Illinois students raise $403,000 for AIDS projects in Zambia

Saturday, September 30, 2006

WEST CHICAGO, Ill. -- Wheaton Academy, a private Christian high school, has raised $403,000 since 2002 for projects benefiting families ravaged by AIDS in the African country of Zambia.

Experts say the small school is at the forefront of a growing evangelical effort to assist rather than judge AIDS victims.

"When he healed people, Jesus didn't say, 'You can do whatever you want, you can live however you want,'" said Wheaton Academy chaplain Chip Huber. "He said, 'Go, and live a changed life.' But he never asked them, 'How did you get this disease?'"

The project started the summer before Christy Peed began her senior year at the suburban Chicago academy, which has about 590 students. Peed, who was born in Zambia, found out that a man who had worked at her missionary parents' home had died of AIDS, leaving behind a wife and two daughters.

When Peed and her classmates looked for a charitable project that year, they decided to raise money for a school in a Zambian village devastated by AIDS.

At first the decision ran into slight opposition from students, but the school ended up exceeding its $53,000 fund-raising goal by $25,000, Peed said.

"Some people were like, 'I don't want the money donated from my work to go to this project,'" said Peed, now a senior at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C. "I'm not trying to make excuses for how AIDS is sometimes spread. But it's a lot bigger issue than having unprotected sex and using dirty needles."

The teens have staged talent shows, sponsored dodge ball tournaments and gone to proms wearing thrift-shop clothes, then donating the cash they would have spent on finery. They also hold an annual conference of Christian schools on how to respond to the AIDS crisis.

"What they're doing is so significant, because one of the issues we see as important in the area of Christian schooling is that students are able to put their faith in action, and they're able to take what they're learning and turn it outward," said Jan Stump, spokeswoman for the 4,000-member Association of Christian Schools International.

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