My Favourite Stories #32

Jones of Madagascar.

I once read the biographies of about 50 misssioaries of the Christian faith. The following is a summay of my favourite one.

David Jones, they tell me is the most common name in England, but it is hardly the name that springs to the lips when missionaries are mentioned. We are more prone to hear the names of David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and John G Paton. Listen as you will, it is extremely unlikely that the name David Jones will fall upon your ear. I hope, recounting this story will improve the imbalance.

David Jones was Born in 1797 in the Welsh village of Nenaddlwydd in Cardiganshire. There were no supernatural manifestations recorded to mark it as an extrodinary event. There was no dancing in the street or salutes of gunfire. It was just a  perfectly normal event.

Jones first demonstrated he carried the sparks of greatness when at the age of 19 he heard a professor detailing the horrors of the slave trade that was rampant in Africa and its Islands. IN the course of his lecture the professor cried out, “Who will go to Madagascar?”

Jones blurted out “I will!” thus are great decisions made.

To put it bluntly he was not welcomed by the authorities of Madagascar. Slave trading was an extremely profitable venture, and officialdom was immersed in it right up to their necks. Anyone who tried to preach that there was neither black nor white, bond nor free, in Christ, was viewed with the utmost suspicion. After all such a doctrine would upset the whole economy. The upshot was that the missionary, Thomas Bevan his associate, and their wives were refused permission to land – on the grounds that the climate was too bad to allow white missionaries to live there. (Despite the fact that white slave traders and planters survived and prospered.) The two men requested permission to land as ordinary visitors. The officials could think of no reason to stop them, and so on August 18, 1818, the two men stepped ashore on Madacascar.

The two ‘visitors’ began work at once by gaining the ear of an influential chief and commencing a school with the chief’s son as the charter enrolee – one of six pupils. The school became a fixture and so three months after their landing, on November 19, David Jones brought his wife and Baby (born in his absence) from nearby Mauritius, to the shouts of welcome of the Malagasy people. Thomas Bevan also went to Mauritius but remained for his wife’s confinement.

The school and its building went forward with enthusiasm. However, the wet season was at its height and the Malarial mosquito was endemic. The entire Jones family were soon prostrated with the disease – and with it, strangely, went violent abdominal convulsions – poisoning was suspected and tagena, a Malagasy poison, was found in the house, fair testimony that evil forces were trying to destroy the missionary and his work.  The little girl who had brought them so much happiness succumbed to the fever.  At first Mary Jones rallied, but fever struck again, and on December 29 the fevered body of Mary Jones gave up its gallant struggle. David Jones, bereft of wife and child, was alone, the only Christian who cared, in all Madagascar.

A few weeks later, Thomas Bevan arrived back with his wife and baby. They landed knowing nothing of the tragedy that had overwhelmed their friends. In spite of what they learned, they determined to stand by David Jones and fight sin and darkness with the light from the cross. It was a noble decision, but ill-starred. Three days after their arrival, the three Bevans were stricked with fever. On January 24 their baby died, and soon aterward Thomas Bevan’s condition deteriated. A week later he,too, was gone. Three tragic days later Mrs Bevan could fight the fever no longer – and the poisoner, for it was strongly suspected that he was abroad again. She was buried beside her husband and baby.

What now was there to hold David Jones on Madagascar. Of the six who had come, he alone remained. Cold common sense and sane, sober reasoning bade him return to his homeland – at least until he had regained his health. But he saw the lines of Malagasy people, chained together, shuffling their hopeless way to the coast to keep a horrible rendezvous with the slave ships – and he determined to stay. My mind pictures David Jones standing at the five grave sides with one of the camera shots that circles around him standing at gravesides.

Tie and space preclude a complete chronicle of the battles and the impossibilities that confronted the frail missionary . Alone he faced treachery, indifference, ignorance, fever, disease, veiled threat, and open hostility. He saw that education and enlightenment and the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ were the only hope that Madagascar could have. At last, his continual battering on the citadel of ignorance and avarice resulted in te abolition of te slave trade. The door of Christianity was opened and the door of slavery was bolted shut.

David Griffiths and other missionaries came to take the place of Thomas Bevan. Next, he began the mammoth task of reducing the Hova Language to writing, producing an alphabet, and preaching in the native tongue. People flocked to hear him. Next, he applied himself to translating tye Bible, and soon, he and David Griffiths were operating a clumsy printing press.

The church grew, the school grew, and the opposition grew more bitter and more fierce. All manner of restrictions were clapped on him- by native king and British officials. Christ cannot be hidden though. When he is lifted up, He draws all men unto Him, and so Jones found it to be. The light of the cross began to drive back the forces of darkness.

Fever laid its fetid head o David Jones yet again in 1840. Worn ot by years of struggle against repeated bouts of malaria, for which, in those days there was neiter preventative now cure, he died, aged forty-three, his task still unfinished. For Christ he had given everything he had to give. He held back nothing.

Some give a pittance and call it sacrifice, others hold back tithe when times get tough which shows a measure of their faith. The story of David Jones shows that progress comes at great cost. The only things that last in this world are the things we do for God.


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