Though the fundraising numbers loom impressively, efforts by local teens to help children thousands of miles away seem more a matter of the heart.

Austin Guse is among a few Sandy Hook United Methodist teens looking forward in late June to meeting youngsters in Gulu, Uganda. The global Love Does nonprofit human rights outreach is building an elementary school in the poverty-stricken area for the children.

Currently, most of the $300,000 price-tag will come from the 15-member church youth group’s fund drive that now has grown to $237,000. The total includes matching dollars from the church at large and individual donations from family, friends, churches, businesses and supporters from all over the country.

The students will see firsthand what their efforts are doing when they accompany teen group leader Chad Russell to Uganda. Guse said he is looking forward to seeing the children.

Story continues below gallery

“It’ll be nice just to do something like play soccer with them,” Guse said. “I imagine it all will be a very powerful experience.”

The teens’ very effort to raise money for the school seems a powerful experience in itself. More than five months ago, the project had generated $135,000.

California attorney and missionary Bob Goff’s faith-in-motion book, “Love Does,” last spring inspired the teens and Russell to think globally — and to join forces with Goff’s agency of the same name to plan to fund the school. Many of the youngsters in Gulu have been orphaned after their parents died from AIDS. Many of the children also are homeless.

Russell and the teens were captivated by the need, and Goff’s idea that love acts selflessly.

Granted, they have received help from parents, church elders and others. But the local students, many without their first job, raised most of the first $20,000 with only heavenly guidance before adults stepped in to boost the push, Russell said.

In fact, the teens initially spoke at other churches to share their vision, and then invited Goff himself to speak in Columbus in November.

“We know that we can’t take any credit for this,” Russell said. “This is obviously something that God has ordained, and he is the one blessing it.”

Russell will accompany seven Sandy Hook teens to Uganda from June 21 to 30 to see the school construction, and visit other elements’ of Love Does’ outreach there. The work includes a school for witch doctors, to give them practical skills to curb the country’s human sacrifices that still attract big money. There also is a home for girls saved from prostitution.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the work that has been done (on the school),” said youth group member Addison Evans, who first went to Africa as a third-grader when her parents adopted two children, now her siblings, from Ethiopia.

She plans to donate $1,000 of her saved babysitting money to the cause.

Her mother, Jamie Evans, who also helps with Sandy Hook’s youth, loves to see what is happening. She describes that as seeing young people witnessing God answer prayers for the sake of the hurting.

“We want to help them see that God-sized dream come true,” Jamie Evans said.

She referred to another book that inspired the teens: Rick Warren’s work “Daring Faith,” in which he challenges Christians to pursue “God-sized dreams” — those that are so big that they couldn’t possibly be achieved in the natural realm.

Russell and the teens figure the fund drive will continue until the goal is complete. The Love Does agency now is recruiting others to help the youth group complete the task.

“This is crazy,” youth group member Jalen Pleak said of the six-figure total. “But it simply shows how God can work to bring everyone together on such a project.”

One other thing is crazy, as Pleak sees it.

“A lot of these (Ugandan) kids never even have had electricity,” he said.

Now, the fund drive itself is electric with hope and excitement. Youth group member Trinity Whitted is promoting her Facebook page GoFundMe account with a $500 goal to add to the project total.

“I honestly did not believe at first that we would be able to raise this much in such a short time,” Whitted said.

How you can help

As members of the Sandy Hook United Methodist youth group get closer to a $300,000 goal to pay off an elementary school now being completed in Gulu, Uganda, they can use your help.

Sandy Hook elders currently are doubling every donation made to the group’s effort. Donations can be sent to: Sandy Hook United Methodist Youth Group, 1610 Taylor Road, Columbus IN 47203.

Information: 812-372-8495 or sandyhook.org.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.