I were privileged to be among the hosts for Tutu when he came to Jerusalem. We were traveling in the northern West Bank, seeing projects, communities and churches. Karen said, “Desmond, you're the reason I'm in this hell hole.” And he said, “Now what do you mean?” She said, “You know perfectly well what I mean. People listen to you & you have to be careful!” Tutu has a remarkable sense of humor. When my daughter was ordained he wrote a note saying, “Thank you for the announcement. And, oh my, she looks so great in a collar!”

While we were in Washington and I directed World Vision's office, we had a wonderful life. My wife founded a store to sell, and do development education about, third world art and crafts and the communities from where they came. It was called Mission Traders, which she ran for 10 years. When we moved to Jerusalem she sold it. It was before developing world crafts became all the rage. She really struck a chord with that store, and it became a gathering place for book signings and other events like that.

Tell us about your time in Jerusalem.

We spent five years in Jerusalem. The disenfranchisement of Palestinians got worse and worse the longer we were there. It was a very formative experience for us, especially around interfaith agency partnerships. This was and is a very sensitive thing to say, but I encountered Muslims there who were more faithful followers of Jesus than many Christians I'd met. A lot of Christians doing development work had this very toxic attitude that they were entitled, and that they should be given the premier jobs. I exclude Mennonites from this. I found many of the Muslims I encountered so deeply committed, sacrificially committed. Every time we went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the site of the Nativity, there would be Muslims praying consistent with their understanding of the importance of Jesus as one of their revered prophets.

I began to take notice that there was something more transcendent going on here than evangelical organizations typically take note of. I spoke to Rashid Omar, as well as other Muslim leaders, and thought about what it meant for me, our organization, for a Christian witness, to be truly inclusive. In my view, true inclusiveness and partnership is a more powerful witness to the New Testament message than traditional evangelism or unsolicited verbal witness.

Verna Dozier's quote, “Tell me not what you believe. Tell me the difference it makes that you believe,” is a very compelling thing to think about in this regard. Maybe the theology of the diaconia is a more appropriate way in this world, this divided, confused world, than the traditional theology of overt verbal evangelism. Western Christianity has become shopworn by inappropriate preaching, end times theology, and often offensive or destructive missions. I think there is a growing number of people, specifically in faith-based agencies, that are coming to grips with that. Where it all leads, who knows. If we're not careful, we're going to lose our Christian distinction by over-emphasizing theological purity over inclusion.

It is a wonderful, opportune moment to be associated with faith-based development agencies, which are for the most part doing an increasingly good job of mounting integrated missions. I'm very pleased that WVUS president Rich Stearns is on President Obama's council of faith advisors. He's grown immensely over time and is a wonderful leader and author of a good book, “There is a Hole in the Gospel”.

How did you get to Geneva?

I knew at the end of the fourth year in Palestine that I was too angry, because of what I was witnessing, to be a positive change agent. My checkered background & I have distant - past 17th Century European Jewish heritage - gave me a unique perspective as an officer in a faith-based Christian agency. As my Jewish friends say, blood recognizes blood. My Dad and grandfather's names are Nathan. Even my name, Getman, is a Jewish name. I have family in settlements in Palestine, the illegal settlements. I was so angry because I saw what it means for a people to lose their core values. The destruction that Israel has wrought on Palestinians in general is self destructive - the sword they use has pierced through their own heart. Land has become, as University of Chicago church historian Dr. Martin Marty says, “…an idolatrous substitute for God…and the other has become less than human.” Xenophobia is an awful thing for the victim and the perpetrator.

By the end of my fourth year there, I was having difficult relations with the commander of the IDF, to whom I had to report regularly. Israel is one of the few places where humanitarian agencies don't have an official protocol for operations in insecure areas. Things would be so much better if only there were normalized relations. Finally I asked the general why this was the case, and he said, “Because we hate the UN.” I asked, “What's that got to do with us?” and he declared, “You're all linked.”

From 1997 to 2000, things were quite hopeful. But then after the failure of the talks in 2000, things got worse and worse, especially after Ariel Sharon's intrusive visit to the Haram el Sharif, or from Israeli's perspective, the Temple Mount. There was the second intifada. I saw much awful undeserved suffering, especially among children, much before the wider world understood it. It made me physically sick, and by the end if one more Israeli soldier pointed an Uzi machine gun at me and said, “Shalom,” I was likely to react inappropriately. It was a year before we finally moved on, and much of the development work my staff had done was being destroyed by military action and settlement expansion.

For a long time, it had been clear that my gifts, in terms of serving World Vision, were suited for practical diplomacy. So I was made a senior diplomat for WV, the liaison officer to the UN in Geneva. And I picked up where my predecessor, Dr. Eric Ram, left off. He was a medical doctor and had developed a close relationship with the World Health Organization. I built on that and reached out to many more UN agencies, including OCHA and UNICEF, as well as with other institutions based in Geneva.

The time in Geneva was a satisfying career capstone for us, and I really enjoyed doing the UN humanitarian reform work and partnership building. I traveled to 13 countries over the past two years to try to deepen the impact of UN reform with regards to the role of NGOs and the Red Cross/Red Crescent in the different country teams.

That is another loop where I've come back around full circle. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was part of the first groups of NGOs that went for the briefings in New York at the UN's Department of Humanitarian Affairs information sessions. Back then, we were still children begging at the master's feet for a few crumbs. I won't name names, but many UN people saw humanitarian relief as their own domain, so we could never get in the door in terms of coordination or gaining critical information. If it hadn't been for that group of us that kept participating, probably the idea of OCHA never would have gotten the traction that it did. At least one of the coordinators of those monthly meetings, the recent President of the Security Council Jan Eliason, indicates we were an encouragement to him, Kofi Annan and Martin Griffeths in their efforts to establish OCHA. It's very satisfying to see NGOs participating as they do now. It has now become more automatic for non-UN field staff to be included in country team meetings. In some countries there are even NGO country co-chairs. They do it in Sudan, and I've urged it in every place I've gone. I hope it's true in Haiti, Malawi, Senegal, and Zimbabwe.

Inclusion is really the watchword. It's happening religiously, across agencies, even though the big agencies, especially the faith-based agencies, are understandably very competitive. Still I know that the heads of the agencies are in much closer touch than they used to be. There's a whole new level of trust and confidence. There's the feeling that each of us doesn't have to do everything.

It's been a very satisfying 25 years with World Vision.

How do you see the narrative of WV? It's come so far.

I think it's a bit of a miracle, frankly. In theological terms there's a lot of grace around it. One of the things that we have to be careful of when we talk about it, is that for a very long time WV had very human, even flawed, leadership. Not so surprising given that like all others we are human institutions. We had a founder, Bob Pierce, whose family indicates that he was a manic depressive. But he did have a vision for the Christian church reaching out beyond its comfort zone and he did care passionately for orphan children in the aftermath of World War II, the China Civil War, and the Korean War. He really did focus the American church, especially the conservative church, on our intractable selfishness and inspired people to give and, even more, engage personally. I have often thought if people are left too long in situations of such awful suffering it is inevitable that we will be affected by physical or mental illnesses.

And then Dr. Stan Mooneyhan, who took over from Bob, was a bit of a megalomaniac. Stan used to call the Senator Hatfield's office from all over the world. One time he called from Singapore, and Senator Hatfield was in a meeting with another senator. I took the call, and Stan was crying on the other end of the phone. He said, “I've got to talk to the Senator right now.” I told Stan that Senator Hatfield was in a meeting with another senator. He said, “What I want you to do is to call the Secretary of the Treasury (Michael Blumenthal) and get WV an assets control board certificate so we can buy a ship with American dollars and pick up refugees in the South China Sea. I need it by tomorrow.” I told him, in my best bureaucratic manner, “That is not the way the system works.” We have to write a letter, go through the process, I explained. Stan said, “You tell the senator, as soon as he is out of his meeting, that we've got to do this now, and we'll save thousands of lives.” And so when the Senator was finished with his meeting, I walked in and said, “You'll never believe what crazy Stan Mooneyhan is asking for now. He is demanding that you call Secretary Blumenthal so he can do this crazy thing of spending thousands of dollars on an old ship.”

Before I could finish explaining, Senator Hatfield said, “I don't care what that godly man has asked, you do whatever he has asked you to do.” I said to the Senator, “Well, on this one, you are going to have to call the secretary.” And he immediately picked up the phone, and the famous Sea Sweep effort was born in less than 24 hours. I have since met people who were some of the hundreds picked up out of the sea. It was a pivotal moment in WV's history, and put the organization into a whole different realm in terms of advocacy.

That was in 1978; I only joined WV in 1985. And up until then World Vision really had no presence in Washington. But the Sea Sweep episode planted the seed in terms of what was possible. It seemed after that that nothing was impossible if your cause was just.

My experiences with Senator Hatfield and President Ford demythologized the system for me, and so it made perfect sense when they asked me to open the office here in 1985.

Dean Hirsch, President of WVI is retiring soon. What is the process for choosing the new president?

The board of directors chooses the president. There were, I understand, 109 applicants, and it has been narrowed to 10 finalists. The search committee is interviewing these 10 finalists, who are from all over the world. A couple are from North America, but the others are from every other region in the world. By September, a name will be put before the board and they'll vote.

The board is what's held WV together through thick and thin. Amazingly, funding is still on par with last year's funding. There are limits on how much can be taken from governments' aid agencies. Each region of the world has a board of directors. Each country has a board. Each region has a steering committee board. From those groups, on rotation, are elected representatives to sit on the international board.

How has the theology changed over the years?

Like in everything, theological and philosophical, there are basic structures - all WV staff are asked to sign a faith statement. Today, they are given the choice between the Apostle's or Nicean Creeds and the organization's own Statement of Faith. It's not both, it's either / or. For me, the faith statement that the founders established is a little too conservative, but I signed the Creeds quite happily. That's something that some mainstream Christians in WV have insisted on. There are understandable arguments for it and the American law protects agencies or religious institutions and churches to be able to hire people of like mind.

So there's the basic structure that is immutable, and then there's the negotiated structure that's more regional, that's appropriate to the churches, the personalities of the countries or situations.

The Latin America office has been more conservative than the European or Asian offices. We work very hard, and Africa has been somewhat the test case for this, to make sure that the theological structure is not self-perpetuating. It's too easy to just hire Pentecostals, and that's more the case in Latin America then it is anywhere else in the world.

WV is becoming more Catholic. There were not very many, if any, Catholics when I joined in 1984. In fact, at that time many fundamentalist Christians couldn't really imagine that a Catholic was really a Christian. That's no longer the case. I would be very surprised if less than a quarter of the organization was Catholic. Most of the staff is still mainstream Protestant.

I think that the broadening of the faith backgrounds of WV people is a normal maturation process. I think it's just what happens when people and organizations grow up. I was much more conservative as a college kid than I am now, for instance.

Are there any worries about WV losing its Christian identity?

That's the worry of the board of directors and some of the senior leadership. Some of them will approach me and say, “Tom, we can't give an inch on this. Or we'll go the way of Yale University and the YMCA!” The more I see of Yale and the YMCA, the more I think that wouldn't be a bad thing! The YMCAs are wonderful, vibrant places where theology and faith are alive. The chapels on Yale and other so called secular campuses are places that serve searching people. And there's a lesson in that - if you try to put this in a bottle, and put a cork in it, then you lose the ebb and flow of the work of the Spirit. Christianity will still have a major influence on the organization in 25 years, but I think it will be seen more like a Sojourners community. Still Christ-centered, but not so defined in terms of evangelicalism.

I have to tell you a funny story. When I was first hired by World Vision, my wife was furious. She had seen terrible abuse by Christian organizations, and she felt that it was an embarrassment to have these organizations called Christian, and actually it is grammatically incorrect, she saw that they didn't live out biblical values.

So when the WV executive came to our house, I had told him I couldn't possibly work for WV, because of these bad experiences. I said, “There's just no way my wife is going to go along with my working for a so-called Christian organization.” He said, “Well, OK. Can I come over for dinner to talk about it with you both?” I told him he could, but to be prepared, because she's no holds barred. So I was sitting at the table, and the kids had been excused, and this gentleman said, “Karen, we would really like Tom to open our office here. His relationships make it a very dynamic possibility.” And then crying she said, “There's no way that Tom's going to work for your organization.” Then she recounted some of her stories. Then he said, “Karen, don't worry. WV is not really a Christian organization. Christian is a noun, not an adjective. You don't have to be worry about being treated by WV as you've seen others treated by faith-based organizations.” And soon she started to laugh, and it didn't take long after that before we had made a decision.

It's really true. I think operationally, and with the wise leadership WV has had, there's been a real recognition that it's inappropriate to call an organization “Christian”. I think faith-based is a better way to see it. It gives you freedom to take it where you're going to take it. It gives Muslims the freedom to question what they want to question and even to feel solidarity as a monotheistic religion.

The organization is at that stage where it's pondering what its role is. Rich Stearns' new book is a helpful sign of that. Most people haven't understood the power of engagement with the so-called “bottom billion.” Probably none of us have! That engagement is going to have to be in more inclusionary than it has been in the past, with eyes wide open to see God's working through less traditional people and ways.

I am ever more impressed with how interfaith relationships can show the way, especially with Muslims. My eldest son was working in Senegal with World Vision, and one of his friends came later to visit us in the U.S. He was a good Muslim, very devout in his prayer disciplines and lifestyle. He was a lovely man. So on Saturday evening we said, “It's our habit to go to Episcopal church, and you're welcome to go with us if you'd like. Or we'll take you to the mosque.” Sure enough, he came down at 8am the next morning, and off we went. When it came time for the Eucharist, I said, “This is for believers, and you're welcome to go with us if you'd like. Don't feel embarrassed.” Sure enough, when it came time for us to partake of the elements, he went up with us. He held out his hands in the proper way. He didn't say thank you, he said Amen. And then afterwards, when it was time for the creed, I handed him the prayer book, he didn't even open it, because he knew the creed by heart. This is someone who prays in the mosque and is an observant Muslim. I said to him later, “That was a wonderful experience for us. To what do you attribute your understanding of and appreciation for the Christian faith?” He said, “For years I've been going to the local monastery for evensong. I'm as much a seeker as anyone else.” The power of that is so immense in terms of shaping people's understanding that it cannot help but shape World Vision, into a more effective instrument of healing and reconciliation for all people no matter their religious or cultural backgrounds.