ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–A record 19,245 individuals participated in World Changers missions projects in North America during the summer of 2001, an increase of nearly 14 percent over last year’s total. But the numbers only lent a sense of scale to the profound impact on students and the communities they touched.
In Portland, Maine, students left a trail of handprints on the wheelchair ramp they had built for one resident. In Youngstown, Ohio, students visited prisoners at a medium-security prison, touching their lives with music, laughter and conversation. In Montreal, Quebec, volunteers participated in a concert of prayer over the city from the top of Mount Royal.
And in Nashville, Tenn., a man showed up at a residential work site looking for construction work one morning. After talking with him for some time, students learned the man had lost his job, his family had left him, and he had contemplated suicide the night before in a nearby park. By the end of the week, the man had accepted Christ, gotten a job, and begun work on restoring his family.
“At first I was worried about the roof and the construction on the house, but I know now the real reason why we came was for people like Anthony,” said Brodie Downs, a student from Warrenton, Va.
World Changers since 1990 has allowed students to actively live out their faith through rehabilitating substandard housing and participating in other community missions efforts. Most of this year’s 66 projects in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico involved roofing, painting and other repairs on homes — a total of 1,365 work sites. Other projects included a broad array of ministry efforts at 190 sites in association with local churches and other ministry groups.
Additionally, 14 International World Changers projects in 10 countries were conducted in association with the International Mission Board.
A total of 1,596 professions of faith were recorded during the summer, including 224 World Changers participants. The others, like the man in Nashville, came as volunteers interacted casually with neighborhood residents and through non-construction ministry efforts.
Nearly 13,000 local volunteers, in addition to the 19,245 participants, also were involved in the projects.
The housing rehabilitation efforts usually are conducted in partnership with local governments, which provide the materials and homes in need of repairs for volunteers. But World Changers is geared toward making an impact even beyond the neighborhoods they touch during the summer.
“We have said since the beginning of World Changers that the world we seek to change is the world of the participant,” said Keith Loomis, a student volunteer mobilization associate for the North American Mission Board who coordinates logistics for World Changers. “And when the world of the participant is changed, then lots of other worlds get changed.”
Janice Abria, a student at the University of California-Irvine who participated in project in Beaumont, Calif., noted the spiritual hothouse environment of World Changers — an environment where work done in the name of Christ is followed by dynamic worship each night and personal and group Bible study. It is during such times that lasting changes occur personally.
“If this could be my whole life it would be awesome, because it’s like you’re in a bubble,” she said. “You have your Christian fellowship, you have the worship, you’re out helping other people. You can’t help but think about God and his work in your life.”
NAMB President Robert E. Reccord said the way that World Changes “puts action to faith and personalization to missions” was summed up by his daughter’s response after her first World Changers project.
“I’ve always heard I needed to be involved in missions but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do it — and it was great! It changed my life,” Reccord’s daughter told him. “I know what people mean now when they say it is more fulfilling to give than receive. I gave of my time and some hard work, and I got back more than I could ever say.”
Loomis said NAMB increasingly is stressing with students the importance of using World Changers as a stepping-stone to longer-term missions service.
This year 504 students made commitments to service as a summer or semester missionary. Almost that many, 498, made commitments to vocational ministry.
“I think the week opens their eyes to possibilities,” he said. “They are exposed to what it means to be on mission. And for many students, being out of their comfort zones doing hands-on missions is the right environment for God to get in their heads and hearts and challenge them: ‘I’ve got your attention for one week; what are you going to do with the rest of your life.'”
He also noted that the same sort of impact often occurs in the lives of the adults accompanying the students, who make up 20-25 percent of the participants.
For next year, Loomis said World Changers will continue to expand into new directions and new areas. The theme will be “Live the Call!”
“There will be even more emphasis on challenging students to a deeper level of commitment,” he said.
Among the highlights will be five projects in Alaska, five in Canada, and 5 in Puerto Rico, increasing the number of projects in the lower 48 states to 15. The total number of projects is expected to be about 95. The 48 percent increase in the number of projects is largely attributable to new partnerships that will allow several state conventions to take a larger role in coordinating projects in their areas, Loomis said.
Leaders also are planning a project in partnership with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to impact the community surrounding the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Richard Ross, a professor of youth ministry at the seminary, said he has become a supporter of the effort both for the benefit it can do for the community and the impact on the lives of participants.
“I believe God is calling out a flood of students who want to go to the front lines of missions,” he said. “We must respond by quickly expanding the opportunities for service both nationwide and worldwide.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BEYOND THE DOOR, PAINTING THE RAILS, CHANGING THE WORLD and MAKING A DIFFERENCE.