“West Africa used to be called the white man’s grave,” says Ross Jones, “because the early missionaries that went there, a lot of them didn’t make it home.” In his 50 years in the mission field, he’s had the Bible translated for the Boko people of the Benin Republic, and made a massive difference in their lives. But he’s also had some close scrapes with death himself.
Ross and his wife suffered a variety of diseases while living in the Benin Republic – dysentery, eye infections, and parasitic worms. But talking to Neil Johnson on Vision’s 20Twenty, Ross told how when he faced his worst trial, doctors had no idea what was happening to him.
“I just woke up one morning, and I was having my breakfast, and I found that I was having difficulty swallowing the porridge, which was unusual. And then I noticed that when I tried to look to the side, to the left or the right, the muscles in my eyes weren’t working, and I had to really turn my head.”
Ross’ wife called another missionary, who decided to take him to the “local” SIM hospital, 200 kilometres away. “I was there for a week, and my body was getting weaker and weaker all the time. I think when I went there I could still walk, but I couldn’t walk up steps. During that week I lost the ability to talk, and also to go to the toilet.”
The next week, he was evacuated via light aircraft to a hospital in Jos, Nigeria, where they conducted more tests. “I was just lying on the bed, completely paralysed,” he said. “I couldn’t lift my arm up. I couldn’t shake somebody’s hand. They had to feed me through my nose.”
Neil Johnson asked Ross what he was thinking throughout his ordeal, and what he was asking of God. Astonishingly, he replied that he remained faithful and optimistic throughout. The only time he faltered was when the Nigerian hospital director told him that since they couldn’t help him if his heart and lungs failed, they’d decided to evacuate him to London. “And my heart sank at that point, and I think a tear formed in my eye. But apart from that, I was my usual confident self.”
London Doctors thought he had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition where the immune system attacks the nerves following a viral infection. Since this was a teaching hospital, a Doctor took Ross to the classroom to show students a condition they’d rarely get to see. “He took my leg out from under the blanket, and he said I’m going to test his reflexes. I don’t think he’ll have any reflexes for the next six months. He tapped me below the knee, and there was a slight reflex. He immediately put my leg back under the blanket and said ‘sorry. Wrong diagnosis’.”
It took poisons experts to finally solve the mystery of how Ross had become paralysed. “I had a 44 gallon drum with corn in it, and in the tropical climate out there, water had formed on the inside of the drum and gone down. Some of the corn had sprouted and formed mould. I didn’t really think much about it, and I just fed it to the chickens.”
“So their final diagnosis was that my paralysis was the result of me eating chicken that had eaten mouldy grain. They said don’t go doing that again.”
After months of recovery in London, amazingly, Ross went straight back to the Benin Republic to continue his work. He found that in his absence, a witch doctor who lived nearby claimed to have cursed him. “He said I’m putting curses on people, and they’re going to this white man, to his clinic, and he’s giving them medicine and healing them. So he said if this white man’s going to do this to people I’m putting a curse on, I’ll put a curse on him.”
Despite all the hardship and illness he and his family suffered, Ross believes he’s lived “a charmed life”, and he says he’s loved every moment of his decade in the mission field. “It’s just a wonderful feeling when you feel that you’re doing what God wants you to do, and you’re enjoying what you’re doing.”
What advice would Ross give to young people considering mission work? He says when he became a Christian at 22, he wanted to do it “right”, to put everything in God’s hands. “And that’s why I just surrendered my life to him completely, like that. And the result has been wonderful. The Lord has been faithful in everything.”
For more stories of Ross Jones’ trials and achievements, check out his autobiography, Aspires to Lofty Heights, available to buy now.
Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.
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