How World Changers Changed Baptist Missions

The inaugural group of World Changers in 1990 poses for a photo in the Briceville, Tenn., community where they worked to renovate substandard houses and share the Gospel.

NASHVILLE (BP) — Thirty years ago this summer, a group of 137 youth and adults spent a week in Appalachian coal country doing construction work on nine homes and sharing the Gospel in the neighborhoods where they worked.

That pilot project in the East Tennessee community of Briceville marked the beginning of World Changers.

The May 1 announcement from LifeWay Christian Resources that World Changers would be discontinued came as something of a personal loss to the staff, students and leaders that participated in the program’s projects over the years.

Over the last three decades, World Changers developed a following of passionate, loyal supporters. Its blend of hard work and up-close-and-personal ministry aptly illustrated the Great Commission for a new generation.

Along with the youth group he led at First Baptist Church of Memphis, Andy Morris participated in the pilot project in 1990. When the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission established the World Changers program after the success of the pilot project, Morris became the first director.

“Developing and managing World Changers was one of the best experiences of my life,” Morris said. “Watching God at work through the work of countless volunteers, national staff, students, coordinators, worship leaders, speakers, crew chiefs, summer staff, residents and agency representatives was a sight to behold.

“We all felt like we were involved in a work that was bigger than ourselves and that God was using the experience to change lives. It has been one of the best blessings of my life.”

Morris and Tim Yarbrough, World Changers’ first program editor, traveled the country coast to coast in 1991 during the program’s first full year.

“It was a good thing that we were young and didn’t know any better,” Yarbrough said. “It was nothing short of a miracle that the first six projects — which included those in Los Angeles and the Eastern Shore of Virginia — were pulled off and with such success. I had a front-row seat to watch how God used World Changers mightily to engage and deploy students and leaders for missions in ways previously unimaginable in Southern Baptist life.”

In 1992 the number of projects doubled to 12, and summer staff teams were deployed to facilitate the exploding popularity of the program.

World Changers partnered with government agencies across the country to provide free labor to improve homes in mostly low-income neighborhoods. Many municipalities formed lasting relationships with the ministry’s leaders and relied on World Changers as a way to stretch their budgets by cutting many of the costs associated with improving local homes.

For volunteers, World Changers offered a unique missions experience that blended physically demanding construction work — including roofing, scraping and painting and building wheelchair ramps — with real-world, relational evangelism.

When the Brotherhood Commission merged with the Home Mission Board and other Southern Baptist agencies to form the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in 1997, NAMB assumed operations of World Changers. In 2011, LifeWay formed a partnership with NAMB and took over operations.

John Bailey worked with World Changers for more than 15 years. He is the former director of student volunteer mobilization at NAMB and manager of World Changers at LifeWay. He said one of the most valuable byproducts of World Changers’ model of ministry was its celebration of often uncomfortable, but eternally important, interactions among volunteers and those they served.

“Missions is about people but not just people like us,” said Bailey, who is currently associate executive director of the Highland Lakes Camp and Conference Center in Spicewood, Texas. “What made … World Changers so special to me was all the different people who came together — different economic backgrounds, different educational backgrounds, different generations, different ethnic groups, different skills and so on. I am certain I will not see that diversity again until I get to heaven.”

Many World Changers alums would likely agree that the hard work and cross-cultural evangelism of World Changers affected the staff and volunteers as much as it did the members of the communities they served.

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Source: Baptist Press