East Africa

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. 

The Time I Had a Moving Conversation with a Deaf and Mute Mom

They were the best days I’d ever spent in a refugee settlement. They were busy, they were chaotic, and they were physically tiring. They didn’t go exactly as planned. But, because that’s just how our God works, I walked away from them full of a renewed sense of passion for the work of Tutapona.

While there, I was able to hear the testimonies of five very brave people from their own lips. The following story, which was told by an eighteen year-old boy about his deaf and mute mother, really touched me.

“I am from Congo. I’ve lived in Nakivale since April 2015. Our father left home for food and up until now hasn’t come home. I am still not aware if he’s alive.When the rebels were in Congo, they raped our mother in our presence. That’s when she became pregnant with our youngest sibling. As the rebels raped our mother, they left her with problems with her reproductive system.

After our mother was raped, she was unconscious. Shortly afterwards, all of us moved with her to the border to Uganda. Right now, as the oldest son, I am the head of the family. I don’t go to school, but I bring my sister to school. There is a man who’s hired me to raise cattle for 30,000 shillings [approximately $9] a month for the whole family.

We were referred to Tutapona. As my mother said, “Tutapona has always been there for us. They’ve given us food, clothes, love. We were very hungry, we’d lost hope, Tutapona fed us. When I was sick, they brought me to the hospital and they gave me medicine.”

This family’s situation is not unheard of among the many refugees living in Nakivale. Death, rape, and poverty have been woven into the stories of many broken individuals. Tutapona exists to bring healing to people like these. As we sat in their door-less hut, broken-hearted about the story they shared, we knew that these are the kind of people God has called us to help.

-Emma Gaede