BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–The hot summer sun beats down on a young man’s forehead as he drives another nail into a roof. Usually he’d be reclining in an air-conditioned room playing video games but, instead, his shirt is soaked with sweat.
He doesn’t mind. He’s making a difference.
A young woman is giving a home a much-needed fresh coat of paint. She is missing an important week of cheerleading practice. But she says she made the right decision.
Their stories mirror those of about 2,000 students and adults from across the country who, by the end of the summer, will have served as World Changers in tornado-battered Tuscaloosa and other locations in Alabama.
Volunteers with the North American Mission Board’s World Changers initiative have worked or will work this summer in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Anniston, Florence and Huntsville. Another 20,000 “world changers” are serving in 85 other cities across the United States.
For 21 years, individuals from churches and schools have raised their own funds — averaging $250 a person this year — to take part in a World Changers week working on projects aimed at improving substandard housing while also gaining a “venue in which to live out the faith they have in a loving God,” according to the World Changers website.
Once all the groups arrive in their host city, they are divided into crews and given their project assignment. They kick off each morning with a devotion before heading out to work sites for a full day of work. Each evening, they gather for worship and then rest for their next day of hard work.
In Tuscaloosa, April 27’s tornado outbreak yielded an out-of-the-ordinary opportunity for 199 World Changers June 13-18. The city was scheduled to be a World Changers location for the second year before the tornadoes hit. But the projects there were revamped toward disaster relief, with 17 crews partnering with Samaritan’s Purse for debris cleanup across Tuscaloosa.
Project coordinator Mark Matson, who has been involved with World Changers for 15 years, said the situation provided an even greater opportunity for students to present the Gospel and speak to people about why they were there.
The students made 425 Gospel presentations, resulting in 60 professions of faith. Matson said the crews were able to share the hope of the Gospel with many who were devastated after the tornado took their homes.
The disaster relief aspect of the projects brought unprecedented media coverage.
“It’s no doubt that a lot of Tuscaloosa has known that World Changers has been here,” Matson said, noting he hopes the attention it received will lead to more funding in the future so more people can be helped.
The city is on the schedule for next year, and Matson hopes to assist in rebuilding the areas cleaned up this year.
In Birmingham, more than 750 students and adults are slated to work more than five weeks on roofing, painting and other home improvement projects in partnership with the Birmingham Baptist Association; Metro Changers, a year-round home rehabilitation ministry of the association; and the city of Birmingham.
This was the third year Conor Martin, a high school senior from Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., has participated in World Changers. Martin was part of a June 11-18 crew responsible for putting a new roof on an elderly woman’s home in the Sherman Heights neighborhood.
“This is what God calls us to do. He calls us to be missionaries, and we’re being missionaries by putting a roof on a house,” Martin said.
But as fellow Fairview team member Austin Kemp pointed out, they weren’t just completing projects.
“It’s a big part of it, but the bigger part of it is Jesus,” he said.
The first Birmingham group reported 108 Gospel presentations in the community, with several people requesting more information or prayer.
World Changers teams have worked in the city since 1992, making a difference in the lives of hundreds of homeowners.
“It’s neat because people see the work we do and make comments that they see that we really are changing the city,” said Hannah Berry, a senior at Judah Christian School in Champaign, Ill.
In Florence, nearly 130 World Changers participated in 11 projects June 20-25.
“Every year, I’m amazed how God matches the talents and abilities of the team members with the needs of the homeowners,” said Tim Ray, who has served as project coordinator during World Changers’ five years of work in Florence.
Ray called the projects a “team effort,” as homeowners apply through the city and are then screened and chosen for projects based on their need. Churches in Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association assist in providing meals while the city’s board of education allows students to stay in schools.
“Our goal in Florence is to continue this project as long as the Lord wants us to continue to do so. We consider this an indefinite endeavor,” Ray said.
In Huntsville, 270 World Changers worked on-site from June 25–July 2, while Anniston will host 170 participants July 18–23.
Students often say the World Changers experience changes them as much as it changes the face of the city in which they serve.
Allison Leflie, a first-time participant from First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Tenn., acknowledged she wasn’t fully looking forward to the week in Birmingham but when she saw the difference her team was making, it changed her attitude.
“I’m going to have to change my whole lifestyle. It’s going to be hard but it’s worth it,” Leflie said.
Although World Changers is primarily for students, they aren’t the only ones affected by the outreach, said Derrick Cronk, the high school director for First Baptist Woodlawn who served as a chaperone for the group.
“When you serve others and are being obedient, it’s always a blessing…. I would encourage even adults to get involved in [World Changers],” Cronk said. “If they’ve never experienced it, it’s a blessing. If they get involved, they’ll never quit.”
Courtney Searcy is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. To view the latest e-edition of the newspaper, visit online.thealabamabaptist.org. For more information on World Changers, visit www.world-changers.net.