In 1993, I was serving as a youth pastor and Minister of Education in a church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. A half page mail out crossed my desk in December that captured my attention. I had no idea, as I was reading the information that this mail out, which could easily have been destined for the circular file, would have such an impact on my own life.
It was an advertisement from the Brotherhood Commission of the SBC for World Changers, a new initiative to involve youth in hands-on missions experience, and to help disciple them in the area of missions education. World Changers is a “pre-packaged” approach to missions, in which people on the receiving end make all the local arrangements, and youth pastors and leaders in the churches simply sign their kids up, give them some basic training, and get them to the project site. It’s a real blessing to smaller and medium sized churches that don’t really have the resources to work both ends of the missions experience on their own. The appeal to me was that it appeared to fill in some of the widening gaps in missions education in Southern Baptist churches no longer using traditional programs like R.A.’s and G.A’s. It fit well with our church situation, so I signed us up.
We spent the week in Clarksdale, Mississippi, sleeping in air matresses on the floor of a dilapitated dormitory at a junior college, but loving every minute of the experience of being part of crews that were helping families have a better quality of life as a result of having us work on their houses. The transformation in the 7 students that I brought with me was even more remarkable than the transformation in the homes that were repaired in several Mississippi Delta communities where we worked. Every student in our group, as well as the adults, felt God’s movement and call upon their lives as a result of this experience.
Those 7 students returned full of a spiritual renewal and enthusiasm that changed our entire youth ministry, and had an impact on the whole church. They made people aware of needs within our own community and organized groups to minister to those needs. Adults as well as other students in the church became involved in short term missions projects that minstered to people both inside and outside of our church. The spiritual transformation was an exciting development, and the effects of it lasted far longer, and were far more impressive, than anything I’d seen as a result of a youth event previous to this one. The next summer, we took 32 students and adult chaperones to Savannah, Georgia.
When I moved to Texas and began teaching Bible in a Christian high school, we used World Changers to help our students get their hours for community service. The program had the same effect in the student body of the school that it had in the church. Students committed themselves to mission service, and their spiritual growth and enthusiasm was salt and light to the entire student body. The lasting effect of their experience was a beacon of light to their fellow students.
In 2000, I started serving as a project coordinator. For a while, I did two weeks of World Changers every summer, taking my own students as well as coordinating another project. I’ve been continuously involved in this ministry since 1993, and even though it is primarily aimed at involving students in hands-on missions, it has changed my life. It has heightened my awareness of the needs of people living around me, has motivated me to action, has inspired me spiritually and it has changed the way I look at missions and ministry. It has been a lasting and profound impact.
I just returned from yet another project this past weekend, physically exhausted but spiritually exhiliarated. God moved in a powerful way among the participants, motivating students to make committments to mission service, to rededicate their lives to Christ, and to serve others in Jesus’ name. Again and again, I heard testimony to what God was doing in the lives of the students and their adult chaperones, and of the lasting effect that participating in this kind of mission service has on both Christian students and adults. Worship was an awesome and inspiring time, during which the focus was on God and his will, and not the music leader or the worship speaker. I never grow tired of doing this.
If you are looking for an experience that will inspire, motivate and move your youth to become involved in missions, and develop deep convictions and burdens about lost people in various places, get them involved in World Changers. God is using this initiative, now under the ministry umbrella of Student Mobilization Ministries at the North American Mission Board, to draw students closer to him and to disciple future church leaders. Contact me if you’d like to get your church group involved.