[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time].
#8 W. Stanley Mooneyham: Humanitarian. 1926-1991
With today’s ubiquitous calls for Christians to respond to human needs around the world, it is difficult to remember the days when evangelicals didn’t see the connection between physical and spiritual needs in a holistic outreach. W. Stanley Mooneyham was a giant in moving the church to “come walk the world” and respond to the great needs of body and soul.
Mooneyham was a passionate maverick who, as the second president of World Vision International after its founder Bob Pierce, became an advocate for international aid and the first real star of television fundraising for the hungry and suffering children and families of the world. During his tenure, Mooneyham took the organization from an annual budget of $7 million in 1969 to $158 million with a worldwide staff of 11,000 when he left.
He really gave his life serving the poor. The ravages of the diseases he encountered in constants trips to the cesspools of the most impoverished areas of the world led to the failure of his kidneys in 1991, when he died at 65. The trauma and lure of almost constant international travel, as well as the emotional roller coaster of a life spent immersed in Southern California hedonism and Third World squalor, took a toll on not only his health but also his family. His marriage ended about the same time his days with World Vision did.
During Mooneyham’s tenure as president, he directed the relocation efforts that helped Vietnamese boat people. It was an involvement typical of his time at World Vision. He was advised not to pursue the venture, which he called Operation Seasweep, and there was no place to take the boat people rescued on the high seas. But Stan threw caution to the wind, bought a World War II landing craft, outfitted it, and sent it to the South China Sea.
That’s when I met Mooneyham. In 1978 I was beginning my first job, as a writer for World Vision, and in after just seven months on the job I was sent to Asia to document the maiden voyage of Operation Seasweep. I hadn’t met Mooneyham during my early months at WV, but he wasn’t about to have me writing about the mission without a good talking-to.
When I arrived in Singapore, I was summoned to Stan’s hotel, where he lectured me on treating the poor and suffering with respect. And he didn’t want my copy filled with wonder at how “different” these people were.
That year, we rescued 228 Vietnamese boat people from the Thai pirates and the deathly surges of the high seas. Within two years, the world was shamed by the boldness of World Vision’s leader and the U.S. Navy was picking up these refugees.
Mooneyham was a special assistant to Billy Graham before joining World Vision. He was one of the first practitioner of telethons and direct-mail campaigns to raise funds and was not afraid to use emotional appeals. Responding to criticism of his methods in 1978, Mooneyham said: “We are accused of emotionalism, but hunger is emotional, death is emotional and poverty is emotional. Those who wish to make it all seem neat, clinical and bureaucratic are the ones falsifying the picture, not us.”
Mooneyham was the seventh child of a cotton sharecropper in Mississippi. He joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific during World War II. He told The Times in a 1981 interview that he became a Christian because of the war. He graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University on the GI Bill. Mooneyham joined the Graham evangelical crusades as a media liaison worker in 1964 and became advance planner for Graham evangelism congresses around the world. It was in some of those foreign lands that he saw what he described as “the awesome human needs” and joined World Vision.