January 12, 2021

Julie's Journal: A Branch

 (This post is part of the Julie's Journal series) 

We exited the Entebbe airport to find three pastors and a young man with a shy smile waiting for our small team. I was back in Uganda in October of 2006, a little over a year after my first visit.

The young man stepped forward to greet me. This must be Tomusange Silas; he’d been hired by the pastors a few weeks earlier to coordinate the care of the 17 children living in the John T. Miller School. Paying his salary had been a surprise “add” to our list of responsibilities to fund for the children. 

“Hi. I’m Julie. I guess you sort of work for me,” I said awkwardly. “It’s nice to meet you, Tomusange.” I butchered his name. 

He smiled and shook my hand with the welcoming, soft Uganda 3-step handshake and said in flawless English, “It is a pleasure to meet you. You can call me Tom.” 

We piled into the pastor’s SUV, and Tom and I began to discuss the program for our two-week trip. He had set up meetings with several children’s organizations in Uganda to learn from their experience since we had NONE. From that, we hoped to develop plans and procedures for the care of the 17 orphaned children living in the John T. Miller School I had come to serve the year before. 

But there had been a last-minute item added to the agenda for this trip by surprise. A branch beyond providing for the care of those 17 children… 

It stemmed from a conversation I had had with Pastor Paul last year. We were in the room they had set up for the orphans. "These two beds are for the boys, and the girls have the two bunks on the other side of the doorway," he explained.

"This is a small space for so many children, but they seem happy," I tried not to sound critical.

"I know, but it's the only space we had. We only have this one building. These two rooms were our offices. We brought as many of the 50 orphans from the village as we could. The children were so badly off there." His voice trailed off . "We managed to squeeze in 17." 

"What about the other children?" I asked. 

"They are still in their village. The village pastor does what he can. And we sent some food packages a few months back." 

He led me into the classroom next door and pulled out a few loose photos that were on the teacher's desk. "We took these the day we delivered the food packages. A Sunday School Class at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, Washington sent money so we could buy four bunk beds and deliver food for others. These photos are for them."

I remembered flipping through the photos. The contrast to the happiness of the children at the school stung. They were two to a bed in offices, but it was clearly so much better than where they had come from.

Now, as we drove toward Kyakitanga Village, I reflected on the turn 
of events bringing me back. It had started when Heidi, a new friend at church, had looked through the photo album of my first trip to Uganda. Afterward she’d offered to do a garage sale to raise funds “for the kids.” I’d hoped it would raise a few hundred dollars to help provide vaccinations, shoes, food. In the last year, despite searching for an organization to partner with for the care of the kids living in the school, doors had remained closed. We had reluctantly assumed the responsibility to help the pastors care for them. There were so many needs.

Heidi had hosted the garage sale a few weeks before I returned to Uganda for this second trip. Right before we’d counted the money, I’d asked her how she wanted us to use the funds raised since she had organized the event. Heidi’s response had caught me off guard, “I’d like to use the money to send the other 33 orphans back in the village to school. How much would it cost to pay for their school fees so they can go to school, too?” 

Oh wow. That would be a new branch,” I had thought to myself. We were already out on a limb with the care of 17 kids and taking on more wasn’t on the radar. 

But I did the math on my phone. “I've heard it’s about $60/year to attend a government school. For 33 kids that comes to $1980.” I had answered, reassuring myself that a garage sale wouldn’t come close to that target. 

And yet, when we counted the garage sale money, it totaled $1989.50. Once we’d subtracted the cost of a dump run to clean up after the garage sale, we’d realized we had, in fact, raised $1980.

“That's enough! What are the chances of raising the exact amount? This is a God thing!” Heidi had said. I admitted it seemed like a message and tried to hide my disappointment that there wouldn't be support for the current expenses. 

"The government school may not be great, but it will be better than not going to school at all," we had agreed.

I’d met some of these children Heidi wanted to help the previous year during our outreach tour to several village churches with the school's pastors. Everywhere we visited, we had faced poverty on a level I had never imagined, but Kyakitanga Village had been the worst. There the kids there were barefoot, and dirty; their clothes in tatters. They watched us with curious, brown eyes. 

They’d seemed accustomed to the flies that landed on their faces and the threatening black wasps that buzzed us as we tried to drum up some spiritual encouragement to share with the crowd gathered in the sweltering church. When we’d passed out candy to the children, the adults pushed past them with hands pressed at us calling, “Sweetie! Give me sweetie!” The people had seemed somehow untamed. Their despair tangible. Kyakitanga Village was the only place in Uganda I’d visited on my first trip that I never wanted to go again. 

But through Heidi’s garage sale, God had provided exactly what was needed for the orphans in Kyakitanga to go to school, so we were making the three-hour journey to go there once again. 

We waded through the “Kampala jam” finally reaching what I would later name “Smelly Fish Circle” at a round-about on the far side of town. I stared out the window at large storks resembling pterodactyls as they fed on waste from the fishing boats that lined the river. 
Then the scenery changed. It became green and serene after the chaos of Kampala. 

We reached the papyrus marsh spotted with small, spontaneous fires which ignited in the bog. 

A tea plantation covered rolling hills in chartreuse green. 

Small stands of banana trees alternated with open spaces of acacia trees casting their silhouettes against tall grass fields. 

Local villagers sold their produce at roadside stands. 

Open trucks heaped with produce with workers perched atop would pass us and then lone speed bumps would slow us down for the trading centers that sprang up along the way. 

Eventually, we reached the trading center of Kalamba with its typical mix of brightly painted buildings, rough-hewn wood-slat structures, and vendors rushing to our windows with roasted meat skewers or maize. 

There we turned south to a ribbon of orange earth whose twists, turns and potholes would eventually take us the 12 miles to the village of Kyakitanga. 

I had the $1980 converted to Ugandan shillings in my bag next to the water bottle that needed to last me for the day. First stop was the government school to pay fees and then we would meet the other 33 children to register them for school. 

At least that’s what I thought would happen...

December 29, 2020

Meet Our Uganda Team!

Our staff in Uganda came together to greet you and thank you for your partnership in the transforming work of HEED:

December 15, 2020

Julie's Journal: Julie’s First Day

(This post is part of the Julie's Journal series) 

A line of people coiled like a snake as far as I could see, and I just wanted a nap. “Follow the sign to immigration and have your passports ready.”

It was about 2 a.m., Seattle time, and we were in London after a 9-hour flight. “The security line looks even longer,” Amy, my sister-in-law, sighed.

“Oh well, we have LOTS of time to kill,” Lauren, her fourteen-year-old daughter reminded her.

We reset our watches, took our malaria medicine, and braced for a 9-hour layover at the airport followed by another 8.5-hour flight. As we tried to gather ourselves at the food court table. Spencer, my 13-year-old son wondered, “Mom, do eat breakfast or dinner?”

It was dawn when we landed in Entebbe, my first ever trip to Uganda in October of 2005. We could see an orange sunrise pushing through a morning mist as we stepped out of the plane and breathed in the unfamiliar air. It was thick and a little bit smoky. Organic, earthy smelling. The humidity blanketed us as we walked into the airport. I spotted a bright red and yellow sign that read, “Welcome to Uganda!”

“Amy! We have to take a photo!” I said excitedly. The weary group humored me with a photo shoot in front of the sign. I’d felt God tugging me to come here for ten years. I was suddenly wide awake, and a part of me that I didn’t know existed sprang to life.

Mike and Marie, who were our connection for the trip, led us toward two smiling African men. “Praise God, Jjaja Marie! You have made it safely.” Their English accents were unfamiliar and melodic. 

The 8 of us plus our luggage piled into a medium-sized SUV and headed north from Entebbe airport to the village of Lweeza, which was about 3 miles south of the capital city, Kampala. I stared out the window, taking in the tropical trees, the orange dirt, the vibrancy. We saw tiny houses built from home-fired bricks, roofed with corrugated metal sheets to keep out the rain. Other homes were merely irregular wooden boards overlaid awkwardly to create a box resembling a market stall. Occasionally, plastered houses and buildings dotted the roadside, signaling more wealth and status. There were streams of people walking on the side of the road carrying produce or other shopping items in baskets on their head. It was a mesmerizing cacophony of life on display out the window.

After a 30 minute drive toward Kampala, we arrived at the Anglican Church Conference Center in Lweeza. The buildings, which would serve as our accommodations for our two-week stay, were sparse and utilitarian, but tidy. We were shown our rooms, taught how to use the mosquito nets, and reassured that there were guards with bows and arrows who would protect us at night.

The center sits in a wide expanse of lawn with trees, flowering tropical shrubs, and a stand of bamboo with chatting monkeys. I marveled that it was landscaped with plants like philodendrons and ficus trees that we grow as houseplants. I felt out of place and yet oddly at home.

“Madame, you can unpack and refresh, and then we will go to the John T Miller School.” Pastor Paul Ssekabiira said to Amy. “John’s School” had been funded by Amy and her family as a legacy to her brother, John, who had passed several years prior- too early, and tragically from AIDS. The school had been recently completed, and the purpose of our journey to Uganda was to help register new students and set up the classroom with materials. These supplies had just arrived in a shipping container from Mike and Marie’s organization, Africa Village Classrooms.

“What will we be doing today?” Lauren asked.

“I don’t know exactly,” Amy said, “but my goal is just to stay awake!”

Marie handed me a stack of name tags. “You can see John’s classroom, start to unpack the container, organize supplies and meet the orphans who are living at the school.”

I put the name tags in my day bag with my camera and giant water bottle, and then did a double take. “Orphans living in the school? What? Where are they from?”

“So, there are 17 orphans the pastors brought back from a mission trip to an area in Kassanda District. It’s three hours away in one of the poorest districts in Uganda.”

“Living at school? How old are they? Where do they sleep…?”

Marie laughed, “Let’s get going so you can see everything.”

The John T Miller School was not actually in Lweeza but 20 minutes away in a village called Wamala. The dirt road leading to it was lined with tiny houses, and through the windows of the SUV we saw women cooking, kids playing, some children doing laundry in a basin, and a group of men playing checkers on a small, rough-hewn table. We bumped and bounced our way up the potholed road until finally Pastor David pointed out the John T Miller School up on the hill. Amy caught her breath. “John’s School” was perched atop a steep hill like a beacon of hope. It was painted tan with a green-gray sheet-metal roof. Tears filled her eyes as she snapped a photo out the window.

We parked and were instantly swarmed by children jumping, clapping, and hugging our middles, arms, and legs.

The school building itself was small, maybe 25 feet by 60 feet, made of plastered brick. It was perched on the side of a steep hill surrounded by orange, rocky dirt. At the edge of the classroom a door opened to a small room, maybe 8x16 feet.

“This,” Pastor Joseph said proudly, “used to be our offices, but now the orphans stay here.” There were four three-level bunk beds squeezed together, with just 2-3 feet to move in between.

The children streamed in and took their places on their beds. 17 children in 4 bunk beds. Many were two-to-a-bed, and each wanted a photo. Nikuze, one of the few who spoke a little English, tapped her bed. “Me! My bed!” 

I would learn later that beds back in their village meant papyrus mats on bare, dirt floors. We took photos and the kids crowded around to see the images played back on the cameras. Laughing and pointing, the children would call out the name of the child pictured, who would giggle shyly, seeing their image—likely for the first time.

We were led next door to the classroom, and the pastors signaled us to sit on a bench. I immediately had two children vying for a spot on my lap with others pressing in close. Kamukama won a place. He was tiny and snuggled in. I guessed he was about four years old. From behind, a girl named Gloria smiled shyly as she touched my hair that was so different from her own. Gideon was intrigued by the blue vein on the white skin of my arm and traced his finger along it. I noticed the deep burn scars that covered his entire arm and the back of his head. I also noticed that all the children were barefoot.

“I brought you here for these children.” The words pulsed in my head like a heartbeat.

God was speaking. It was as if I was looking into a kaleidoscope, and all the shapes suddenly fell into place.

November 12, 2020

Julie's Journal: Eyes Opened

This post is the first of many like it, as HEED Founder Julie Secrist thoughtfully shares the early history of this ministry. Stay tuned for more entries in Julie's Journal! 

I was nervous, my thoughts swirling. “Will there be desks?” I wondered, “or will the kids still be sitting on the dirt floor? Did we bring enough craft supplies?” It was April of 2010, and the village primary school was now three years old. We parked the van and climbed out after a bumpy, three-hour journey from Kampala and walked toward the school. I expected to be greeted by a flood of children offering us high fives and hugs but where were they?

Finally, I spotted our head teacher, Resty, waiting for us under the shade of a lone umbrella tree. Relief flooded me: she stood by a row of desks, which meant the funds from the Crystal Springs Co-op Preschool’s fundraiser had been received and used correctly.

Cheri, a pediatric nurse who was becoming a dear friend, walked with me, and we sat down under the umbrella tree. It was her first time to visit the village school, and I couldn’t wait for her to see the children…but they still hadn’t appeared! What we saw in front of us was the fledgling primary school, which resembled a multi-room fruit stand. There were gaps between the uneven boards, bumpy dirt floors, and open windows.

After a warm welcome speech from Resty, several hundred children marched from behind the fledgling primary school, some wearing new uniforms of neon green with orange trim and red socks, some wearing clothes that were on their last legs. Musoni, a handsome 12-year old boy with an engaging smile began thumping a goat hide drum. Six girls stepped forward barely moving their feet, swiveling their hips, their skirts flapping to the beat of the drum. I was elated to see the progress since my last visit: children in uniforms, dancing in a line, singing in English. Desks. I was inhaling the goodness of it all. “Isn’t this AMAZING?” I gushed to Cheri.

She was ashen. “I wish I could turn off my nurse’s eyes,” she said.

For her, the singing and dancing couldn’t outweigh the signs of malnutrition, the patches of white fungus on children’s heads, or the yellowed eyes from repeated malaria infections that were calling out to her. It was true. The problems of a community often affect children the most. It was a vast improvement that the kids now had the chance to go to school, but they still walked long distances to carry home water from contaminated ponds. Healthcare was inaccessible, there was no electricity, and there were obvious symptoms of malnutrition. Education for their children was the community’s top priority, but the other needs were pressing—and overwhelming.

I recalled my struggle in prayer when I first felt tugged to ministry so far out in our village in 2006, “Why THERE? It’s so far! Why not Mexico? Lots of people go to Mexico! It’s overwhelming! There’s nothing to build on.” I was weeping in prayer, and God’s answer had dropped into my thoughts, “Why would I send you some place that only needed a little bit of me?” It answered every question. God hadn’t given us the easy thing. He had brought us to the need. This village needed more than a little bit of God’s intervention.

We returned from that April trip realizing that it was unrealistic to empower children through education if they were starving and unhealthy. We were going to have to engage with the community on the systemic issues. Once more, I was in over my head. I knew nothing about community development.

I would have to learn. When I arrived home, I called a dear friend, Cori, who managed a large ministry throughout Europe called Youth with A Mission. “Cori, I need to understand development better. Can you please download your entire brain into mine? I need a recipe!”

Cori laughed. She indeed had a recipe for a development strategy that was rooted in scripture but aligned with the most important secular principle of contemporary development work: the work must be collaborative with and eventually led by the community. “You want the Old Testament Template by Linda Cope,” Cori said, “It has straightforward principles that I think will give you guidance to develop a good strategy.”

I ordered a copy of the book, and several others, hoping for some clear direction. As I read the Old Testament Template, I found neatly categorized principles from the Bible that could guide our development strategy. Many came from the book of Exodus. As I read, I realized how similar our situation was to the Israelites when they left Egypt as freed slaves. The Israelites were the poorest civilization on earth when they left Egypt - no land, no skills, no government, no schools, no army, no industry, and no agricultural system. They were an impoverished mob in the middle of a wasteland, and Moses had to teach people who had been slaves for more than 300 years how to form and run their nation.

I could relate to Moses. He felt too small for an impossibly big job. In Numbers 11:11-14 Moses bemoans to God, “...What have I done to displease you that you have put the burden of all these people on me?...Where can I get meat for all these people?...I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.” I laughed when I read of Moses’ complaints that mirrored mine.

God answered by telling Moses to bring 70 elders before him so that he could divide the burden of leadership among them. This model, inspired by God, introduced the principle of shared leadership, was noted in the Old Testament Template in the section on government. Cori had directed me to the perfect recipe!

I felt rescued. I knew I could trust the principles God laid out for the creation of Israel’s society and throughout the rest of scripture. The principles would be cross-cultural and create common ground. HEED’s mission would eventually expand from education to include water, sanitation, health, a church, and skills training. But it all began with a shift in perspective that day ten years ago when I sat on a desk under an umbrella tree with Cheri. God always provides, and that day, he used Cheri’s eyes to open mine.


Julie’s Pearls:

Old Testament Template by Landa Cope 

Overview of Old Testament Template:

The Template categorizes biblical principles for the issues of society: government, economics, family, science, communication, education, arts, and the church. From that wisdom, these are some of the principles we pulled out to guide our work:

Economically, Israel was instructed to have a national commitment to the elimination of poverty, to avoid debt, and to emphasize opportunity over aid reserving aid (one-way giving) for dire situations rather than chronic problems.

Family is the first line of defense for protection against poverty and economic ruin, and parental responsibility is emphasized in scripture.

God’s view is that every child has value, every child can learn, every child is gifted, and every child has a right to reach their full potential.

School administration should seek influence and policy that brings back parental involvement and authority.

Government should be representative, impartial, and elected from among the people so stakeholders must be involved in decision making.

November 04, 2020

Primary school and high school reopen to students

We are thrilled that our primary and high school have been able to partially reopen to students this month. Classes for Primary 7 and Senior 4 (last year of “ordinary- level” high school) were allowed to resume for schools who were certified to meet government standards for COVID safeguards. Though we only had 44 students total in those two classes, we are grateful to have at least some of our students learning, growing, eating daily meals, being tended by our school nurse, and being loved with Jesus’ love.

It is very expensive to operate the schools for so few students, so we thank you for your support that enabled us to say yes to participating in this government-certified trial-reopening that will hopefully lead to a full reopening next year. The note below is from our high school head-teacher expressing his appreciation to you for equipping them to open our doors wide to children again:

“When the government of Uganda allowed the phased re-opening of schools, it almost seemed impossible for our schools to reopen with so few students due to budget issues. Additionally, putting in place all the new operating procedures as directed by the government became quite expensive. We would therefore like to thank you so much for coming in to alleviate this pressure from us by helping to avail ALL the equipment and items that we needed to keep all our students and staff safe from COVID-19. It’s because of this that the government allowed us to operate after inspection of our schools for compliance against COVID-19. We are forever grateful and we promise to be good stewards of this equipment as we strive to keep our schools free from COVID-19. We also pledge to make all your efforts worth your while as we aim at providing the best education for our students at Ebenezer schools.”

~Jotham Musiime, Head Teacher Ebenezer High School

Welcome back, precious one!

We can have up to 25 students/class to keep a safe social distance

New touchless handwashing stations and signage

Every student’s temperature is taken before classes daily

October 29, 2020

Sound City Bible Church mission trip update

Text t below provided from a Sound City Bible Church update:

For those of you who have been around Sound City for a few years, you will likely remember our church family demonstrating generosity in a powerful way raising over $10,000 for medical outreach in a remote village in Uganda. Pastor Kyle led a team who hired and served alongside local doctors, nurses, and dentists to help reach the local community and beyond with lifesaving efforts to a community who had been affected by malaria, one of the highest causes of death in the region. 

During the mission trip, the team provided essential testing and treatment for malaria, but they were also able to provide medical care to over 1,000 people, provide dental care, pregnancy testing, and other necessary treatments to the children at the local school, as well as people in the town and surrounding remote villages. These efforts had a lasting impact on many, including a local doctor who has since decided to serve HEED Uganda by donating his wisdom, time, skills, and abilities in supporting the school’s medical clinic. Julie, founder of HEED Uganda, said:

“The medical outreach we put on gave Dr. Andrew such a heart for the situation there that he has spearheaded the effort. We will have the only ultrasound equipment for miles and miles allowing us to serve about 250,000 people".

Sound City, your generosity as well as the time and efforts of the mission team helped move Dr. Andrew and others to continue the work that was started, taking it even farther then we ever could have imagined. And speaking of fruit and growth, while in Uganda, one of the tasks our team helped with was planting Eucalyptus trees meant to be used for building construction and to help by bringing in a profit. Check out the before and after pictures below showing the growth that has transpired.

October 21, 2020

International Ministry Meetings

Along with so many others, COVID restrictions helped HEED to discover the benefits of video conferencing for virtual meetings and gatherings. We have even been able to successfully connect HEED supporters and prayer team members in the US with HEED students and ministry staff in Uganda. It astounds me that we were able to take a virtual tour of the high school with our Capital Campaign donors in a place that still doesn’t have electricity or running water! We also hosted a meaningful virtual prayer gathering where Ugandans and Americans traded off praying for the ministry. Though we were thousands of miles apart, the fellowship was so sweet. We will have other virtual events in the future so that you can experience HEED more first hand.

Many miles apart, but same shared heart for the work
God is doing through HEED Uganda.