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World Changers ready to work in 80 cities

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–More than 23,000 Southern Baptist students -– from teenage to college-age -– will tackle roofing, drywall repairs, painting and landscaping in 96 World Changers projects this summer in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

By the time World Changers winds down operations in early August, the North American Mission Board’s initiative to renovate substandard housing expects to have donated $16.4 million in free labor in 80 American cities and reached 1,000 people for Christ.

Now in its 19th year, World Changers is a pre-packaged mission experience sponsored and managed by NAMB, enabling students to donate a week (Saturday to Saturday) of their summer to rehabilitate some of the poorer neighborhoods of America -– at no charge to the homeowner.

The 96 projects will kick off May 30-June 7 in Indianapolis, a first-time World Changers site, where rehab work on 15 homes will precede the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 10-11 annual meeting at the Indiana Convention Center.

Through World Changers, students will be encouraged “to become excited about serving God,” said John W. Bailey, the North American Mission Board’s leader for student volunteer mobilization. “We’ll challenge them to let World Changers change the way they follow Christ and to become Christian leaders back in their schools and communities.”

While excited by the number of participants for this summer, Bailey noted that sacrifices are being made across the country.

“The economy is down and diesel fuel for church buses costs $4.50 a gallon,” Bailey said. “So we know our smaller churches will be making a major sacrifice to load their buses, fill them up and get to the project sites. I am so grateful for our churches –- about 1,100 in all –- that will faithfully serve this coming summer.”

In addition to Indianapolis, first-time World Changers sites this summer include Bonne Terre, Mo.; Rockingham County/Reidsvile, N.C.; Longview, Texas; Walterboro, S.C.; and Prince Edward Island, Canada.

World Changers’ major cities will include Chicago; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Dallas; St. Louis; Salt Lake City; Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, N.Y.; Memphis, Tenn.; Tampa and Tallahassee, Fla.; Tulsa; Birmingham, Ala.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Little Rock, Ark.

Bailey said World Changers’ two flagship operations this summer will be New Orleans and Birmingham.

“Continuing to work with Operation NOAH Rebuild in New Orleans, we’ll do five different rehab projects in New Orleans requiring 1,100 workers,” Bailey said.

World Changers will hold its traditional “mega” or “XL” projects in Birmingham July 12-19 when as many as 2,800 students will work on renovation projects throughout the metro area. This year’s XL project will feature Chad Childress of NAMB’s student/collegiate team as worship speaker and the Warren Jacobs Band as worship leader.

Each student participating in World Changers pays a fee of $260 for most U.S. projects. The Birmingham XL project costs $295, while projects in Alaska and Canada are $385 and $310, respectively, because of the distance involved. Fees cover a week’s food, lodging, local transportation and program materials.

In an effort to assist smaller churches, World Changers for the first time is scheduling “World Changers Express” projects costing only $215. The “express” projects begin on Sunday afternoon and end on the following Saturday so local church services are not affected.

At some local churches, fundraising efforts such as car washes, bake sales and garage sales assist students in participating in World Changers. “They do it because this is their opportunity to join God in His work,” Bailey said.

This summer’s 23,000 students will be divided into hundreds of crews of eight to 10 members. Construction crews are headed by a crew chief with building-related experience and skills. Bigger projects may require two more crews.

Other than construction projects, students also can sign up for non-construction community projects such as children’s ministry, recreation, food pantry work and servant evangelism.

World Changers’ presence in a city is the product of many months or even years of pre-planning work. In most cases, NAMB and the cities have been collaborating for several years. But for newer sites, Bailey, who handles negotiations in behalf of NAMB, usually spends at least 18 months in drawing up the labor agreement with the various municipalities.

“We emphasize to the cities that we are not a recipient of government funds and don’t want their money,” Bailey said. “We don’t want total control or to affect the city’s bid process. All we provide is free labor. The city is responsible for coming up with the construction materials.”

Statistically, Bailey said when cities -– through their own locally sponsored renovation programs — bid out work to repair substandard homes, 60-70 percent of each dollar goes for labor.

“We come in and tell them we offer free labor, and after 19 years, we have proven ourselves in most cities. The cities know us, our reputation, and are glad to work with us. It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” Bailey said.

“Some city-run programs may require homeowners to stay on a waiting list for up to 10 years depending on the city,” he said. “Under a city-run program, which is usually small in scope, it may take a year to repair or rehab 35 homes. World Changers averages repairing 25-28 homes in one week of the summer. That really gets city officials’ attention. You’re not around 19 years unless you deliver on your promises.”

Bailey said it’s not too late for churches to sign up for some of this summer’s World Changers projects. For more information, visit www.world-changers.net.

(World Changers’ $16.4 million estimate for free labor is derived from statistics made available by Independent Sector, a nonprofit leadership forum for charities based in Washington, D.C. Independent Sector estimates the national average wage for unskilled labor at $19.51 an hour. Each World Changers volunteer provides 36.5 hours of free labor during a typical one-week World Changers project. When the 23,000 World Changer volunteers are multiplied by 36.5 hours and then by $19.51 per hour, the total is $16.4 million.)
Mickey Noah is a staff writer with the North American Mission Board.

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