How do you change the world? For students and staff at Weimar Institute, it’s one pile of leaves raked, one dish washed, and one conversation at a time.
In August 2017, Weimar launched its Total Community Involvement (TCI) program. Based on the world church’s Total Member Involvement (TMI), this plan called for students, staff and interested friends on the elementary, academy and college levels to set aside one weekday afternoon a week to meet needs in the local community.
What is TCI?
According to TCI Coordinator Narlon Edwards, TCI is “practical Christ-like evangelism that reaches the physical as well the mental and spiritual needs. You want to reach the felt needs first. Basically, it’s modeling after Christ when He went about doing good and utilizing His methods.”
“At first, it was called Total Campus Involvement, but we realized that if our campus was directly and totally involved in the community, it would create a connection, a new community of sorts so it’s now called Total Community Involvement,” clarified Edwards.
The idea originated when Weimar Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor Don Mackintosh who is also the Religion department chair, realized he didn’t know his neighbors very well and they didn’t know him…or his church very well. Inspired by the TMI program, he brought the idea to Weimar Institute administrators and TCI was born.
In the spring of 2017, Edwards was tapped to lead this new initiative. As a Weimar Health Evangelism And Leadership Training for Him (HEALTH) program graduate and experienced evangelist, Edwards first prayed and brainstormed with Mackintosh and Weimar administrators. He then began connecting with local community leaders. Rather than assuming what was needed, “we listened and learned,” noted Edwards. “By collaborating with them from the beginning, we learned what the actual needs were. Rather than giving them what we thought they needed, we learned what their true needs were and went in with that mindset and that made a huge difference,” he added.
The initial response from these leaders was not only favorable, but enthusiastic. The thought of freely offered help was unbelievable for some so a tentative list of community projects was started, but the intent of TCI was to primarily to be one-to-one connections and relationship-building.
In contrast, the reaction on campus was reluctant and even resistant. When the idea was first shared in the spring, students and staff were concerned about the impact on academics. Adjusting the academic schedule to free up one afternoon a week equaled lost classroom, study and work time in the minds of many. Some students left. Others returned the Fall semester, but were skeptical. Some staff wondered if an untested program that might be temporary was worth the risk.
“It was pretty difficult,” admitted Edwards. “We had a lot of faculty and students who were against it.” Rather than being discouraged by these reactions, Edwards felt it showed the great need for a program like TCI. “I think it was good because the fact that they were reluctant shows how much Weimar needed it. If a person has to be sold on evangelism, it’s an indication of how much they need evangelism. It’s kind of like exercise or anything else. Sometimes you don’t realize what you’re missing until you start doing it,” he commented.
The program officially launched in August 2017 at an event of Adventist and community leaders. Ted Wilson, world church president, was a featured speaker and noted that TCI was an innovate approach to reaching one’s community.
After the launch, TCI leaders went to work. Students were assigned to TCI groups with each group consisting of a student leader, staff, and students with varied backgrounds such as nursing, religion and education. In this way, they created a complete unit so to better meet community needs.
From the first TCI meeting, prayer was and remains the foundation. The group spent the first few weeks praying for God’s direction and that he would connect them with those in need. They also rotated through health expo and Bible study training. In addition, they worked on campus beautification and trail improvement projects to connect as a team and begin to utilize each other’s strengths in the team. Then, they head out into the adventure God had waiting for them.
The area surrounding Weimar Institute is rural so many needs involved chopping wood, clearing overgrown yards, or raking piles of leaves. The lack of enough tools such as chainsaws, edgers, leaf blowers, and other yard maintenance tools has been a challenge for the groups. However, they improvised and rejoiced over unexpected donations such as the leaf blower donated by a man whose yard had been cleared by a TCI group. “He was so impressed by the group’s work and so when he discovered he had an extra leaf blower, he wanted us to have it,” shared John Peacock, one of Weimar’s Natural Science professors and member of the TCI group that worked on the yard.
Requests began to trickle. Someone needed help decluttering a home. Another needed help moving. Still another just need someone to listen. TCI activities have included painting parking lot lines at a community non-profit group, singing and literature distribution during a Christmas parade, hosting a Christmas concert on campus, decorating store windows for Christmas, an orchestra performance at a homeless shelter, cooking demonstrations, tutoring at a local school, and offering a children’s health expo among many other projects. However, it is still the individual contacts that make up the bulk of TCI’s focus.
Community leaders and previously helped individuals are spreading the word about TCI. It is now common for Edwards to receive a phone call that begins something like this: “I heard you folks are the ones to call if you need help.”
Meeting needs has gone beyond yards and homes and has begun reaching heart needs and creating more permanent changes. Nora* is one such example. She initially asked for TCI help with her yard. During the visit, Edwards befriended her and stayed in contact. With his HEALTH background, he noticed her two-packs-a-day smoking habit. After a time, he asked if she had ever wanted to stop smoking. She was interested so he gave her stop-smoking tips and shared two books on the subject. She focused on the Bible text he shared: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and quit cold-turkey. “She is now studying her Bible every day. The amazing thing is that even though she smoked two packs of cigarettes for 40 years, she had not withdrawal symptoms! She credits the Bible and prayer uplifted for her,” explains Edwards.
The tangible results of TCI have been easy to see and hear in the community with cleared yards, tidy homes and the appreciation from individuals and leaders. However, the impact of TCI on campus has gradually become clear.
Students who were the most vocal in their resistance are now advocates. Staff who were concerned now promote the benefit of the program. Overall, TCI has transformed Weimar this past year.
Staff such as Lenora Follett, Nursing department chair share, “It was difficult for nursing students to make the time commitment for TCI every week, but there were amazing rewards for being involved.” Other comments include:
Seeing how God worked through the students and myself increased my faith that God is wanting to use each one of us in His work.
As I’ve seen God opening doors for us, my faith has been strengthened.
This has renewed my interest in certain topics that I had not discussed or considered for some
Interaction with struggling people in the community has increased my empathy towards them and caused me to study more to establish the reasons for my faith.
As for the students, they shared via a recent survey such comments as:
At first I was hesitant about committing a whole afternoon a week to outreach. I was afraid my schooling would suffer. there were indeed times when I did not get sufficient study time but I learned to put my trust in God and He did take care of it.
Taking my focus off my own problems has indeed helped me gain victory over them. Putting my attention on the needs of others, my own problems seemed more small and conquerable.
Going out and doing ministering to others not only took up literal time in our week but also in our minds and allowed me personally to not focus on my own life and its concerns but on those of others.
I realize more and more that God wants to heal people through all that we’re doing in TCI, whether that’s Health Expos, cooking schools or yard work. After meeting one man …… and hearing brief updates about him, I feel like I am being allowed to see a glimpse into someone’s future by being able to interact with them on a personal level.
Hearing the TCI testimonies every Wednesday evening has shown me that God strategizes and sets up encounters to change people’s lives. And if He would go that far for someone, why wouldn’t He do that for me too?
Every time TCI happens, I feel like God has lessons not only for the people in whom I am reaching out to, but also myself. I trust God more than I have in my entire life.
I have realized that I cannot share what I do not have myself.
The more work I do for God, the more I see my true spiritual condition and my need of Christ. This drives me to a more deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus.
Edwards agrees, “Students have said to me that they realized that they can’t do this kind of work unless they are converted themselves. I’ve seen their relationships with Christ transformed.”
Community members are now used to the neon green shirts “Need Help?” shirts the TCI groups wear each week. “Community leaders are now calling us to solve problems in the community. So are individuals,” shared Edwards. One woman tearfully told Edwards, “Weimar is now my husband because they do the things for me that my husband, who passed away a year ago, used to do for me.”
TCI was officially paused for the summer since the majority of students were away. However, the students who remained have continued to visit their contacts, not because they felt they had to or because it was for their contacts’ sakes, but because they’ve developed a true connection with them.
Edwards sees this as a natural outgrowth of TCI. “The blessing of this program is that it is not event-based, so we can always be coming up with new ways to building relationships. The relationships developed are not for just on earth, but for eternity. As we say, the goal is the soul – not just of those we meet, but of our staff and students. That is our focus: eternal relationships. We are going to make it a way of life, the life-blood of Weimar,” he noted.
This was the ultimate goal of TCI: To create a community of connectedness through Christ that transforms everyone involved. This is what changes the world bit-by-bit. This is true Total Community Involvement.
Reprinted and expanded with permission from the Inside ASI Summer 2018 issue.