Even though Alpha Jaques didn’t grow up in a Christian-minded home, there were many events that led her to a career in mission work in Africa.  “I am amazed how God has led me throughout my life, despite not being raised as a Christian,” she said. “As a child, I listened to Lutheran church worship service on the radio.” Alpha, born and raised on a farm in Aitkin County, was the eldest of six children – two boys and four girls. She now lives in Litchfield and is active with the Litchfield Zion Lutheran Church where she has been a member for 30 years. Alpha did mission work in Africa for 30 years dating back to July of 1954. After her first 21 years in Africa, she worked herself out of a job in nursing and parish work, and resigned. Ten years later in 1985, after many prayers, she went back to northern Kenya.
“It was a spiritual struggle to go back. I felt God was telling me to go back. And it turned out to be the best years of all,” she said. She officially retired in May of 1994. There were three events that led her to do mission work. First event: Alpha’s family never went to church on Sunday but when Alpha was eight years old, her cousin Bob, who was older than her, sent her his Sunday school lessons. Her favorite lesson was the last Sunday of the month because the lesson had a mission story. “They were fascinating stories,” she remembers. Second event: Before graduating from high school in Aitkin in 1944, she had applied for a job as cook in an ‘old people’s home’ in Valley City, North Dakota. That went fine until August 1st when a nurse, returning from vacation, contracted tuberculosis. After about a half an hour of orientation, Alpha went from the kitchen to be the residents’ caregiver. She did that for eight months until the pressure of the job caused her to burn out. While in Valley City, she attended Nebo Lutheran Church, which was affiliated with the Augustana Synod. During that time a visiting missionary, Rev. Daniel Friberg, spoke to the Nebo congregation. Rev. Friberg was born of missionary parents in China and returned there for one term before China closed its doors to missionaries during World War II. He stopped in Valley City on his way to Minneapolis where he was to be commissioned for missionary work in East Africa. In the course of his conversation with Alpha, he challenged her to be a missionary and planted a seed in her mind that she was a perfect fit to do mission work. Third event: From the North Dakota home she went to Minneapolis to go to school and work at the Ebenezer Home. “That was a wonderful experience,” she said. After one year while attending a business college, she enrolled in the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) and continued work as a nurses aide at the Ebenezer Home for three years. In order to pay the fees for nurses training, she worked 48 hours a week besides going to LBI. By then she knew that God wanted her as a nurse. Fourth event: When Alpha graduated from LBI in May of 1949, she had saved sufficient funds to pay for the three years tuition at Swedish Hospital School of Nursing. She began her training on Sept. 7, 1949 and graduated three years later on Sept. 7, 1952. She continued working at the hospital for a year and a half, gaining more experience in obstetrics and medical nursing. In October, 1953, Alpha met with the Augustana Synod’s foreign mission board and was called by them to be a missionary nurse to Tanganyika, Africa. On May 2, 1954, she was commissioned which is the same as being ‘ordained’. Tools of the Trade The mission courses at LBI from 1946 to 1949 provided her with a spiritual foundation to pursue missionary work. She considers this to be one of the tools of trade she needed. A second tool was the medical foundation at Swedish Hospital from 1949 to 1952. That is where she attained her nursing degree. The third tool could only be gotten on site . . . and that was communications. At that time there were no language schools so she had to learn the African language of Swahili on her own. She was given a language book at the mission office in Minneapolis. The Swahili language was not a ‘tribal language’ but a ‘trade language’ with many borrowed words from the English, German, Portugese, Arabic, Hindu, as well as several African languages. Within the Tanganika Territory there were about 125 different versions which proved the need for a ‘trade language’ such as Swahili. She used these three tools to serve two, four-year missionary terms from 1954-1958 and 1959-1963 and more tours later on for a total of 30 years in Africa. Off the Africa The journey to Tanganyika began May 28, 1954, leaving from Minneapolis to New York by train. Once in New York she met her travel companions, the Rev. Ludwig and Esther Melander, who were veterans of missionary work. On May 29 they boarded the Queen Mary and cruised to South Hampton, England. While on board, the language learning began in earnest with Esther as her teacher. Then they went by train to London and after several days boarded the Kenya Castle, a shipping company boat that circled Africa. That ship took them around Africa through the Suez Canal and docked at Dar es Salaam, Tanganika Territory. Once up country in Iamba, their destination, Alpha began full day studies to learn Swahili from her tutor Martin. This continued for three months until October when she moved to her assigned destination. She spent half her time getting orientated in the medical work and the other half studying the language. Her language teacher was Wazaeli and Alpha successfully passed the government Swahili test with a 92 grade in April of 1955. After her two tours of duty, Alpha accomplished her mission and worked herself out of a job. The Iambi Hospital staff took over the medical work. During her furlough year, 1963-1965, Alpha again attended the LBI studying parish work. She returned to Kijota doing parish work and later at Kinampanda station. In 1971, the nationals took over and Alpha was again out of a job. In 1972, Alpha joined World Mission Prayer League in Nairobi, Kenya as a parish worker in the slum community of Kibera. She worked with the hospital chaplaincy. One of the hospitals visited by the chaplaincy was Mathari Mental Hospital. One ward was especially challenging – the prison ward where every man was being treated for insanity. Each one was convicted of murder but found to be insane at the time they committed the murder. Working in Mathari was a ‘hell on earth’. There were fights every day and someone killed every week. The chaplaincy was started in 1968 and involved the prisoners in Bible study and Christian music. The prisoners found Christ in their life and it changed how they acted. There weren’t as many fights and no more murders. When the prisoners were declared healed they still could be put to death unless President Kenyatta forgave them and granted them freedom. Again in 1975, Alpha had worked herself out of a job and she returned home to Minneapolis and worked in a nursing home. In 1980, she had enough of urban living and moved to Litchfield, where she worked at Emmanuel Nursing Home as a registered nurse. In 1985, Alpha returned to Kenya to a new field of work in Northern Kenya among the nomadic, pastorless people related to the Maasai people called Iamburu. These people were entirely different from the agriculturalist tribes she had worked with previously. The nine years in Iamburu were the best of all. Alpha retired from missionary work in late May of 1994, exactly 40 years after she begun. As she left Africa for the last time they read this Bible verse to her: 2 Timothy 4:7 — I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Ujumbe yametimia! (Mission accomplished).