by Tom Sims
Tom Sims covers the Tower District, Downtown Fresno, and Old Town Clovis in his monthly column Strolling the Town.
We feel these are three areas in this Valley that are filled with history, culture and interesting stories. So join us each month as Tom goes Strolling!
They came from all over the country and converged upon Fresno and about 48 other cities this summer. They came to change the world and they did change the world for thirteen families in Southeast Fresno.
They are World Changers. They are young people and their sponsors. Not only did they volunteer, but they paid their own way and they painted, roofed, and built fences for 13 families in SE Fresno AND they paid to be here to do this!!
They came from 13 different churches. There were over 150 students. They each paid $269 for the privilege of working hard. They would not have traded the experience for anything.
The mission of World Changers is simple:
“We exist to serve churches in their mission of making disciples by providing missions experiences that develop the heart of students for serving others and sharing the gospel so they can change the city…change the world.”
The strategy is simple. It is accomplished through specifically focused meaningful missions’ experiences in strategic cities of all sizes. Groups converge upon a city for a week. The projects and support systems are prepared well in advance. In fact, people in the host city have been working throughout the year with government agencies, churches, community benefit organizations, and potential homeowners to prepare for the advance.
Groups are housed in where space is available. In the past, it has been at a high school in Clovis. For the last two years it has been at the Fresno Rescue Missions, “Mission at the Mission.” Breakfast and dinner were served there with lunch provided at the work site by local churches.
All the groups had adult leaders from their churches. In addition, there is a World Changers staff, there are crew leaders and there are project managers. All work is done according to build code standards and is inspected for quality.
Students prepare by studying the theme of the year ahead of time and during the project. They learn the sort of work they may be doing and they get to know the city where there will be assigned,
In preparation for the week, youth are required to complete a pre-project study based on the theme for the year, including a local work project.
They learned some things about Fresno, for instance:
• It is a top-producing county in agriculture
• The city suffers from high unemployment rates due to the recent drought conditions
• 31.5% of the residents are considered to be living in poverty.
Often, World Changers need to be ready to sleep on the floor. For the last two years, thanks to the “Mission at the Mission,’ they have had bunks. According to project literature, “Our approach involves helping participants grow in the gospel and develop mission-minded lifestyles. A work project not only requires participants to come ready to work hard and sleep on the floor, but also to share the gospel authentically.”
Authentic sharing means that, while words are important, they must be backed up by action and lifestyle.
World Changers is not new to Clovis and Fresno. In fact, the teams have been coming here for 13 years now and have completed well over 200 projects. The national project began in 1990 and is sponsored by Lifeway Christian Resources, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dave McNeil, former Associate Pastor of Clovis Hills Community Church, leads the national project.
Clovis Hills Community Church guides things on the ground in Fresno under the leadership of Project Coordinator, Lauren Annin and Michelle Pellerin. They are joined by local churches, Lowes, Habitat for Humanity, Every Neighborhood Partnership, and Fresno Rescue Mission to create the infrastructure and resources for the project. The whole neighborhood gets involved through a huge block party with hot food, food giveaways, games, and fellowship. Neighbors get to know each other. Community is built. Homeowners whose incomes are low and who live in project areas can apply to have a project done that will make a real difference in their own quality of life. Referrals are then made through Every Neighborhood Partnership and Councilman Sal Quintero’s office.At the closing ceremonies there was an atmosphere of celebration. The enthusiasm was contagious, the singing was lively. The cheers were loud. Project recipients often get to know their teams very well and frequently come to the closing ceremonies on the last night. Tearful farewells are evident. Grateful hugs are evident and in the end, it was hard to determine who benefited most.
Lifeway’s World Changer’s Site: www.lifeway.com/worldchangers