The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Columns

August 1, 2011

Rich Brown: College students make a difference with volunteer help in Joplin area

JOPLIN, Mo. — About two months ago a cataclysmic tornado changed the lives of thousands of people in the Joplin area. This week a group of college students came here and made changes of their own.

It would be hard to calculate the enormous contributions made by the 187 students from Missouri and six other states with (appropriately named) World Changers, part of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

The students wound up their volunteer work on Friday, with 16 crews working on tornado projects in Joplin and on other assignments in Webb City and Carthage. First Baptist Church of Webb City has been their headquarters.

The young volunteers gave their time and funded the trip with their own money.

“The students, traveling with their churches and youth groups, have paid an average of $250 apiece to take part this week,” said Devan Malone, the group’s missions communication specialist, who will be a junior this fall at Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Ark. “They sleep on air mattresses while they are here and give up a lot but the rewards are great as far as the service they perform.”

Malone said that this year’s event was made possible because of cooperation among local Southern Baptist churches, the Economic Security Corporation of the Southwest Area and the Joplin Public School System.

Among the projects in the Joplin area that World Changers have taken part in have been painting, building handicap ramps, putting new roofs on homes and a variety of work at East Middle School and Emerson Elementary School.

Youths are also joined on the job by a number of adults, such as Elizabeth Eidson, a preschool teacher from Camdenton, who worked at East Middle School this week.

“My husband was crew chief with World Changers several years ago and he had such a wonderful experience that I always wanted to join him, so I did this year,” said Eidson, who brought seven members of a youth group from her church, Union Southern Baptist near Camdenton, to help out.

Her volunteer efforts extend much deeper than just manual labor.

“I feel like my job is to show others the love that Jesus showed me,” she said.

Malone, whose connection with World Changers came through Revolution Church in Benton, Ark., agreed.

“Our main focus and goal is always to share the love of Christ,” she said. “We use the work that we do as an avenue to show Christ’s love and we are able to minister to people through this.”

World Changers began in the summer of 1990 in Briceville, Tenn., with work by 137 youths and adults on nine homes. Two years later the organization expanded abroad with a project in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico.

The ministry continues to grow today and currently has projects being finalized in 101 North American locations and 28 international sites.

Southern Baptists, as well as other evangelical churches, have found the ministry to be a successful approach to youth missions. The six-week summer sessions provide opportunities to meet the physical and spiritual needs of many, as well as teach servant hood and personal commitments to missions.

The bottom line is that students want to make a difference.

“They want to be part of something big,” Malone said. “Through the efforts of these students, God’s love is being communicated to this community.”

Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email

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Tornado: Columns