Westmont Magazine A Healing Presence
A successful pediatrician with a suburban practice, Marty Martin ’75 could live in one of the best neighborhoods in Fresno, Calif. Instead, he and his wife, Joanie, chose one of the poorest. Their 100-year-old Victorian home with its maroon and green trim testifies to the prosperity of an earlier era. Bit by bit, the Martins are restoring it, an activity that mirrors their love and care for residents of the diverse and densely populated area.
Thirteen years and two children haven’t lessened their desire to serve. “We continue to come across people with huge needs, and we want to help them,” Marty explains.
A Fresno native, he attended Fresno City College before transferring to Westmont. He spent three months at a mission hospital in Kenya in between medical school at Loma Linda University and a residency at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. For the next six months he lived in Thailand, treating refugees in a crowded camp. Although he settled in Fresno, he kept returning to Thailand and also worked in a World Vision hospital in Cambodia.
While overseas, Marty discovered a surprising link to his hometown: Hmong patients had relatives in Fresno. Hand-delivering letters from refugees led to friendships back home and a resolve to get involved with the local Asian community. Joanie shared this interest; she worked as the Southeast Asian refugee coordinator for her church. “We felt a strong pull to move into the area where we were spending so much time,” Marty says.
Treating patients from the neighborhood has replaced medical missions to Asia. Sometimes parents call ahead for appointments; mostly they just knock on his front door, knowing Marty will answer and help their children.
They come for more than just medical care. Children of all ages flock to the Martins’ large yard to climb on the play structure and shoot baskets. Members of their church tutor students in math and English in one of the seven studio apartments on the property. Others house former patients, young adults who need a place to live. Long ago, Marty stopped worrying about the bare spots on the lawn. “I’m raising kids, not grass,” he says.
First Presbyterian Church is the only mainline church still in the neighborhood, and the Martins are members. They especially appreciate the fellowship with other couples who also make their home in the city.
Marty doesn’t romanticize his life. The population is transient, which makes it hard to develop long-term relationships. Of the 20 children who started kindergarten with the Martin’s older son, only five stayed the entire year.The boys, 13 and 10, see the selflessness their parents model. They also encounter drugs, racism and lifestyles that don’t uphold Christian values. “Protecting your children means being involved in their lives, eating meals with them and knowing their friends,” Marty says. “It’s not about where you live.”
Through the relationships he and his wife have developed, Marty has seen some change for the better. Thanks to a Christian gang intervention program, young Asian men have come to faith in Christ in his living room. Some have prospered and moved out of the neighborhood. Others have been jailed for offenses as serious as armed robbery and murder.
Still, Marty stays. He keeps working on the house; he keeps reaching out to neighborhood children, healing their bodies, mending their lives.