Ashlea’s father, Ron Plute, and his wife, Summer, along with Becky Lukins at the Ashlea Center. Plute visited after the center was named after his daughter earlier this month. (Julian Lukins)

Ashlea’s father, Ron Plute, and his wife, Summer, along with Becky Lukins at the Ashlea Center. Plute visited after the center was named after his daughter earlier this month. (Julian Lukins)

Memory of Sequim woman honored at center in Uganda

Ashlea Center pays tribute to memory of Ashlea Erwick, who died this year after struggles with addiction.

SEQUIM — Remembered for her compassion, the late Ashlea Erwick of Sequim will now be associated with a mission in Africa where youth living in the slums can seek help for drug addiction.

Her father, Ron Plute of Sequim, said Sunday that Erwick, 23, died Jan. 18 when an asthma attack brought on by heroin use sent her into cardiac arrest.

Erwick, passed away “following a long struggle with drug addiction,” said Julian Lukins via email from Uganda last week.

Lukins, his wife, Becky, and their two daughters, Isabel and Samantha, currently work at a mission in Kampala, Uganda, where they have been since last September, he said. They are Sequim-area residents.

Erwick “was a local girl who attended Sequim High School and Peninsula College, and she had many friends locally,” Lukins said.

“Despite her own struggles, Ashlea was a very compassionate person, always trying to help others in crisis and reach out to those who were anxious or depressed. She had a heart for the underdog. When she died earlier this year, it was a devastating blow to all who knew and loved her.”

After hearing of Erwick’s death, “we talked with our Ugandan friend, Thomas Kandwanaho, a former street boy who runs his own mission to abandoned and runaway boys in Kampala’s worst slum,” Lukins said.

“Many of these boys are hooked on the slum’s cheap drug of choice — a jet-fuel soaked rag stuffed in a plastic bottle. The boys inhale the fumes to block out their pain and misery. Thomas agreed that it would be a fitting tribute to Ashlea’s compassion to name the mission’s gathering place in memory of her,” Lukins said.

Naming the shelter after Erwick “was a fitting tribute to her compassion and also an acknowledgement of all those who struggle with life-threatening addictions,” Lukins added.

“We like to think that this simple place in the slum is a little piece of Ashlea in the heart of Africa.”

The mission is constructed of corrugated metal and a tarp, Lukins said, adding it previously was referred to as the “slum church.”

“It is an active church, where local slum residents meet for worship services every Sunday,” Lukins said.

“Because the slum church has no denominational affiliation and no official name, and we felt the term slum church is a little derogatory, we decided to rename the church Ashlea Center.”

Ashlea Center was launched earlier this month, Lukins said.

Ashlea Center provides basic first aid, hot lunches consisting of rice and clean water, and counseling by Ugandan volunteers. It also distributes soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and clothing.

Plute recently visited Kampala, along with his wife, Summer, “to experience the Ashlea Center for himself,” Lukins said.

“I’m sure my daughter would have been thrilled,” Plute said.

“Since she’s passed away, I’ve heard so many stories of people who are clean now who say they’re clean because of her. I think she would have been excited about helping these kids.”

Lukins said he and his wife “have always had a heart for suffering and abandoned children. Our longing for several years has been to live in Africa and help the locals reach out to street kids in any way we can.”

The couple “also wanted to give our own daughters exposure to a much bigger world, with much bigger problems than we face back home,” Lukins continued.

“It’s always good to give yourself perspective, and examine what’s really important in life. For us, our faith in Christ is a driving force. We are an ordinary family who just want to live our lives as Jesus demonstrated — loving our neighbors.”

Spreading the Gospel in Uganda is not without its risks, Lukins said.

“There is some persecution of Christians in parts of Uganda, mostly outside Kampala, the capital, where we live,” he said.

“It is real, but it is the exception rather than the norm. Generally you won’t find yourself in danger unless you go looking for it. The slums can be volatile, especially for foreigners like us who stand out. We just try to keep a low profile and follow the advice of our local friends when things flare up a bit.”

The Lukins family will return to Sequim in the near future, but plans on returning to Africa next year, Lukins said.

“Our plan is to come back here next year for another three months to help the mission and serve at the Ashlea Center in any way we can,” he said.

Lukins said the center currently is in need of donations.

“We are very open to donations, although we have not yet established ourselves as an official nonprofit, so this is extremely grassroots at this stage,” Lukins said.

“It’s exciting because it is so raw, and I think that appeals to a lot of people.”

Most supplies are purchased locally in Kampala, Lukins said, “but the street boys always ask for clothing.”

“Most of them wear rags, ripped shirts and shorts, and have nothing to wear on their feet,” he said.

“Because they’re running around barefoot in the slum, they easily get puncture wounds and cuts from broken glass and jagged pieces of metal. Foot infections can lead to other complications.”

Boys’ shirts, shorts and flip-flops — suitable for ages 7 to 17 — are very useful and can be transported in a suitcase, Lukins said.

“If anyone felt they wanted to donate, that would be very welcome and we could arrange that,” he said.

“We are limited as to how much stuff we can take over, because the excess baggage fees are high, so we have to weigh up the costs of transporting goods versus the benefits of purchasing locally in Kampala.”

For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/bringhimhomemission/posts/1052820671506117.

________

Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at cmcdaniel@peninsuladailynews.com.

Ashlea Erwick

Ashlea Erwick

Samantha, Isabel and Becky Lukins interact with “street boys” at Ashlea Center in Kampala, Uganda. (Julian Lukins)

Samantha, Isabel and Becky Lukins interact with “street boys” at Ashlea Center in Kampala, Uganda. (Julian Lukins)

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