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The Deal God Never Made

The Story of Bob Pierce

Robert Pierce

by Dennis Pollock

I was deeply moved when I read the book, Man of Vision. Few books have ever touched me as this book did. By the time I was nearing its final pages, I was in tears. The book tells the tragic story of the late Bob Pierce, founder of the well known ministry, World Vision. It is lovingly, yet candidly written by Bob's daughter, Marilee Pierce Dunker. It is must reading for every person who even con­templates full time ministry, and would prove to be a blessing for all those who are faced with balancing the service of the Lord with family responsibilities.

BIRTH OF A MINISTRY

After working as a youth pastor in his father-in-law's church, Bob Pierce was discovered by the organization Youth For Christ. In the late 1940's he was sent by that organization over to China to hold youth rallies and evangelistic campaigns. It was there that it became evident that the grace of God was powerfully upon his life. Letters written to his family contain thrilling accounts of huge meetings and  thousands of conversions.

It was heady stuff for a young evangelist. Bob was even entertained by Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and presented her with a Bible. He had gone to China as a nobody, and quickly became a man of international stature. Having tasted the fruit of the promised land of anointed ministry, and the joy of walking in the calling and gifts of God for his life, he became a man with a purpose.

His ministry continued to expand. In Korea, he saw similar phenomenal results. A typical day there might begin at 6:30 a.m., when he would preach to soldiers at an army camp chapel, then to a girl's high school for a 9:00 a.m. meeting. At 1:00 p.m. he would share at a boys' high school, at 3:00 at an assembly for teachers and faculty, and then preach at 7:30 that evening in the city's largest auditorium. On such a day he would speak before four to six thousand people and see hun­dreds make commitments to receive Christ.

One one of his trips a relief worker showed the evangelist an abandoned little girl and asked him the probing question, "What are you going to do about her." The relief agency that the lady worked for could not afford to care for any more orphans. Pierce was deeply touched and gave the lady some money, promising to send her a monthly gift to provide for the child. Soon a compassion and concern for orphans burned powerfully within him, and he began photographing Asian orphans and asking Americans to support them. His tender heart and heart-rending photos and videos had a powerful effect upon people, and soon World Vision was born, an evangelical organization that focused on the physical needs of the poor in third world nations, and which continues to do that to this day.

Within a few short years, such labors made Bob a leg­end throughout Asia. Between the years of 1956 and 1964 he would become one of the ten most traveled men in the world, receiving one and two million miler certificates from several different airlines. His office walls were lined with awards, plaques, and testimonials for loving service he and his up and coming organization, World Vision, had accomplished.

LIFE AT HOME

There was, of course, a price to be paid for such single-minded devotion to the ministry. Bob was absent from his home and family as much as ten months out of each year. When he did come home, his bags often stayed packed, as he would usually be back on the road in a week or so. His wife and daughters adjusted to the chaotic schedule as best they could, but in time it would take a terrible toll upon all of them.

Knowing that his family was being deprived of those special times with dad that most other families took for granted tore at his heart from time to time, but he was convinced that he could do nothing else. Two particular thoughts reinforced this idea. First was the Scripture which he quoted so frequently to assuage the concerns of his wife: "If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children ... he cannot be my disciple." Understanding this to mean that he was obliged to put his ministry and the needs of the world before his own family, he was able to put away any feelings that he might be neglecting his family by his constant absence.

The second thing that enabled him to live a life of almost total neglect of his family was a "deal" he had made with God when he realized the extent of travel his ministry would involve. This deal seemed to be reasonable: "I've made an agreement with God that I'll take care of His helpless little lambs overseas if He'll take care of mine at home." Believing that the Lord would surely honor such a noble arrangement, he was able to justify years of family neglect for "the Lord's sake."

BITTER FRUITS

The story of Bob Pierce is the story of triumph and tragedy; the story of meetings filled with the glory of God, of countless conversions, and yet it is also the story of disintegration and despair. As World Vision grew larger, it required greater and greater organization and controls. And the larger the ministry became, the more conservative the board grew. Pierce began getting into fierce clashes with board members that wanted to rein in some of the maverick founder's impulsive ways. The conflicts finally reached a point where he was fired by the board from the organization he had founded. Pierce's restless spirit could not sit idle and soon after he founded another relief organization, Samaritan's Purse, which was also greatly blessed and also continues to to this day. When Pierce died, his protégé, a young man by the name of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, took over.

Leaving World Vision seemed to inject of note of personal bitterness into Bob's life, although it was not evident is his anointed ministry, and he still found plenty of preaching and ministry outlets for his boundless energy. His daughter Sharon called him while he was oversees one day and asked if somehow he could come home and spend some time with her. She was depressed and desperately needed to see him. It was out of the question, however. He was already scheduled for important meetings in Viet Nam.

When her mother, who had been traveling with Bob that time, managed to get home ahead of Bob, she found her daughter in the hospital with her wrists bound, recovering from an unsuccessful attempt to take her life. "I know you love me, Mama," she said, "but I just needed to feel Daddy's arms around me." In November of 1968 she tried again. This time she did not fail.

Bob Pierce was a deeply emotional man. He was a man of tremendous compassion for children and people in poverty. He had written in the flyleaf of his Bible, "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." God had clearly answered this prayer in his life. Pastor Richard Halverson wrote that Pierce "prayed more earnestly and importunely than anyone else I have ever known. It was as though prayer burned within him. … Bob Pierce functioned from a broken heart." But sadly Bob's emotions could also run the other direction. He could be hot-tempered, stubborn, and intractable.

In time marital issues led Bob to leave his wife and move into a nearby apartment. He never sought a divorce, and his wife prayed fervently for her husband to return. He never did. While in his sixties Bob Pierce was diagnosed with leukemia. As he became progressively weaker, his wife longed to come and be by his side, to nurse and care for him, but still he refused.

Mercifully he did agree to have one final family reunion at a restaurant where he, his wife, and his two grown daughters were able to enjoy each other's presence and pretend that the bitterness of the previous years did not exist. It was the closest thing to an answer to her prayers for reconciliation that his wife would see. Four days later Bob Pierce was dead.

Lessons Learned

Some might wonder why God would anoint and bless a man with such obvious flaws, and who made such little time for his wife and children. Yet there is no denying that Bob Pierce was greatly anointed and used by God. His ministry of compassion and evangelism set off streams of blessings in the earth which to this day show no signs of diminishing. His tremendous compassion and zeal for the poor was clearly genuine. He had gifts in his life which other men, far more stable and self-controlled, could never touch. Why would God anoint and bless such a man's ministry?

This brings us to one of the great mysteries related to what it means, and does not mean, to be a chosen vessel of God for His service. The Bible tells us that the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. Further we are told that God has mercy on whom He wills and hardens whom He wills. Chosen vessels are just that – chosen! And chosen does not mean perfect. If you look very deeply into the lives of some of the greatest men and women of God, you will find anointing, you will find power, you will find effectiveness… and you will find flaws! Now of course we all know that, but what we don’t expect to find are major flaws. Chosen vessels should have tiny, little minor flaws that are hardly noticeable. That may make a nice theory, but in reality it is far from the truth. Noah lying drunk and naked in his tent, Abraham's lying about his wife and letting Pharoah take her into his harem with nary a peep, and David's sleeping with Bathsheba and arranging her husband's death, are all powerful testimonies that God sometimes chooses and uses vessels with serious cracks in them. This does not justify the flaws, and certainly those who flagrantly disobey the commands of God pay a high price, but it does tell us that a perfect state is not necessary before the Creator of heaven and earth puts His hand on your life and begins to use you for His purposes.

The book from which I first learned of this tragic story, Man of Vision, was written by Pierce's daughter, not in a condemning and judgmental fashion, but in a very loving and tender spirit. Amazingly Marilee is a woman who greatly honors and loves her father, yet she comes to what I believe is a very realistic and wise conclusion: the deal that her father made with God to look after His little lambs overseas, if He would look after Bob's at home, was a deal never endorsed or ratified by the Lord. It was not ratified because it violated one of the most fundament tenants of the Scriptures: "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith ... " (1 Timothy 5:8).

We often look at that verse in connection with physical provision, but physical needs are not the only needs moms and dads must provide. The needs for love and warmth and simply being there for our children in difficult times are every bit as important as the need for material things. Ministry and family do not have to be mutually exclusive. We can serve the Lord with all of our heart and still maintain strong families. It all starts with recognizing that our first ministry is to our family. Jesus prayed to the Father, "Those whom You have given Me, I have kept." Surely men in particular need to let that truth sink deeply into their spirits. When God gives a man a wife and children, they are a sacred entrustment. We must determine that by the grace of the Lord Jesus, we will keep that which has been entrusted to us. We will start our ministry in Jerusalem (our family) and then, as the Lord leads, start thinking about Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

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