The time is ticking for parishioners at Grace Episcopal Church to help one of their own.
The church must raise funds for former member Caroline Nyankori by Oct. 1 to be matched by an anonymous donor.
Nyankori, who was a member at Grace Episcopal for 18 years, fled from Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin in the 1970s and at the same time escaped an abusive husband. Both are now dead.
She came to Gainesville and became a member of Grace Episcopal Church. For those 18 years, Nyankori lived and worked in Gainesville. Then in March 2007 she was deported back to Uganda.
"She tried for 18 years to get a permanent visa," said Sarah Cooper, who is heading up fundraising efforts. "She did everything she could, did all the legal things and at the last hearing the judge said that he wished there was a way to give it to her but there was no legal precedence for it."
Now, Nyankori is in Uganda and living with her mother without running water or electricity. She saved enough money to build the foundation of a new home and the church hopes to send the rest of the needed money to Nyankori after the Oct. 1 deadline.
"What we are trying to do is get 500 people to donate $20," Cooper said. "Up to $13,000 will be matched by an anonymous donor. We have raised something over $6,000 here. We are sending $5,000; in fact that went out yesterday."
The Outreach Committee at Grace Episcopal unanimously voted to donate church funds to the beloved Nyankori. If the Outreach Committee can get 500 people to donate $20 each, with the matched gift it will total about $24,000.
During Nyankori's time in Gainesville she worked at Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Johnny's Barbecue. She received her GED diploma from the Adult Learning Center at Lanier Tech.
When Nyankori was deported, she was handcuffed, immediately jailed and was sent back to her native country after spending about a month in jails from Atlanta to Alabama, according to a letter Nyankori sent to Cooper.
"I was horrified at the way she was treated," Cooper said. "(They) wouldn't let the brother or sister see her, she didn't get her glasses or her medication, she was just treated so poorly."
Dr. Frank Waggoner, a Gainesville dentist and former member at Grace Episcopal, knew Nyankori and has helped raise funds for her cause.
"She was a devoted Christian, a hard-working person and as kind a soul you could find," Waggoner said. "I think what has happened to her really is hard to understand how things like this happen sometimes; it's sad that she had to be removed from the United States."
Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, who knew Nyankori, also is trying to raise money through her church, St. John Baptist.
"She's just a gentle woman that I just respect and honor so much," Figueras said. "I just wanted to do whatever I could do ... but at least if they are going to help her then I wanted to help. I knew her as a beautiful spirit.
"I have put out information at the church if anybody would like to donate."
Cooper added to Waggoner's and Figueras' sentiments that Nyankori was the kind of person who "valued substance over style."
"There is a depth in her of humility and honesty that you just don't see everyday," said Cooper, who has known Nyankori since about 1992. "I don't think there was ever anytime I saw her where she had thought ill of some other person. It just was not part of her; humility just shone through everything she did. I feel so privileged to have known her."
Cooper and Nyankori communicate through e-mail from time to time. In Nyankori's village there is a computer and she is able to check e-mail when electricity is available.
When Nyankori arrived in Uganda she was reunited with her two sons - who she left in Uganda 18 years ago - along with her mother and a granddaughter.
Cooper said Nyankori recently wrote something profound in an e-mail that gives her comfort.
Nyankori wrote, "I have learned to live without the things I do not have."