About 800 World Changers from across the nation arrived June 23 to share the love of Christ by providing free labor to repair about 90 substandard homes.
BATON ROUGE — About 800 World Changers from across the nation arrived June 23 to share the love of Christ by providing free labor to repair about 90 substandard homes.
The North American Mission Board’s World Changers unit plugs students into short-term construction-type mission projects throughout the world.
“We have more 88 communities doing World Changers,” said John Bailey, NAMB’s director of student volunteer mobilization, which encompasses World Changers and other student mission groups. “Every [community with which we partner] has a problem with substandard housing. We have a good relationship with all these cities, and they all have a needs list of homeowners at or below poverty level that they’re trying to help with government funds.”
Baton Rouge had “a tremendously long list” of homeowners needing assistance when the city first approached him, Bailey said.
“We want to do our best to partner with these cities in eliminating substandard housing,” he added.
Here’s how it works: a city like Baton Rouge – armed with plans to improve its sub-standard housing and a list of homeowners who have applied for assistance – approaches World Changers, usually via one of the city’s agencies, and goes through an application process during which the city agency explains how the materials for the construction projects will be provided, explained Bryant Laird, a national World Changers associate who recruits, hires and trains summer staff.
Once World Changers approves the application, the city is slated, a year in advance, to receive a certain number of World Changers for a certain week, Laird added.
During that year’s time, students from all over the nation sign up to participate in the project, each paying a registration fee of about $200 or more plus travel expenses. When the week arrives, the students and their counselors travel to the city for the work. Area churches, schools, and camps usually host the students, providing lodging and meals.
The students are divided into crews and sent out to work on different homes. Work includes light carpentry – perhaps building a front porch, wheelchair ramp or otherwise making a house handicap-accessible, plus painting, roofing, and minor repairs.
But that’s just the physical side of things. There’s also a spiritual side, said Robert Miller, missions pastor at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in Baton Rouge and an associational coordinator for World Changers.
“Doing the houses is not why we’re there,” he said. “We’re [transforming] … homes, but we’re in the neighborhood to share the gospel and transform lives.”
The Baton Rouge World Changers, hosted by Florida Boulevard and many other churches in the area, worked in the Scotlandville and Banks neighborhoods, Miller said.
“Florida Boulevard has hosted World Changers since 2003,” he said. Normally, Florida Boulevard provides all the meals as well as nightly worship services for the students.
This year, since the group is so large, the students were housed at Scotlandville Magnet High School while other churches provided meals and Florida Boulevard and First Baptist Baton Rouge provided space for worship services.
This event, scheduled to run through June 30, is what World Changers calls an XL – for extra large. XL events provide students with not only the mission experience that is standard with World Changers, but also a worship experience featuring a nationally known speaker – Gary Permenter, in this case – and worship leaders – the Jami Smith Band, Bailey said.
“We [usually] have one XL a year,” he added. “I would certainly say that Baton Rouge is a large project.”
World Changers conducts projects in cities from Alaska to Puerto Rico; this year leaders are praying for more than 25,000 student volunteers to participate.
“We have wonderful churches; our youth groups and students are coming because they believe it is important to their faith to make a difference in their community,” Bailey said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to make a difference.”
NEW ORLEANS—Having already hosted almost 600 World Changers this year, the city was expecting one additional group to arrive June 30 and stay until July 7, according to the World Changers website: worldchangers.studentz.com. This last group, capped at 300, had about 80 vacancies at press time.
“God’s shown me that through my actions others can see His light,” said Anna Holcombe, a World Changer from Tuscaloosa, Ala. “Maybe they can see through our action – our love to them – that God loves them so much more.”
Holcombe’s crew, called the Plumb Bobs – for an instrument builders use to level walls – worked in New Orleans from June 9-16 reroofing Denise Flot’s home near Franklin Avenue.
Flot, a Home Health LPN and member at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, evacuated first to Austin, Texas, then Houston before Katrina, and moved back home about a year ago, she said. A tree in her roof and damage left by 13 feet of water made her home uninhabitable. She’s been living in a FEMA trailer in her yard, waiting for the necessary assistance to repair her home.
“I love it,” Flot said about the work the students were doing on her home. “I think it’s wonderful that they take the time to come help people.”
Richard Dees, a World Changer from Hernando, Miss., said he loves it, too.
“I love seeing the faces of the homeowners seeing us working for God,” he added.
Payoffs for volunteering for World Changers are multiple, many volunteers said. First, passers-by stop to ask what’s going on, which gives students an opportunity to witness. Students, purposefully put into crews made up of mostly strangers, have the opportunity to create close ties with peers from other parts of the nation as together they learn carpentry and construction.
“We’re called World Changers because it changes [the students’] worlds as much as it changes the world for the residents,” said Shelly Swope, team leader and office manager for the New Orleans team of World Changers summer staff.
The team, one of many World Changers employs during the summer to help organize projects throughout the nation, is made up of four members, an office manager and team leader; a communications specialist; a worship leader; and an audio/visual technician.
“Our hearts are for the kids and what they learn from giving themselves to God,” said Emily Trammell, the communications specialist for the team.
“Already these kids have amazed us,” she added, referring to the first day, when lunch was late and all 21 crews ran out of water in the New Orleans humidity.
Instead of complaining, the students were busy talking about the experience of raising a wall for someone’s house, Trammell said. “They saw they could be a part of something bigger.”
SHREVEPORT – The Northwest Louisiana Baptist Association (NLBA) is set to host about 225 World Changers July 23-27.
About 30 local churches are planning to feed the students throughout the week, bringing them lunch on-site, said Lane Moore, associate director of missions for NLBA. Students are scheduled to work mostly in the inner city.
In its eight year of working with World Changers, NLBA sees the mission as more than just physical work, Moore said.
“The young people also will walk through neighborhoods, pass out tracts, and witness to people,” he added.
Many homeowners sit outside and look at their houses when the students are done, he continued. “Some will cry to see how good their house looks. That makes the walk back to the bus to go back home a little easier, even if you’re sore from all of the work.”
Students from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Jonesboro have been participating in World Changers in Shreveport for the last two years, said Douglas Gates, a deacon and the World Changers coordinator for Ebenezer.
This year, Gates is one of four adults accompanying a group of 16 students to Shreveport. Last year, nine students and three adults particpated, he said.
“Everyone I took last year is going back this year,” Gates said, excluding his son, David, who graduated from high school last year.
World Changers in Shreveport has provided the group from Ebenezer a local opportunity to “get their feet wet,” Gates said.
“Next year we’re hoping to branch out,” Gates added. He plans to meet with the students after the trip to not only talk about lessons learned but to plan next year’s trip.
The trip this year costs $260 per person, he continued. Ebenezer budgets that money into its missions expenditures, while the students pay an up-front $50 commitment fee.
Last year, members of the Ebenezer group led 10 people to Christ, Gates said. Ashley Butler, 14, led six children in the prayer of salvation.
“I wasn’t really expecting to be touched by God like I was,” Butler said. “I was really on fire for God, and I wanted to do His will.
“I saw these six little kids playing outside one day while we were working on the house. I went over and started talking to them … I asked them, ‘Do you know who God is?’”
When the children, ranging in age from 5 to 13, said no, Butler began to explain to them, as the six kids sat on the hood of a car, that Jesus had died for their sins, she said. All six accepted Christ.
“I’ve been praying for them, hoping they’re doing okay in their walk with Christ,” Butler said.
It was the first time Butler had ever led anyone to Christ, she said.
“Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous,” she added. “I was praying about it that week, and I asked God to work through me and beside me and He did. It was really Him.”