In October 2021, after over 20 years of service establishing and then leading World Hope International Australia, CEO Ruth Thomas announced the news that she is passing along the baton and stepping down from her role. Before we let her go, though, we wanted to sit down and have a chat with her, looking back through the years of her compassionate ministry and celebrating her and the growth of World Hope Australia.
Since COVID-19 made an in-person sit-down impossible, Ruth joined Heather Hill, World Hope’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, for a zoom conversation to look back – and look forward.
World Hope International Australia was established in October 2001, but the vision for it started several years before…
A Virtual Couch Conversation with Ruth and Heather.
– Ruth, can you share a bit about what brought you to World Hope International and inspired you to set up World Hope Australia?
“My husband, Dallas, and I had just been through a very difficult time and we were settling back into life in Australia after a term serving as missionaries in Papua New Guinea. As I read a number of autobiographies, God spoke very clearly to me that I should be serving in compassionate ministries and humanitarian work.”
“At the same time, some relatives were attending the Wesleyan Church General Conference in the USA where World Hope was launched and posted a brochure to me. When I opened the envelope and read it over, again I felt a very clear word from God – ‘This is it, Ruth.’ And so I wrote to Dr. Jo Anne Lyon and asked if I might be able to set up World Hope International in Australia and she said ‘Yes.'”
Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, Founder of World Hope International with Ruth Thomas, World Hope Australia CEO (Oct 2001 – Jan 2022)
“It took another 5 years before we took the steps and officially established and registered World Hope Australia and much later re-named World Hope International when we formed as the Global WHI Alliance in 2017.”
“There have been times I have felt way out of my depth and comfort zone, I held onto the verse in James 1:5 (NIV), ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously without finding fault, and it will be given to you.'”
“Sitting at my desk in the bedroom in the first World Hope office, I will never forget the joy I had in the response from Ruth that she would be glad to initiate the beginning of World Hope Australia. We immediately put this on the full, back page of our large World Hope Live! print magazine. I began to receive encouraging messages from people in the U.S. who had spent time in Australia or had friends and relatives there. The Wesleyan Church of Australia was very encouraging, too. Ruth began with this small base of donors and has faithfully expanded the base and the ministry exponentially.”
“World Hope now has name recognition throughout the country in the faith community as well as the NGO world. And more significantly are the tens of thousands of people in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and other parts of the world who have received new life and opportunities they never thought possible and are alive today and on through the generations because Ruth was willing to risk and obey God’s call.“
~Dr. Jo Anne Lyon
World Hope Founder
Reflections on leadership & growth
– As a CEO who happens to also be a woman, Ruth, you’ve existed in a space often dominated by men. What was that like for you?
“It hasn’t always been easy, but I can think of many times where, as a female CEO I have had the males in my life be my allies. I remember once walking down the hallway to enter a board room to present something about WHI and the person showing me to the room was my cousin, who also happened to hold a position as a Church leader. He said to me as we walked down the hall, “Make sure you walk into that room like you own it! You are the CEO of World Hope International Australia, so walk in there like you are a CEO!” He believed in and encouraged me–and it’s worth noting that the presentation was successful!”
“In my role as CEO, I have endeavored to encourage and mentor other women in the same way that I was encouraged. Having someone like Dr. Jo Anne Lyon who founded and led World Hope as an example and knowing she also empowered me, I wanted to use my leadership to encourage other women to become leaders.”
– You’ve grown World Hope Australia for 20 years now, not including the time you invested in first establishing it. What has that been like to see?
“The growth and impact of World Hope Australia has been slow and steady; there were times I wished it would be faster so that we can help more communities and people affected by poverty–there are so many communities that can be empowered through WHI’s programmes. But I always remember what Desmond Tutu once wisely said, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” What he meant by that is that even an enormous goal can be achieved if you take a little step at a time. Bit by bit, bite by bite, you’ll make possible what at first seemed impossible.”
Ruth celebrating Christmas and the end of another year with World Hope Australia staff and volunteers at a holiday get-together.
“Every year for the past five years, even during COVID, we have had financial growth – every year when Kathy, our Director of Finance and Administration shares the Profit & Loss statement with me after our EOFY, I am so grateful for the resources we have to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.”
“In 2018, we received an inaugural Friendship Grant from DFAT, a huge win for us at the time and something that still thrills me to reflect upon its impact.”
Ruth and Kathy McClintock, visiting World Hope projects in Cambodia.
“Ruth Thomas, how to sum up such a woman? I have had the privilege to work alongside Ruth Thomas over the past 4 years and I have felt encouraged, supported, and empowered. Ruth is not someone you work for but someone you work with. Ruth’s passion for people extends beyond the vulnerable she has served and is felt by all she works with.”
“Thank you, Ruth, for all that you have done, not only for World Hope projects but also in being an encourager, a role model, and an inspiration to many. You will leave behind you a legacy of grace, resilience, and empowerment. I will be forever grateful for all that you have encouraged and inspired me to be.”
WHI Australia Director of Finance & Administration
“I remember Ruth sharing her passion to help set up schools in PNG which led to her engagement with us here in Cambodia. Ruth has worked hard to enlarge our funding opportunities [and] was instrumental for WHI Cambodia to receive some funding from the Australian government for more farmers in Kampong Cham to grow mushrooms and have toilets! Through this grant, 86% of 125 mushroom producers were able to build toilets from their income from mushroom sales! Through her efforts to help raise funds for our school feeding initiative, WHI Cambodia was able to expand its work with the Bunong people and grow from there. Thank you very much Ruth for your inspiring vision and passion to bring hope to many. You will be missed.”
~Dr. Emelita Goddard
WHI Cambodia Country Director
Handing over a boat to a fisherman and his family in Sri Lanka after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.
– What do you see as some of World Hope’s strengths?
“People, definitely. The gifted people in this organisation who make positive change happen both behind the scenes in admin & communications or directly alongside communities through programmes. World Hope has some very innovative and talented staff who are called to minister to people in vulnerable spaces.”
“Our Global Alliance is another strength. Through this alliance between World Hope Australia, Canada, UK, and USA, we have access to experts, resources, and information so that whether it be in programme strategy and delivery or marketing and communications or IT systems, as a global organisation we can make great things happen to effect positive change and impact communities for the better.”
Ruth in Zambia, 2008, with Grandma Esther, who was the sole caregiver for her six orphaned grandchildren.
“And not least, but empowering individuals, families, and communities through our social venture programmes is one of the biggest strengths we have. From handing over a boat so a fisherman could feed his family after the Boxing Day Tsunami in Sri Lanka to the Zambia Community Trust which empowered Grandma Esther to provide the basic needs for her grandchildren whose parents had died from HIV Aids to the Thera Metray Mushroom House project in Cambodia.”
“Ruth has done an amazing job of getting World Hope Australia registered. This was no easy task. She also is the brains behind starting a formal World Hope alliance between Canada, US, UK, and Australia. World Hope will be forever in Ruth’s debt for her many years of service to the organization, donors, and beneficiaries of our services.”
World Hope International USA CEO & President
Ruth, along with other members of the World Hope Global Alliance, visiting with some of the mushroom farmers in Cambodia in 2018.
“We met Ruth last 2020 and we felt her sincerity in helping us with our program objectives. Through our discussions, I felt her passion for serving the children and supporting them towards their development. She had been one of our biggest supporters in implementing the programs in the Philippines.”
“Last year, during the height of Typhoon Rai, she was one of the first to respond to our needs.”
“I am very thankful for all the support and the learning I have had in my encounters with Ruth. I wish her all the best in life and pray for God to continue to bless her kind heart. Thank you, Ruth. “
WHI Philippines Operations Manager
Building hope together
– Are there any particular things you are going to miss or that make it hard for you to leave?
“I will miss the people I work with, amazingly talented, passionate people from around the world who worked beside me in ministry.”
“I just love how we holistically impact vulnerable communities through our innovative social ventures – ‘Give a man or woman a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.’”
“The thing I am most proud of in Australia is our Walk4Hope campaign. It not only enabled growth for us as an organisation, but it also put a tool into the hands of people locally to take action about injustice by raising awareness and funds for our programmes.”
Graphic from 2021’s Walk4Hope campaign
“The project I love the most is our Thera Metray Mushroom House in Cambodia – a way to empower not only women but whole communities–and I saw the evidence of that when I visited in 2018. It was so exciting to see where our funds had made a significant impact in a holistic way.”
A happy and thriving mushroom farming family in Cambodia poses beside their mushroom house.
“Ruth, thank you so much for the outpouring of love you have shown to others around the world. Throughout your journey, I have seen this verse flow through you: ‘Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.’ (Psalm 143: 8). You have trusted in God through the ups and downs in every decision that you have made as a leader to move the organization forward. You did this with such grace and love. I love your heart to serve as you have put others before yourself.”
~ Tae Symons
World Hope International Senior Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist
“Ruth exemplifies leadership in all she does. She has been on the World Hope journey for the long term, she has been consistent in walking through the good, the hard and helping Australia seize opportunities to promote human dignity, and build opportunity and hope. Ruth has been consistent in her encouragement of me as a new leader, she has offered advice and prayer when things have been hard.”
“I am so grateful that she has answered the call over these 20+ years and many lives have been transformed thanks to her love for people all around the world!”
World Hope Canada CEO
– Ruth, after over 20 years of investing in World Hope, what is helping you to walk away and let go?
“In the same way that I was clearly called into the ministry of World Hope International, God is calling me out. My capacity, gifts, and skills lay in establishing a good solid organisation, and as I shared in a blog late last year, the time was coming and is here now for me to hand over the baton to a new leader whom God is calling to take this good, solid organisation to the next season of growth and impact.”
“There has been grief in this process of deciding to leave something that has been part of my life for 20 years, it has not just been a ‘job’ it has been a ministry, a calling. But hearing from Tracy, the incoming, new CEO, how God has clearly called her into this ministry position, I am confident and at peace and intend to support her as much as I can in handing over this ministry.”
Ruth Thomas in front of the Thera Metrey office in Cambodia, 2018.
– Ruth, we’ve been greatly privileged to have you as part of World Hope over the last few decades, and we hope you know that your legacy of compassion and love with intentional, thoughtful action will continue. Can you tell us what’s on the horizon for you next?
“I am going to take time to renew, refresh and refocus. I wrote these goals for 2022: My goals are to:
- Release well
- Restore mentally, emotionally and physically, and
- Refresh fully for the next season.”
“I plan on taking a break for a bit and will be spending time with my grandchildren. I want to connect with friends over coffees and I plan on a retreat to restore and refresh and seek what God has next.”
“There are two things I am certain about – that God called both Dallas and me to overseas missions before we were married 38 years ago and that call is still with us, and that I have a passion to empower women and help them to reach their potential in ministry both here in Australia and overseas.”
Although across the World Hope Global Alliance we will surely be missing Ruth, we are grateful for her vision and her compassionate ministry with us from before October 2001 up through January 2022 and full of anticipation along with her for the next chapter in her life. We are also excited to watch how World Hope Australia continues to expand and thrive under new leadership, carrying forward a legacy of love and growing in our mission of promoting dignity and building opportunity and hope.