Words as Seeds
About the Guest
Each word you speak takes root for good or bad in the hearts of those who hear it. Be careful what you sow. Wess Stafford, Compassion International President and author of the book, "Just a Minute," asks listeners to choose their words and actions wisely, especially when interacting with children, who are easily influenced.
Wess StaffordFrom the poor of Africa's Ivory Coast to President and Chief Executive Officer of Compassion International, Dr. Wesley K. Stafford - Wess - has maintained one simple belief: God's children are priceless resources. To that end, Wess leads Compassion's efforts to break the cycle of poverty for children everywhere. Wess joined the staff of Compassion International in 1977 and has worked with the ministry, both overseas and at headquarters, for 34 years. He has served as president since 1993. Wess l...more
Each word you speak takes root for good or bad in the hearts of those who hear it.
Words as Seeds
Bob: Wess Stafford’s mom and dad were missionaries. What he saw growing up as a child in Africa marked his life forever.
Wess: The village that I grew up in was a poverty-stricken village. By the time I was 15 years old and came to America to live, half of my boyhood friends had died (of things that I later learned they didn’t need to die from). I remember getting to America and following people, carrying grocery bags in New York City. I backtracked, being a pretty good hunter. I came upon my first grocery store. I saw all of this food; and I realized that nobody needed to starve, out there in Africa.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ve all sung the song, Jesus Loves the Little Children. The question is, “Do we love them?” What are we doing about it? We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You wrote a book, a number of years ago, in which you described words as seeds.
Bob: Your words are planting something every time you speak. It’s either weeds that are going to grow up or it is good fruit that is going to grow up on the words that you plant; right?
Dennis: Yes, and there was a song that our kids used to sing when we would travel in the summer to some mission projects that we would do, “So be careful what you sow; what you’ve planted there will start to grow.” You know, good seeds produce good fruit; bad seeds produce bad fruit. In fact, let me just read here, at the start of the broadcast, what the apostle James says about the tongue. Before I get to the passage, I’m looking across the table at our friend Wess Stafford, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Wes, welcome back.
Wess: It’s good to be here!
Dennis: President of Compassion International®. He’s got a passion for parents and adults to all speak good words to kids (so just to put our conversation here into context). Here’s what James says, though, Chapter 3, verse 5, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire. The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body; setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird and reptile and sea creature can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is restless, evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse people who are made in the image of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
That’s what you’ve written about in your book, Just a Minute. You’re talking about the power of words and their impact in the lives of children.
Wess: I would argue a special impact in the lives of children as they are so easily impressed with things that either build them up or destroy them. Words are powerful.
Bob: One of the stories that you tell about, in your book, is the story of a man who is, today, an 87-year-old retired professor from seminary. He was a mentor to Dennis Rainey. That’s Dr. Howard Hendricks. He had words spoken to him by one of his teachers that marked his life.
Wess: Exactly. That’s one of the stories in the book. You’re right, Bob. He grew up in not such a strong school district and he was not such a great student—this brilliant man. They simply passed him from grade, to grade, to grade, to grade; you know? Finally, when he got to, I think, fourth grade, his teacher had read the reports from the third-grade teacher that said, “You know, he’s not so smart. I wouldn’t waste a whole lot of time on him.”
She sat him down and said, “Do you know what the teachers have said about you?” She said, “You know what? I don’t believe a word of that, Howie!” She poured herself into him, and he prospered under that teacher’s love and those moments of kind words. He went on to become this great seminary professor. I think he’s written 56 books. I think you could argue that he was on a downward spiral until that minute when a teacher said, “I don’t believe anything they’re saying about you.”
Dennis: He taught more than 12,000 students. He taught for 60 years, until his retirement. I was just with him last fall during the World Series. Unfortunately, he was for the Rangers and I was for the Cardinals—you know we had a bit of a run-in there; (Laughter) but he’s still my friend. Anyway, I was chatting with him. He said, “By the way, I’m still coming to seminary once a week. I’ve got 12 students I’m teaching.” Even though he has formally retired, he is a teacher of men, around the Word of God.
You had a moment in your life, with your father, that was a defining moment around your mission in life—your career. Is that right?
Wess: It is true! I was 15 years old when I got to America. I had been through a great deal. We’ve talked about abuse on one side, but the village I grew up in was a poverty-stricken village. By the time I was 15 years old and came to America to live, half of my boyhood friends had died (of things that I later learned they didn’t need to die from).
I remember going to America and following people, carrying grocery bags in New York City—I back-tracked, being a pretty good hunter. I came upon my first grocery store. I saw all of this food; and I realized that nobody needed to starve, out there in Africa. Then, next door was medicine; it was a pharmacy. I realized there was plenty of medicine. I was absolutely broken-hearted at age 15.
It was almost that same day, riding along in a car—there was an expression back in those days, “So, what do ya say?!” (I don’t know if we do that so much anymore.) I had never heard that. I was, you know, a kid out of Africa. We were riding along, and this man who was driving the car—a pastor—turned around to me, sitting in the back seat, and said, “So what do ya say, Wess?!” I thought, “I don’t know what I say. Are children assigned things to say over here?” (Laughter)
He went on to say, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, I was so hurt and so damaged at that time, I didn’t know there was any value in me at all. I sat there, you know, in the backseat, with my heart just pounding with, “I don’t know what to say.” My father came to my rescue. He said, “You know, Wes has been through a lot. He’s seen a lot of suffering. He has a big heart. What he loves to do is help hurting people.”
I sat back there and I thought, “Yes. That is me. That is what I do.” Now, here I am, 34 years in Compassion International. You could argue that—that moment, when my father, sort of in his one sentence, clarified my feelings and my drive. “He’s seen a lot of hurting people. He loves to help.”
Bob: You remember that story. You remember being in the back of the cab and hearing your dad say, “He likes to help hurting people.” Did it hit you immediately? That day, were you walking out going, “That’s the direction I want my life to go”?
Wess: It was a double-whammy that day. I can remember. I remember the heat; I remember the smell in the back of that cab; I remember everything about it. The thought that came through my head was, “Really? Is that really me?” Then, the same day, I stumbled onto my first grocery store and all of this came together.
I remember when I realized that the kids—my friends—didn’t need to die. I went and sat on the curb; and I just wept on the streets, realizing all of the loss in my life didn’t need to happen—not in that village. When I ran—it was in Manhattan—so nobody stopped and said, “Are you okay, kid?” I ran out of tears, and I began watching people go by. I became more and more angry. I thought, “How can you have all of this and not care?” I actually went for quite a while, with that rage in my heart.
Wess: I mean, through high school, with that rage until I had lived in America long enough to realize, “It’s not that they don’t care. They don’t even know!” Here’s where I really got my calling, with the words of my father, echoing in my ears. I realized, “You know what? I have lived now at both ends of this bridge. I know both worlds. I know the poverty, and I know these good-hearted people. Somehow, I’m going to have to bridge these two worlds.” That’s when I stumbled onto Compassion. If it hadn’t already been going, I probably would have had to be the founder of it! (Laughter)
Wess: But it was my father’s words—it all came together, really, in about a 12-hour span of time.
Bob: Some of our listeners may be familiar with Compassion child sponsorships, but give us the big picture. How many kids’ lives are being touched by what Compassion is doing around the world every year?
Wess: It’s over a million children now. There are 1.3 million children that are each linked to some loving, caring person, around the world. Two million have graduated from Compassion in the last 60 years. They are pastors, doctors, nurses. They are the salt and light of some of these poverty-stricken countries, poised to change the world.
The thing that got me excited about this Just a Minute book on Compassion children is for Compassion sponsors—these million people. Not all of them get a moment with their child, but they get a sentence with their child. In letters that they write back and forth, they can breathe life into a child, with just a sentence.
We have a little guy named Joshua out of Kenya. He grew up in one of the slums of Nairobi. He, now, is grown. He got a full-ride scholarship to university in Holland. He is studying (let me get this right)—he’s getting a Master’s in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease. His heart’s cry is to come up with a vaccine for malaria. He says—and his story is actually in the book—He says, “The first person who ever breathed into me that I might be able to do something with my life was my sponsor in the United States.”
Bob: You’re saying a letter that the sponsor wrote, that got sent to this little boy in Kenya, sparked in him the thought that he could do something?
Wess: Exactly right! It’s exactly the moment—
I know another one that I just love! This was one of our kids, who grew up through Compassion, and became a nurse. When her sponsor—nursing was a very tough thing for a girl out of poverty—but her sponsors had said to her, “We believe in you. Just don’t give up. You can do this!” Well, I got to visit this girl in Bolivia. Her name was Jenny. We went to the project that she had grown up in. It was this little adobe church. We walked in. She was in her pristine white nurse’s outfit. There was me and then her two sponsors, who had been with her since she was a little girl. The pastor recognized her. We were unannounced. He asked her to come to the front because he knew that she could sing.
This beautiful, Bolivian nurse goes to the front and tunes the guitar. There are about a hundred kids in this little adobe church. She starts singing. She sings, and I watch her eyes from where I am about 20 yards away. I can see that she’s looking at all of the children. Then, all of a sudden, her eyes are looking at one spot. I see tears welling up in this nurse’s eyes, and I see them spill down her cheek. Her voice cracks and she finally stops. She puts the guitar down, and I look where she’s looking. It’s a little girl—a little girl, so small, in the third row—so small that her feet are swinging in the air. They don’t even touch the floor. This nurse says to this little girl, “Sweetheart, that’s where I used to sit. That was my spot.”
Dennis: Oh, wow!
Wess: “Do you see what’s happened to me? It can happen to you. Don’t ever, ever give up.” At that moment, I watched her eyes look up to her sponsors, standing in the back of the church, who had said those very words to her. That’s all I saw. From that point on, it was just a blur.
Dennis: You know, I’m just reflecting back on how you started those last two stories, talking about letters—the power of words on a piece of paper. We’ve become such an email culture we’ve missed the power of a personal letter that we send, especially to a child. It can be a grandparent writing a grandchild.
Dennis: I’m just thinking of the opportunities that we ought to be seizing that could be kept. I think it’s down to, for every 20 pieces of mail that we get, only one will be some kind of personalized letter, of any kind. What’s your word to grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles seizing the power of words in a young person’s life?
Wess: Well, you nailed it. One of the things I say, in this book, is to grandparents who think that their time has passed—that they can’t compete with all of the electronic entertainment that their grandchildren have. I say to them, “You know, your best hours may be right now and around the corner, if you will take the time. A little note from Grandma or Grandpa that simply says, ‘I’m so proud of you. I went to your Christmas program, and you were beautiful’ or, ‘you sang beautifully’. These moments, to speak into the life of a child, are absolutely life-changing—if we’ll just seize them!” That’s what I’m trying to plead with people, too, in this book, “Don’t miss these moments!”
Bob: We think about parents, and grandparents, and teachers—kind of those natural—the coach who comes along and says something. I’m reminded of a story, Dennis, that I’ve heard you share. This was years ago, but you had run into somebody (maybe somebody who’d been in your sixth-grade Sunday school class). You ran into him at a gas station one day, and he was now 18 or 19 years old. As I remember you telling the story, you saw him and maybe had heard some things about him that things weren’t going in a good direction for him. You just went up and affirmed him. Do you remember what I’m talking about?
Dennis: Yes, yes. I just put my arm around him, and looked him in the eyes, and told him, “I believe in you. I want you to know that I’m bullish on you.” One of the other things that I recall doing, Bob, after my sixth-grade Sunday school class, was I would run into a parent of one of the kids that I taught. I would say, “Hey, how’s Natalie doing? Tell me how she’s doing.” The parent would give a good report. I would say, “Would you tell her that I asked about her—asked how she was doing?”—especially, during the teenage years, because those are so perilous today—and on into college, as well. “Just let them know that I asked how they were doing and that it was really important to Mr. Rainey.”
Bob: This kind of person, who is, maybe, once removed from the family—there’s great power in that—the affirmation of somebody who doesn’t have to say nice things to you because they’re related to you—that can be very powerful.
Dennis: Well, I’m going to tell you something. If you put your arm around one of my children, and you soak some words deep into their souls, and speak words of truth and build into their lives, you can’t do anything more for me that’s more valuable. I mean, if you want to encourage another person, minister to their children.
Wess: In the book, another suggestion I have is that within arm’s reach of most any little child, is a hero of some kind—someone who is caring for that child. It’s a hard, lonely job nowadays with so many families broken up. I remember a while back, I was at a carwash in Colorado Springs. Sitting next to me, waiting for the cars to come out, was a mother and her (probably three-year-old) son. They were talking and having this amazing, fascinating conversation, like best friends.
Their car was ready before my car. They got up to walk away; and I said, “Ma’am, can I just say something to you? I’ve been listening to your conversation, and you’re a tremendous momma to this little boy. He is so lucky to have you as his mom.” She said, “Why, thank you.” She walked to her car, but she got to her car and she stood still for a second. She came around back to me and she said, “Can I give you a hug?” (Laughter) She said, “No one has ever said anything like that to me, and I’m trying so hard to be a good mother.” I thought, “Yes. You bless their child; you bless them. You bless them; you just might bless their child.” We can all do this!
Dennis: And we’re walking by these people all of the time.
Dennis: We really are. We just need to be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit says to us. The Holy Spirit does nudge us. He does tell us, “Hey, why don’t you say something to that person? Why don’t you encourage that person? Why don’t you speak those words into that child’s life?” Instead of questioning if it’s really the Holy Spirit, just do it!
Wess: Just do it!
Dennis: Just do it!
Wess: You notice I wear a Mickey Mouse watch.
Dennis: I didn’t notice that.
Wess: An executive of this massive, big thing; and I still wear a Mickey Mouse watch. You know why I do it? I use it to remind myself of my mission. Anytime I check the watch, I am reminded, “Is there a child anywhere in the vicinity?” (Laughter) If there is, and I have even as little as a minute, I will do it. Sometimes it’s just a wave; sometimes it’s a compliment at a grocery store, “My, you’re a big help to your Momma!” I mean, we all can do this.
Wess: We’ve all been children. We’re all experts at this. We don’t need one more day of education. We remember either how childhood should be or how it’s shouldn’t be—but either way, we are all fully-equipped and, I believe, mandated, to bless the children around us, as we’re trying to do.
Dennis: Undoubtedly, there are listeners who have been listening to your story here; and they’re thinking the same thing I’m thinking, “What a privileged life Wess lives—to be able to bless the least of these and to get paid for it.”
Dennis: I mean, for you to be able to go around the world—you mentioned, before we were on microphone a few moments ago, you’ve traveled more than 2 million miles, looking out for the needs of children. I just want you to know, I admire you for not being a victim and for allowing God’s grace to sink deeply into your heart—to forgive those who abused you when you were a little boy.
Instead of caving in to bitterness and becoming a wretched, crotchety, old man, you’re on a mission! You’re now proclaiming Jesus Christ around the world and helping families, like Bob’s family, who’ve got two children with Compassion International. I’m feeling guilty that Barbara and I need to adopt one of these children. I think we’ll probably do that.
Wess: We can help you with that! (Laughter)
Dennis: I’m sure you probably can. The point is—Man, you have made a turn-around with your life! I just appreciate you’re going to end up giving almost four decades of your life to this, if not longer.
Dennis: Thank you for doing what you do.
Wess: I think I am the most blessed person I know. As you say, it hasn’t been an easy path; but I can look at having gone through that path and seeing God’s goodness, in spite of the pain, to being given, not only a role at Compassion, but the leadership of Compassion. I laugh more than most people I know. I cry more than most people I know. I am fully alive! (Laughter) I think I’m in the sweet spot of what I was created to do.
Dennis: What you just said there—I just finished a book for men called Stepping Up. You just described what I wrote about in the last 25 percent of the book. Don’t rust out; wear out. Wear out for something that is worthy of your life! Do you know what I mean?
Wess: I do.
Dennis: Find your mission, roll up your sleeves, and go for it! Don’t wear yourself out in the mall or in the woods. I love to hunt; you love to hunt; okay? But we need to be on task and on mission because Jesus Christ has given us the greatest commission ever given to man, “Go to the world and make disciples.”
You’re doing that, Wess. I really appreciate you! I hope folks are going to get your book. This would make a great book, I think, to read aloud to your children and just share some great stories of how other children have been encouraged by words spoken to them.
Bob: Think about it. Everybody, today, will have a spare minute or two; right? Most likely, you’re going to come across the path of a child. That’s all you’re talking about—taking that minute and blessing that child. It’s not that hard.
That’s the central message of the book that Wess Stafford has written called Just a Minute. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of the book. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com; or call toll-free 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. Ask for a copy of Wess Stafford’s book, Just a Minute. We’ll make arrangements to get it sent out to you.
If you’re interested in more information about the ministry that Wess gives leadership to, Compassion International, and if you’d like to join with MaryAnn and me and sponsor a child or two, somewhere in the world, find out more by going to FamilyLifeToday.com and clicking the link for Compassion International. There’s information available there about how, for a few dollars each month, you can have a profound impact in the life of a child, somewhere in the world. Again, find the information you need at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, I want to say, “Thanks,” to some of our listeners who’ve heard us talking this month about our goal of trying to recruit one new Legacy Partner family in each of the cities where FamilyLife Today is heard. Actually, it’s a little more than that. We’re trying to recruit 1,500 new Legacy Partners, and we’re heard in about 1,100 cities. Some of you have already gone online at FamilyLifeToday.com or given us a call at 1-800-FL-TODAY and said, “You know what? We can help out. We’ve thought about becoming a Legacy Partner, and we just needed a little nudge.” I’m glad we were able to give you that nudge.
When you become a Legacy Partner, we’re going to send you a welcome kit that’s got a couple of travel mugs; and it’s got a special CD that Dennis and I recorded, for our Legacy Partners, on the key characteristics of effective marriages and families. Throughout the year, we’ll make additional resources available to you, designed to strengthen your marriage and your family. We want to ask you just to prayerfully consider whether you would be the family in your city that would step up and become a new Legacy Partner. Find out more when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link that says, “Become a Legacy Partner”; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask how you can become a Legacy Partner. I want to say, “Thanks,” in advance for joining the team. It’s good to have you aboard!
I want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to meet the director and the star of a new film called October Baby that is opening in theaters, not this weekend, but next weekend. We’ll tell you about the movie and about the powerful message this film has. I hope you can join us for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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