Students raising hopes and dreams

A 15-year-old teen with wisdom far beyond his years was silent for a moment before asking a simple but profound question.

“If a group of young people who don’t even have real jobs can help raise $135,000 in about four months, then what can a lot of adults with good jobs do?” said a grinning Dalton Maxwell as his peers responded in laughter.

Good question.

Maxwell is among the 15-member Sandy Hook United Methodist youth group leading a local fund drive since summer to build a $300,000 elementary school in the poverty-stricken African country of Uganda. That push goes community-wide Nov. 13 when attorney and missionary Bob Goff of San Diego, California, comes to The Commons in Columbus to speak about the impact of Christian love in action.

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Goff’s faith-in-motion book, “Love Does” helped inspire the teens and their leader, Chad Russell, to think globally — and to join forces with Goff’s nonprofit human rights agency Love Does to plan to fund the school in Gulu, Uganda. Many of the youngsters in Gulu have been orphaned after their parents died from AIDS. Many of the children also are homeless.

That last tragic fact hits home with Maxwell, who once was homeless with his sister and mother four years ago.

Other teens heard of such struggles and became determined to give sacrificially. Sixteen-year-old Addison Evans has been babysitting since summer and has amassed about $700 for the cause en route to a goal of about $1,000.

“We’d like to inspire other people and challenge them to join us,” Evans said.

The teens also read Rick Warren’s book “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.

Jalen Pleak, 15, said he is awed to see God work through their efforts.

“It’s crazy, and it’s nuts we’ve been able to do all this,” Pleak said.

This mission has changed their perspective about money. Many of the youth group members mentioned that they have been saving whatever money they get rather than spending it. And the drive is spurring them to change behaviors.

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Kelly said she normally hates the idea of public speaking, and avoids it, if possible, if people suggest she speak in front of a class or other such group.

“No way, Jose,” she said with emphasis.

But recently, when asked if she would be part of the teen group to make presentations about their drive in front of other local church groups, Kelly nervously-but-excitedly agreed to do so — for one simple reason.

“Because this is awesome,” Kelly said, breaking into laughter.

The teens raised about $25,000 before they went to the church council to share their vision and to ask the adults to join the cause. Sandy Hook attracts 300 to 350 people for Sunday worship, making for a solid congregation but nowhere near as large as many other local bodies of believers.

The church council agreed to boost teen-initiated dollars with a four to one match — and the amount began to grow quickly.

Russell, who visited the Ugandan outreach in March that missionary Goff coordinates, ideally would like to see the fund drive continue at least until next summer. That’s when a group of about 25 people from Sandy Hook and other churches will visit the high school operated and supported by Loves Does.

Several of the Sandy Hook teens already have their sights set on that trip to meet some of the Ugandan children and teens in person. Russell also had a chance to visit Loves Does’ home for young girls rescued from forced prostitution.

“I expected to see dejection and despair,” Russell said. “Instead, I saw joy and happiness (among them).”

He came home deeply moved by Goff’s passion for practical steps to demonstrate Christian concern and compassion.

“Bob’s all about action,” Russell said.

So much so, in fact, that he included his cell phone number at the end of his book, which is how Russell reached him to tell him his teens felt led by God to help people somewhere in Africa.

“When God puts a real need before you, it’s not something you can deny,” Russell said.

That explains why people such as 15-year-old Owen Rupp see their pre-fund-drive activities such as his Columbus East High School cross country outings a bit differently.

“I see something much more eternal in this compared to sports,” Rupp said.

Russell already is talking to the teens about what they can do once the school gets built to continue to support the project and its students. Fourteen-year-old Trinity Whitted considers all that has happened since June and seems stunned.

“I never could have fully imagined,” she said, “being a part of something like this.”

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Who: Attorney Bob Goff, author of the book “Love Does.” The San Diego, California, resident also is founder the nonprofit human rights agency Love Does, operating an outreach that includes a high school and girls home in Gulu, Uganda. The organization also operates in India and Somalia.

When: 6 p.m. Nov. 13

Where: The Commons

Why: To tell about plans to build a $300,000 elementary school in Gulu, Uganda — a project that youth at the local Sandy Hook United Methodist have adopted.

The added work of Love Does: Includes even the education of Uganda’s witch doctors so they can learn a skill to move them beyond their traditions, which has included human sacrifices.

Information: 812-372-8495 or