LONGMONT — Christopher Jones’ new job is a long way from his former.
These days, he is concerned with his mother’s business, the wholesale market of photo mattes with words carved into them like “friendship” or “soccer.”
This summer, he was in Africa as head logistician for a UNICEF-funded project that constructed 30 mud-brick school buildings for thousands of Sudanese refugees living on the Chad border.
“Chris Jones is an independent thinker,” said John Poynton, spokesman for Front Range Community College, where Jones earned an associate’s degree in 2004.
Poynton said he and Jones know each other through FRCC activities.
“(Jones) wants to experience the world and its problems firsthand,” Poynton said. “He also has a style of servant leadership that is refreshing. He is strongly anchored in humility and non-judgment.”
Jones’ journey as a global steward in some of the most dangerous places on Earth began with a love story.
Jones was a junior at New Vista High School when he met his future wife, Natalya, an exchange student from Tajikistan.
Jones dropped out of school, the couple married, and Natalya gave birth to their son, Jonathan, after returning home to Tajikistan.
Jones followed, eventually working for an aid organization that allowed him to help out in neighboring Afghanistan while staying close to his wife and child.
With no previous travel or work experience, the job “got my foot in the humanitarian aid field,” he said.
The stint enabled Jones to apply last fall for a construction job with a United Kingdom-based nonprofit called CORD, or Christian Outreach Relief Development.
Although its motivation is rooted in Christianity, CORD seeks to help anyone in need, regardless of religion, race, gender, age or political persuasion, Jones said.
The organization deemed it too dangerous for Jones to bring his young family.
In March, CORD hadn’t found anyone to take the job and asked him if he could be away from his family for four months.
Jones said he and his wife decided it was a job worth taking.
As head logistician, Jones oversaw procurement of goods, tracking systems, inventory and the construction of 30 schools that would eventually house and educate 20,000 students, from preschoolers to adults.
“There is no place I won’t go or won’t work,” he said. “I thought after living in Afghanistan I could be anywhere, but Chad was honestly more intense.”
It was crowded and unsanitary. Dust storms enveloped the camps on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.
During his four-month stay, malaria and dysentery derailed Jones for “only one week,” he said.
“It’s part of the job. You get used to it,” he said. “I was lucky that I could get treatment.”
While he had no direct dealing with the thousands of Sudanese refugees, Jones said he was amazed at how a few mud-brick buildings could transform their lives with emergency education.
“Eighty-five percent of the people are women and children, because the men have either been killed or are fighting,” he said. “They have the feeling no one cares about them. But you treat them like people. You look them in the eye.”
Poynton said it was an honor to know Jones.
“Chris Jones has created his own path,” he said. “It’s especially joyful for us to see a member of our academic community change the world in a positive way.”
Jones said he was only in the beginning of his vocation, a life dedicated to serving people through humanitarian efforts.
It is a bittersweet calling.
“Unfortunately, there are so many opportunities for relief work, I’ll always have a job,” he said.
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.