By Megan Conley
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The sound of hammers radiates down North Chamberlain Ave. in Chattanooga, Tenn. Every few minutes, shingles are tossed off one side of the roof, and new shingles are lined up on the other.
Even though the morning has barely begun, the sun is already radiating off the hot tar. But that’s not slowing down the group of World Changers volunteers working on Priscilla Ford’s roof.
“[These students] are dedicated, and they are mindful of helping low-income and underprivileged people do repairs on their home they can’t do for themselves,” said Ford, whose home was in need of a new roof.
This is the attitude of thousands of students across the United States who volunteered to serve this summer with World Changers, a ministry of Lifeway Christian Resources. World Changers provides construction, church planting and urban missions experiences for youth groups by giving them the opportunity to serve for a week in communities across the country, including Chattanooga.
More than 500 students from 28 churches served at back-to-back World Changers projects in Chattanooga, July 7-14 and July 16-21, repairing 49 homes. Throughout the summer, World Changers hosted projects in 20 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
Students pay between $280 – $375 to attend a World Changers project and typically sleep on air mattresses or cots in empty rooms of local schools or churches. In Chattanooga, Brainerd Baptist Church hosted the teams.
For Chattanooga homeowner Doris Smith, the work of World Changers has impacted her life once before. Ten years ago, a World Changers crew put a new roof on the home she shared with her mother.
This summer, during the second week of projects in Chattanooga, a World Changers crew returned to provide new repairs to Smith’s home.
Smith said the presence of the World Changers students also uplifted her spirits, since most of her family lives out of state.
When the groups are finished with their work each day, they return to the church, eat dinner and attend an evening gathering. Each evening has a different emphasis from learning about the host city and its particular needs to diving into Scripture and having discussions about the gospel and what it means to live on mission.
A unique addition to the World Changers evening schedule this year was the introduction of R&R night — an opportunity for church groups to come together and enjoy an evening of fellowship. This night is planned by the local coordinator for each project and takes on a different experience in each city.
For the projects in Chattanooga, R&R night was spent partnering with the local chapter of Meals on Wheels. Each church group received bags of groceries and a list of addresses. The groups, accompanied by a Meals on Wheels volunteer, spent the evening delivering groceries and visiting with meal recipients.
“Most of these people only get that one, hot, home-delivered meal per day, which basically delivers one-third of their daily nutritional value,” said Jamie Tyson, manager of information systems for Meals on Wheels of Hamilton County. “Some of these people, their only interaction with other people is with the home-delivered meal volunteer, the person who brings that meal every day. Our program is like a safety check, as well as a hot meal.”
Since 2013, World Changers has aided Meals on Wheels in delivering 676 meals to Hamilton County residents.
The students and adults in Chattanooga worked each day on various projects, from repairing decks, exterior painting, interior painting, interior repairs, roofing and other construction repairs. However, along with completing the work at each home, the students are encouraged to find time to share their faith in the surrounding community.
For Savannah Hamrick, from Aversboro Road Baptist Church in Garner, N.C., the week spent serving in Chattanooga allowed her to put her faith into action.
“It’s not about you and it’s not about how you’re feeling, it’s about what you should do for other people and what Christ is leading you to do,” Hamrick said.
Students are encouraged to continue the lifestyle of serving others after the week concludes. Maggie Davies, also from Aversboro Road Baptist Church, shared how the work done during the week is a reminder of Christ’s call to make disciples even as she returns home.
“When I go back home, the mission continues,” Davies said. “It’s not supposed to be left here, and we don’t have to travel to always be on mission. There are people back at home who need us just as much as people here need us.”
For youth leaders Bobby and Nancy Shelton from Bethel Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., World Changers not only helps their students grow closer together, it puts into practice a lifestyle of evangelism they seek to foster in their youth all year round.
“We want them to do what we do here in our own hometown,” said Bobby Shelton.
While the week spent at World Changers is a great way for students to make new friends and serve in a new community, the overall mission for the lives of the students is far greater.
“You can throw a coat of paint on a house and it’ll last for a little while,” said Nancy Shelton, “but if you can share the gospel with somebody, that’s got eternal value and lasts forever.”
Registration is now open for 2019 projects. For more information, visit worldchangers.lifeway.com.
Megan Conley lives in Jackson, Ga. She served as a project director for World Changers this summer.