Fifteen-year-old Brantley Gunn has been to the far corners of the world to do missions work. But he has also set his sights on the United States. Back home in Brandon, Miss., he launched Students Aiding Indigent Families (S.A.I.F.), a nonprofit organization that reaches out to needy families. by Sarah Corrigan When 15-year-old Brantley Gunn is on the motocross track, he’s a fierce competitor. He can triple-jump and thrust-up with the best of them—and he’s got the broken bones to prove it. “I love to win, and I feel like I’m one with my bike,” says the Mississippi ninth grader who ranks No. 1 in his motocross class. “But, in the grand scheme of life, some things are more important than winning.” And he would know. Brantley has traveled to Africa, China and Poland (twice) on shortterm missions excursions with his church. His first impressions of Africa were of mud-slogged streets, pest-infested air and a view of dark, dreary “homes” that were made primarily of dried cow dung. Brantley wondered how he could relate to the African boys to carry out his part of the mission: assisting with a basketball camp in the Nairobi ghetto. “On the first day, we watched a local basketball team,” Brantley says. “They didn’t have uniforms, and I was surprised at how they could cut so fast and run in strapless sandals and shoes with holes in them.” But Brantley soon realized that shoes were a luxury to these adolescent boys—most of whom were refugees from war-ravaged Somalia. The boys, however, were soon in for a very inspiring surprise. “We took the guys out to dinner afterward and then brought them back to the basketball camp. There, we unloaded three big duffel bags of sports shoes donated by American high school students,” Brantley says. “You would have thought Santa Claus was alive and well in Nairobi! No American toddler on Christmas morning could have topped the excitement on their faces.” The scene—although joyful and in the true spirit of giving—haunted Brantley a bit. “I wish all of America’s youth could go through just one day of an African experience,” he says. “The transformation would be powerful; I think it would motivate people to pursue heavenly treasures instead of material treasures.” Called to Care Helping the Kenyan boys realize heavenly treasures themselves posed a challenge to Brantley. “My main goal in Nairobi was to sow the seeds of possible salvation. I shared the good news of Jesus with non-Christians, especially many Muslims,” he says. “It was pretty dangerous, actually, because if a Muslim converts, Islam dictates that the convert must be put to death. And the person who proselytizes the convert can suffer physical harm or death, as well. “But Jesus was concerned about both aspects of humanity—spiritual salvation and a person’s physical needs,” he adds. “Many Bible stories about Christ point out that He treated an individual’s physical needs before He attended to their spiritual needs. After all, it’s hard for a person to get serious about heaven if he is starving.” Brantley focused on befriending the Kenyan boys and explaining to them in different

ways how a Christian life has a great sense of meaning. “I wanted them to know that when you’ve truly accepted God into your heart, everywhere you go, you’re not alone,” Brantley explains. “Muslim or not, I believe it got them thinking. And, no doubt, buying them food and giving shoes and other gifts showed that I wasn’t just concerned about the souls. I cared about their physical needs, too.” At the end of the mission trip to Kenya, Brantley says he felt a strong sense of God’s working within himself and his newfound friends. “Who would have thought that American Christians and African Muslims could get so close in friendship? We are on either side of a cultural chasm, but we were all very emotional when it was time to leave.” Serving His Neighbors Brantley says his experiences in Kenya breathed life into his vision of starting Students Aiding Indigent Families (S.A.I.F.), a nonprofit organization designed to help needy families in Mississippi. The ghettos of Nairobi reminded him of the poverty that has manifested itself among 18 percent of the population of Jackson, Miss., according to the 2003 U.S. census. It is those people whom Brantley and S.A.I.F. aim to relieve and empower. As chairman, Brantley searches for houses that meet S.A.I.F.’s criteria of low cost and abandonment and acquires them, usually through paying off tax liens. Brantley then recruits students to rehab and remodel the houses. So far, between Brantley and his sister, Ashley, they have attracted more than 200 students to the cause. If the house needs a special service, such as electrical wiring, Brantley hires a contractor. When the house is ready for sale, Brantley helps arrange bank financing for the new owner, who is usually a single mother or a firsttime homeowner. “When my sister and I decided to start S.A.I.F. in 2003, it was because we knew we were blessed, and we knew we had to implement the golden rule of helping those less fortunate,” Brantley says. “We spent hours researching how to set up a charity. We met with other nonprofits, community service groups, and real estate investors. After planning and developing S.A.I.F. for several years, it finally got off the ground.” This year, under Brantley’s leadership, S.A.I.F. is on track to generate $100,000—all of which goes to college scholarships for underserved youth. “The results of S.A.I.F. are dramatic,” Brantley says. “You can see an improvement in the self-confidence of the new homeowners. They become concerned about the quality of their communities, how their properties look, and they become concerned about their neighbors.” Ultimately, Brantley says the goal of S.A.I.F. is to lead to the revitalization of the Jackson inner city and, in turn, a reduction in crime. One of Brantley’s favorite success stories from S.A.I.F. is about a woman named Hannah who lived in a rat- and roach-infested slum. She had two severely handicapped daughters and, somehow, lived off $1,500 per month. S.A.I.F. found Hannah and set her up in a remodeled three-bedroom house in a decent neighborhood. Today, her mortgage payments are half what she used to pay in rent. “When I do my missionary work with S.A.I.F. and my church, I feel the same euphoric high that I get when I race motocross,” Brantley says. “It reminds me of what Eric Liddell says in the movie Chariots of Fire: ‘When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.’ Well, when I do missionary work and when I race, I sense God’s pleasure and feel like I am

doing His will.”

Sarah Corrigan writes from her home in Tyngsborough, Mass. This article appeared in the July 2007 issue of Breakaway magazine. Copyright © 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.