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Housing renovation ministry changes students, residents, communities

ROCK HILL, S.C. (BP)–There’s a street on the Catawba Indian Nation reservation in Rock Hill named World Changers Lane — a lasting tribute to the students who helped build four new houses there in the summer of 1996. World Changers volunteers have since returned to the South Carolina reservation each year to rehabilitate a total of 228 homes.

“What’s always excited the tribe is to see how far these youth come to give up a week or two weeks of their summer vacation to help people who they do not know,” said Dewey Adams, a member of the Catawba tribal council who was involved in the initial project. “And they also minister to them, and tell them about their beliefs and why they are here.”

The students, meanwhile, leave with not only new skills in painting and roofing — but also a new appreciation for serving Christ through serving others.

“It was just amazing. I learned so much,” said Tommy Murray, a college sophomore who accepted Christ during his first World Changers experience on the reservation in 1998. “It helped me realize who God was and what he was in my life,” said Murray, a member of First Baptist Church of Walterboro, S.C.

Those two sides of World Changers illustrate the broad-based appeal of the Southern Baptist ministry, through which the North American Mission Board has sent out more than 81,000 students to repair 6,000-plus homes since the program’s launch in 1990.

This summer, a record 85 projects will be conducted — including 14 international projects.

World Changers actually grew out of a desire by leaders at the former SBC Brotherhood Commission to provide a hands-on mission education opportunity for students to complement existing church-based mission education. It has since grown to not only provide missions awareness, but also a tool for evangelism, discipleship and even church planting in some areas.

The formula remains unchanged since the first project in Briceville, Tenn. Participants are assigned to projects around the country, where they help rehabilitate substandard housing during the day and participate in joint worship services and group devotion times in the evenings. Some projects also incorporate direct missions and ministry activities in association with area churches. Participants pay an all-inclusive fee, and the North American Mission Board handles all the planning and arrangements.

The ministry fits in neatly with existing housing rehabilitation efforts of local governments and other agencies, which routinely receive federal grants for repairing substandard homes. When they partner with World Changes, those funds go only toward materials — such as paint or shingles — and not labor.

“To me World Changers has been throughout its entire history a model for faith-based partnership with governmental and private agencies,” said Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization for the North American Mission Board, which has sponsored World Changers since 1997.

“The advantage to us is it allows us a pathway to mobilize kids to do substantial ministry. The advantage to the agencies is our volunteers make their funding go farther. So if they’ve got a $50,000 grant, our free labor can make it perform like a $100,000 grant.”

The students also are free to strike up relationships with residents and neighbors, often leading to discussions about their faith in Christ. In recent years especially, part of the required pre-project study completed by students has included training to help the students be ready to share their testimony — and through it the gospel — as opportunities arise.

“Most of the sharing of their faith comes as people approach them,” Burton said, adding that doors are opened through “the natural flow of relationships that comes through presence.”

Students also benefit from exposure to diverse cultures and environments. “We wanted our kids to interact socially as well as spiritually, because we want them to have a cross-cultural experience,” Burton said. “We want them to have a better understanding of how other people live that hopefully will impact them for a lifetime.”

That was the case, at least, for Heather Brown, a high school junior in the World Changers group from First Baptist, Walterboro.

She’s seen the effect the program has had on others, including a profession of faith by one tribal leader on the Catawba reservation who earlier had been overtly negative about the World Changers project. But what has most affected her is the leadership experience it has given her — experience that made her believe God is calling her to longer-term missions service.

“Knowing that God had used me to work with someone else was an awesome experience,” Brown said of her experiences as a devotional leader for her World Changers crew. She also learned the value of servanthood and humility, lessons that have strengthened her walk with God.

“God told me, ‘Hey, you’re not here for you. You are here to serve me and help others,'” she said. “And that was a real eye-opener.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WORLD CHANGERS.

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  • James Dotson