Teen Committed to Reaching Peers

  • by Chris Sneller

Students flood out the doors of Carmel High School and stare as fire trucks race up to their school. This is no bomb threat. And nobody was sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom. The smoking culprit? Burning sugar in a cotton-candy machine.

Since the incident, the students responsible have mastered the machine. Twice a week they sell the blue fluff outside the cafeteria to introduce their peers to Student Venture, Cru's outreach to high-school students.

Heather Powell is one of the Indiana students peddling the candy. The 5-foot-2-inch brunette busies herself with service to others. She is more concerned with pointing others to Jesus Christ than drawing attention to herself.

Take Monday and Wednesday mornings, for example.

On these mornings, Heather and other students gather at 7 a.m. While it's still dark, they hold the school doors open, greeting students for 35 minutes.

Most of the 3,700 students at Carmel High School park their cars half a mile from the school, near the football stadium. The uphill walk is long and cold -- hoods cover heads, and hands are shoved in coat pockets.

Students are glad they don't have to open the door as they stream past Heather and her friends chiming, "Good morning." The simple act of kindness puzzles some students.

"I think it's nice; it's just kinda random," says one.

"I think it has something to do with Student Venture," says another.

Entering the doors, students pass an Olympic-size pool and symbols of Carmel's aquatic fame -- 17 consecutive state swimming titles.

This high school in a prominent suburb north of Indianapolis prides itself on greatness. The Student Venture group seems out of place as they humbly hold open the doors.

When Heather first heard of Student Venture as a sophomore, she thought it was a hiking club. Later she understood and got involved. Heather and her friends greet their peers for a specific reason.

"I do it to get the word out about Student Venture," says Heather, "so they can come to Student Venture and hear about Christ."

The vivacious student standing across from Heather, Rachel, is evidence of Heather's desire to point people to Jesus.

Last summer, Heather pleaded with her friend to join her on a Student Venture retreat in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Two years earlier, this retreat proved a turning point in Heather's life. Though she had placed her faith in Christ in the 6th grade, Heather's relationship with Him was distant. She committed her entire life to God on that retreat.

"I realized being good wasn't enough," says Heather. "The direction of my life turned."

Since the retreat U-turned her spiritual life, Heather longed for Rachel to go too. For a year she prayed that Rachel would. But Rachel's parents said no.

Rather than focusing on her own spiritual development, Heather dedicated the retreat to praying for her closest non-Christian friends, including Rachel. The moment she returned to Indiana, Rachel and Heather were on the phone.

Rachel insisted that Heather come to her house immediately to tell her about the retreat. At Heather's suggestion, the duo decided to read Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life together. A 40-day spiritual odyssey began for Rachel. Every night they discussed this book.

"It's an instruction book on how to have a relationship with God," says Rachel.

Two weeks into it, Rachel placed her faith in Christ. Rachel credits Heather for introducing her to Jesus.

"Heather has changed my eternity. I'm in debt to her forever."

Passing the school library, Rachel throws her arms around Heather and blurts, "She's the best friend ever."

Now Rachel wants to imitate her best friend by directing others to Christ. She invited Annie, Carmel's student-body president, to their Tuesday-night Bible study.

The smell of microwave popcorn greets the senior girls as they enter the home of Brian and Erin Clark, an energetic couple who are Student Venture staff members. Dipping Rold Gold mini-pretzels in cream cheese, the girls chat about high-school life.

"I decided to play it safe -- go with the black pants." Nods of approval.

"I never do my homework; I haven't done it all year."

"And you get good grades?"

Rachel introduces everyone to Annie, and then the girls move to the living room to begin a study on the book of Romans.

"Memory verse, ladies." Erin opens with a pop quiz on the memory verse from last week.

At the end of the Bible study, Erin gives each of the 8 girls a marker and a sheet of paper. She asks, "If you could be any instrument, any object, for God, what would you be?"

Heather draws a match and says she wants to spark interest in Christ to warm others with God's love. Though she wants to be a match, she understands her role in guiding someone to Christ: "It's not up to me to lead a person to Christ -- God will use me as a tool."

From an earthly perspective, the 18-year-old has many reasons -- and opportunities -- to draw attention to herself rather than Christ. In the academic pressure cooker of Carmel High, she excels.

"She's such a good student," says Ken Knowles, a teacher in the English department.

At the law firm where she works part time, lawyers describe her as bright, articulate and self-confident. Attorney Amy Higdon says, "There's no doubt in anybody's mind that Heather will be successful."

She even scored a 1540 out of 1600 on her SAT -- Harvard's average is 1490.

Yet Heather sits quietly in Bible study while other girls do most of the talking. While friends wait for acceptance letters from Yale, Heather is considering Samford University in Alabama. She wants to go to college in a place where she can grow in her faith, and meet a godly husband. (She says she doesn't have time for a boyfriend now.)

Heather worries that others might have a misconception of her.

"Rachel used to tell me: 'You are so perfect,'" says Heather, "and that is so scary, that is so wrong."

Heather's siblings -- Brian, a 10th-grader, and Jennifer, a 6th-grader -- know better. She'll yell at Jennifer if she can't find her favorite blouse, switching to her "nice" voice if a friend calls mid-argument.

Before Student Venture, Heather wasn't close to Brian and Jennifer. But she has bonded with them over the past 3 years.

At one Student Venture retreat, Heather prayed, "I would love to see something happen in Brian's life."

A day later he devoted his life to Christ, and, like his sister, became active in Student Venture at Carmel.

In the self-absorbed world of teenagers, Heather is different. She wants to draw attention to God, not herself.

"It's girls like Heather," says Erin Clark, "that are going to change the world and make a difference."