On the second day of the World Changers project in Nashville, Tenn., this summer, the "Brush Bunch" arrived at their worksite to find a man sitting with their tools hoping for work. When the students told him they were helping repair homes as volunteers, he was surprised at their dedication — and willing to hear what they had to say.
It turned out the man had lost his job and family over the past four months, and had found himself with a loaded gun in his mouth the night before. "He told us that he did not understand why he couldn't pull the trigger," said student Cindy Hendrix of Murphy, N.C. "But we knew why."
The man received Christ that morning, and by the end of the week he had gotten a job and begun reconciling with his family. "At first I was worried about the roof and the construction on the house," added Brodie Downs, a student from Warrenton, Va. "But I know now the real reason why we came."
For many students, such encounters are just as much a part of World Changers as the sweat and hard work it takes as houses are painted, roofs are replaced, and other repairs are made. But even that is only the beginning. The goal is for the impact of that one week to last a lifetime.
"We have said since the beginning of World Changers that the world we seek to change is the world of the participant. And when the world of the participant is changed, then lots of other worlds get changed," said Keith Loomis, a student volunteer mobilization associate for the North American Mission Board who coordinates logistics for World Changers.
World Changers has been enabling students to live out their faith through construction and ministry projects since 1990. This year, a record 19,245 individuals participated in sixty-six projects in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Another fourteen International World Changers projects in eleven countries were conducted in association with the International Mission Board.
Most of the projects continue to focus on the housing rehabilitation efforts, usually conducted in partnership with local governments that provide materials and homes in need of repairs — a total of 1,365 worksites this year. Other projects include a broad array of ministry efforts conducted in association with local churches and other ministry groups.
A total of 1,596 professions of faith were recorded during the summer, including 224 World Changers participants. The latter figure demonstrates that even with the comprehensive training in missions and personal evangelism participants are required to receive, it often is the experience itself that leads students to new commitments.
Janice Abria, a student at the University of California-Irvine who participated in a 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.
"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 Changers "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 one week opens their eyes to possibilities," Loomis 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 the addition of five projects in Alaska, five in Canada, and five in Puerto Rico. The total number of projects is expected to be about ninety-five. 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 first-time 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."
For more information on World Changers opportunities in 2002 go to www.studentz.com/wc.