When Marty Jones first heard that an African native living in Steamboat would be coming to Gracious Savior Lutheran Church to give a presentation on Africa, he had no idea that his life was about to change.
Since that fateful day, Jones has traveled to Uganda twice with David Mporampora, founder and president of the Denver organization Christ Aid. Jones was appointed by members of Gracious Savior to be the church’s missionary and a void that Jones felt in his life subsequent to meeting David has more than been filled.
A valley resident since 1973, Jones moved to Vail after a college friend called to ask him if he’d be interested in a job in the mountains. Jones has been an active member of the community since. He came up with the idea for the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and rallied support from the community to make it a reality. His landscape business in Edwards, called the Wildflower Farm and Garden Center, moved around many times before settling in its current location. Jones has spent decades developing his own mountain landscape style and learning which plants live best at elevation.
Nowadays, helping Africa is his calling.
Caramie Schnell: Let’s touch on your involvement with Gracious Savior Lutheran Church and your experience as a missionary in Africa.
Marty Jones: I’ve been not only just a member but involved with Gracious Savior for a number of years. One day Pastor Dan tells me that this African guy is going to come to the church to play music and talk to us about his mission in Africa. I was running the sound system at that point in time. I had to go over there early and set up. He started this presentation and I had really been looking for some way I could get involved, something that would give me meaning in my life. The work was fine, I enjoyed it but there was something missing. He said, anybody that wants to come to Uganda with me, can come. I went, I’m there. I went with him, he typically takes between three and four teams a year over there. For the most part, people go once and that’s it.
CS: I don’t know how that’s possible. It seems like an experience that would change your life.
MJ: It does. I guess their lives are so busy and it is relatively expensive. The church helps me with that. I went the first time and the second time it just seemed natural for me to go and I want to go this year. Seeing how, not only those people, but how most of the world lives – very hand-to-mouth existence, very day-to-day. Electricity is rare, running water is equally rare. We just got through with a water project over there where we set up a pumping and purification system from this well and we got water to 3,000 people, we pump it up a hill to holding tanks. Now we’re doing phase two of that, which will get water to another 3,000 people. We’re sending another container over this year, it has close to 40 or 50 computers in it.
CS: Is there a certain event or person that stands out in your mind from your trips to Africa?
MJ: Every trip, the whole thing, daily events stick with me. Last year in this container we had these computers, a lot of clothing, and like 9,000 books.
CS: That was donated from this valley?
MJ: From here and from Denver. Mostly from Denver.
Because the corruption is so bad, not only in Uganda but throughout Africa, David would have prominent people in the community come up and ask him, all the time, why he’s doing this. ‘How can you just give this stuff away?’ they’d say. They don’t understand what he’s trying to do, what charity is about. Because from what David tells me, their idea is the richer they are and the poorer the poor are, the better. It puts them up to a higher level.
We’d go around to these various little villages
Initially we focused a lot of our energy on David’s home village, Kichuna, that’s where the water project is etc. … So we’d go around to these little villages near there and give out the clothes. We tried to get everyone lined up – boys here, girls here, trying to make it orderly. And the chaos would just start to build and everyone was worried we’d run out before they got something. Lisa Efraimson and I were working with the Ugandans and handing out the clothes. We had a huge hedge of juniper behind us and we had this little corral roped off for us and we ended up diving under the hedge to get out it was so chaotic …
It’s really nice to go, we typically visit the children’s homes while we’re there.
MJ: They really aren’t orphanages per see, it’s not where the kids live because there’s no funding for that. Everything is based on economics, absolutely everything. The orphans are typically cared for by their aunts, uncles, grandmothers, which is another group we’ve started to support – the grandmothers, because these women are 60, 70, 80 years old and they’re taking care of all the children as the middle generation, for the most part, has been wiped out. They’re so wonderful, they’re so thankful. They cook dinner for us and dance and sing. We found out the grandmothers that have been sponsored, I think for $30 a month, a number of them are taking that money and sharing it with other grandmothers who aren’t in the program because they feel so blessed and so wealthy with $30 a month when they’ve been living on nothing.
The first year I was there I thought it would be best if I kept my mouth shut and observed what was going on. I remember this one guy was talking to the director of operations in Uganda and he had a farm he’d gotten from his father. He had a number of goats, for a lower class individual he was considered very wealthy. The guy was telling him what you need to do is finish your cows with grain and fatten them up and I was going, if they have grain they eat it, they’re not feeding it to their cows. The cows graze along the roadside. You have to really understand how things work over there.
CS: Do any of your daughters want to join you?
MJ: Yes, Stacey has expressed interest but the funding is hard. Right now it costs about $4,500-$4,700 to go over there.
CS: Is that tough when you think about what that kind of money could do for a village?
MJ: I had that same thought and I talked to David about that. He said, ‘well that’s true but you have to understand what else you’re giving to them.’ Last time, what I really understood in being over there was that my presence was one of the biggest gifts I could give to them. Here you are in this one room, dirt floor hut, sharing a meal with the grandmothers and they were so honored that we would come all the way from America, leave everything that we have here, to be there, sitting in their house. That is something they’ll never forget, for the rest of their lives. Just being there was a tremendous gift to them.
CS: That support, that somebody cares from a world away?
MJ: Exactly. When we cooked dinner for the grandmothers, they were dumbfounded, no one had ever done that for them before. They couldn’t understand why these Americans would want to come and cook dinner for them. VT
Caramie Schnell can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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