(EDITOR'S NOTE: Home-Grown Missions profiles missionaries, both full- and part-time, who grew up in area churches. As part of an on-going series, letters home from those serving on the mission field occasionally also will be published.)
HUGHESVILLE - The call to action for a local college student sparked from hearing a statistic that every two seconds, someone in the world dies from malnutrition.
Twenty-year-old Christie Heimbach, of Hughesville, decided to start a mission - 2 Seconds or Less - to help end malnutrition by focusing on sustainability. She and the rest of the organization work with and educate people about the benefits, methods and uses of sustainable agriculture so generations can live healthy lives even after the organization left.
Christie Heimbach, of Hughesville, top second from right, celebrates with some of her friends in Zimbabwe, Africa.
"So many organizations have such administrative costs," Heimbach said. "We wanted to know exactly where our money goes."
What struck Heimbach most were the things people in the United States took for granted - such as a top-of-the-line education and plenty of food.
She, along with Kelsey Hare, of Baltimore, Md., decided to primarily focus on Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries in the world.
NAME: Christie Heimbach
HIGH SCHOOL: 2010 graduate of Hughesville Jr./Sr. High School
COLLEGE: Messiah College, Grantham
HOME CHURCH: Muncy Radiant Light Assembly of God, Muncy
EMAIL ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org
Due to economic and political turmoil, unemployment rates are extremely high. The people are harshly affected by AIDS, leaving one in four children orphaned.
The organization began in 2011, but Hare and Heimbach felt that to really understand the problems people faced, they would have to face them also. The only time they could go was on their spring break.
"We felt very ignorant toward our cause," Heimbach said. "We needed to go to Zimbabwe."
They called about 40 organizations that were based in Africa, trying to find someone to shadow, but none responded. Finally, Heimbach found one more organization through Google three days before they left. The number went to the receptionist, who gave the number for the executive director who was in California at the time, who gave the email address of the son-in-law. An automatic response came back that he was in Afghanistan until the day they would arrive.
With no plan and just some granola bars and two hiking backpacks, Hare and Heimbach boarded the plane with another friend who served as protection and videographer.
And when they arrived?
"Miracle upon miracle upon miracle," Heimbach said.
Since they had no where to go, they called the son-in-law again who picked up and told them to come over. He introduced them Patrick Makokoro, founder and executive director of the Nhaka Foundation.
He was a 28-year-old man who focused on sustainability, lived in a village and could speak perfect English.
He provided them with everything they needed and then told them to pack their bags and be ready at 8 a.m. so they could move in with his family.
Makokoro showed them around the area, to the places and people they would be helping, including the Mapfeni Primary School, Goromonzi, a school where 80 percent of the children were orphans and 60 percent were HIV positive.
There was no food program at the school, so for the orphans, they would not get to eat at home or at school.
They talked to leaders about what the school needed and determined it was food and water, since it was not suitable for drinking.
When Heimbach went, she originally wanted to help with human trafficking because she felt so passionate about human rights, but when she saw the overlooked, bigger needs, she knew the school needed her help more.
"Here (in the United States) they don't take us seriously," Heimbach said. "It's unbelievable how much they (in Zimbabwe) were willing to surrender themselves."
What touched Heimbach the most was the willingness of Makokoro turning his life over to God. During their trip, he paid for everything and drove them everywhere. One night, the Americans accidentally saw his ATM receipt. He had $2 in his account.
Heimbach asked him why he continued to pay for everything when he couldn't afford it.
"'(God) will take care of me," she said he said. "'You gave me the faith to do this. You jumped on a plane with nothing. You can live out of faith. It blew me away. It's not a coincidence. People don't meet each other on two opposites ends of the world. We were exactly what we needed.'"
He continued to explain that just one month before, he launched his Nhaka Foundation website and did not have any religious connections to it because 80 percent of the world's donors only donate to non-secular organizations. His friends told him that the website was not him, nor what he stood for, so he prayed to God that he would make it a Christian organization if God sent him a sign that young people still care about Zimbabwe.
"'You are my confirmation,'" He told her. "'You don't need to see angels in the sky to see God.'"
The story made Heimbach feel blessed and she had a hard time saying goodbye when she had to return to her own country.
When they landed in America 22 hours later, there was an email from Makokoro, who wanted to do a partnership between the two organizations with a contract for the school.
"We started screaming," Heimbach said. "I was so happy."
How they would help the school was by funding the construction of a preschool classroom block, support the nutritional requirements of more than 200 children with a nutrition garden, harness Zimbabwean knowledge to grow Moringa trees and other high-nutritional value crops in the garden and train the community on the various benefits of the herbs and plants grown in the garden.
After that, the nonprofit took off, Heimbach said.
They have raised $15,000 since April and have been continually promoting themselves.
Ten board members are made up of six women and four men, all of whom use their individual skills to help the organization for free.
On July 15, Heimbach returned to Zimbabwe, where she will be for a month.
"We want to share with everyone we can, especially young people," she said. "We want people to know the younger generation is rising up and can make a difference."
One of the main goals of the trip is to teach the people how to take care of themselves. So many organizations distribute food and then leave.
"Poverty doesn't go away," Heimbach said.
When she originally told her family and friends she wanted to go to Zimbabwe the first time, there were a lot of naysayers because they had no plan and because it was so expensive.
Yet the people she helped is worth it.
"We're not just changing lives in Africa," she said. "We're changing lives here."
So many of the people on the board have overcome issues such as death in the family and rape.
"It pulled them out," she said. "It restored their faith."