Westmont Magazine New Lives and New Hope in Uganda
The year is 1967. The Vietnam War is raging; the lottery for the draft lies in the future. Every man who graduates from Westmont makes a crucial decision: sign-up for one of the armed services or take his chances with the draft. Tom Herskowitz chooses the former, joins the Navy and becomes an RIO in an F-4 Phantom jet. He flies more than 200 combat missions in Vietnam and makes more than 300 carrier landings on the USS Ranger. He also graduates from the Navy’s Top Gun school.
The year is 1991. On a sunny March afternoon, Julie Mitchell, a sociology major, contemplates her options as her time at Westmont draws to an end. A friend who graduated a few years earlier stops by and describes an orphanage he visited in Uganda. It’s the kind of place Julie has dreamed of serving. A few months later, she arrives at New Hope Uganda, a place that takes root in her heart.
Two different Westmont graduates. Two different decades. Two different paths. But in 2004, these paths cross and join for a short time. Tom Herskowitz and Julie Mitchell Shorack meet as missionaries at New Hope Uganda.
Founded in 1986, the ministry serves more than 450 orphans in an area where a brutal civil war left hundreds of thousands of children parentless. The facility includes primary, secondary and vocational schools, a clinic and Hope House for abandoned and abused babies. Bringing the fatherhood of God to the fatherless, the ministry seeks to recreate families for orphans who have lost everything.
On her first visit, Julie spent seven months with children who called her “Momma Julie.” After she left, she ached to hold them and hear their giggles and sweet voices. Uganda became the homeland of her heart. A few months later, she married and began a ministry with her husband in the United States. After seven years, when it became evident she could not have children of her own, Julie and Matthew decided to lead a team to Uganda.
Julie found that her “precious little ones” were teenagers as big as she was. They were kids longing for parents, and Julie and Matt were parents longing for kids. After three weeks in Uganda, Matt overcame the bats and snakes and changed his prayer from, “Please, no!” to, “Please prepare me.”
A year later, Matt and Julie returned to Uganda and spent six years loving children orphaned by war and by the new killer, AIDS. “After only a few months, God blessed us with a surprise beyond anything we could have anticipated,” Julie says. “We became foster parents to seven babies, all less than 1-year-old. Isaac, who came from this original group of seven, was the first of our three adopted children.”
Recognizing the need for a home for babies, Julie established Hope House at New Hope Uganda. She has mothered 30 babies, rescuing infants thrown into sewers and abused by their parents.
“A few years ago a recent Harvard graduate came on a short-term mission and helped me care for babies at an orphan center in Kampala who spent most of their days lying in their own filth. Many died from AIDS, forgotten by the world. She said, ‘Nothing I learned at Harvard prepared me for this.’ Despite the bleak and desperate circumstances we were in, I smiled to myself as I remembered my college years. Everything at Westmont prepared me for this.”
In the midst of an onslaught of refugees, Tom Herskowitz arrived with his family from San Diego. From corporate America, he jumped into war-torn Africa, gunfire in the distance and thousands of people with eyes haunted by the terror they fled, hungry for more than just food, hungry for hope. Together with medical, logistical and children’s ministry teams, Tom helped orchestrate a relief effort that brought life-saving medical care to more than 11,000 patients and delivered 300 tons of food by working with local church leaders and the people within the camps.
“While at Westmont, I wanted to be a missionary,” Tom says. “Life’s circumstances and my choices took me in a different direction. By the grace of God, an opportunity to serve as a missionary for a short period arose. God never wastes anything. I have used all my training and experiences as the manager of New Hope Uganda.”
After Vietnam, Tom earned an M.B.A. at UC Los Angeles and a law degree from Loyola School of Law. He has worked in banking and real estate and owned the master franchise license in Mexico for I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt. Before going to Uganda, he served as chief strategy officer, the number-two position at Mail Boxes Etc.
“Many years ago during chapel at Westmont, a visiting bishop from Uganda said that he knew Westmont would come to Uganda someday,” Tom says. He was right; Westmont graduates began coming in 1988 and 16 years later, they are still coming. In a country with thousands of orphans, we are two Westmont graduates who have met here for the first time and are using what God taught us at Westmont about caring for others more than ourselves.”