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The evolution of an NGO’s bureaucratic structures as it positions itself theologically and organizationally in the worlds of religion and development does not seem like a recipe for a sexy narrative. But God’s Internationalists: World Vision and the Age of Evangelical Humanitarianism pulls it off. Here’s why this book works:
First, author David King, the Director of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at IUPUI, has good material to work with. The book’s main character, Bob Pierce, is quite a character. In building World Vision, he is impulsive, restless, oriented to action, and ambitious. He becomes a globe-trotting adventurer who neglects his family. Even when his wife, who has suffered a mental breakdown and is confined to a bed and pleads for him not to leave, he does anyway. She is persuaded by the evangelist Torrey Johnson to “release” her husband to the Lord’s call in China.
Passionate - Pierce - Everything - Emergency - Something
The passionate Pierce turns everything into an emergency, which says something important about Bob Pierce himself, the organization, and perhaps even something about evangelicalism generally. Consider this quote from Pierce as published in the Los Angeles Times:
“World Vision has a new complex computer system which diagnoses the failures of Christianity and prints them on a data sheet. . . . I can’t stand it. I love the early days when I was walking with widows and holding babies. When I began flying over them and being met by committees at the airport it almost killed me.”
History - Story - King - Against - Odds
If history is fundamentally about story, King succeeds here. Against all odds, he manages to make the history of this bureaucratic behemoth a rollicking tale of one man’s strength and weakness—and an organization’s fascinating response to the chastening of decolonization, Vietnam, and famine in Ethiopia.
Second, God’s Internationalists works because King does very good historical work, especially in two areas...
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