ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The encounter in Fort Pierce. Fla., was typical of many on the periphery of World Changers this summer — when roofing, painting and other work projects were punctuated by opportunities for students to share the motivation for their service.
During a break one day, 13-year-old Rachel Davis noticed a young boy walking down the street with a basketball and decided to step out of her comfort zone to share the gospel. Not only did he accept Christ, but he also brought two friends who made the same commitment.
“As the crew worked further into the afternoon they knew in their hearts that they could reach people for Christ,” said Ronny Taylor Jr., a student summer missionary who served on World Changers summer staff at the project.
All told, the 13-year-old World Changers summer missions initiative experienced yet another record year during the summer of 2002. A total of 23,083 participants working on 1,701 work sites in 87 projects in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The three boys in Fort Pierce were among 1,345 who made professions of faith — out of 12,000 separate presentations of the gospel. A total of 544 students made commitments to vocational ministry or missions.
In International World Changers, sponsored by the International Mission Board, 493 participants in 11 projects across the globe, saw 508 professions of faith through a broad range of ministry efforts.
The significant increase over last year’s 19,245 participants in the North American World Changers projects is largely due to new partnerships with Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina state conventions, which conducted 18 projects themselves, according to World Changer leaders.
“That was our growth strategy. We gave those state 18 projects, and we worked on all those projects located in more pioneer areas,” said John Bailey, manager of student volunteer mobilization for the North American Mission Board, which sponsors World Changers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. “Those three states have made major commitments to mobilizing students, and they are indeed our partners.”
World Changers since 1990 has allowed several hundred youth at each project site to partner, in most cases, with local governments to rehabilitate substandard housing. Other projects address a broad array of other community service projects and direct evangelistic ministry.
Students learn what it’s like to experience the self-sacrifice of sleeping on floors of school classrooms and working long hours in the hot sun — while experiencing daily Bible study with their youth group and dynamic corporate worship each evening. And as in Fort Pierce, they are taught to seek out opportunities to share with those they encounter along the way.
Some stories underscored the training component that has always been central to World Changers, — whether in direct evangelism, discipleship or learning to be a servant follower of Christ. A 13-year-old boy on one project found himself complaining — until he met another boy his age who had to work with his father throughout the summer hauling heavy objects. “Sometimes my arms are too weak and I can’t carry the big loads,” the boy told him “… But I’m thankful that God has blessed me with arms.”
“The rest of the week was different,” the participant said. “That day Geraldo changed my world, and for the rest of the week at the work site I rejoiced in my opportunity to work.”
Just a few of the other reports from this year’s projects further reveal the impact:
— In Philadelphia, 13-year-old Ashley Green had an opportunity to give water to a homeless man who came by the site. As he left, she put an arm on his shoulder and asked, “Are you satisfied?” The man fell to his knees and began to cry as she shared of the living water of Christ. “He opened my eyes to see the need in people’s lives everywhere,” she said.
— In Ontario, Canada, a small group of students on one team found an opportunity to share in a nearby school, eventually handing out 105 beaded bracelets illustrating the gospel to interested students.
— Laura Figueroa-Vazquez asked for a “soul won for Christ” on her 16th birthday, and her request was answered when a next-door neighbor of the project where she was working in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico prayed with her to receive Christ. It was the 14th person she had led to Christ in two weeks of World Changers. Figueroa-Vazquez had accepted Christ herself only a year earlier after meeting another World Changers crew that built her sister’s home.
— And at a subway tollbooth in Philadelphia, Steve Johnson spent 45 minutes sharing with the cashier about what Jesus had done for her. Holding hands through the small opening under the bulletproof glass, the two prayed together as she accepted Christ.
The World Changers missions offering for the NAMB-coordinated projects this year raised a total of $176,805.34 for a new church start on the Catawba Indian Nation reservation near Rock Hill, S.C. The church is a direct result of relationships with reservation officials that have developed since World Changers began working there in 1996.
Bailey said the relationship with the reservation has been one of World Changers’ most exciting success stories.
“They only have a Mormon church, so this will be the first Christian church on the reservation,” he said. “I think that needs to be celebrated.”
Another area of growth in World Changers has been the success of projects in Canada, including two “community” projects in Montreal focused on helping new Southern Baptist churches reach their communities.
For next year, Bailey said the partnerships with state conventions will allow for continued growth, with a total of 93 projects scheduled. While all will be promoted and registered through NAMB, 23 will be implemented by state conventions.
“This is a great time to be working with students,” Bailey said. “This generation of students is saying to everyone, ‘we are optimistic, team players, intelligent, obedient students who believe in the future and just want to be challenged.’ I can’t wait to see what God is going to do using this generation in the next great spiritual awakening.”