HIGHLAND, Calif. When she stepped off the plane, it was hard for 17-year-old Kaila Justice to believe she was really in California.
The airport terminal seemed like any other. But when she walked outside into the cool evening air, she could see the shadow of the San Bernardino Mountains in the distance and hear the palm trees rustling in the breeze.
When she first learned that her youth group from Angier Baptist Church in central North Carolina was going to participate in the 2007 World Changers project in Highland, Calif., Kaila had resigned herself that the cost would be prohibitive, in light of needing to save money for college next year.
But now she found herself in Highland, ready to begin a week of shingling roofs and painting houses. "God has me here for a reason," she thought to herself in that moment. "I know this week is going to be amazing."
Created in 1990, World Changers is a prepackaged mission experience sponsored by the North American Mission Board enabling students middle schoolers to collegians and adults to donate part of their summers to rehabilitate substandard housing and share Christ.
During this summer across the United States and Canada, 23,000 World Changers participants partnered with 1,100 churches in 88 separate projects to lead 900 people to decisions for Christ and repair or rehabilitate some 1,700 homes.
During the weeklong project in Highland a town of approximately 51,000 people east of Los Angeles World Changers presented the Gospel 40 times, giving out tracts and Bibles along the way.
World Changers is a familiar name to many members of the Highland community. Over the past several years, they have come to Highland five times, rehabilitating 74 homes and ministering to countless members of the community.
Kaila arrived in California to join more than 100 other participants from seven churches from as far away as the East Coast and as close as Palm Springs. The project's participants ranged from students finishing the sixth grade to adults in their 70s.
Upon arrival, the participants were divided into 10 "crews" and assigned to one of 10 work sites. The crews, each comprised of 10 to 12 members, repaired or replaced five roofs and painted five home exteriors.
Ed Bailey, construction coordinator for the Highland project and a 16-year World Changers veteran, said it was difficult finding area church members who could serve as construction experts or "chiefs" for each crew. With only two supervisors and a limited number of local volunteers available, Bailey turned to participating churches for help.
"I was in need of people to work as crew chiefs, so I wrote a letter to each church that was registered to come," he said. "It ended up that six of the 10 crew chiefs on the project sites were from the participating churches."
Aside from finding qualified people to oversee each work site, another logistical challenge was identifying which projects were feasible to complete in only four and a half days. Several of the roofing jobs required extensive repair, and Bailey was charged with the task of deciding if a crew of teenagers, parents and other adult volunteers could finish the necessary repairs by the end of the project week.
After settling in at Immanuel Baptist Church where they were housed for the week, the participants donned tool belts, bandanas, camel packs and work gloves and set out for the project sites at 7 a.m. on the Monday after arriving in Highland.
The day before, these same students and adults had walked the neighborhood, talked to residents and neighbors, surveyed the work that had to be done and prayed for ministry opportunities. On Monday, they climbed ladders, mixed paint, stripped shingles and started bonding with the people with whom they would spend the next four days in the hot California sun.
Kaila and her crew members would spend their week removing an old roof, scraping tar, laying new shingles and painting trim on the home of an elderly couple. When asked by neighbors why she and her peers paid money to spend a week of their summer on a scorching roof, Kaila explained how World Changers seek to reflect how Christ ministered to others through meeting physical needs.
While many students on her crew were new to World Changers, Kaila worked on a similar roofing project in Birmingham, Ala., last summer. It was during that project week when she first felt God leading her toward more involvement in missions work. It was not until this summer in Highland, however, that she realized God was calling her toward a life in vocational missions.
During each project week, many students like Kaila experience a life change. Some make a profession of faith and come into a relationship with Christ. Others recognize how God wants to use them in their future careers. After each hard day of work at their project sites, the students take part in worship services and group devotions. It is during these reflective times that many of them express a desire to serve God through a life of ministry.
"One extremely important aspect of each World Changers project is the opportunity it gives participants to renew their own personal spiritual walk," said Alan Henderson, worship leader for the Highland project.
After praying with her youth leader and the project's communications specialist, Kaila felt sure that God used the week in Highland to reveal His will for her life.
Despite financial obstacles, "I knew that God really did want me to be here," she said. "God isn't going to be limited."
In addition to Kaila, many other lives were changed over the course of the week in Highland. Seven participants made professions of faith and one homeowner expressed strong interest in studying more about the plan of salvation."Countless seeds were planted in Highland," said Lesley Selman, the World Changers coordinator for the Highland project. "God is using the men and women of Immanuel Baptist Church and World Changers in Highland to glorify His name and reach a community that desperately needs His love and hope."