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Obama made antipoverty group's chief offer he couldn't refuse

World Vision President Rich Stearns said he couldn't refuse when President Barack Obama invited him to join his new council on faith-based partnerships.

It was a chance for Stearns to advocate for the international poverty-fighting work done by organizations such as the one he runs, World Vision, based in Federal Way, Wash.

Besides, who turns down the president?

"I tend to be old school," Stearns said. "If the president calls for your service, you serve."

Stearns was among the religious and secular leaders named in February to the advisory council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The selection, extended by one of Obama's aides, comes at a time when World Vision is working to maintain its level of private donations during the economic recession.

Stearns also has written a book challenging Christians to do and give more to counter poverty.

Stearns said religious and grass-roots groups play an important role in international development.

"Without the work of faith-based organizations in our world, the world would be in even worse shape than it is today," he said.

The 25-member council is strictly advisory and doesn't control any funding. But Obama is continuing the partnerships between the government and faith groups that began under President Bill Clinton and were expanded under President George W. Bush's faith-based initiative program.

Stearns said Bush and Clinton tried to level the playing field for faith-based organizations to compete for government grants. The hitch was that they couldn't use the money to proselytize or discriminate in who they choose to serve.

That's the way it should be – and has been for World Vision, Stearns said. For 28 years, his organization has received government grants through the United States Agency for International Development.

Last year, nonprofit World Vision received about $280 million in federal grants – about 25 percent of the money it raised in the United States.

"It's a very significant part of our funding," Stearns said. "More importantly, a lot of people are getting help with that money around the world."

World Vision is the world's largest Christian humanitarian organization with offices in nearly 100 countries. The U.S. headquarters, based in Federal Way, is the agency’s largest support office and last year raised $1.1 billion of World Vision’s global budget totaling $2.6 billion.

In a typical year, World Vision helps an estimated 100 million people through development projects and by providing food, shelter, clean water, emergency aid and other assistance.