Young Southern Baptists are kicking off a major outreach initiative Friday that will affect a total of 80 U.S. cities and offer some $16.4 million in free labor to local residents over the next few months.
The more than 23,000 students – ranging from teen-age to college-age – participating in the 2008 World Changers project will install new roofs, repair drywalls, paint, and landscape for sub-standard homes in poor neighborhoods across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Indianapolis will be the first of 96 cities to host the World Changers project. Students will rehabilitate 15 homes from May 30 to June 7, just ahead of the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, June 9-11, at the Indiana Convention Center.
The renovation effort is part of the project's larger goal of reaching 1,000 new people for Christ this summer.
"This is our 19th year, and each year we try to make the experience a little different for the students," said John W. Bailey, North American Mission Board's leader for student volunteer mobilization, according to NAMB.
NAMB, the mission arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, is the sponsor and organizer of World Changers.
"This summer we will encourage students to become excited about serving God," Bailey said. "We'll challenge them to let World Changers change the way they follow Christ, and to become Christian leaders back in their schools and communities."
Each participant donates a week (Saturday to Saturday) this summer to take part in the hands-on mission projects. The 23,000 students will be broken into hundreds of teams composed of eight to ten students each.
NAMB's Bailey noted that although the numbers for the World Changers events this summer are "exciting," there are also sacrifices that will be made in order for the projects to happen.
"The economy is down and diesel fuel for church buses costs $4.50 a gallon," Bailey said. "So we know our smaller churches will be making a major sacrifice to load their buses, fill them up and get to the project sites. I am so grateful for our churches – about 1,100 in all – that will faithfully serve this coming summer."
Local SBC churches are helping students pay project fees by holding fundraisers such as car washes, bake sales, garage sales, among others. The fees cover a week's worth of food, housing, local transportation and program materials.
Each city hosting a World Changer project is responsible for providing the construction materials, with SBC students providing free labor.
The two flagship operations for this summer's initiative will be in New Orleans and Birmingham. There will be five different rehab projects in New Orleans requiring some 1,100 workers.
The traditional "mega" or "XL" projects will take place in Birmingham in July 12 to 19, when as many as 2,800 students will gather to work on restoration projects throughout the Birmingham metro area.
Some of the major cities where projects will carried out include Dallas, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Memphis, Tampa, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, and Tallahassee.
Besides construction projects, students can also sign up for traditional community ministry projects such as children's ministry, recreation, food pantry work and servant evangelism.
World Changers 2008's 96 projects will run until early August.