By Rich Brown
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The concept is simple and far-reaching: United Methodists, including those at a Joplin church, are out to make the world a better place this weekend.
Byers Avenue United Methodist will be among churches around the globe uniting for Change the World, the fourth annual such event that has spread like wildfire throughout the United Methodist denomination.
The idea is to utilize outreach to make a positive difference in the world, a movement that was observed in more than 1,500 locations internationally last year and drew participants from more than 2,000 churches as well as countless other volunteers.
Linda Stegner, missions coordinator at the Joplin church, learned about the event through an email from United Methodist Communications and immediately began making plans for her church to get involved. Although the entire weekend is set aside for Change the World activities, Stegner said Byers Avenue will be participating on Sunday only following the morning worship services.
Parishioners will have lunch, then leave for projects such as working in the vegetable garden at Crosslines Churches of the Joplin Area and cleaning up Junge Boulevard, the church's adopted street.
"Our church has always been really good about giving money to missions, but there is a special blessing in actually working," Stegner said.
The random acts of kindness performed through Change the World not only provide much-needed assistance to people worldwide, but also give a fresh breath of air to the church as a whole. This pure act of love gives churches a renewed reputation of being a community that helps people and gives hope.
Talk of missions and taking faith and love beyond the church walls becomes reality through programs such as Change the World, Stegner said.
The Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, said that research has shown that churches providing opportunities for service are viewed much more favorably because of their active approach. The concept of Change the World originated with Mike Slaughter, lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, which was named one of the top 50 churches in the United States by Church Report Magazine.
Slaughter's idea for the movement in large part stems from the United Methodist campaign Rethink Church, which utilizes outreach events to make a positive difference in the world beyond the church doors.
Whether a one-time project, a new endeavor or an ongoing ministry, the mission decided upon by United Methodist volunteers this weekend will be to help their brothers and sisters not only around the corner but around the world.
An example of the latter came two years ago via First United Methodist Church of Saline, Mich. This congregation changed the world for children in Zimbabwe by collecting used children's books from around the United States to start two new libraries at primary schools in that African nation.
As Pastor Laura Speiran said, this was a project that truly changed the world for those Zimbabwe children, but also went even further. It allowed that Michigan congregation to invite people in their own community to become engaged with the church even if they had never been engaged before.
Therefore, it proved to be a time for planting seeds, about the love of God being big enough and powerful enough to include them, Speiran said.
It might be difficult to find a better example of how Change the World works than that.