A Tribute and a Eulogy for Debbie “Mum” Jones

Debbie "Mum" Jones

Debbie “Mum” Jones

Debbie/Debra “Mum” Jones succumbed June 15th to kidney failure while ill with malaria, typhoid, and gastrointestinal bugs. She was in Gambi Hospital in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia.

She and her husband Andrew have been friends since 1995 – a third of my lifetime. Our stories have intertwined deeply at times, less so at others, but we’ve stayed connected for a very long time.

I wrote a eulogy for Debbie a day after I heard the news of her death. It’s later in this post. I’ve written before about Andrew and Debbie, most extensively in these posts:

’tis andrew jones’ birthday! so celebrate, already! (September 7, 2008).

Everyday DiscipLeaders – Andrew and Debbie Jones (originally posted January 5, 2009).

Here are some excerpts from the Everyday DiscipLeaders post about Andrew and Debbie Jones as role models of missional ministry. (See the above link for the rest of the story.)

Through his blog and speaking engagements and consulting, Andrew Jones has probably helped more people at the entry level of questions of [fill-in-the-current-ministry-label] than anyone I know of. He has done this when the fill-in ministry labels were GenX and youth (sub)cultures in the mid-1990s, to postmodern and post-postmodern in the late ’90s and early ’00s, to emerging and missional in the mid-2000s.

But don’t think Debbie is just some side character in Andrew’s storyline. She is equally engaged in discipleship, and fully his counterpart/ner. Mum Jones carries on a ministry of her own. She contributes at summits, shares at events, encourages newcomers and oldgoers, sparks connections for women and for families, co-catalyzes social enterprises. […] Debbie frequently asks questions, and offers deeper insights and creative perspectives, that challenge me to stretch my thinking. And her courage, flexibility, and perseverance in being mobile and global especially encourage me.

[…] We will look back 20, 30, 50 years from now, and see that Andrew and Debbie Jones stand among the most influential people in offering a portal for possibilities in this new era of ministry. First, by understanding a new set of questions about ministry in the here and now, and second, by serving as stabilizers for many, many people young and old who needed a word of welcome or a place of relief and restoration. These have come at a cost to themselves and their family. But with their sacrifice has also come an immense investment in a more constructive Kingdom future for all of us. Andrew and Debbie and their kids are heroes to me!

To get a sense of the completion of Mum Jones’ life and work of service, be sure to read these tribute posts by Andrew:

Debbie is gone.

Debbie’s final Words, Angels and More.

And check out this video, created by Andrew and two of their daughters: Debra Jones Spiritual Retreat in Sinai (posted December 27, 2015).

If you feel so inclined, here is a GoFundMe account set up In memory of Mum Jones to help the Jones family at this time.

Mum Jones, may memories of your life be a constant source of blessing to those of us still on sojourn here …

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A Eulogy for Mum Jones

Late afternoon California time June 16th, my phone rang and a long-time friend was on the line. Her voice wavered in that way you immediately sense something awful has happened: “Do you know anything about Debbie Jones?” I didn’t, but quickly learned that she and Andrew had gotten severely sick from Malaria and possibly other illnesses, and that she had succumbed in a hospital in Ethiopia. Andrew had been taken elsewhere for medical treatment and didn’t know yet, and their youngest daughter, TJ, was with him. At that point, only bits and pieces of information were available, some contradictory. But the main reality was clear: “Mum Jones” was gone.

What do you do when something like this happens so suddenly, so out-of-the-blue? The shock, the numbness, the grief all collide in unpredictable ways. For me, I felt like I had to do something to process this sad news. The only things I could think of were to pray – so many things were still unknown, but certainly Andrew and their children, and her extended family would need comfort and grace to begin coping with this immense loss. And it occurred to me to check Debbie’s Facebook page. So, I spent the next few hours clicking through all the photos. I’m glad I did, as that provided a healing moment I needed, to reflect on who Mum Jones was and will always be to her family and friends, and to set down some things I wanted to be sure to remember.

As I looked through the lot, I realized how many were posted by friends of the Joneses. No one has the one and only authoritative picture of Debbie. The view probably depended on what continent and era you met her, how long you hung out with her and the Jones, and the setting. So, it was kind of like a kaleidoscope composite to see the many faces of Mum Jones there.

Her page included a few photos from her childhood, like one of her with her two sisters and their parents at a swimming pool. And a wedding picture of feeding cake to Andrew, on August 8, 1987 – I remembered them telling me about how they’d connected on a mission ship where they worked to serve others. And lots and lots of photos of the Jones family as kids and as adults – Sam and his wife Jenna, Elizabeth, Abigail, Hannah “Quill”, and TJ “Bones.” And their hikes in the forest and parties in the park, wanderings among the sand dunes and sunning on exotic beaches. A dozen different dazzling colors of hair, and yarn interwoven, with eyes peaking out from behind those signature horn-rimmed glasses!

And there was “Maggie” the home on wheels, that hosted the “Jonesberries” family and their many friends through adventures in learning and serving – in North America, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa. An amazing array of people were pictured in those photos – truly, a global-gobee group of nomads that included men and women of every race, Rainbow Tribe members and refugees, generations both young and old. Whether on the journey for short or long, they obviously felt welcomed and wanted.

This international and all-inclusive hospitality is why I will always think of Debbie as a mentor and Mom in “The Tribe Where No One’s Left Out.” The Joneses modeled in an extraordinary way what it means to live in what some call “the Way of Jesus.” With humility and hospitality, they invited people to walk a while with them in their lives, and see what God might do to show each person uniquely how He loves and cares for them. I’m reminded of an article I read with the title, “Everything I need to know about hospitality, I learned from Molly Weasley.” (Yes, Harry Potter fan here …) And so, I’d say that “Everything I need to know about heavenly hospitality, I learned from Mum Jones.”

In fact, this calling to embrace others as they are and see them for more than they are, is how I came to be connected with the Andrew and Debbie. Back in 1995, they were considering a move from Southern California to San Francisco. Somehow, they heard I was in Marin, the county just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, so they came to discuss possibilities as part of their discernment plan. Debbie was trained as a nurse, and she had a special burden at that time for people with AIDS. They were exploring whether to find a place where they could have a home to invite in people with AIDS who needed a hospice setting. I had been doing HIV resource writing for churches since 1989, and so we naturally connected immediately and deeply. And that moment shows some of what was so very special about Mum Jones – she saw people not just for who they were, but who they wanted to be, and who they could become with the touch of God’s grace and love in their life.

As I’ve talked and grieved with other long-time friends of Debbie’s the past few days, they mention such snapshots of her soul as: Her style of simplicity and love of sustainability. Being in the moment, celebrating life’s smallest and largest events. Tenacity, and how an overflowing sense of nurture and care helped her be with all kinds of people. Her love of beauty found in colors, and music (she played the harp), necklaces, pottery, and trees and the sky. Her dimples and smile, and how when she leaned her head backward and chortled out a hearty laugh … and anyone’s and everyone’s heart felt lighter at her characteristic “Mum Jones cackle.”

Mum Jones was one of the funnest, funkiest, most wonderful and warm women I have ever known. Our loss will be felt keenly and it will be hard to go forward knowing she is gone now from this earth. But, thankfully, she is with Jesus, whom she loved above all. May her legacy seep deeply into our being so that we find a way to look at her Way, and perhaps experience what it’s like to follow her footsteps and thereby honor her Mum-ness and her memory.

And in the meantime my heart goes out to Andrew, Sam and Jenna, Elizabeth, Abigail, Hannah, and TJ; and to Debbie’s family, and to the many who loved her as part of her extended virtual family.

Brad Sargent

16 June 2016

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