“Who died?” Donna asked upon seeing me in a suit.
“Nobody. I just heard there were some openings in accounting and I’ve got some pretty mean spreadsheet skills so I figured while I’m in town I’d hit up human resources.”
“Wess will never recognize you. You have to mess up your hair before you get on stage.”
But of course it was superglued to my head so… Out on stage I went, looking like a CPA/televangelist. Michael struck the first notes of the evening on piano and with a nod nudged Rebecca to begin. Geoff smiled knowingly beside me, laughing to himself because Danny and I had no idea what to do with our hands. I miss my guitar.
We gathered to celebrate Wess’s decades as Compassion International’s president and witness the passing of the baton to his successor, Santiago Jimmy Mellado. To honor one legacy and take the first step with our new leader into the future.
To me, Wess is more than the president of the organization I work for.
When I met Wess for the first time I was just using him to get a free breakfast (only half joking). I was a skeptic then – about everything really. I was more passionate than wise, more eager to speak than listen, more critical than teachable. In a word? Arrogant.
But Wess was gracious. He patiently taught me not only about Compassion’s ministry model and history but about scripture, missiology – and with the most riveting stories from his childhood in Africa. I walked away from that first breakfast together humbled, my skepticism riddled by the quick education, willing to go and see Compassion’s work in the developing world for myself.
Over the years Wess has prayed, encouraged, cheered me on as I travel the world with women I meet on the internet. He’s taught me how to spend time with God; he’s told me when I’ve been wrong, counseled me when I lost my faith and almost all hope. He’s allowed me to question him, to watch him, to learn from him…and made me laugh a lot…usually at my own expense.
Saturday night the stage – the entire room – was filled with people Wess has invested himself in. We celebrated a life well-lived and all the good fruit that’s grown from it around the world and in us. And every act of the evening a surprise to Wess, who had to be running short on tissues by the time his half of the program was over.
And then we heard from President Mellado for the first time. I haven’t met him yet. But I hope someday to know him at least well enough to comfortably call him Jimmy…and have my haircut insulted in return.
You can watch the whole celebration, hear Wess’ final speech and our new president’s first below or here.
If you sponsor a child through Compassion International you may be particularly interested in hearing our new president answer the question “What will change about Compassion?” in his speech which begins at 1:45:00.
All photographs by the very talented Michael Patterson.