Last year World Changers changed hands from the North American Mission Board (Alpharetta, GA) to LifeWay Christian Resources (Nashville, TN). As a former summer staffer (two years) and participant (8 years and 15+ projects) I had some reservations about this. LifeWay already has M-Fuge, which is part summer camp, part mission trip. How was World Changers going to fit into this mix?
Well, LifeWay and World Changers have completed their first summer together, and by most accounts, it went reasonably well. Several people who were key leaders of World Changers while it was at NAMB transitioned to LifeWay to continue leading World Changers, so it wasn’t an entirely new staff running things.
In 2013, World Changers and PowerPlant will focus on changing the city, changing the world. “Next year we will continue our mission of eliminating substandard housing by replacing doors and windows, re-building porches, adding siding and wheelchair ramps where needed, painting and a host of other necessary repairs,” Bailey said. However, one change Bailey noted for next year is that World Changers will no longer have minors working on a roof.
In 2013 we are focusing on more weeks in cities to have a longer and greater impact. As we grow we will look to add more cities. “Metropolitan areas have tremendous needs and the types of service to meet those needs are endless.” Bailey said, “We are looking to help churches reach more of their community’s needs.”We believe that if we stay longer to help change the city, our students’ lives will change and we can change the world. We are also excited to hear that our church planting partners want more students in the future! Imagine what the Lord could do when a generation of students follows a call to reach the cities? We at World Changers and PowerPlant want to lead the way.”
What this means is no more roofing projects and no more middle-of-nowhere projects.
During the years that I was a participant with World Changers I worked on at least 12 roofs, some of which were much harder than should have ever been allowed. I also jumped in on a few roofing projects while I was a summer staffer to lend a hand.
Two years after my last project I can say that I think removing roofing projects from World Changers projects is not a bad thing. While I’m confident that every roof I helped replace (and most of the others) is still attached and not leaking, putting 10-15 high school kids on a roof is dangerous. I can recount numerous stories of people stepping through rotten roofs (I’ve done it), kids nearly falling off roofs, and a few who actually did, and one construction supervisor going to the emergency room after falling from a ladder when a gutter gave way while climbing to the roof.
And those are just from the weeks that I was a participant! I’m honestly surprised roofing projects were allowed for as long as they were.
There has also been a lack of experienced crew chiefs (adult volunteers from churches) who were competent to put a roof on a house. By the time I was a senior in high school I had done a number of roofs and generally new more than my crew chief, so I often ended up teaching everyone else how to replace a roof on my site. In college I was even assigned as a crew chief to replace a roof on two different projects. Let’s be honest: How many of you would go to a church, find someone with little or no roofing experience and tell him to grab 12 high schoolers to come put the roof on your house?
By removing roofing projects from World Changers, each project will be able to focus on slightly easier projects, and instead of having to send extra crews to help finish a roof, projects may ultimately be able to complete more repairs and improvements to houses in a community.
The second change is a bit tougher to defend. By focusing more on metro areas, the visibility of projects will be higher, but many impoverished communities that likely relied on the yearly impact of World Changers will be left on their own. I’ve done a few projects that are likely to be on the list of cancelled projects, and it will be interesting to see if local leaders pick up the slack in these cities and host their own projects or find other organizations to come in and pick up the slack.
As a former summer staffer, I’m willing to bet (wait, this is LifeWay, no betting allowed) that the feedback of “There’s nothing to do on the afternoon off” played into some of the decisions for which projects to drop. I’m also guessing that ease-of-access to major interstates, local church support, community interest, government rules, and insurance, all played a part as well. There are only two cities on the list that I went to as a summer staffer. Many of those projects were remote locations, had limited support from churches, had projects scattered up to an hour from where participants were staying, and had nothing for participants to do on the afternoon off.
I think this second change will have the most impact on communities more than not replacing roofs will.
But I also see a number of positive changes coming from this. Yes, smaller, rural communities will feel the loss of World Changers next summer, but by focusing on cities and urban areas, participants will now have the opportunity to reach more people in a more consolidated area.
One of my favorite projects was Philly. We replaced the drywall inside of a row house. We didn’t have a church providing our lunch all week because the neighbors of the lady we were helping wanted to provide our meals and it was some of the best food I’ve ever had on a project. When you’re paying your way to go do physical labor for 4.5 days, a good meal at lunch is important. I’ve heard stories about churches that provided good meals, but I’ve heard many more stories about meals being provided by neighbors that were better than anything a church every provided at lunch.
By focusing on urban and metro areas, more teams can be packed into neighborhoods. While it may sound harsh, putting more teams in an area (rather than spread out over a rural location) has more public impact. Five teams packed into one city block is more visible than five teams spread out over five square miles.
These changes are certainly in line with the states goals of LifeWay and World Changers for next year:
In 2013, World Changers and PowerPlant will focus on changing the city, changing the world.
I don’t expect to see roofing projects added back in the future. This change seems quite logical to me. (Although painting is dangerous, too. I almost had a cracked rib thanks to a painting accident with a ladder.) However, I think that, in time, LifeWay and World Changers will branch back out into smaller communities. This is certainly an important area that needs to have as much assistance as possible. But since LifeWay is wanting to focus on cities at this time, reducing the number of rural projects makes sense. It also makes financial sense because summer staff teams won’t have to travel as far between projects, participant churches won’t have to drive as far to get to a project, and supplies and materials may be cheaper.
These changes, especially the second one, don’t surprise me at all. Even when I was on summer staff three years ago I knew that the location of many projects were not financially viable for World Changers. Having teams drive several hundred miles between projects is expensive, especially if there is no easy routing between those locations. Eliminating projects had to be a hard decision, especially for John Bailey who has been with World Changers for a long time, beginning at the North American Mission Board. But I don’t believe that the decision for which projects to cancel was made lightly.
World Changers will continue to have a positive impact on communities. Leaving some towns may force the local Church to step in and do what it should already be doing: helping the poor, sick, and needy; the widow and the orphan. If not, then the loss of a World Changers project week is not the worst problem those towns have to deal with.
Edit: Yes, I realize that some of the projects that were dropped next year are probably amazing projects that have more than enough support and resources. That’s not my point. You can’t use one or two projects as proof that an idea is bad, or good. Unless someone from LifeWay wants to weigh in on this post with first-person details of the conversations that resulted in these changes, it’s hard to challenge the motives behind it. Dropping projects may be a business decision, but LifeWay is a for-profit business.