AIDS-Ravaged Africa Inspires a Mission on Wheels

By Lauren Wiseman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

Nathaniel Elliott dreamed of driving cross-country with a couple of friends. They would travel in an RV, visit some national parks and enjoy their last summer before college. Elliott vowed to make the trip happen.

The 18-year-old is fulfilling that vow, although the trip has been modified slightly.

Elliott's summer vacation is now the Living Hope Bus Trip, , a cross-country voyage that began in June to increase awareness among U.S. teenagers about the AIDS epidemic in Africa while raising money for African children.

Elliott and four other men between 17 and 22 have been driving from Philadelphia to Los Angeles -- they're scheduled to be in Newport Beach, Calif., today -- in a refurbished school bus, complete with three sets of bunk beds, a couch, refrigerator and Internet access. They are speaking to teenagers in more than 40 cities about the growing AIDS crisis in Africa. They are visiting conferences, concerts and churches, with the goal of raising $250,000 by next summer to build two new schools in Zambia.

Elliott, of Edgewater, graduated from the Annapolis Area Christian School in May and changed his summer vacation plan when he returned from Africa in August of last year. He said that on his mission trip, he learned that the numbers of African children dying from AIDS were more than just facts and figures.

By the time Elliott left high school, more than 20 million people around the world would be HIV-positive. In Gambia, he met boys and girls -- ages 13 to 17 -- with HIV. Some were dying. He thought of his own grief -- the loss of his older brother Isaac, who died suddenly in April 2003 at age 23 after a seizure.

"These children are waking up without hope, wishing that they were not alive. It's horrific," Elliott said.

Most of the stops along the tour are at churches, Christian conferences and concerts. The trip began June 10 at a Baltimore conference sponsored by Promise Keepers, which, according to its Web site, is a "Christ-centered organization dedicated to introducing men to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord."

Elliott and the rest of his group were at the Youth Specialties' DCLA (D.C. and Los Angeles) conference in Washington July 1-4, and they are scheduled to end their trip at a conference held by the same organization, which targets teenagers, from Tuesday through Aug. 11 in Los Angeles.

Elliott asked his father, Paul, to lead the search for the men who would join him on his trip. Paul Elliott enlisted an advisory board consisting of himself, lawyer Ronald Holden, youth pastor Brent Rawson, Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp. small business counselor Thomas Francovitch Sr., local businessman Jeff Furniss and Annapolis Area Christian School Superintendent Larry Kooi.

The board received applications from young men across the country who shared Nathaniel Elliott's beliefs in spreading awareness about the AIDS crisis in Africa.

"The fact that anyone would do this trip is spreading the word of Christ," Nathaniel Elliott said. "But we don't need to be saying 'Jesus this' and 'Jesus that.' We can just act."

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