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World Changers rep eyes houses & hearts


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth of eight stories highlighting North American Mission Board missionaries as part of the 2008 Week of Prayer, March 2-9, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, with a goal of $61 million to help support 5,000-plus North American missionaries. 2008 Week of Prayer missionaries are Daniel and Marta Caceres, Dewey and Kathie Aiken, Melanie Lawler, Jon and Mindy Jamison, David and Shirley Proffitt, Jon and Linda Hodge, Brad Lartigue and Chris and Monica Woodall.

BARTLETT, Tenn. (BP)–For nine years now, Jon Hodge has been in the neighborhood-changing business. His focus is not just the houses but the hearts, minds and souls of the people in them.

Hodge and his wife Linda, based in Bartlett, Tenn., near Memphis, are national missionaries for the North American Mission Board, an assignment that takes Jon to middle Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, southern Illinois and Alaska.

Hodge manages a big chunk of NAMB’s nationwide World Changers ministry. Created in 1990, World Changers is a pre-packaged mission experience that enables students -– middle schoolers to collegians –- and adults to donate a week of their summers to rehabilitate substandard housing and share Christ.

Last summer, some 25,000 World Changers partnered with 1,100 churches in 88 separate projects across the United States, resulting in 900 decisions for Christ and the repair and renovation of 1,700 homes.

The Hodges are two of the 5,000-plus missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and Southern Baptist churches’ gifts through the Cooperative Program. The theme for this year’s March 2-9 Week of Prayer for North American Missions is “Live with Urgency: Seize Your Divine Moment.” The 2008 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goal is $61 million.


In planning 13-17 different World Changers projects in the five states he covers, Hodge spends many months -– prior to each summer’s projects — picking cities, meeting with city officials, school officials and homeowners to choose the renovation projects, along with arranging for World Changers participants to have a place to stay and be fed.

Hodge also selects and trains about 25 college students who serve as summer staff volunteers for the various World Changers projects, traveling from site to site under the supervision of World Changers’ experienced construction and ministry coordinators. The projects are in lower-income neighborhoods in cities large and small.

Each volunteer has a different role -– office manager, music leader, audio-visual (AV) person and even a missions communication specialist responsible for alerting local media to World Changers activities in a given city.

“The college students must be strong people to serve on these teams,” Hodge said. “We need leaders who’ll take a group and lead it. We have to have people strong in computers and AV. Mainly, we need kids who are willing to go, serve and work hard because it’s long hours. You may go from 5 one morning to 1 the next morning. You have to be flexible, have a great personality and be willing to do whatever the Lord wants you to do that week.”

Regardless of the project site, Hodge said the first questions World Changers always get from local residents are “Why are you here?” or “Why are you doing this?”

“And we’re able to share with them that we’re doing this because we love Jesus, and Jesus called us to go, serve and help people,” Hodge said.

Hodge tells of a victim of Hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Miss., where about 350 World Changers were on the scene to help local residents rebuild.

The 50-something man — suspicious of anyone claiming to want to help him for free — had already run off others from another denomination who had volunteered to re-roof his wind-damaged home.

“Then he met 12 teenagers and adults who had come from different Baptist churches in different places to help hurricane victims,” Hodge recounted. “He said he could see in them a love that he had never seen before. He said he had to have what this group had. He accepted Christ because of the witness of the World Changers.” He also got his new roof.

Prior to Hodge’s appointment with the North American Mission Board, he had served as a youth and recreation minister for 11 years in Tennessee and Illinois churches and had worked as a coach, truck driver and a Krispy Kreme Doughnut route salesman.

“My call to missions came after I took a youth group to a World Changers project in Alabama. The more I became involved on the leadership side of World Changers as a project coordinator and speaker, the stronger the call I felt to be involved in missions.

“I had taken the group to Alabama to rehab the homes of several low-income homeowners. I thought I was going to change their world by repairing their homes and sharing the love of Christ with them. But not only were their lives changed, my life was changed,” Hodge said.

After World Changers put in a hard day of installing a new roof or scraping and painting a house in summer’s heat, they spend their evenings in worship led by volunteer student ministers and music leaders.

“World Changers makes my day, my summer,” Hodge said. “It’s exciting. I have one of the best jobs in the world. I thank the Lord every day that I’m a Southern Baptist missionary.

“There are times when it’s tough during the summer — long hours and a lot of different things going on and a lot of fires to put out. But it’s all worth it when you see these high school and college students and hear the stories of how their lives were impacted and changed.”

Back home in Bartlett, Hodge said his wife Linda “keeps the home fires burning bright when I am traveling,” which is much of the time. Married since 1983, they have three children -– a college sophomore, an 11th-grader and a third-grader.

Because Hodge has been working with World Changers for nearly a decade, he’s seen high school and college students grow up, finish their educations, marry and have their own children.

“I’ve seen many college students come in, thinking they’re going to be something else in life, but God gets a hold of them that summer and they realize they want to be in the ministry or go into missions. It’s exciting at the end of the summer when we compile everything and see 1,000 or more students who say, ‘I want missions to be part of my life.’ That makes it all worth it right there,” Hodge said.

“Southern Baptists need to be involved in World Changers because it’s an opportunity for us to be out there and to touch people’s lives. I’ve seen this program open up doors that through other avenues we couldn’t open up.”
Mickey Noah is a writer for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.