Women who inspired World Vision's founding father

My father, Bob Pierce, first traveled to China in 1947 with Youth for Christ. World Vision wasn’t even a twinkle in his eye. But years later, he would write, “My own world vision from God was sparked on that first trip.” Among the people who ignited that spark were women who were determined to change the world in Jesus’ name.

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Beth Albert: “The trigger of the vision God gave me for missions.” -Bob Pierce

My father met American missionary Beth Albert in a remote area of China called Kunming. Beth introduced Dad to a world he never knew existed.

In 1947, leprosy was still considered a death sentence. Beth had discovered more than 100 people struggling to survive in the only place they were allowed to live—a cemetery. They were starving, naked, and dying.

Most heartbreaking of all, their healthy babies died with them. Beth, a trained nurse, was determined to help.

“Beth had no help from the outside,” my dad would later recall. Until he began supporting her, she was dependent upon whatever the locals would give her. She scrounged for old cans and taught the people to fill them with mud to make bricks. With these, they managed to build small shelters.

Food, clothing, medicine, Bible studies … somehow one indomitable woman managed to bring life and hope to those whom the world had written off. And every one of the precious people she served came to know Jesus, not because she preached, but because she loved.

After she was forced to leave China when the communists took over, World Vision continued to support Beth Albert’s work with lepers and the poor in India, which included establishing 14 leprosy clinics.

My dad credited Beth as “the trigger of the vision God gave me for missions.”

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Tena Holkeboer: "World Vision was born that day." -Bob Pierce

Dad arrived on the island of Amoy for a week of Youth for Christ meetings.

Tena Holkeboer, a Reformed Church of America missionary and principal of the Iok Tek Girls’ Middle School, invited him to speak at their morning chapels. As a result, several of the girls accepted Christ.

What happened next has become a familiar World Vision story. At the end of the week, Dad went to Tena’s home to say goodbye. She met him at the door holding a little girl who had been beaten and abandoned by her family for becoming a Christian.

Shocked and feeling utterly helpless, my father asked, “You will take care of her, won’t you?”

“I am feeding as many children as I can,” Tena replied. “The question is, What are you going to do?”

It was a question my Dad had been asking himself ever since Kunming.

Overwhelmed, he had walked away from the needs of many. But now God was confronting him with the need of one child.

Dad gave Tena his last five dollars, promising to send more when he got home. He would later reflect, “I didn’t know it at the time, but in a real, practical sense, World Vision was born that day.”

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Lillian Dickson: “Typhoon Lil” scooped out her bucketful

My dad was introduced to Lillian Dickson in 1953 on a visit to Taiwan (then called Formosa).

Her willingness to take on human need wherever she found it reaffirmed my father’s conviction that God will do impossible things when we don’t limit him.

Their lifelong partnership would bring thousands to Christ and become one of the enduring cornerstones of World Vision’s ministry.

Lillian came to Formosa in the 1920s as a missionary’s wife. Her husband, Jim Dickson, was the “official” missionary in the family while his bride devoted herself  to their children and home. But when the kids got older, Lillian decided she wasn’t going to “sit out her life.”

With Jim’s blessing, she packed up her Bible and accordion, and began hiking with a team of medical missionaries into the most remote areas of Taiwan. They went where neither modern medicine nor the hope of the gospel had ever reached.

Over the next 30 years, “Typhoon Lil” walked thousands of miles, wading through rushing rivers, crossing dangling wooden bridges, and facing down angry witchdoctors and headhunters. She slept, ate, laughed, and cried with the tribal people she loved, and every day God trusted her with new needs and a bigger vision.

Asked why she worked so hard when people’s needs were like a great ocean of suffering that could never be emptied, Lillian responded, “I must scoop out my bucketful.”

Her bucketful included caring for street children, lepers, and abandoned babies.  With support from World Vision and other partners, she built churches, schools, children’s homes, and clinics.

Her ministry continues today through Mustard Seed International.

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Elizabeth Hunter: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” -Matthew 28:19 (NIV)

These three women are only a few of the legendary missionaries who influenced my father’s life and ministry. But there is one name that is not in the history books. I doubt she ever left the country. Still, her life helped change the world.

Her name was Elizabeth Hunter and she was my father’s high school Sunday school teacher. Every week, she brought Bible stories to life for a group of active teens, challenging them to make a difference in Jesus’ name.

Throughout his life, my father credited Miss Hunter with first challenging him to ministry. But I never realized how deep that challenge went until I discovered a small blue book among my father’s library a few years ago.

It was titled James Hudson Taylor, Pioneer Missionary of Inland China. On the first page, I found an inscription dated Christmas 1928: “To Bob from Miss Hunter. My prayer and deepest desire for you is Matthew 28:18-20. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

Your prayers were answered, Miss Hunter.

Marilee Dunker is the daughter of World Vision founder Bob Pierce, author of Man of Vision,” World Vision senior advocate, and a keynote speaker for World Vision.

Visit World Vision’s Speakers Bureau site to request Marilee or another World Vision Speaker to present at your upcoming event.

Follow in Bob Pierce's footsteps and sponsor a child today. You can form a special bond with a boy or girl who will know your name and feel your prayers, while providing basics like nutritious food, clean water, access to education, medical care, safe shelter, and more.


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