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Uganda outreach: Families leave comfortable lives to help war-torn Africa

With the roar of the Nile River in the background, homeward bound team members gathered for this photo. They are (from the left) RaNaye Schrantz, Beth Arends, Shawna Mitchell, Julia Andrighetti, Paul Andrighetti, Adam Zappetta and Pastor Kevin Morris. (Submitted photo) 1 / 4
The Gaedes are living their passion for bringing emotional healing through Christ-centered counseling to those afflicted by the tragedy of war. Seven years ago they left comfortable lives in the U.S. to live and practice in Uganda. They are (from the left) Grace Gaede, Carl Gaede, Julie Gaede, adopted daughter Judith Gaede, Emma Gaede and adopted grandson Elijah Gaede. (Submitted photo)2 / 4
A translator (left) assists Pastor Kevin Morris (right) with his presentation to Ugandan ministry leaders. Mud huts with grass roofs are typical dwellings for this area. (Submitted photo)3 / 4
Ugandan children gather under the shade of a mango tree to hear Bible stories told by Pastor Zappetta (left) and other team members. The children are attentive and eager to learn about the Bible. (Submitted photo)4 / 4

“Julie is a hometown girl on a big adventure,” exclaimed the mother who agonized over the surrender of her daughter, two granddaughters and son-in-law into the care and providence of God as they departed for Africa seven years ago.

Gerald and Carol Christensen and family are longtime residents of New Richmond.

Daughter Julie graduated from New Richmond High School, then attended Bethel University where she graduated with a major in social work.

Between Julie’s freshman and sophomore years at Bethel, she and a group of other students traveled to Canton, Miss., for a short-term mission trip to work with indigent children and their families.

Always sensitive to the needs of others, this experience kindled the desire in Julie to serve those less fortunate in some capacity.

During her senior year at Bethel, Julie completed a semester at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. There she met Carl Gaede at a college group they both attended.

Carl and Julie carried on a long-distance relationship until he moved to the Midwest. Carl enrolled at Bethel and completed a major in social work.

After they were married, both attended a master’s program in social work at Southern Connecticut University. When they returned to the Midwest, Carl was employed as a social worker and eventually began his own counseling practice in New Richmond.

During this time, they started their family.

Emma Gaede is now 15 and Grace Gaede is 11 years old.

They also have an adopted African daughter, Judith, and a grandson, Elijah.

Carl’s brother, Mike, who had been living in California came to New Richmond for a visit. He decided to stay.

Their parents David and Sherri Gaede also moved to New Richmond from California in 2001 to be close to their sons and their families.

Carl and Julie have always been adventurous and on fire for God. Through several God-ordained events, they traveled to Gulu, Uganda, having learned of the severe trauma in that region.

They saw a great need for trauma counseling and they responded. Within a year, they sold most of what they owned and left for Uganda to set up a trauma rehabilitation program for suffering refugees.

Carl Gaede explained, “When we heard about the plight of child soldiers in Northern Uganda, we knew that we couldn’t ignore it. We knew we had to do something. But what could we do? We said ‘Here are our skills. We are trained counselors. Can this be used to help?’ This began the journey we are still on today.”

Initially, the Gaedes focused on war-affected children and families.

The Gaedes established a trauma outreach program they call Tutapona, which means, “we will heal.”

Tutapona is a non-profit organization committed to helping victims address the pain and trauma associated with the war and violence in Uganda. Through this program, victims of rape, mutilation, abduction, child soldiers and other atrocities are offered ways to face that trauma.

Victims receive the understanding and support to process their abuse and begin to forgive their abusers. The Gaedes have organized and trained teams of Ugandans to carry on the program of healing. The outcome results in victims seeking hope and restoration through the love of Christ, has led to the development of local churches.

During the last few years, there has been an influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eitrea and seven other nations where violence has intensified.

Tutapona was given the opportunity to offer the program in four refugee settlements in Uganda with approximately 65,000 to 90,000 refugees in each settlement.

Planting churches is one of the positive outcomes of the Gaede’s work in Uganda.

Various teams have expressed interest in traveling to Uganda to take part in the church planting process.

One such team comprised of two local pastors along with five others from this area recently returned after a 15-day trip that gave them 11 days with the Gaedes in Uganda.

Senior Pastor Kevin Morris and Youth Pastor Adam Zappetta from First Baptist Church of New Richmond conducted a ministry leadership conference at the request of a pastor in Gulu, Northern Uganda.

The other team members provided Bible training.

They are Paul and Julia Andrighetti from Stillwater; Ranaye Schrantz, who lives in East Farmington; and Shawna Mitchell of New Richmond.

They all represent The Bridge Bible Church in Somerset.

A fifth team member is Beth Arends, Oakdale, Minn., who attends Eagle Brook Church.

Leadership and Bible training is critical for the African people. They are hungry for Bible knowledge.

Benjamin, a gifted and motivated nine-year-old boy serves as a pastor to fill the void for his village. The boy declared that he must miss school in order to attend the leadership conference conducted by Pastor Morris, fondly referred to by the people there as “Papa Morris.”

Pastor Morris reflected on the high percentage of youth in Northern Uganda: “In this region, an entire generation was killed by massive insurrection leaving 48 percent of the population 15 years old or younger. These youth are ready to make a difference for their country.”

“The people, especially the children, are excited to be at church. They dance and sing with infectious enthusiasm,” Pastor Zappetta observed. “Everyone was so open and spontaneous in their sharing of Christ. They said they would pray for us and I think they really will.”

Julia Andrighetti echoed Pastor Zappetta’s observations: “I loved dancing with the children. There was such a bond with everyone there – a freedom of worship with no self-consciousness.”

After spending many days together, team members often lapsed into hilarity. Paul Andrighetti told about how their Ugandan host pastor insisted that team member Beth Arends, who is not married, find a husband while she was there.

On a more serious note, Arends was impressed by how sincerely the people glorify God. “Also, we need to pray for them to be able to forgive those who harmed them. They can’t do that on their own strength.

ReNaye Schrantz was especially touched by the stories told by some of the women – stories of tragedy that God turned into miracles.  

“So much is in their eyes. There’s so much sadness but there’s also hope.”

“I came home with the thought that God’s work isn’t done,” lamented Shawna Mitchell. “I want to go back. I have to go back!”

Team members described some of the conditions in Northern Uganda. The heat was extreme in the church where they ministered. Temperatures hovered around 90 to 100 degrees. They were fed by a group of women who cooked on the ground outside the church unless it was raining. The food was simple, but fresh.

The church was constructed like a mud hut with a grass roof similar to the houses in the neighboring villages. The only toilet was in a tin building with no door and a hole in the ground. In villages with no church buildings, services are held under mango trees that are plentiful in Uganda. They provide cooling shade for people to gather.

After the obligations of the team were accomplished, the Gaedes arranged a safari at the Bwana Tembo Safari Camp.

They saw many native animals such as giraffes, lions, hippos and elephants in their natural habitats. They also saw a section of turbulent white water on the Nile River that flows through Uganda.

Team members were privileged to witness Tutapona in action.

When the Gaedes created Tutapona, it was with the idea that hope could be replicated and touch hearts wherever tragedy is found.

And the best part is – it’s in partnership with a loving God.

-- Submitted by Shirley Schmidt