Across Pacific Magazine

Dr Ted W. Engstrom
Past World Vision President and Christian Leader, Dies

Engstrom was known for being decisive and unwavering. He said he took his life verse from Psalms 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should walk, give you counsel and watch over you.”

His organizational skills allowed Engstrom to crowd a lot into every day. Among other things, he was a writer, public speaker, Bible teacher, business executive, a sports enthusiast and a devoted husband and father to three children. He was also involved with a number of church, educational and philanthropic boards.

Yet, at the same time, an official statement from World Vision pointed out, friends and colleagues remembered “Dr. Ted” as a gentleman and a scholar who always made time to listen to them. In World Vision’s earlier days, he personally interviewed all prospective employees.

Ted Engstrom at work

“He valued everyone and made everyone feel valued,” said Dean Hirsch, current president and chief executive officer of World Vision International. “And his ability to integrate the Gospel with everyday life was absolutely inspiring. Dr. Ted made work and faith walk together.”

According to World Vision, Evon Hedley, who first met Engstrom as a Youth for Christ colleague in 1946 and remained a life-long friend, said “he combined a resolute faith with abundant compassion.”

Hedley recalled a car trip in which the Hedleys and their children and the Engstroms family were caught in a heavy windstorm in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Forced to stop for the night, they were only able to find a single room in a motel. They shared it, sleeping on the floor.

Engstrom is recognized, World Vision pointed out, for making two fundamental contributions to American evangelical culture in the 20th century.

He introduced standard business practices and management principles to churches and other faith-based institutions, which often suffered financial problems as a result of failing to operate with sound financial management. Engstrom also

combined social outreach with evangelism, contending that service to mankind was as important as preaching salvation in Christ.

“What Ted said was this,” said Bill Kliewer, a World Vision marketing executive who first met Engstrom in 1958, “Let’s give a cup of water in the name of Christ but let’s also introduce those who are thirsty to the saving grace of Christ.”

As an author and editor, the statement from World Vision pointed out, Engstrom combined his business acumen with a passion for Christian service. He co-authored the best-selling “Managing Your Time” and wrote “The Making of a Christian Leader” and “The Fine Art of Mentoring.” Averaging a book a year for 50 years, he also wrote hundreds of magazine articles on subjects ranging from the pursuit of excellence to neighborhood evangelism.

Engstrom was also a prolific correspondent, writing letters and notes to friends, colleagues and public figures into his nineties. His letters were known “equally for their love and their candor,” World Vision pointed out.

“Ted is an ideal church member,” the Rev. Paul Cedar, former pastor of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, California, said at Engstrom’s 90th birthday party. “He will tell you the truth and love you at the same time.”

Engstrom was born on March 1 1916 in Cleveland, Ohio. The son of a machine shop supervisor, he was the eldest of four children in a Christian home. But he didn’t share his parents’ fervent faith. His biographer, Bob Owen, wrote that Engstrom had a rebellious spirit. He joined a high school fraternity, smoked and drank and played trumpet in a dance band. He kept late hours, troubling his parents, who prayed for him.

“It was my parents’ prayers that got to me,” Engstrom explained to Owen. “I’d come home late sometimes, thinking I would sneak into the house unnoticed, only to hear my dad pray, ‘Lord, get hold of Ted. Don’t let him out of our grasp. Lead and guide him with your Holy Spirit.’”

Their prayers were soon answered, World Vision pointed out. As a freshman student at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, Engstrom gave his life to Christ. Nearly 70 years later, he remembered it like it was yesterday.

In a 2001 talk to World Vision staff members, Engstrom recalled, “It was 10:30 in the morning, April 1, 1935, when I responded to the claims of Christ. I was released and rejoiced in the grace that God gave me that day. I walked out and the sky was never bluer; the flowers were never prettier; and the birds never sang better.”

Engstrom earned his way through school by operating a print shop. An English and journalism major, he also edited the campus newspaper and worked as chief cook in the student dining hall. At 6 foot 2 and 200 pounds, he was also an athlete, lettering in basketball and baseball. In the summer of his senior year, he played catcher and first baseman in the semipro Central Indiana League, earning $15 a game.

A year after graduating in 1938, Engstrom married his college sweetheart, Dorothy Weaver. She was there the morning he committed himself to Christ, and was with him for the next 66 years, until her death in 2005.

With his journalism degree and printing experience, Engstrom took a job with the Higley Press in Butler, Indiana. But within a year, he was back at Taylor University as assistant to the president and director of public relations. World Vision stated that while Engstrom loved Taylor, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1955, he got an offer from Zondervan Publishing House that was too good to refuse. Zondervan, which would become one of the largest Christian publishers in the world, asked Engstrom to be book editor. The two Dutch founders had been impressed with the writing and editing work he was doing at Taylor.

With the exception of a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Engstrom worked at Zondervan as book editor, editorial director and general manager for the next 11 years. He not only edited; he wrote biographies, youth stories, devotionals and other Christian texts.

While at Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Mich., Engstrom became the local director of Youth for Christ International, an evangelistic ministry to teens. He and Dorothy also started a family, adopting three children between 1945 and 1953.

In 1947 the Grand Rapids chapter of Youth for Christ invited a then little-known evangelist named Billy Graham to do a crusade. Directed by Engstrom, it was Graham’s first city-wide crusade. More than 6,000 people showed up for 10 nights in a row. Afterwards, Graham asked Engstrom to join him. But Engstrom turned him down, saying he was in the publishing business for life. Nonetheless, he and Graham become lifetime friends.

Publishing, however, was soon replaced by Youth for Christ. In 1948, the statement from World Vision said, Engstrom was elected as a delegate to the first World Congress on Evangelism in Switzerland. There he met Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, and was excited by the evangelical action that he learned was going on across the globe.

“I’d never even thought of ‘world’ evangelism before,” Engstrom told Owen, his biographer. “It had never entered by mind.”

In 1951, Engstrom was invited to be executive director of Youth for Christ International. He took a leave of absence from Zondervan and never went back. He moved his family to Youth for Christ headquarters in Wheaton, Ill., and launched into a hectic schedule of speaking, traveling, and writing the organization's monthly magazine, “Campus Life.” In 1957, he was elected president of Youth for Christ and his travel increased dramatically. He visited more than 60 nations and preached at Youth for Christ rallies in most of the world’s major cities.

By 1963, the pace of the Youth for Christ job had exhausted Engstrom. On the advice of colleagues, he checked into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Doctors told him to either change his pace or change his job. He decided to find a new job.

According to Owen, Engstrom’s new work came as the result of an unexpected meeting with World Vision founder Bob Pierce in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Pierce told Engstrom that he needed help at World Vision. “And the Lord laid your name on my heart,” said Pierce, who did not know that Engstrom was planning to resign from Youth for Christ.

Engstrom told Pierce that he’d consider it. And Pierce, according to Owen, cried. “Oh Buddy,” he said, “my prayer has been answered. You’ve got to come with me to World Vision.”

Engstrom came to World Vision headquarters in Pasadena and signed on as executive vice president, responsible for finance, administration, personnel and promotion. He soon discovered that World Vision was in a financial mess. Pierce, the World Vision statement pointed out, while a dynamic and charismatic leader, had little patience for budgets and bottom-line accounting.

Soon after arriving at World Vision, Engstrom began a fiscal austerity program. He introduced standard business practices, trimmed the payroll and closed down the expensive radio ministry.

In his 2001 talk to staff, Engstrom recalled that era. “In the early days of World Vision,” he said, “we were bankrupt. I would call for a prayer meeting and we would pray from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. And then in the morning, God provided the exact amount we needed.”

Slowly, World Vision dug its way out of debt. When Pierce, in declining health, resigned in 1966, the board offered Engstrom the presidency. He declined. According to Owen’s account, he did not want to give any appearance of having forced out Pierce. So for the next 14 years, he continued as executive vice president. In the meantime, he helped recruit Stanley Mooneyham, a former member of Billy Graham’s crusade team, as president.

However, World Vision did not occupy all of Engstrom’s time. He continued to preach, lecture and write. He teamed up with Ed Dayton, another World Vision executive, to conduct more than a 100 two-day seminars for pastors, administrators and business executives on “managing your time.”

Engstrom, World Vision stated, especially emphasized decisiveness. “The longer a decision is delayed,” he said, “the more difficult it is to make.”

In a biographical note he wrote for World Vision staff, Engstrom said, “My modus operandi for accomplishing my many hopes, desires and priorities has been years of attempting strong administration, marked by an emphasis on management by objectives, and pursuit of excellence (and a reminder never to surprise me!).”

After Mooneyham retired in 1982, the World Vision board again asked Engstrom to be president. He served for two years, become president emeritus in 1984. As president, he continued to stress what he regarded as the essential relationship between social service and evangelism.

“The Bible says that ‘to those whom much has been given, much will be required,’” the World Vision statement reported he said. “We minister in the name of the Lord Jesus to a world that is needy and lost.”

As president emeritus, Engstrom continued to work. He came into the office every day and gave his considerable energy to church, Christian education and world evangelism. In 1989-90, he served as interim president of Azusa Pacific University, the largest evangelical college in the United States.

Even as he celebrated his 90th birthday in 2006, World Vision reported Engstrom continued to come into his office at the organization. He no longer drove and his hearing and vision were fading, but he was still astute.

“Whenever the Lord calls, I’m ready,” he told friends and World Vision staff who gathered to celebrate his birthday. “I’m not only ready, I’m eager. I’ll have all eternity to celebrate God’s goodness and grace.”

Throughout his long career, World Vision reported, Engstrom received many honors. Five colleges, including Taylor University, his alma mater, awarded him honorary doctorates.

He and his wife, Dorothy, were members of Pasadena’s Lake Avenue Congregational Church, where he also chaired the board, for more than 40 years.

Engstrom is survived by his three children, Gordon, Don and Jo Ann.

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, http://www.joyjunction.org or http://www.christianity.com/joyjunction. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. He has five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

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