By Liz Corcoran – Tonic
The British businessman who is selling all his earthly possessions to move to Uganda and start a charity opens up about his life — and what drove him to give it all up.

Most of us would dig deep in our pockets to donate to a good cause: witness the millions of dollars raised and the outpouring of goodwill in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or the devastating earthquake in Haiti. But how many of us would sacrifice everything in the name of charity?

Wealthy businessman Jon Pedley is about to do just that. The Essex, England-based telecommunications professional has put his idyllic 16th century farmhouse, complete with landscaped gardens on the market (for about 1.5 million dollars), along with his successful consultancy and marketing businesses and his top-of-the-line Range Rover (approximately $112,000).

In return, he will set up home in a traditional mud and wood building in rural Uganda, using funds raised from the sale of his assets. From there, he will kick off a charity which he hopes will benefit the desperately poor local community by improving health, water and education facilities as well as transforming the lives of hundreds of young people in the UK who will be offered the opportunity to support the project on the ground.

It is a remarkable turnaround for the 41-year-old who describes his life until recently as “totally and utterly self-centered,” and he credits this change of heart and desire to give something back to the world to his new found Christian faith.

“I’ve led a very colorful life,” Pedley, the oldest of six siblings, tells Tonic. “At thirteen, I turned my back on my safe and very decent parents and brothers and sisters, and started living pretty much for me. It was a downward spiral from there, where as long as I was all right, I didn’t care who I was hurting.”

There were brushes with the law (Pedley was convicted and given suspended custodial sentences for theft and deception), times spent sleeping on the streets of London, and a spiraling addiction to alcohol which saw Pedley drinking up to eight pints of beer and two bottles of wine a night on a regular basis. His marriage failed as did countless other relationships and affairs and he regularly lost contact with his two kids.

Even a near death experience, a 2002 car crash which left him in a coma for six weeks and a wheel chair for longer, failed to be the wake up call he so desperately needed. “I got into my car at 5 a.m. after no sleep and lots of alcohol,” he recalls. “I drove under a van at 90 mph after I had fallen asleep.” The other driver had both legs broken. Pedley wasn’t expected to live but, to the bafflement of doctors, pulled through with the loss of sight in one eye and countless screws and plates holding his body together.

“I didn’t learn anything from this crash,” says Pedley, who returned to his old life a vengeance. He split up with his girlfriend, had an affair with another woman and continued to drink himself into oblivion. “In fact, I came back worse because I thought I was indestructible. Nothing could beat me, not even death.” Pedley pauses and reflects: “It’s arrogance that takes my breath away.”

A random recommendation to attend a local church service set Pedley’s life on a different tack. “There were 500 people at the service. It was different to anything else I had ever seen,” he says. “There was a confidence about [the congregation]. I was sure I had more money, I was sure I drove a bigger car and had been to more places and done more things. But they were more at peace.”

In 2004, Pedley embarked on an Alpha course, a ten week program exploring the Christian faith, which has been championed by TV adventurer Bear Grylls. For Pedley it was a life changing experience.

“The last thing I wanted to do was become a Christian!” he laughs. “For men, surrender is not easy!” But a week later he was with his then 6-year-old son. “He took my hand and said, ‘Happy new you, Dad.’ I said, ‘What son?’ And he said, ‘You’re like a brand new person.’” Shortly after he got sober, Pedley began devoting his spare time to charitable works including nightly sessions as a street pastor.

“For a long time, I thought I could do what God wanted me to do by earning a fortune and giving away a reasonable amount of that,” says Pedley who donates 15 percent of his earnings to the church. “Some years that’s been an immense amount of money.” But increasingly Pedley felt there was more he could be doing.

He first thought of setting up a charity in 2007 after a trip to Uganda with a friend from church who is still working there. “I was just blown away by Uganda,” he says. “As a society, it is so much more familial and spiritual than we are in the UK. I worked there for a few days and these people who have nothing were stopping and giving me sacks of potatoes [in thanks] which is a fortune for them. There is a morality there which comes naturally. You feel so unbelievably humbled.. And I wanted kids in the UK, especially those who are on a downward spiral of addiction and self-hatred, to experience this.”

Pedley’s charity, J1010, which takes its name from a verse from the Gospel of St John: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”) is already taking shape in the village of Kigazi in South West Uganda, near the border with Congo and Rwanda, a poor rural community of mostly subsistence farmers.

The focus for the charity will be on regular month-long camps — called Turn Them Around Camps (TTA Camps)— which will bring troubled teens and young adults from the UK to the region to immerse them in community work and the Christian faith for four weeks at a time (though Pedley stresses that there is no agenda to convert the young people, “because that is not the way faith works”). This year’s camp will start on July 24 and run until August 23 for eight young people. By 2011, Pedley hopes to be running ten camps a year.

Volunteers will live with local people helping to build desperately needed water tanks, school rooms and medical facilities. Villagers currently have a 2-hour walk to the nearest medical center. “It will be a demanding program,” says Pedley. “Culturally very different — there’s no electricity or running water — but I believe that during the process, the young people will be transformed. What I hope they will get more than anything is self esteem, to know that they can genuinely make a difference and that they are part of a family, a team and not powerless.”

Pedley is excited about the possibilities and future prospects for the Kigazi community. “I’ve got some ideas about solar power, about getting electricity and even the Internet into the village,” he says. “And I would love to import the components for the solar panels and have the men of the village assemble them, create micro-businesses which can be taken into other communities.”

The project, he knows, is daunting. “I have my moments of self-doubt,” he admits. “Not in terms of what I’m doing, but my ability to do a good enough job. But psychologically, I believe in this 100 percent.”