The One Healed First

Recently we had the privilege of hosting 13 counsellors and pastors from America as they came to build into our staff through a staff retreat. We wanted to give you a glimpse of what they got up to so we'll let Guest Blogger, Sarah Jane Holsteen take it away.

The One Healed First: A Reflection from the Tutapona Staff Retreat

Written by Guest Blogger Sarah Jane Holsteen

“Imagine you come across a man starving to death and a man with an infected wound on his leg,” Rosemary said. “Which will you help first?”

Rosemary and I sat in the dining room of Kingfisher Lodge in Kichwamba, Uganda. From the restaurant window, we watched sun and shadow play over the forests of the Western Rift Valley below. In the distance, the Rwenzori mountains peeked through cloud. Rosemary’s word-picture painted a stark contrast to such natural beauty.

“You will first save the man with the wound,” she continued. “Because when he heals, he will have a scar, and every time he sees it, he will think, ‘Ah, Sarah helped me.’ But you give the hungry man food and four hours later, he’s hungry again. He won’t remember your help.”

“Many refugees in the camps ask us for food, water, physical aid. That’s the role of UN-sponsored agencies. But Tutapona is unique. We tell people, ‘Why give you food when you’re so traumatized you don’t eat the food you have? You must first heal the wound in your mind.’”

Two days earlier, Rosemary and her team had welcomed our group of thirteen Americans to Tutapona’s office in Nakivale Refugee Settlement. We’d attended the closing session of their latest Empower program. The 200-strong group of Congolese refugees attested to the vast need for trauma counseling in Uganda’s refugee camps (an ideal group size is twenty!). Participants shared testimonies of being able to recognize and address the trauma of violent conflict and forced displacement in their lives, demonstrating Tutapona’s deep impact.

Now, in the peaceful afternoon at Kingfisher, Rosemary concluded with a smile, “The healed man will remember through his scar. It’s like every time we look at the cross; we remember Jesus died to save us.”


From June 4-June 7, Tutapona staff from Kampala and the Rwamwanja, Nakivale, Gulu, and Adjumani field sites gathered at Kingfisher Lodge to step back from the year-round intensity of providing psychosocial support to thousands of East African refugees. I was one of a small team from partner churches in Wisconsin helping to facilitate this retreat. Our team objectives were simple: listen, learn, encourage, pray.

Tutapona staff share deeply in others’ suffering and give sacrificially in their care for the wounded; they do so with creativity, wisdom, and faith. The retreat was designed to allow these practitioners reflection and rest. So, as facilitators and staff, mizungus and Ugandans, brothers and sisters, one church, we rested in God’s Creation: swimming, taking walks, and going on safari in nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park. We rested in God’s Redemption: singing, praying, and reading Scripture. We shared stories and unanswered questions. We laughed and cried together. 

And, as Rosemary had instructed me, we remembered Jesus. We remembered that “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19) and “By his wounds, we are healed” (Is. 53:5). We saw the scars of crucifixion and in them remembered the power and hope of resurrection. 

Summer Tour 2017

Interested in learning more about the work of Tutapona firsthand from Carl Gaede? Below are the dates and locations for where you can find us this summer:

Sunday, June 4
The Bridge Bible Church, Somerset, WI

Wednesday, June 7
First Baptist Church, New Richmond, WI

Sunday, June 11
The Village Church, Baldwin, WI

Sunday, June 25
Faith Community Church, Hudson, WI

Sunday, July 9
Living Word Lutheran Church, Marshall, MN

Monday, July 10
The River, River Falls, WI

Thursday, July 20                                                                                                                Prairieview Church, New Richmond, WI

Sunday, August 13
Los Altos Grace Brethren Church, Long Beach, CA

A Stark Contrast

Every once in awhile, it's important to take a step back and reflect. Tim Manson had the opportunity to do this, to come face to face with so much need and to challenge himself by examining his life. You can do this too, by reading his thoughts below. Be challenged. Be inspired.

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This week I traveled up to a small dusty, hot town in Northern Uganda called Adjumani with Helen and our girls. Both of us had work we needed to do up there, but not enough time to take separate trips, hence the decision to take Hope and Eva. It was a decision that I quickly regretted. Eva winged through the short flight and the moment we landed we all began to sweat profusely. The temperature was somewhere in the late thirties and our hotel turned off the generator at midnight, so off also went the fan. The girls simply couldn’t sleep, not having been in heat like this before, so of course Helen and I didn’t sleep either. I lay there feeling frustrated about all manner of things until morning. Then I had to go to work. Interestingly, by the end of the week I was glad we’d taken our girls with us. I think in a very small way it helped me to relate to what we saw.

On our first day, I spoke to a young boy of perhaps 11 who said he and his siblings and mother had walked for 3 weeks to escape from South Sudan. That’s fairly typical. Many of the oldest and youngest are dying on the way from a lack of water, shelter, and food. Internally, I feebly related that to my arduous hour-long flight. Self-constructed, tarp-covered stick shelters are the accommodation option out there in the settlements. Blazingly hot in the day, less than rain-proof and small. As we walked through them I considered that their occupants were not camping, these were their homes for the foreseeable future. The war in South Sudan is showing no sign of letting up.

These refugees don’t have jobs to go to when they wake up in the morning. Helen pointed out to me a man lining up for food in one of the reception centers who would have been about the same age as my dad. As I tried to imagine what this would be like for him my mind balked. Most of these refugees were poor back in South Sudan but now they’re poorer. They have walked away from their land and houses and have had to leave behind the possessions they couldn’t carry. No prospect of self-sufficiency for a long time ahead for the man in the queue. Instead, he has to put out his bowl and accept what is given. 

A mum that we interviewed had lost one of her children in the fighting. As she said it, I let the weight of that sentence sink in for a moment. What mother should have to lose a young child in some senseless war? What would my response be if one of my daughters were shot? No time to grieve for this lady, until she was an alien in a foreign country.

At our last location, Quinn Neely was doing some filming for us put up a drone to get some aerial footage of Palorinya refugee settlement. Looking at his screen as he filmed from a couple of hundred meters up gave an insight into the scale of this migration. Clusters of shelters stretching out for miles and miles along the banks of the Nile River. Each individual shelter holding a little family, but on the screen they were simplified down to thousands of tiny white dots. This one settlement currently holds 142,000 people and it opened 3 months ago, in December. Had the drone been able to climb higher, it would have picked up the 5 settlements of South Sudanese refugees spread out across Northern Uganda holding over three-quarters of a million people. Still, South Sudan’s leadership can’t sort their differences out and a bit north of where we stood about 2,000 more people cross the border each day. My way of relating to that number is to think of my high school, Macleans College, daily walking into Uganda. This has been happening now for 9 months.

As we left, I understood more fully what an immense privilege that is. We can leave. These people are in Adjumani right now because they have, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond- 'no choice'. They cannot go home after a few days, and they have nowhere else to go. They have no idea if they’ll ever be able to go home. Home may well have been altered irreparably.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful house in Kampala with my family intact and safely with me. I have a job. I have choices. What stark inequality. I’ve worked in this space for a few years now, but this week I was hit anew by the gulf between the life of a refugee and mine.