The Neighborhood Missionary

by University Relations

Whether comforting an emergency room patient anxiously awaiting test results, organizing a concert to support local small businesses, or capturing a family’s memories from behind her camera lens, Sonja Stump ’75 breaks the stereotypical missionary mold. Her field—the quiet town of Claremont, California—provides the perfect setting for her to live out Jesus’ command to be a good neighbor. “My husband and I feel that this community is our mission field,” said Stump. “We act as missionaries by living and serving intentionally right here.”

This service begins with an unexpected act of compassion in a stranger’s time of need. As president of the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Auxiliary, Stump helps raise money for families with infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, funding medical bills and transportation costs, but her greatest contribution comes from her personal connection with emergency room patients. “A little support can go a long way. Often just a warm blanket, water, a smile, or a listening ear can bring comfort in the face of examinations or test results,” she said.

Stump infuses this same strength and compassion into the larger community by connecting with small-business owners in the Claremont Village shopping area. As one of several cofounders and chair of the Village Marketing Group, she organizes promotional materials, charity events, and other fundraisers that support and encourage these businesses, from restaurants and cafés to clothing boutiques and curiosity shops. “Running and marketing your own business is difficult, exhausting, and oftentimes discouraging,” said Stump, speaking from experience as the owner of a professional photography studio. “But we can accomplish much more as a team of citizens and business owners committed to building up this area.” Through the efforts of the Village Marketing Group, Claremont Village has grown into a thriving cultural center and scenic recreational space inviting the community to come together for events and fellowship.

Amid that atmosphere of commerce and affluence, Stump remains keenly aware of neighbors who confront challenges far greater than business ledgers and bottom lines. She also serves on the board of directors of Pomona Valley Workshop, an organization that works with disabled adults facing many closed doors in the workforce and helps them find fulfilling, paid jobs. “These people want to feel needed and give back to the community in tangible ways,” she said. “We empower them to reach their full potential.” Her service also takes her to hospital delivery rooms where, as a volunteer photographer for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, she photographs babies who are stillborn or have low chances of surviving, and comforts grieving parents. “When you have a short amount of time with your little one, a photograph helps you remember and can be part of a healing process,” she said. “Wherever there is such need, and if I am able, I want to serve.”

That intense desire to help others compels Stump to continue seeking out needs, great or small, in her community. During election season, she volunteers as a precinct election inspector, overseeing voting booths and protecting citizens’ right to vote. She also helps ensure the safety of her entire community by partnering with the police department on Claremont’s Community Emergency Response Team to promote and facilitate recovery strategies in the case of a major disaster. Stump’s love-thy-neighbor philosophy stems directly from her gratitude for the blessings she’s received. “Because Jesus gave so much to us, we give back by helping people in tangible ways wherever God calls us,” she said. “Sometimes that takes us overseas, but often we are most needed right in our neighborhood.”

Originally published in the Fall '14 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.