Elise Heidy (G13) remembers when she first felt compelled to help the people of Uganda – as a grade-schooler, when she read about the country but didn’t know where it was or what a missionary did. Ten years later, as a freshman entering college, that desire was long gone.
By then, Heidy had other plans. She wanted to get into the medical field, so she entered George Fox as a biology major. That line of thinking changed during her sophomore year. “I wasn’t walking with the Lord at all when I started college, and though I loved biology and my professors, I came to a place where I surrendered my life to Christ and my heart began to change. God was calling me to do something else, so I asked him, ‘What do you want me to do?’”
The answer: Respond to the call you first sensed as a child and serve in Africa. Her passion for missions work was first kindled on a May Serve trip to Peru in 2011. That August, she visited Uganda with a college church group and met a missionary who would, months later, arrange for a return visit the following summer. The plan was to stay two weeks. She stayed four months.
“It hit me as I was staying in this small village of Latodore that I was surrounded by people who had never heard the gospel – who had never heard the name of Jesus,” she recalls. “We are so gospel-saturated in our culture. I couldn’t relate to not hearing about what Jesus did for us.”
Heidy returned to Newberg to complete her senior year, graduating with a degree in social work in the spring of 2013. All along, she knew she would go back to Uganda. Initially, she planned to return to the country that August and stay two weeks in a new region, Karamoja, with a friend. Her visit lasted a year.
While abroad, Heidy discipled women among the nomadic Karamojong tribe, and specifically, the Jie subtribe, notoriously one of the region’s most violent people groups. Heidy has heard stories of how brutal tribesman can be, but she remains undaunted in her desire to share her faith. “You see the destruction of sin – the abuse, the neglect that happens,” she says. “You’re there to try to give them some light in their life, to see them take a hold of that light and see the fruit of it.”
In turn, the experience of living and serving among “the least of these” has transformed Heidy’s perspective on life. “I’ve learned about myself living there. God has changed me and shown me some of the ugly areas of my heart that I wouldn’t have come face to face with if living in America.
“God doesn’t need me to reach the Karamojong. He took me to Karamoja because I needed Karamoja, not because Karamoja needed me.”
Heidy has no plans to return to the states anytime soon. “I bought a one-way ticket,” she said last July, during a brief visit to Oregon to raise support. “Maybe the Lord will bring me back to America and I’ll get a social work job. I’m open to that, but this is where I feel led now.”