JACKSON, Mich. (BP)–Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, spent much of June 22-26 helping other World Changers volunteers remove and replace a worn-out roof. But on the last day of the project in Jackson, Mich., he had an opportunity for serious conversation with the young single mother who lived there. As her son had done a few days earlier, she prayed to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
The encounter was not unusual in World Changers, in which North American Mission Board volunteers work with local governments across the country to repair and rehabilitate substandard housing. The opportunity for making a positive impact on communities is important, but another objective goes deeper: genuine spiritual growth that naturally results in evangelism.
There was as much “building” going on within the students as on the house, Reccord said, “and that’s the whole purpose of why we came.” Reccord, his 14-year-old daughter, Ashley, and wife, Cheryl, were among volunteers from Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Norcross, Ga.
“I think as the government is faced with the issue of having to cut back in support of many folks in our society in issues of welfare, etc., they said very clearly they are in desperate need of the church stepping in,” Reccord said during a break from the roofing. “I think this is a marvelous way Southern Baptists are rising to the meet the need of our culture. It is one way we can make a difference spiritually as well as physically.”
In 40 different cities, 46 World Changers and World Tour projects are slated this year, most of which are being held this summer for church youth groups and young adults. While World Changers volunteers work on homes all day, World Tour participants divide the day between work projects and traditional missions activities such as Vacation Bible Schools and Backyard Bible Clubs.
The routine in Jackson — the largest of this year’s projects with more than 600 volunteers working on 44 different homes — was somewhat typical. Students and their adult leaders slept on cots in classrooms throughout the sprawling Parkside Middle School. The lack of air conditioning in the 90-plus-degree temperatures served as just one part of the character-building formula.
Church groups came to the project together, but students were divided into crews that worked all day replacing roofs on houses — usually including underlying sheathing –or repainting. Lunch was provided on work sites by local churches.
During the evenings, students gathered for a joint worship service that often provided some of the spiritual highlights of the week. W.O.W. Moments (Wonderful Opportunities of the Week) submitted by participants are shared with the full group.
Although roofing and painting are primary in World Changers projects, volunteers also make a point of interacting with neighborhood residents. During lunch and breaks, student volunteers play with area children. In Jackson, a few enterprising students even used unscheduled downtime for impromptu Backyard Bible Clubs.
“They are true men and women of God,” said resident Ivy Todd as students worked on her roof. “They are an inspiration to the kids out here, the way they play with them. I think our neighborhood will change a lot.”
Rebekka Johnson of Crosswell Baptist Church. Sumpter, S.C., said she felt called to children’s ministry last year during a World Tour project. In Jackson, her crew saw three neighborhood children pray to accept Christ.
“A lot of little kids drive by here on their bikes and they’re like, ‘Whoa, what are you guys doing?’” she said. “They asked, ‘Why did you come all the way here?’ And we said, ‘Because we love God.’” Further questions brought more opportunities for witness.
Through a comprehensive pre-project study, students arrived prepared to explain their motivations with all who would listen. The “Time To Build” World Changers theme for the year was a popular rallying cry, particularly when soaring temperatures began to take their toll.
“What time is it?” someone would shout.
“It’s time to build!” was the mass reply.
“What are we building?”
The scene was similar in other cities during the first week of this summer’s World Changers.
Diana Jackson, a member of First Baptist Church, Flippen, Ark., reported “the greatest day I’ve ever had” June 18 during a World Tour project in Birmingham, Ala. She led two girls and two boys to faith in Christ. “It was amazing,” she said. “I prayed with the two girls, and afterward the two boys said they wanted to have ‘whatever it was them girls got,’ and I led them to Christ as well. This isn’t a W.O.W. Moment — it’s an everlasting one.”
Also in Birmingham, the “Galilee Gang” work crew took it upon itself to restock the food pantry of The Church at Fairview. By the end of the week, 400 pounds had been collected, and the story had been shared with the entire city through television news coverage.
Worship services during a Raleigh, N.C., project were a highlight for many. Spontaneous singing continued 30 minutes past the normal close of the service, followed by an impromptu prayer time.
Overall, Reccord said his experience confirmed his previously stated desire for a rapid expansion of the World Changers concept from about 13,000 volunteers this year to as many as 100,000 by 2002.
The strategy could play a key role — along with other volunteer mobilization efforts — in upcoming Strategic Focus Cities initiatives. Those efforts will begin in 2000 with broad-based evangelization efforts in Chicago and Phoenix.
“I think one of the things we want to think about in the future,” Reccord said, “is maybe a multifaceted approach, where World Changers would come in, and then maybe Frontliners would come in and do door-to-door (evangelism).”
Frontliners is another youth missions opportunity pioneered by Florida evangelist Kelly Green in which teens receive training and experience in personal evangelism.
“Frontliners experienced such a successful impact (during Crossover Salt Lake City in June) that vision has been increased as to their vital role and impact in the future,” Reccord said, adding details of future NAMB involvement with Frontliners are currently under discussion.
“I think there’s all kinds of creative things that we’ve got the opportunity to look at,” Reccord said.
Stephanie Lim and Annie Laurie Crane contributed to this report