Their Mission for Change
As a poor boy growing up in the rural south, with alcoholic parents and a violent household, odds-makers wouldn't give William S. Stewart a snowball's chance in East Texas of making a difference in today's world.
Let alone winning a prestigious award for significant humanitarian contributions.
Heroes for Humanity presented Stewart and his wife, Sarah, the 2003 Illumination award, given to distinguished individuals for making a positive impact on society. The event took place at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in front of thousands of Stewart’s Primerica associates.
Instead of becoming a statistic, Stewart took the positive elements from his childhood and built upon them to forge a future. In telling his story, Stewart explains, "Apart from the alcohol, my parents did instill values in me, from a strong work ethic to compassion for the less fortunate. We were taught to share what we had."
Those early lessons proved to be key elements in shaping a young man whose life and ministry would go on to bless thousands.
Now a major benefactor to underprivileged children around the world, Stewart traces his journey back to the choices of his youth.
He attended a small high school in Nacogdoches County, where he fell in love with Sarah, a young woman with a similarly poor background. "We were in every respect high school sweethearts. I joke about the fact that we were mature enough to know that we shouldn't get married right out of high school, so we waited two weeks after I graduated."
This young couple again defied the odds by creating a long-lasting and healthy marriage. Stewart reflects, "That will be 37 years ago this June 17th. We have five children and nine grandchildren. These lives are our real claim to fame."
Stewart points to another life hero as having a tremendous impact on his own journey. "I became a Christian through the ministry of Billy Graham. I could think of no greater direction for my life than to share the truth that set me free with others." Stewart's spiritual transformation brought him to a new path, with the help of his wife Sarah.
"I started in the ministry by serving small churches in East Texas. In 1969 we joined Campus Crusade for Christ and served with them for six years. In 1975 we moved to Lubbock, Texas, where I assumed the duties of Youth Minister at a small Baptist Church."
Even the most passionate theologians require finances to live and eat, and the Stewarts were no exception. Enter Primerica, whose program gave the Stewarts the stability they needed to continue their life's calling.
"Primerica helped me straighten out my personal finances and afforded me the opportunity to begin my own business part time. I began my business part-time to earn extra income, but I soon found that my extra income surpassed my full-time youth minister salary," Stewart says. "The business became the vehicle that allowed me to carry out my mission."
The mission, for Stewart, involves connecting people with their goals and sharing the truth that set him free. "I encourage people I meet to define their purpose, mission, vision and values. Then to frame their life with those so that their life picture does not fall apart. I strongly challenge people to develop a personal mission statement."
Stewart offers his own definition as an example. "My personal mission statement, "to share truth which sets people free, spiritually, emotionally, and financially" is like a compass that keeps me on track as I travel through life."
That compass has led the Stewart family into a lifestyle, and mindset, of continually giving to others. "Sometimes in my life we had very little financial resources. We gave as we could of our money, time and talents to others. As we grew in financial resources we were simply able to give more."
Taking a unique approach to situational giving, Stewart explains his philosophy. "I have always believed that God is looking for channels through which He can distribute His resources, not containers in which to store them."
So, how do the Stewarts choose where to place their resources? "We have always tried to find situations that have an ongoing impact. We were impressed with Hopegivers (www.hopegivers.com) because they not only cared for the young children as orphans, but they provided education, Bible College and nursing training for the young men and women so that they could go into their country and give back."
Stewart describes how the positive cycle continues for the new trainees. "Many of them go out to establish ministries in villages and town all over India. When they do, they often start "mini-orphanages" bringing in a few abandoned children into their homes and caring for them out of their meager resources. The Hopegivers orphanage ministry is truly a 'gift that keeps on giving.'"
When asked to name his life's heroes, Stewart answers, "My heroes and inspirations are people who have faithfully pursued that which made them come alive. They are probably unnoticed by the world but touch lives on a daily basis. Two that come to mind are John and Sheila Tuggy, Wycliffe Bible Translators who are now in their 70's but are continuing to translate the Bible into languages never before translated."
To inspire those who want to make a difference in the world, Stewart quotes Gil Bailie, author of “Wild at Heart”: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
People who have come alive. An appropriate definition for today's heroes, for those who illuminate the path.
Congratulations, William Stewart, on winning the Illumination award from Heroes for Humanity. May your light shine bright for many years to come.
By Britta Coleman
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