Dr. Wess Stafford, author of Too Small To Ignore: Why Children are The Next Big Thing, host of the daily radio feature, “Speak Up with Compassion,” and president of Compassion International, is an internationally recognized advocate for children in poverty. Founded in 1952, Compassion International is one of the world’s largest Christian child development agencies, partnering with more than 65 denominations and thousands of local churches to serve more than 600,000 children in 23 countries.
Wess’s life experiences have uniquely prepared him for this role. While he has earned degrees from Moody Bible Institute, Biola University, and Wheaton College, as well as a Ph.D. from Michigan State University, Wess often says, “Everything he really needs to know to lead a multinational organization, I learned from the poor, growing up in an African village.” As a boy, the son of Ivory Coast missionaries, Wess was one of the village children who were watched over by a wise and loving African “extended family.” But his young heart was often broken when African friends died from the cruel ravages of poverty. Wess feels privileged to continue his parents’ commitment to the poor and to now minister to those who have always been so close to his heart.
While Wess’s passion for serving the poor was sparked in childhood, later adventures continued to fan the flames. He attended high school with Native American and Hispanic classmates in the southwestern United States before graduating from Wheaton Academy, and in college, spearheaded literacy programs for disadvantaged teens in inner-city Chicago. His education and experiences in broadcasting, writing, and non-formal education, his facility for languages, and working cross-culturally were important threads of his life that were eventually woven together for the purpose of preparing him for his life’s mission of speaking globally on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.
As a young man, Wess represented a consortium of relief and development agencies in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. During his four years in Haiti, Wess experienced the most devastating message that poverty speaks to a child, “You don’t matter.” Wess also learned that the most strategic way to break the cycle of poverty is by investing holistically in children, meeting their physical, spiritual, socioeconomic and vocational needs to give them a hope and a future.
Wess joined the staff of Compassion International in 1977 and has worked with the ministry, both overseas and at headquarters, for 28 years. He has served as president since 1993. “Compassion and I were a perfect match,” Wess said. “Their philosophy of development reflects everything my experience told me was true– the importance of preserving the dignity of the poor, focusing on empowering people by equipping them rather than ‘doing for’ them, and enhancing cultures by enabling the local church to disciple children. If Compassion had not already existed, I would have had to create it!” Compassion’s approach works–hundreds of thousands of its program’s “graduates” are now giving back in their own countries as Christian spouses and parents, health care workers, educators, lawyers, entrepreneurs, pastors and church workers.
Wess was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Biola University in 2003. He is a veteran, having served four years in the U.S. Army as a linguist in military intelligence. An avid outdoorsman and committed family man, Wess lives on a little ranch near Colorado Springs, Colorado, with Donna, his wife of 25 years, who was a Compassion sponsor even before she met Wess. They have two daughters, Jenny and Katie–the two children in the world for whom Wess is the greatest advocate of all. They also have a dog who worships the ground Wess walks on, and a cat who worships himself!