Nearly four hundred World Changers and PowerPlant participants traveled to the "Show Me" state this summer to show the city of St. Louis the love of Christ.
"This is the first time ever that we have had both PowerPlant and World Changers in the same city the same week," noted Jonathan Wilson, strategy development coordinator for the five-day mission opportunities organized by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.
World Changers provides students and adults with opportunities to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others, most often by replacing roofs and tackling other repairs on low-income housing or by holding backyard Bible clubs and other neighborhood events in partnership with local churches and community organizations.
PowerPlant is designed to engage students in church planting and evangelism. PowerPlant participants learn church planting principles and evangelism skills each morning, then engage in related ministry activities in the afternoon and evening.
The casual observer during the week in St. Louis in late July might have only seen a roof being replaced here, a house being painted there. The observer might have noticed students working to clean a playground, assist a women's crisis center, hold a soccer clinic, or host a block party. But each act of service was part of a larger initiative aimed at changing lives.
World Changers and PowerPlant help shape the way students view the world and their role in it through such experiences as working on a construction team with students from across North America, getting to know people of different ethnic or economic backgrounds, or combining the theory and practice of church planting.
"I can already see more opportunities to witness, both verbally and with works," Emma Dolbeare said after her team's first day of work. "Everybody's been really open to what we've had to say and been really kind.
"My involvement in World Changers means I can do what I love to do for God and accomplish what He has for me to do." said Dolbeare, a roofing crew team member from Meadow Brook Baptist Church in Auburn, Illinois.
Darren Casper, associate executive director of missions partnerships and church planting at the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, noted, "The goal in all this is to create a larger missionary force in the States."
Casper said he hopes every participant took home an understanding that God doesn't just call certain people to missions.
"We all have to take on the mindset that we're taking this never-changing Gospel to an ever-changing culture," Casper said.
Beyond home improvements, World Changers seeks to offer love and hope to the residents of the homes where they work.
"I think we have given some of the residents a sense of hope," Robby Jackson, World Changers project coordinator, said. "They have always been appreciative of the youth working on their homes and comment that it is good to see youth doing this type of thing instead of getting in trouble."
Homeowner Betty Watts in St. Louis recounted, "Water was leaking into the living room and bedroom. I didn't even know that this program was out here. It's really neat."
On the PowerPlant side, church planter Noah Oldham served as this year's St. Louis ministry coordinator. Last summer, he participated in the launch of August Gate Church in the Soulard area of downtown St. Louis.
"Our mission statement is to be a church community that loves God because of the Gospel, loves people towards the Gospel, and restores the city with the Gospel," Oldham said.
With a focus on reaching unchurched twenty- and thirty-somethings, young professionals, and young families of south St. Louis, Oldham deployed PowerPlant participants to clean bathrooms in restaurants and bars, and hand out coasters with the name and Web site of their new church. Oldham said he hopes the week's impact will go beyond the immediate benefit of the physical work.
"We hope our reputation when we launch is a church that truly loves St. Louis, wants to make it even better than it is, and that we show the city that the Gospel is what will make that happen."
Projects like World Changers and PowerPlant could not happen without the help of local churches as well as community leaders, Jackson said.
"We have had some really great cooperation with several of the city council members and the mayor's office," Jackson said. "The folks in St. Louis are truly what makes this project what it is."
Especially in light of the hardships of the current economic situation, the World Changers and PowerPlant outreach helped churches and Christians in St. Louis demonstrate their commitment to love the communities they serve.
"We want to communicate with civic leaders that as followers of Jesus, we feel it is our moral and biblical obligation to find ways to bless and help meet the basic needs of people in our communities," Casper said. "By students coming and doing a variety of service projects, we're backing up what we're saying to civic leaders — we're here to help, here to bless."
For more information on the North American Mission Board's World Changers or PowerPlant summer mission projects, visit www.namb.net and click on mission opportunities.