First-St. Andrew's United member David Knoppert lifts weights during the church's weightlifting fundraiser on Sept. 3, 2022 in London, Ont. (Photo: David Wake)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Society

Pumped up: congregant lifts 80,000 pounds for Afghan refugees

David Knoppert's weightlifting marathon raised about $8000 to help bring a family to Canada


It would be understandable if David Knoppert complained about feeling a little sore. The 69-year-old had spent the previous day, Saturday, lifting a cumulative 80,000 pounds over eight hours on the steps of First-St. Andrew’s United in downtown London, Ont. The unusual show of strength was a weightlifting fundraiser to help bring a family of Afghan refugees to safety in Canada.

Instead, Knoppert said he felt “pretty good” the day after lifting 20- and 25- pound dumbbells, and wanted to keep the focus on the bigger picture – bringing the community together to help a family in need. “This family is living in Pakistan in pretty desolate conditions. Their visas have expired, so they are hiding in fear of being discovered, waiting,” he said. “It’s just not right.”

Members of First-St. Andrew’s have been working for more than a year to bring the family of seven adults to London after a family member already living in the city asked for help.

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The church must raise $100,000 as part of the sponsorship process, said Linda Babke, head of the church’s Afghan Refugee Committee. “We need enough money to support the family for a year,” she explained.

The Sept. 3 weightlifting event raised about $8,000, bringing total donations to date to just over $30,000 – enough money to file an application for refugee sponsorship.

It also raised awareness about the ongoing dangers faced by Afghans forced to flee their homeland after the Taliban took over. “We can’t forget about them,” said Knoppert, who was pleased to see many members of the community -at -large, as well as local politicians and representatives from two London mosques at the event.

David Knoppert observes another young weightlifter during the “London Lifts Together” event on Sept. 3, 2022 at First-St. Andrew’s United in London, Ont. (Photo: Liz Galbraith)

The Canadian government has launched several programs with the aim of bringing 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, but the process is lengthy and expensive.

“We made a promise to walk with this family and to see what we can do,” said First-St. Andrew’s minister Rev. Joshua Lawrence. “It’s a complicated process. Everybody hopes that it will be expedited, but no one knows. We are trying to focus on what we can control. There certainly has been a wonderful showing of support since people have become aware of what we are doing.”

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Knoppert and the church’s refugee committee are already thinking about how they can build on the momentum of the weightlifting event to attract corporate sponsorships for the church’s next fundraiser.

“We really have to trust this process, and trust that our hearts and our efforts will yield something that will benefit this family,” said Lawrence. “We hope and pray that it will bring them into a safe place here in London.”

To get involved or to make a donation to help First-St. Andrew’s bring an Afghan family to Canada, visit


Nicole Laidler is an award-winning journalist and copywriter based in London, Ont. To see what else she’s been writing lately, visit

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