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Nearly 11,000 World Changers demonstrate Christianity in action

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–They came 10,576 strong this summer, from 585 churches, on mission to demonstrate Christianity in action. They are the World Changers: youth and their adult leaders who spent a week repairing and renovating homes for low-income residents.
This year more than 700 homes benefited from the effort during 39 separate week-long projects in 28 different cities.
The last 1997 World Changers projects ended Aug. 2, and the summer staff for the projects gathered at North American Mission Board (NAMB) offices Aug. 4-6 for a time of debriefing and reflecting on the biggest year yet for the ministry. The more than 35 college-age workers acted as support staff and worship leaders on the projects.
World Changers began in 1990 as a missions education program of the former Brotherhood Commission, and the summer work projects that began as the ministry’s missions involvement component have now come to define it. This year — under the auspices of the new North American Mission Board for the first time — projects were held for junior high, senior high, college students, single adults, and senior adults.
Four projects were held overseas in Trinidad, Antigua, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Additionally, the summer also included eight World Tour projects — which combine the traditional service projects with more direct evangelistic ministry efforts.
In each case, World Changers cooperates in a partnership with community and government officials to meet an area’s most desperate housing needs. In turn, participants have an opportunity to serve in Christ’s name and explain the gospel that motivates them.
“It’s almost a laboratory experience,” said Andy Morris, student volunteer mobilization manager for NAMB and World Changers coordinator. “It’s learning by doing, and not just hearing.”
The summer workers returned with stories of changed lives, both in the communities and among the youth participants. Although most of the efforts are designed more for “seed planting” than for direct evangelism, there were 640 professions of faith recorded.
And although all participants are required to complete a study and have previously made a profession of faith in Christ, more than 200 of them made other decisions such as commitments to full-time Christian service.
During the debriefing sessions, World Changers communications workers shared just a few of the summer’s other highlights.
— In Catawba, S.C., near Rock Hill, the World Changers project provided an impetus for an unprecedented level of cooperation between the city and the local American Indian reservation.
— In Savannah, Ga., four weeks of World Changers projects served as a vehicle for racial reconciliation, said Libby Drennan of Roanoke, Va.
“For the first time, African-American churches of the community lent their support for World Changers through providing meals and opening up their churches for participants to attend worship on Sunday morning,” she said. “As a result, the African-American churches of Savannah were pumped to help World Changers next year, and the people in the neighborhoods are just really excited.”
— In New Orleans, Andrew Bonderud, 14, of Germantown, Tenn., took a break from a project site to talk with two neighbors, ages 10 and 14. He later dropped by the project office to ask if they had an extra Bible around — his had been given away after both prayed to accept Christ.
— A 17-year-old prostitute in Mobile saw other kids her own age in her own neighborhood living lives so much different from her own. “Right there, she went down on her knees and accepted Christ,” said Sonya Jacobs of Tuscaloosa, Ala.
— In Antigua, a new Christian attended a church service the day after his release from jail and met World Changers participants just beginning their project. He worked with the group all week, testifying they had given him the support system he desperately needed to begin his new life on the right track.
— In Clarkesville, Ga., one resident said she could not go to church because she couldn’t afford to look nice. The teens responded by buying her a complete outfit and giving her a full makeover, said Ashlee Dixon of Fayetteville, N.C. “It was just awesome how they just keep giving and giving and giving,” she said of the teens.
— Twenty-three students from Weimar Baptist Church in Germany joined youth from First Baptist Church of Statesboro, Ga., on a project in Birmingham, Ala. The two churches have developed an ongoing relationship since the fall of the Berlin Wall, according to Keith Loomis, a student volunteer mobilization associate for NAMB, and the German students had expressed a desire to give something back. Seeing the German and American youth working together was especially appropriate for a ministry with a name like World Changers, Loomis said. “It really came to life.”
— An elderly resident in Barnwell, S.C., whose home was being repainted, kept talking about how she wanted to share in the giving. That Thursday she got up on a ladder and started painting her neighbor’s house.
— In West Memphis, Ark., a neighborhood man had been the subject of the local pastor’s prayers for 27 years. “When he saw the kids there, and he saw Christ’s love in action, he got saved that week,” said Amy Witherspoon of Deatsville, Ala.
— Because participants were housed in local schools, they also had the opportunity to develop relationships with custodians — some of whom were not exactly thrilled at the prospect of extra work during the summer months. One janitor in Jackson, Mich., felt that way until he learned one of the work sites was his own mother’s house. “His whole attitude changed. … Now it was not just a bunch of kids coming to make (his) life miserable,” said Erica Mickels of Dallas.
— A zealous student approached by drug dealers in Savannah took the opportunity to tell them about Jesus. Even when they retreated, he followed them home and vowed to come back to talk with them further. He did. “There was no stopping him,” said Drennan.
Spiritual maturity in both witnessing and worship was surprisingly high all summer, according to several of the workers.
“This summer, more than any other summer I’ve been with World Changers, the teenagers and adult leaders were more on fire, more able to witness, they were bolder this year than I’ve ever experienced,” said Jacobs.
Other summer workers offered similar testimony, particularly with the intensity of worship. One student told of hundreds of students coming down to pray, with even more coming the next night. Another worship leader tried to end a service two times before students finally decided to singing praises to God. And in Clarkesville, by the end of the week there were as many adults from the community participating in the evening worship services in the local gym as there were students.
“There is a growing consensus among the summer staff that God is doing something with this generation — that boldness, more anticipation for worship,” said Morris, noting that it mirrors observations in other youth ministries worldwide.
“There is a spiritual awakening being led by this generation, and we feel like it is going to come to a climax around the turn of the millennium,” he added.
As for World Changers, there are no signs of losing momentum. There are plans to increase the number of projects to 48 next year, including work for the first time in Chicago and Youngstown, Ohio.
For more information on opportunities available through World Changers, contact NAMB volunteer mobilization at (800) 462-VOLS.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson