TRUE STORIES OF WORLD CHANGERS WHO STARTED ALONE: This month we share stories of individual Christians who couldn’t wait for others to tell them when to help the hurting and share the gospel. Their clear vision of a pressing need pushed them to do what they could as soon as they could.
HOOPS OF HOPE / www.hoopsofhope.org
By Doug Priest
Austin Gutwein was just 9 years old in 2004 when he saw a DVD clip about a starving girl named Maggie who lived in Africa with her aged grandmother. Maggie’s parents had died of AIDS. For weeks, Austin could not get Maggie’s image out of his mind. He felt God nudging him to act, so he told his father, “Dad, we’ve got to do something.” After several weeks of nagging his father, his dad called World Vision and told them of Austin’s desire.
“How old is your son?”
“How old did you say?”
The father was told somebody would get in touch with Austin by phone.
Not long after, Dana Buck called, and Austin shared his dream of doing something about the AIDS orphans in Africa.
Buck asked, “What do you like to do?”
Austin, whose dad was a volunteer basketball coach, said, “I like basketball, but I’m not much good at it. In fact, I mainly just sit on the bench. Maybe I could do something with basketball?”
Buck replied that God could use Austin and his talents, but in truth, Buck thought he would never hear from Austin again. He was wrong.
Foul Shots, Fair Goal
The Gutwein family shortly thereafter moved from Southern California to Phoenix, Arizona. They began attending Central Christian Church in Mesa. After praying and thinking about ways to help, Austin decided he would shoot foul shots for eight hours on December 1, which is World AIDS Day. His parents helped him start an organization called Hoops of Hope and set up a web page. Austin’s goal was to raise enough funds to sponsor eight children for a year.
Austin decided he needed to shoot a total of 2,057 free throws (the number of children typically orphaned because of AIDS during Austin’s average school day). Since he was a youngster, Austin realized every foul shot had to be a jump shot. At first it was just Austin and his mother in the gym, but as the day wore on, more and more people heard about what was going on and came to watch.
By the time of Austin’s 1,200th shot, his body was numb all over. At the end, there were about 60 people in the gym counting down every shot with him. Even television crews came and filmed a story for the evening news. At the final shot, there was applause, cheering, and hugging. The local NBA team got wind of the story and invited Austin’s family to one of its home games. Austin even got an autographed basketball jersey from his favorite player, Steve Nash.
Spreading the Word
Austin didn’t stop. He reasoned that if he could shoot hoops for kids in Africa, so could other people. He determined he would get others to join him, and people started spreading the word. On the next World AIDS Day, people participating in Hoops for Hope raised $38,000, which was enough to sponsor more than 100 orphans in Africa for a year. In the third year, 1,500 kids in 11 states shot hoops and raised more than $85,000.
The more Austin learned, the more he wanted to help. The orphans needed a place to go to school, so Hoops of Hope raised funds for a school. There was no clinic, so the organization raised funds for the clinic. Austin got to visit Africa with Dana and see the clinic that was opened. In a festive occasion with many visiting dignitaries, he was honored for his work. Behind the clinic, with everybody looking on, he shot a free throw, but missed. He nailed his second shot to the whooping and hollering of the crowd.
Today, Austin is attending a Christian college and is a highly sought-after speaker. So far, Hoops of Hope has raised more than $1 million. Austin‘s story has been published in the book Take Your Best Shot published by Thomas Nelson. In the acknowledgements of that book, Austin writes his thanks to “my school, Gilbert Christian School, and church, Central Christian Church of the East Valley, for opening your hearts and facilities to kids—you never said no.”
Cal Jernigan, senior pastor of the church, writes of Austin, “On his way to changing the world, he has changed our church, and he has changed me. Get ready to see what happens when youthfulness and creativity intersects with vision and passion.”
Are there world problems that get under your skin? What interests do you have that God can use for his glory? Is God nudging you? Do you want to do something?
If Austin can, so can you.
Doug Priest, executive director of CMF International, is a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor.