There's a free gas giveaway, a yard sale where everything is free, and a spa day for single moms with no-cost manicures, massages and giveaways. There are free cookies, free bikes, free breakfast, and free car washes. One church will stuff a car with food for the hungry and homeless. Community gardens will be planted, homes will be repaired, money will be raised to build wells and fight malaria.
This weekend, May 14-15, is Change the World weekend, a time when thousands of United Methodists will team up to make the world a better place.
Some of the events are new endeavors. Some are one-time projects. Some are ongoing ministries that have been scheduled to coincide with Change the World. They go by many names -- "Spring into Grace," "Fixin' it for Christ," "Feed Our Neighbors," "Day of Caring" -- but all have a common purpose. It's all about helping our brothers and sisters, whether they are around the corner or around the world.
The First United Methodist Church of Saline, Mich., is changing the world for children in Zimbabwe by collecting used children's book to start two new libraries at primary schools there. Their goal is to fill a 20-foot shipping container with books -- about 500 boxes. Books are coming in from as far away as South Dakota and Ohio. The $8,000 cost for shipping the books will be provided by Morris and Ann Taber, retired mission volunteers who sent similar containers three times previously. The Rev. Laura Speiran said:
"In explaining it to the congregation, I emphasized that it is not just about collecting books (and changing the world for children in Zimbabwe); it is also about inviting people in our own community to become engaged with the church even if they have never been engaged before -- that it is about planting seeds, about the love of God being big enough and powerful enough to include them. ... We, as United Methodists, are all about changing the world, but through making disciples for Jesus Christ, not just doing good works."
One event that is an ongoing ministry is a free vision clinic hosted by Oak Forest United Methodist Church in Little Rock, a church of only about 70 members that also has a medical and dental clinic. Inspired by Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who regained his sight when he was healed by Jesus, "Bart's Clinic" provides free eye exams and eyeglasses for the working poor -- people who have no Medicare or Medicaid.
Though it's been open less than two months and operates just one day a week, the clinic has already managed to change the world for some individuals. Consider the 20-year-old girl who lost her glasses when she was only 10. Unable to replace them, she simply did without glasses. There's the 5-year-old boy who was able to get glasses before getting behind in school. There have been two cases of glaucoma detected, which untreated would have led to blindness.
The clinic is staffed by medical volunteers and church members who take care of the administrative work of setting appointments and making reminder calls. One of the volunteers is 82 years old.
One's age, in fact, seems to not be a factor when it comes to changing the world. The congregation at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Beaumont, Texas, where the average age is about 80, is excited about participating in Change the World. They will host a shower for a nearby urban mission. Mandarin United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., says they will have projects designed for volunteers ages 2 to 99; and at First United Methodist Church in Tempe, Ariz., the youth group will host a nail salon for homeless men and women.
The real power of Change the World is that having all the events on one weekend demonstrates the impact of what we can achieve together. Think what could be accomplished if everyone spent an occasional weekend helping a neighbor or volunteering our time.
Undergirding these activities is not just about providing social services. It's about reflecting the call of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 25 to serve the needs of the poor, the ill and those who are oppressed as an expression of faithfulness to him. To follow Jesus is to be a servant who seeks to change the world.