Ep. 15, From Orphan to CEO of a Medical Non-Profit w/ Steve Stirling

by | Mar 21, 2021 | Podcasts, The Virtuous Heros | 0 comments

Podcast episode

About our Guest


Steve Stirling is President and CEO of MAP International, a Christian nonprofit organization that each year, donates over $500 million dollars’ worth of life-changing medicines and health supplies to treat more than 20 million poor people.

In this episode, Stirling first speaks about acquiring polio as a child, as well as being abandoned by his father at an orphanage at an early age. He also speaks about his journey and the positive impact he has had on people in over 86 countries, as well as speaks about his book, The Crutch of Success. Stirling shares stories with Christopher Gomez regarding forgiving his father for past actions, the complicated adoption process, how business and virtues intersect, servant leadership, and the positive effect of God and prayer in his life. A donation of $10 provides $600 worth of medicine. Please consider donating! You can help prevent life-life long suffering and give hope to a child so that they may realize their God given potential.

Steve Stirling has held executive-level positions with nonprofits including the Child Fund International, Heifer International, Universal Life Sciences, ChildHelp and WorldVision US. He has worked for pharmaceutical companies that have made Tylenol, Advil, and Bristol-Myers-Squibb/Mead Johnson Nutritionals. Stirling earned his Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics at Cornell University and his MBA in Marketing and Finance at Northwestern University. 


Hannah: Thanks for watching our podcast! Here at Spirit Consulting, our services include business strategy and human resources consulting. In HR we offer executive search executive coaching and work psychology consulting. Please visit us at spiritmco.com, where we fulfill our client’s dreams virtuously. Enjoy your show!

Chris: Welcome back to the Leading Virtuously Podcast today on the show we have Steve Sterling. He’s got an awesome story. So excited to be able to share this with you. Steve, for those that don’t know you, can you tell us who you are? 

Steve: I’ll be happy to, and thank you for having me on your show Chris. My name is Steve Sterling.

I am the president and CEO of MAP International. And we have MAP is a Christian nonprofit, and we provide medicines and health supplies to 20 million people around the world. And there’s a, the world health organization, estimates, there are 2 billion people in the world that, that do not have access to life saving medicines.

And the COVID 19 has made this even worse. So I guess to be a part of this, we work. And MAP works with all partners. Many are Christian, but we help all people regardless of ethnicity, gender or religious belief. And so it’s such a privilege to be able to work with MAP and great people and partners that we have to work with MAP here.

Chris: Wonderful. So how long has MAP in an existence? Can you tell us a little bit about like the, how many employees work for you? I know you mentioned 22 million, but yeah. Can you just talk about. Inside the doors of what that looks like. And then again, just expand upon the impact that you guys have.

Steve: MAP’s been around for 66 years now. And we moved from Wheaton, Illinois to Brunswick, Georgia in 1985, because this way where we’ll replace, but also we’re close to two deep water ports Savannah, Georgia, Jacksonville, but also Charleston. 

Chris: Steve it’s blizzarding. Yeah, I’m in the south side of Chicago.

So I, I appreciate you going to warmer climates. And I also, taking it inside a little bit.

Steve: . I spent two years at Northwestern at Kellogg school there, so I am very familiar with the whole winters in Chicago area. So MAP moved in 85 and MAP has roughly 43 people in the U S mostly Brunswick, Georgia.

And then we have some small, an office in Atlanta and some staff around the country, mostly on the Eastern side of Mississippi. And so we get medicines and supplies donated by pharmaceutical companies because they’re getting too close to expiring. They’re not expired yet but they’re getting close and they can’t sell it.

So they donate it to MAP. And then we raise money. And work with partners on the ground with people, with boots on the ground, and then we provide them medicines so that they can then provide it to the clinics and hospitals and other places where people need the medicines. And we work in roughly a hundred countries by 45 countries, we shipped the large containers.

There’d be a 20 foot container or a 40 foot container. And then also the rest of the countries that are covered by people that go on medical mission trips. And they take our medicines with them as their personal luggage. And so obviously with COVID, there haven’t been too many trips abroad, but once the international travel again, then people will be going to many countries to help provide the medicine.

So we help about 20 million people. And because of COVID-19 we helped over 4 million people with mostly with personal personal equipment gloves, face mask, and then some medicines as well. 

Chris: Awesome. I love that. It sounds a lot like a, another. Guests that I had on the podcast, Russ Pratali who runs River of Light.

And they basically food rescue a million meals per year. So your impacts of weight way beyond that. But it basically the same thing of, food rescuing the food before it expires and is thrown out and then being able to expand that all throughout the Chicagoland. Now, this is obviously medicines and supplies that you’re then being able to do the exact same thing and do it that way.

So definitely a big sale. So how did you get involved with MAP Steve? 

Steve: It’s a interesting story, we never, I never planned on going to nonprofit by the way. So in fact, we stepped back a little bit and so actually I’m, I started my corporate career and a pharmaceutical company now.

At Johnson and Johnson, I worked on Tylenol. I got my MBA in finance and marketing. And then I worked for American Home Products to help launch Advil and then went to America. And then I went to Bristol Myers Squibb and did adult nutritionals and launched boost nutritional drink, which was sold off in Nestle and then ConAgra foods and then Ameritrade.

And then something happened when I was working in Ameritrade and this was 2001. 20 years ago the stock market crash. And they said, Hey, we don’t need three VP, senior VP. And I was regular VP. So they laid me off. And but that was a really an opportunity because I had the time to travel to Korea where the orphanage, where I grew up in the founder of the wife of the founder passed away.

Her name is Bertha Holt. So I had the time to travel there. My wife and I flew there. And at the funeral, I met one of my childhood friends. His name is Kim Su and he has severe cerebral palsy. And so he was smiling at me, so I thought, oh, he must be my friend. So I said, Kim Sue, do you remember me? Is there? Yes.

And he spoke, speaks very slowly because their CP palsy and my wife was translating for me and I said what are you remembering me about? He said Yung Su, That’s my Korean name used to beat me up all the time. I said, oh boy, cause I’m pretty strong upper body. At polio and I use crutches.

And I said would you forgive me if what I did you growing up? And he said, Yung Su, I forgive you a long time ago because Jesus forgave me of my sins. And when he said that I was speechless, here’s a man trapped in his own body. He can’t, he could barely feed himself, but it’s joyful and is happy and stand tall.

And I started thinking, what am I doing with my life? And that was 20 years. I’d use that man to say, Steve I’ll have something better for you. I learned that the orphanage I grew up in for five years, because I was bandaged there start help started initially by Bob Pierce, the founder of world vision.

Did some research on the internet and literally picked up the phone and call the senior VP of marketing. And he said, I never pick up the phone and say, Because God told you without the phone. And so it was taught then after many interviews, they ended up hiring me as vice president of the marketing operations.

I moved to Federal Way Washington. And so I’m going to not jump forward. Then I worked for different non-profits. My last job, I was the CEO of Child Fund International in Richmond, Virginia. So I got a call from him before. And they said we have really a good job for you as CEO of MAPIinternational.

And I joke when you said, I said, Matt, who uses MAP? Everybody has GPS. MAP stands for medical assistance program. And we think you would have, your background will be really perfect for the CEO role. And I told him right away, I said, no, I’m not interested because I had told the CEO of child fund that I’ll be there at least three to five years.

And I wanted to keep my commitment. So I told her no, and I came home and I told my wife about it. And she said, oh, what did you tell them? And I said I told them no. And she said, you said, they’re a Christian organization MAP. I said, yes. She said don’t you think we should pray about it? And I said, you’re right, she’s right 99% of the time, by the way.

So I said, you’re right. So we pray about it.

Chris: That’s a virtue, by the way, if you didn’t know, that your wife is aways right.

Steve: Hey, I have my 40 year anniversary next year. I know. But most of the times she’s right too. So we prayed about it. And then I looked at the I-90and I said we prayed some more because it was, a smaller organization a much smaller cashflow-wise.

Financially that’s strong. And I just said, I’m not, I told my wife has done nothing to qualify. She was, I think, no, you are. I got it prepared you for the role. And I started thinking about it. Why did God allow me to get polio? And, six or seven vial of the polio vaccine with multiple dosages in there would have prevented me from getting polio.

So I know God didn’t cause it, but he allowed for me to get. And then I was adopted and to American family and then went to really good schools and worked for a pharmaceutical companies. And non-profit I traveled the world and I know how people live in very challenging environment. And so I realized God had prepared me for the role.

So if you can prevent something from happening, it is so much easier, but if the people get sick, you need medicines. And that’s why I joined MAP seven years ago. And it’s just a wonderful organization making huge impact with very little input because the medicine is donated somebody donates $10 that will provide $840 worth of medicine because the medicines are donated.

So it’s a huge impact in terms of ROI and return. 

Chris: Thank you for sharing Steve. And this podcast is all about business and virtual. And obviously, providing medicine globally for that many people, that’s a ridiculously virtuous thing to do. So I feel like maybe the question of where does business and virtue intersect for you?

It seems like a silly one, but still, like it’s obviously yes, this is every thing interwoven into everything that you do, but I’m just curious as like, when I asked that question about how virtue shows up for you. Can you speak to that?

Steve: Sure, I wasn’t planning on working for non-profit.

It was not my my career goal. And that was just like any other newly minted MBA student from Kellogg or Harvard or Stanford just wanted to climb the corporate ladder, make the big bucks, get promoted, drive the fancy car. And that was just the, the, what’s your goal? And so for 18 years, that’s what I did.

I just started climbing the corporate ladder and work really hard. Number one was work. Family was second and it was, I was doing that for 18 years. And finally, a God got hold of me. He said, no, you shouldn’t, you should not be doing that. And there’s nothing wrong with hard work, nothing wrong with trying to make the company do well, make money, but that should not be your whole life.

And now my, what I, in terms of order is God, first family second, and work third. And then when you do that, then you’ll all of a sudden, you say, w what’s the purpose of working, and it’s not about making money. It’s not about making, getting fancy cars and all that, but it’s about serving. And then how do you serve.

And it’s really about, if you look at how Jesus led, it’s servant leadership, he came to the world not to be served, but to serve. And it’s a paradigm shift. So how do we start serving those in need? And then we do this work in partners. We can’t do it ourselves. And so we then automatically give the glory to God instead of us.

And we don’t say, look what we’ve done. Look what God has done through us. So it’s such humbling. And so I’m learning that God chooses to use people like myself or from from Korea with really nothing. And he’s using me to help 20 million people with my team to provide medicines for people in need.

So it’s just so humbling. And so I think if you get to know what your purpose in life is and what. Align that with your personal passion, with the organization’s passion, which is format is to provide medicines for people that are needing the medicine since they don’t, if they don’t get it, many will not make it many will pass and not live along the line.

So it’s really a ideal place. Not because I got to marry my personal passion now, which is to serve a God. And also used my professional background in marketing and finance and other business to leverage that. And because nonprofits, you have to run like a business, otherwise you can go bankrupt as well.

So it’s just the, just, I get to do both now to run a help, lead an organization with a team and to live out my life of a service to to humanity. But also why, when somebody asks me why I do it I share with them. It’s not for the money. It’s not for the the accolades is really to share God’s love with people.

Chris: I was just talking to a friend about Jesus, his message of forgiveness. And I know you high level summarized your own upbringing. How did you find it in your heart to forgive your father who had abandoned you at the orphanage? 

Steve: No. It was hard because not until I had my own children, I realized how difficult it would it be.

To give up your own child because you let that child that much, that you want to have a better life for that child. And this like a father in heaven did the same is that I’m going to sacrifice Jesus so that we can have a relationship with our creator. And once I realized, once I had my own children, would I have just given up my children so they could have a better life.

So then that could really then appreciate what my father did. Unfortunately, my father passed away before we could go back to Korea. I did meet my biological mother, my biological brother and two sisters, but I really thank my biological father for the courage that he had to say. I want to give up a Yung Su so that he may have a better life because he can not provide it.

He tried it. And it must have been really hard for him because you just don’t give up. And that was the first born son, which is, this is a big deal in Korea and for him to do that, and he’s also took personal responsibility and accountability because he felt, the reason I got polio was because of his doing, he went to a funeral of a friend whose child had passed away.

But he didn’t know that child pass away from polio. Oh, wow. He brought the virus back to me and he didn’t know that. And then I ended up getting polio, get, cannot walk. And so he personally took the blame for giving me polio. And so it must have been really hard. So one day when I get to heaven, I can embrace him and say, thank you for this unselfish act.

It did by giving me up so I can have a better life. 

Chris: And the reason I asked that question, Steve is because, especially in COVID, a lot of people got laid off and that could bring a lot of frustration. Anger hostility where you feel like you’ve spent so much time devoted to an organization. Some people had worked like 45 days straight just to be furloughed later.

And so just thinking about, the way that you answer that as beautiful, like the obviously that you. You’ve been healed and have been able to really shift your mind state about that. But did you always think that way, or was there a period where there was some frustration that you had to walk through and I’m just curious as to how that journey went for you mentally.

Steve: for being abandoned and being who I am.

I was angry at God because when I was abandoned.. But my dad, my father told me I’m going to leave you at the footsteps of the orphanage and cry and somebody will get you. And so I cried until somebody got me. And then I would crawl back to where he dropped me off. I was five.

So I’ll crawl back and wait for him thinking he was coming to get me, come get for me. And I did that every day for a couple of weeks. And so at nighttime, I used to cry, I’m saying, did I do something wrong? No. What did I do wrong? And then I start to talk to God because I didn’t have anybody else to talk with.

And so I was a God first I was angry at God. What did I do to you? First gave me polio and the second being abandoned. And then also when I started going to school, kids would pick on me all the time, physically and verbally. And because I was only handicap giving them to school and they would constantly pick on me.

And so that’s why when I came back to the school, more grown-up I would take out my frustration on them. Then that anger and hurt turned to God, help me to get a family, help me to and that ain’t even know what America was to help me. And so when I started crying at the guy for helping me God answered, my parents adopted Six children now, but back then, it was the 64.

They adopted two kids from California, and they want to adopt the two more kids from Korea through hold. So they went to flew there to pick up the other sibling and then relate it to me. And so as they were leaving, they were passing out candy to the kids that were left behind. And my sister, I have a biological sister.

Her name is Mary Ellen. Was in the orphanage with me, this, they left her, so that at least she and I could be together. So instead of taking the candy eating and right there, like other kids, she took the candy and she ran off. And so they my parents asked me the orphanage workers. Does she not like us why is she went off that way and they said,

She has a handicapped brother and she’s taking him candy. And so I tried to do really well. But she was, there were so touched by her act of kindness at the age of five it’s. Oh, we need to meet her brother. It was in there ever seen that little girl, run to give the candy to me first. So then went to the way to the back of the orphanage with handicaps were kept.

And then they saw me sitting on the floor and they said, oh, we need to stop both of them. Has she not done that? We will not be in adopted. We will not be in the 99. And then they persevered because they had a law back then immigration law that they could only bring over two children from a another country.

So then they worked two years writing letters to the Congressman and by then they moved from California to Alaska. And and by the way, I have a book that I’ve written. And after two years when a bill was passed, my we were a rider on that bill. Then we came over. So for two years we were writing back and forth.

But I remember my, my parents adoptive parents, my parents told me when they were leaving, you’re going to be ours. God, God’s going to give you us to you and I’m going to go with the talking about it. They said it will take some time, but you’ll be our children. So I believe them. And so it took two years.

And in the meantime, we would write back and forth. In Korean and they’ll translate for me and they was in English. And so once, once you cried to God, God started answering prayers. So it had just home, my lifestyle. And so I tried to trust the Lord, personally I cannot accept who I was because I being disabled, having cruthces and in the whole lot, having kids make fun of.

I tried to deny that I had, I was having a disabled. So I was purposely stay away from people with disability because I didn’t want it to be reminded that I was disabled. I would go, I’m not disabled. And I could do everything. I can’t run back I can do everything else. So I cannot accept who I was.

It wasn’t until I accepted Christ as my Lord and savior. And that’s another story. That I could accept it. If God could accept me just the way I am then I could accept myself. Then after I did that, then I could accept the fact that I was disabled or I had to use crutches. So it’s been a lifelong journey. And so every person has value.

Doesn’t matter if you’re disabled or whatever you look like, God has, God can use you. And so that’s why I wrote the book. It’s called the Price of Success its on my website. And so I’m hoping that people will be encouraged that anything’s possible. If you have faith and you believe, and obviously you have to work, but God opens doors and God allows certain things to happen in your life for a reason.

And I believe people who’ve been impacted negatively, even some horribly with that losing the loved ones. That’s really tough to reconcile. But, people lost jobs and whatnot. God would use that for good. If they have faith in and just wait upon the Lord.

Chris: That’s a absolutely an incredible story. So thank you for sharing with us, Steve and I know. Some people, because as we talked before that this isn’t necessarily just a Christian audience, people come from all sorts of different faith walks. And I feel like sometimes when people see the finished product or, at least closer towards the finished product that they could say that seems like, how can I ever get to that level of success?

And but just. So I asked the question, what virtues are you presently working on to just show that we’re always a perpetual work in progress and that, we don’t always have the answers, but we’re it’s a journey that we’re on perpetually. 

Steve: Amen. And I think it’s to believe. That we are created in his image for a purpose, which is really to do good works.

So everybody has a purpose in life. And so when you have that, then you know what, then you start asking God, what is my purpose? And once you know that, then you have passion to do that thing really well. And then God opens doors and before you know it you are, if you want to call it the world success you’re there, but it’s really.

Just following what God has created you for, and that’s good works to do good works. And we, when you help people and you had doing it because you just want to help them not to get glory or to be banked then it’s really that in itself of itself to be a goal, not just so we get notice of what did you do this?

I was just to say, and then they’ll ask, why are you doing. And you get the opportunity to say, because God loves you. You’re important to God. Jesus loves you. And that’s the two works. We don’t do that for salvation, but we will work for showing people that God loves you. And then with the ask that you could share.

Chris: Amen. And sorry, Steve. Maybe I didn’t clarify that question. I, so the question is. What virtues in particular, are you still like working to perfect as you journey to, becoming Jesus in this world? 

Steve: We, as you said, we’re a work in progress and I still got a long way to go. Believe me, I, virtue is I start each morning through prayer because I know if I don’t do that, I’m going to do things my way and it’s not good because I’m selfish.

And so the virtual is I need to trust God. And it’s interesting sometimes, in the Bible, Paul has a thorn on the side and he asked God to remove it three times. And that’s a, no, my grace is sufficient for you. And so I’m constantly reminded when I’m using my crutches. I said, Lord, please. Don’t.

Don’t make me fall or making me fall, but I’m always asking, Lord, help me here. Some constantly trusting and counting on God and some of myself. So virtue is you wake up in the morning and ask God for me, I, the devotion with my wife every morning and night, when you go to bed, virtual will be the thank God for what he’s done for you that day.

So the virtuous is trust God and not yourself. And then just to follow your passion for what God is ready for. And then at the end what are we, you end up, most of the time it’s going to be a job well done because if you follow what God has called you to do, he’s going to help you. And so the world, myself, my man, I said that’s been big success, but in God’s side, it is

The lives of people you’ve touched. That will be a meaningful 

Chris: Thank you for sharing Steve. How can people get ahold of you and the work that you and MAP are doing to, to this wonderful work that you’re doing globally? 

Steve: Thank you. Dress. If you could go to a www.map.com and they can learn much more about a MAP there.

And then also if you go down to the about us and just click on Steve Sterling. There’s a book it’s called the Crutch of Success and it’s my personal testimony about what God has done in my life. And then also talks about MAP and what MAP does working with partners. So invite people to do that and join us because literally for a cup of Starbucks coffee or two cups that $10 that will provide $840 of lifesaving medicine.

And if I can finish with a story please, I actually met when I was traveling in Cambodia and met a young woman and she had a prosthetic leg because we were with a group of disabled people. I asked her, what happened? I told her I had polio and that’s why I have crutches and leg braces. And she said, when she was 12 years old, she was outside playing.

She steps on a nail and the nail goes to her foot. Now it’s very painful, but in the us, you would just go to the doctor get a tetanus shot and get some antibiotics. And the week later you’re going to be fine. But when Cambodia, her family could not afford to send her to the doctor. So they, her family used some herbal medicine and wrecked her foot

with herbal medicine to make a long story short. Once she had to go to the doctor, gangrene had set in above her knee. So they had to actually amputate her leg above her kneecap. And because she did, it goes to gut gangrene set in cause the infection. And she said they, she was so ashamed of not being a whole person and she would not come out of her house.

She did not come out of her third floor hut for one year, because in that society, they believe that you or your parents has sin and God was punishing you in previous life. And we know better than that because in John chapter nine one, when the disciples asked Jesus, why was this man born blind? It hits him or did his parents and God, as Jesus answered and neither he or his parents sinned, but God allowed to happen.

So that the glory of God can be shown in this person’s life. And so for, antibiotics would have prevented that hypertension medicine would people have high blood pressure. You don’t get that potential medicine. You’re not going to live that long. And that’s what map is able to provide through this donated medicine.

So we invite people to join us and to help save lives around the world for a very, a few dollars to, we can do that. 

Chris: Very good. I love it. And yeah, what an inspiration that is. And thank you so much for the work that you’re doing, Steve. It’s absolutely incredible. And just so honored and touched to be able to have an amazing leader like yourself to join us today on the Leading Virtuously Podcast.

Steve: Thank you so much for having me on your show. 

Chris: Absolutely. We’ll take care. 

Steve: God bless you. Bye bye-bye. 

Chris: Hey, Chris here.

Hope you enjoyed the episode where we discussed all things going bald, just joking, the Leading Virtuously Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode and the podcast, will you please subscribe on YouTube or apple podcasts or Spotify, or you can also share it with a friend that would be tubular. I hope you have an awesome day.

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