Tyler Pressnell of Athens, Alabama, textures a ceiling in Martha Washington’s home on Friday morning. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff
June 28, 2014 10:31:20 PM
Three-hundred and fifteen teenagers from across the country descended on Columbus this week.
Known as a Christian mission group called "World Changers," the students each paid $250 to do volunteer work throughout the community. They say they do it for the love of Christ and their fellow man.
On Friday morning, 13-year-old Catrina Whitmire was standing on a ladder, painting trim on a house. This year is the eighth-grader's first experience at World Changers. As she dipped her brush into a red cup filled with white paint, Whitmire said she is already looking forward to volunteering at World Changers next year.
"It seemed like a really fun and exciting thing to do, to share the message of Christ with everyone through our actions," the Alabama native said. "It's such a fun experience to come and meet new people, even though you're put in a group with people that you've never met before but you make new friends and it's a lot of fun even though it's work."
When asked why she spent a week of her summer vacation to volunteer, Whitmire said, without hesitation, "Jesus died for me so the least I can do is work my hardest for him."
Whitmire was part of a team working on Mary Hairston's home off Fifth Avenue South.
Hairston has lived at the home since 1972. In recent years, the house has shown signs of wear, with peeling paint, old cabinets and squirrels making their nests in various places in and outside the home.
In less than a week, the World Changers group painted the home, replaced the cabinets and removed the squirrel's nest. Without the help, Hairston said she would not have been able to do the work.
"This means to me that God is on the move," Hairston said. "I give God the praise and the glory for everything that's been done and I appreciate these workers. They're so nice and kind and my heart just goes out to them."
Hairston is not alone.
On the other side of Columbus, Martha Washington stood with her hands on hips admiring the work of the nearly dozen teenagers who worked on her home. The group had originally planned to re-work Washington's bathroom, replace the kitchen cabinets and paint the exterior of the home. Then, while they were working, a tree fell on the house and tore through the back bedroom, demolishing the back wall of the Sixth Avenue North home. That repair project was then added to the list in addition to the original renovations.
While some might be discouraged with a tree falling on their house, Washington, 83, took it in stride. She said by the tree falling when it did, God was providing for her.
"I was sitting right here with my back against the tree, now that tree had limbs on it and I'll tell anybody I know there's a God up there," Washington said. "'Nere a limb touched me so I'll tell anybody, we got a God. I couldn't have handled it had they not been here. And if it had happened at night? I don't know what I would have done, that's how I know God did this when they were here. Oh baby...they went in there, in my bathroom and painted and swept and made a nice bathroom. They went in the kitchen and they painted and did all that in there. And now baby, they went and fixed this house. They put the roof on it right there, it was tore out and they went and put that back and painted. They did all this for me and I just thank God for all of y'all."
As she walked though the house, marveling at the improvements, Washington said, "Ain't it pretty? Praise God, praise God. You can't even tell where the storm hit. We got a mighty God and we got good folks. These are good people."
Washington said she found out about World Changers when her banker approached her. Washington said the banker knew she needed work on her house but couldn't afford to make the repairs by herself. Washington said she happily agreed to let the group fix her house.
"If you do good and pay a bill, somebody will help you," she said. "If you try to pay your bills, you've got somebody. Praise the Lord."
As Washington spoke, she reached out and grabbed several of the teenager's hands. Moved to tears, Washington kept saying thanks over and over again. She said, "All these young people know God and I tell them to keep on because everywhere you go, God gone go with you."
In the coming weeks, more than 12,000 students with the World Changers organization will travel to 85 cities across the United States. According to the organization, the initiative is in partnership with the city of Columbus, the Golden Triangle Baptist Association and various local businesses.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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