By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
HUMMELS WHARF — An overflow crowd of well-wishers from throughout the Valley gathered Monday at Christ Community United Methodist Church to pray for the five church members wounded in a terrorist attack in Kampala, Uganda.
Most affected by the Sunday blasts were members of their congregation and longtime friends of the five.
"This has touched everyone who knows them," remarked Gerald F. Wolgemuth, a regional spokesman for the Susquehanna Conference, United Methodist Church. "There has been a lot of praying and crying here over the last 24 hours."
Susan Heintzelman and her 14-year-old daughter, Megan, were two of the church members on the mission. They returned home last week. She described the area where they stayed as one of "utter, abject poverty. Beyond what you would believe."
"But we never felt like we were in danger in Kampala," Heintzelman said. "We got a lot accomplished there. We brought 30 suitcases with us of supplies and goods to help members of the church we were working with in Uganda."
She had come to Uganda with the group on June 16 and returned July 7. "But Kris Sledge said, 'Why don't we stay here a few more days?' So he did with the others and Lori (Ssebulime), who is very close friends with Pastor Peter (Mutabazi) in Uganda."
Heintzelman found out about the bombing Sunday afternoon. "I knew the bar where the bomb went off. It's an open air restaurant. We had watched one of the World Cup soccer games there. An early round game.
"I got a call from Lori's mom. Late. She started off saying, 'Sue, there was a bombing.' "
Holding back tears, Heintzelman recalled hearing that Ssebulime was OK. She had survived the bombing — with a seared lip it turned out — but there were no further details.
"I spent the rest of Sunday night praying, googling. I couldn't sleep," said Heintzelman. "I couldn't go to work on Monday. I kept trying to get information from Uganda, using Facebook to communicate."
When she found out that Pastor Peter died, "I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Now, how do I tell everyone, I thought. How do I tell the world?"
Heintzelman said Megan has been holding up since hearing about the terrorist attack. "She's remarkably strong for a 14-year-old."
A member of the congregation who was close to the group — but who asked to remain anonymous — said he found out about the bombing at 7 p.m. "I came to the church, where others had gathered. I couldn't sleep. I prayed. I tried to go to work on Monday but lasted only a few hours."
Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, of the Susquehanna Conference, was at the prayer service to lend her support.
"This is a case of a town coming together to support one of their own," she said.
Leading the prayer vigil was the Rev. Kathleen Kind, who said she was gratified by the community support.
"We appreciate the folks who came this evening," she said after the service.
"This is the response of people of faith," she said. "We believe that in the midst of loss, in the midst of terror, God is present, and we go to people in need.