As part of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church's "World Without Walls" series, Compassion International president Jimmy Mellado discussed the need for hope in the world and shared why he believes the world's 700 million evangelicals have a personal responsibility to care for the 400 million people living in poverty.
According to its website, Compassion International is a "love thy neighbor" ministry" dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty around the world. The organization has sponsored over 1,700,000 children and has partnered with over 6,900 international churches to help provide physical and spiritual assistance to those in need.
The Importance of Hope
After being introduced by Menlo Park Church Pastor John Ortberg, Mellado, a former Olympic decathlon athlete and Harvard MBA graduate, shared one particular event in his life that opened his eyes to the importance of hope.
Eight years ago, Mellado and his family were traveling to Mexico when his 13-year-old son, Davey, spotted a beach along the way and asked if he could swim for 15 minutes.
After jumping into the Pacific Ocean with his son, Mellado was unnerved to discover that they were drifting out into the brink of the ocean. "No, no, no not a riptide please," he recalled saying as he and his son were pulled further and further away from the beach.
Despite Mellado's attempts to guide his son back to shore, the riptide continued to pull him underneath.
"Davey came up, and he was just struggling to get to the surface," Mellado remembered. "I'll never forget the image of his little face just getting above the water and going, 'Help! I can't'...As a dad, I can't tell you what that did inside of me...I kept thinking, 'This is going to end badly.'"
As the waters swirled around him, Mellado recalled feeling hopelessness and despair, believing both he and his son were going to lose their lives. While the pair eventually made it back to shore, the physically traumatic nature of the event caused Mellado to experience kidney failure.
"About four days later I gained 28 pounds...my body began retaining fluid...It hurt to walk," he said. After undergoing dialysis, Mellado eventually physically recovered, but struggled to recover spiritually.
"I opened up my heart to say, 'Lord, is there anything you want to teach me?' And He took me back to me and Davey, struggling and panicking in the water...and here was the question: Why did I start trying when I had no hope of ever getting back to the beach?"
After living in that question for some time, Mellado said, "I realized something about the nature of hope, how it works in our lives, and how much of it you need it a really dark situation."
He and his son were able to survive the near-death experience in part due to his son's decision to swim back to shore despite overwhelming odds, Mellado contended.
"When my feet hit the sand, even though I was underwater ten feet or so, that's when I thought, 'I'm going to die, but it's not here, and it's not today.'"
Mellado said the incident taught him the importance of acting on one's faith, step by step and day by day.
"In the whole process, I mostly didn't have enough hope we'd ever make it back, but I did have enough hope to make the next move," he said. "In any desperate situation, that's all you need...Hope gives you enough energy to take that next move, and then the miraculous thing is that more hope comes along the way. When you act on it, God begins to meet you there in your despair and hopelessness to help you make that move."
Providing Hope to the World through Compassion International
The experience inspired Mellado to dedicate his life to providing hope to others through his work with Compassion International.
"Through Compassion International, I get to minister to children and families who have hope ripped away from them," he said. "That's what poverty does - poverty is more than just not having money; it's not having hope, not having a choice, not having the opportunity."
He added, "God said, 'I'm going to call you to serve children that are feeling this not just through a swimming incident, but they feel it every day."
When asked to expound on the need for hope in the world, especially as it relates to children, Mellado said that many parents who raise their children in poverty feel much like he did as he watched his son struggle through the turbulent waters of the Pacific.
He revealed that there are a staggering 400 million children living in the world today that are living on less than $1.25 a day.
"Parents feel that 'I brought this child into the world, and it's not going well for them and there's no future for them.' They feel that they are taking their children to their death...it's hard to get your arms around it. It's almost as overwhelming as it felt for me to battle against the riptide," Mellado explained.
How Can I Teach My Child to Care for the Poor?
In continuing his comments, Mellado shared some tips for parents who want to teach their children to become aware of the needs of the world and become agents of hope.
"Long before I worked with Compassion International, I was actually concerned about raising my children in the United States," Mellado revealed. "I wondered, 'Will they grow up entitled? Will they be spoiled? What will be their worldview?' We looked to Compassion and said, 'We want each of our children to build a relationship with a child that lives in very different circumstances somewhere in the world in a poverty context.' But we also wanted them to sponsor a child that had their same name."
For example, Mellado said that he encouraged his daughter, Elizabeth, to sponsor a girl named also named Elizabeth in Guatemala to remind her that their circumstances could easily be switched.
Two years ago, Elizabeth's father experienced a tragic fall, permanently disabling him, and her mother passed away. At just ten years old, Elizabeth was forced to care for both her siblings and her father. Through Compassion International, Elizabeth, and her family received a new home, healthcare, education, and Biblical instruction.
"As Jesus lovers, our responsibility is to love what Jesus loves and care for the marginalized and disenfranchised and poor," Mellado said.
He also charged that there are two parts to hope: the first part is comprised of an optimistic thought about one's future. The second part is the belief that one can actually accomplish that better future - something those in situations of poverty are robbed of.
Through both physical and spiritual assistance, Compassion International seeks to provide impoverished families and children with a sense of hope and encouragement.
God Can Use Even the Darkest Circumstances for His Glory
Mellado encouraged those struggling with feelings of inadequacy in their identity to remember that God can use even the most broken of vessels for His glory. He shared a bit about his personal story, revealing that he was born in El Salvador and for many years lived in impoverished regions of the world. After coming to the United States, he was accepted to Harvard. Desperate to be accepted as an American, Mellado revealed he was ashamed of his birth name - Santiago.
"After being at Harvard, I began working for a successful organization...that organization was wanting to increase its diversity...and they said, 'We don't even have diversity on our executive team.' I said, 'You know I'm Hispanic, right?' And they said something that really hit me hard: 'Oh, but you don't count.' And then the next phrase that entered into my mind was, 'I finally made it, I'm finally American. And I'm seen that way.' And then another thought came right after that: 'And it's not you.'"
Mellado told that story to encourage listeners to be themselves fully and embrace who God has made them to be: "God told me, 'I'm going to take those parts of ou that you were running away from, and I am going to make it central to your life's calling.'" Because of this pivotal experience, Mellado was compelled to return to Central America to minister and help build the bridge between evangelicals and those in need.
"God can redeem anything - he is an expert at it," Mellado said of how God used his circumstances for good.
Before closing in prayer, Pastor Ortberg emphasized that "Our God is a God that loves and heals and redeems and cares for all of our lives" - not just our strengths, but also the parts that we want to run away from.
To learn more about Compassion International or learn how you can sponsor a child, visit their website.