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Nearly 200 Southern Baptist teenagers divided into 17 teams with names like “Dandy Sanders,” “Plumb Bobs” and “Level Heads” went to work this week fixing up 35 north Baton Rouge homes, most of them owned by elderly and disabled people.
But the story of the 11th annual World Changers mission to Baton Rouge is about more than just numbers. It’s about living out their faith and making a difference in people’s lives, organizers say.
“We really appreciate all they’re doing for us,” said Robert Williams, 2317 Mason Street, as a dozen young people put their muscles to work applying a fresh coat of white paint on the home he and his elderly wife, Audrey, have lived in for 18 years.
“I’m not able to do any of it, and I’m proud we got people like this who are willing to do it. I wish there were more like ’em,” Williams said.
Megan Tillman, a college student from South Carolina who is this World Changers team’s mission and communications specialist, said members are “sharing love and living out our faith” by painting and doing other work on the houses.
The Rev. Joseph Combs, senior pastor at Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church in north Baton Rouge, said the World Changers teens are a good example for local teens who can lift the spirits of residents by performing similar community service tasks.
“It makes them feel secure and makes them feel valued,” Combs said.
Joel Sanders, a local World Changers construction coordinator, said he and the city’s Office of Community Development identified the 35 project homes, most of which belong to elderly and disabled residents.
The teens “are doing mostly painting,” Sanders said. “There was some repair work that needed to be done, but the city did that ahead of time.”
Police officers are patrolling the neighborhoods, firefighters are installing smoke alarms in each home, and mosquito control is regularly spraying the neighborhoods.
It didn’t take long for the “Dandy Sanders” to repaint Robert Williams’ house on Mason Street.
“I just like the work, I like to help out,” said Johnny Kim, 16, of Korean Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, one of the painters. “It feels good to be used of God.”
A few blocks away, the “Scrape, Splatter and Roll” team was putting a new coat of tan paint on a house at 2766 Hollywood St. Site supervisor Wes Pogue, of First Colony Church in Sugarland, Texas, said they appreciated police officers and city workers checking on them.
Haley Hanks, 18, of Great Commission Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi, said she’d never participated in World Changers event but, “I’ve always wanted to do missions, and this is a good way to get started.”
The teens are all camping at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Joey Beeson, said it takes a lot of logistical cooperation to pull off a project the size of that undertaken by the World Changers group that is visiting Baton Rouge.
Along with all the city departments, at least three local churches are feeding the teens and other churches, like Star of Bethlehem, are providing frosty water bottles.
“It is our privilege to reach out to this community in the name of Christ and to love and to serve and to join with the city to make this happen,” Beeson said.
Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden welcomed the World Changers group to Baton Rouge in a brief ceremony Tuesday at Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
“At some of the homes you have visited the word ‘hope’ was not in their vocabulary but you have put the word ‘hope’ in their vocabulary,” Holden told the teens. “The Bible says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains and World Changers have moved mountains in Baton Rouge.”