SAVANNAH, Ga. — There’s something special about Eleanor Williams’ home.
Hers is the 20,000th home World Changers has worked on since the Southern Baptist ministry began as a pilot project in 1990.
Each year when the City of Savannah Department of Housing notifies homeowners they have been approved for government-funded home improvements, several respond with a special request: “Please put me on the list of homes to be worked on by the World Changers students.”
Williams is one of those residents, having qualified for funds to replace her leaky roof this summer.
Word has spread through the Savannah area over the years as more than 12,000 students since 1992 have given a week of their summer to help replace roofs, apply a fresh coat of paint and renovate homes while sharing Christ with homeowners and residents.
“I had the World Changers come in 2005 and paint my house,” Williams recounted amid the sound of hammers pounding on the roof and the buzz of activity in her yard.
“It’s been like a fence of love surrounding me this week,” Williams said of the World Changers’ presence.
Every home World Changers students work on is special because the point of the week is not only to work on houses but to connect with homeowners and share the love of Christ and the salvation story. But on July 3, Williams’ home became especially significant because it marked the 20,000th renovation completed by World Changers over the years.
“We have mobilized more than a quarter of a million students and adult leaders since 1990,” said John Bailey, student volunteer mobilization team leader with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB). “We’re here as a response to our faith,” Bailey said during a brief ceremony in Williams’ backyard. “We’re answering God’s call to go and serve.”
This summer more than 23,000 middle and high school students will participate in 98 World Changers projects in 91 cities throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. World Changers provides the tools and volunteer labor while local governments provide the funding, often utilizing federal government housing dollars.
In addition to working on homes, World Changers participants share their faith with homeowners and others in surrounding neighborhoods. In 2008, participants in World Changers and PowerPlant, a sister ministry geared toward assisting in church planting efforts, made 14,757 presentations of the gospel resulting in 997 recorded professions of faith.
While World Changers is impacting homeowners and other residents, participating students say World Changers is changing their lives at the same time.
“God has been using this week to show me I’m a lot more fortunate than some people are and I can use my abilities to help people who need it,” said 11th-grader Broderick Turner, a member of First Baptist Church in Eufaula, Ala. “I will definitely come back and do this again.”
Meredith Johnson, a high school junior who attends Florence (Ky.) Baptist Church just south of Cincinnati, said the week had reconfirmed her call to missions.
“It’s been a good experience. I want to do missions when I grow up. I would like to go to Africa or a place like that. This is good practice. God has shown me I can do whatever I can put my mind to with His help. I didn’t really think I could come out here and shingle a roof. I’ve never been on a roof before!” Johnson said she may want to go on an international World Changers mission trip next year.
The practical side of World Changers is what has made the partnership with the city of Savannah and so many other municipalities a success over the years.
Cynthia Holly, loan officer with the city’s housing department, said World Changers helps stretch housing dollars. Holly has worked with World Changers each of the 13 years she has been with Savannah’s housing office.
“It allows us to help out many more homeowners. We wouldn’t be able to do as many houses each year without the free labor. We would have to pay contractors,” Holly said.
NAMB President Geoff Hammond visited with students who were working at the construction site, describing them as “the heroes of World Changers. Think of the time, the effort, the leadership this takes. But they are doing it because of something greater than themselves. They’ve experienced the love of God in their hearts and they want to share that with these families here in Savannah.”
To the students who made up the construction crew working on Williams’ home, NAMB’s John Bailey said, “This is just the beginning for you. You can be a part of the next 20,000 homeowners we’re going to minister to.
“As I look around today, I might be looking at the next Geoff Hammond who will lead the North American Mission Board or the next Jerry Rankin who will lead the International Mission Board,” Bailey said. “That’s one of the things World Changers is about: a beginning point to serve and to minister because of what God has done in our lives.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ebert is publications and media relations coordinator for the North American Mission Board.)