HANCOCK COUNTY — In 1986, naming a small American nonprofit “World Renewal International” might have seemed overly ambitious. But three decades later, the organization has grown to deserve the name.

World Renewal International, a Greenfield-based nonprofit organization that works to build churches, schools, clean water systems and more in impoverished areas, celebrated its 30-year anniversary this month.

President Gary Wright was a pastor of a church near Dodge City, Kansas, when the leaders of his denomination met with him and asked him to begin traveling to churches within their denomination in the United States to stir spiritual renewal.

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Wright had a gift for revival, his church leaders told him, and they asked him to hire an assistant and take on the effort for 20 weeks a year.

Five years later, church leaders asked him to do the same thing, but in eastern and central Europe, he said. In 1990, a small group of World Renewal missionaries traveled to Hungary, Romania and Poland to spread the Gospel. A year later, he returned to the area with a team of more than 100 people for a month to play host to English and basketball camps.

In addition, Wright sent missionaries to teach vacation Bible school to children in orphanages. The orphans had been mistreated, he said, and it was difficult for the missionaries to know they had only one week to help them.

And the interactions weren’t always easy. At first, some of the kids he preached to openly mocked him as he talked, he said.

“They were raised under the assumption that religious beliefs were a marker of intellectual weakness,” he said.

But by the end of the week, there was headway, he said; most of the children they spoke with had converted to Christianity.

Today, World Renewal employs missionaries in more than 30 countries, Wright said.

The organization is independent and interdenominational, working to develop leaders and congregations by empowering indigenous leaders, training them for biblical leadership, equipping them for church planting and discipleship, and sharing in strategic partnerships, according to the organization’s website.

World Renewal’s presence in Brazil is its biggest success story, Wright said. A group of central Indiana churches banded together to help the organization purchase a full-service hotel in northern Brazil, which became a Christian college and international school, as well as a church, he said.

Since 1993, the organization has helped to start 13 churches in Brazil, and its goal is to create 200 in that country.

The big difference between World Renewal and the general conception of missionaries is in how it selects its leaders, Wright said.

Wright said the organization works alongside local leaders, adding that the goal is to empower leaders who already live, work and worship in that area, instead of depositing American missionaries to be the head of the efforts for years.

In addition, the organization works to provide funding to facilities, but its goal is for indigenous leaders to own the properties, he said.

{span}Wright said one of his major goals in the future is to continue to make its missionary teams more international, and not just Americans. {/span}

{span}World Renewal aims to make an impact in Hancock County as well by empowering local stakeholders to lead a variety of charity projects, he said.{/span}

{span}Greenfield resident Jim Matthews, for example, heads an effort called “Backpacks of Hope,” a World Renewal project in which volunteers fill backpacks with toiletries, clothes and other basic needs for people who are homeless, Wright said. {/span}

{span}Some projects are a mix of local and international efforts. {/span}

{span}Brad Gray, a Greenfield businessman, was touched by his travels to Haiti, and he decided to devote space in his business, Gray Auto, to help spread the word of World Renewal’s work there. {/span}

{span}The A.B.E.L. Project provides a pregnant goat and a brood of chickens to families in need in Haiti. A goat is $75, while chickens are $25, and the gift can be invaluable to a Haitian family, Gray said.{/span}

{span}The goal is not to give money and help needy people temporarily, he said, but to provide a gift that will help them be productive and make a living. {/span}

{span}While monetary donations toward travel expenses or other efforts abroad are always welcome, the most valuable investment Hancock County residents can give the program doesn’t cost a penny, Gray said. {/span}

{span}”The best way to help in this kind of international global work is to invest enough time to be familiar with us,” he said. “Read about what we do; watch our videos on the website. Invite me to coffee or to speak with a small group.”{/span}

{span}Wright said he believes most Americans are caring people who like to help others, but different age groups are drawn to different causes.{/span}

{span}World Renewal has enough outreach efforts that it probably does something each person he speaks to might care about — he just asks for the gift of their time to tell them more about getting involved.{/span}

How to get involved

World Renewal International is located east of Greenfield. To contact a member and get involved, call 317-467-9899 or visit http://worldrenewal.org/how-to-get-involved/contact-world-renewal. 

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.