I will never forget the day I sat in the living room of a newly resettled Syrian refugee in the country of Jordan. Next to this young mother was her nine-year-old daughter who had joined her in fleeing the slaughter happening in their village amidst the Syrian civil war. They were now safe in Jordan, but hope still seemed lost.
The daughter had a life-threatening congenital heart defect, and there seemed no way of getting the medical care needed to treat her condition. Despair turned to joy, however, when the local Christian church in Jordan, aided by World Relief, came alongside this mother and provided both access and funding for a life-saving heart operation.
The gratitude I witnessed could not be captured by a number or expressed in human speech. It could only be fully taken in by looking into the eyes of a mother telling the story of rescue by the very people she had been taught to fear.
One of the great privileges of my role has been to sit in the homes of those we serve and hear in their voices the “measures” that could never be contained in a number. For over 75 years, World Relief has brought relief to suffering peoples around the world. Whether in disaster relief, global health, child development or our work among displaced people — we measure our progress to improve our services and to demonstrate the power of our work to those who so generously give to make it possible. Measuring the impact of our work matters. But how do you measure what happens inside the heart? How do you assign a number to gratitude, to growth, to the awakening of a soul?
I have often tried to imagine the joy inside the heart of a young girl in Rwanda when she is told that she too will now go to school! No longer are the uniforms, books and pencils for her brothers only. She too will learn and dream and expand her horizons. Her smile that beams with pride and expectation will make us cry for joy along with her, but the measurement of that joy will remain intangible.
And what of the person paralyzed from birth who has been kept out of sight due to family shame? Imagine what it is to have been hidden away, neglected and perhaps abused because you were seen as an embarrassment, or worse yet a curse. How do you measure what happens in a heart when, through the teachings of scripture and the support of a church congregation, parents begin to see the image of God in all their children, replacing exclusion with a warm embrace? Can you measure the gratitude, the sense of belonging and the love that finally courses through that child’s veins? What would it be like to now join the family and community as one worthy of “special honor” as taught by the scriptures?
There is an unspeakable beauty in the bright eyes of children who receive the nutrition their young bodies need, and who finally feel safe because the violence in their home has stopped, their parents now communicating with and valuing one another after participating in a Families for Life program. In the same way, only our eyes can capture the elegance and dignity of a woman formerly trapped by the fear of sexual violence now walking in confidence because her community, empowered by the church, rose up to say “No more!”
This is a story beyond words. One in which, household by household, the transformation of the body and soul brings harmony to homes, congregations and entire communities because the fullness of the good news of God’s love has been released.
How I wish you could sit in the dusty villages, crowded refugee camps and apartments of newly resettled refugees and hear the stories of change that your gifts have helped create. How I wish you could take in the power of your prayers, your gifts and your advocacy so that you would know the measure of your work — one that no number could ever convey.
Numbers do indeed tell one story, and a powerful one at that. But they cannot tell of joy, of awakening, of gratitude and of transformation.
Of course, this narrative is far from one-sided. Each day, we are blessed to also witness the mutual transformation that occurs as you engage in this kingdom work alongside us. Much of the beauty found in this story is that we also get to tell those we serve of your joy, your gratitude and your transformation through this work.
I think of George who once joined me in Rwanda. After watching pastors of different denominations working together in mutual love, and observing the healing and forgiveness after the genocide, he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I have been in Christian ministry and philanthropy for forty years and I have never seen anything like this.”
Or of Rodney, whose view of refugees and other immigrants had grown cold and closed-off. He experienced transformation when a World Relief staff member spoke at his church. God answered his prayer for openness in a new and unexpected way. He began to see the Imago Dei found in each person who came to the U.S. and felt compelled to be a part of welcoming them as they rebuilt their lives in a new country. Today, Rodney is an active volunteer in Memphis.
These are the measures of the heart — measures that remain intangible to any numeric value we could ascribe to them; but that will, to me, forever signify the incredible work we’ve done together over the last 75 years. It has been a privilege and a blessing beyond measure.
Scott Arbeiter retired from World Relief in 2021 as president after serving the organization in various roles for more than two decades and is a former pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin.