Members in Action
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 of all ages to set aside one 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 as the mental and spiritual needs… Basically, it’s modeling after Christ when He went about doing good and utilizing His methods.”
The idea originated with Don Mackintosh, the Weimar SDA Church pastor and Religion Department chair, when he realized he didn’t know his neighbors very well and they didn’t know him—or his church—very well, either. Inspired by the TMI program, he brought the idea to Weimar Institute administrators and TCI was born. In the spring of 2017, Narlon Edwards was asked to lead the 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.”
The initial response from community leaders was not only favorable, but enthusiastic. The thought of free help was unbelievable. 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 of the program on academics. “It was pretty difficult,” admitted Edwards. “We had a lot of faculty and students who were against it.” Rather than becoming discouraged, Edwards believed Weimar’s reaction proved the great need for TCI. “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 was a featured speaker and noted that TCI was an innovative approach to reaching one’s community. After the launch, TCI went to work. The first few weeks were spent in preparation and prayer. From its inception, prayer has been the foundation of TCI. The group prayed for God’s direction, while rotating through health expo and Bible study training. Additionally, they worked on campus beautification and trail improvement projects to connect as a team and begin to utilize each other’s strengths. Then, they headed out into the community.
Requests began to trickle in. People needed help chopping wood, clearing overgrown yards, raking leaves, decluttering, moving, and sometimes, just listening. Some TCI projects include painting parking lot lines at a community non-profit group, singing and distributing literature during a Christmas parade, hosting a Christmas concert on campus, decorating store windows for Christmas, performing an orchestra concert at a homeless shelter, offering cooking demonstrations, tutoring at a local school, and hosting a children’s health expo. Despite these larger, group projects, it is still the individual contacts that make up the bulk of TCI’s focus. Community leaders and those who have been helped by TCI are spreading the word. 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 is more than fixing up yards and homes. TCI is reaching hearts and advocating for more permanent changes. Nora* is one such example. She initially asked for 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 no withdrawal symptoms!” explains Edwards. Nora credits her recovery to the Bible and the prayers that were uplifted on her behalf.
The tangible results of TCI have been easy to see and hear in the community, however, the impact of TCI on campus has been more gradual. Students and staff who were initially concerned with the program, are now its advocates. Overall, TCI has transformed Weimar. 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. 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 comments via a recent survey: 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. Every time TCI happens, I feel like God has lessons not only for the people who 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 have become used to the neon green “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 is officially paused for the summer since the majority of students are away. However, the students who remain have continued to visit their contacts, not because they are required to, 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 build 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. The ultimate goal of TCI is 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.