David Jones and The Madagascar Mission

Very few have heard of one of the most fascinating and thrilling chapters in church history where marvels came to pass in the mysterious island of Madagascar.

The Mission to Madagascar

  1. 1816 In a small college in South Wales, Thomas Philips asked his students who would go to Madagascar.
  2. As students, David Jones (1797-), 19 years old, and his friend Thomas Bevan, 21 years old, stood up together.
  3. This is 24 years since William Carey left.
  4. 1818 As they finished their studies and found wives who were willing to go, they left Wales at 21 and 23 years old.
  5. The boat ride itself was 7 months long.
  6. 1818 Within five months of arriving, David Jones’ young wife whose name is not even recorded passed away with her new baby.
  7. At the same time, David becomes desperately sick.
  8. 1819 Thomas Bevan, his wife, and their new baby arrive in time to find the young wife and her child dead with their teammate very ill.
  9. 31 January, Thomas died. 3 February, his wife and child, leaving David Jones on death’s door as the last remaining member of the team.
  10. They suspected poison perhaps from the slave traders who had threatened the missionaries.
  11. Consider the scenario:
    1. A 21 year old man leaves with his wife, best friend, and his wife.
    1. For 7 months they are on the boat traveling.
    1. Within 6 months of arriving, 5 have died.
    1. David crawls to a boat by which he is able to return to Maritius, 1,000 k’s away.

The land of Madagascar

  1. It is called a part of Africa, but it is completely different.
  2. The people have facial features more like the Indian sub-continent.
  3. They speak one language over the whole island, and it is not in the Bantu family.
  4. Elephants and lions are not found there, and they have no venomous snakes!
  5. The plant and bird life is largely unknown anywhere else on the planet.
  6. 1810 The ruler Radama sells his own people into slavery, but the British compel him to stop the slave trade in 1820.
  7. They feared a god they called the “Enduring Prince”, and every house had idols.
  8. Most of the people were very poor with a reputation for constant lying.
  9. Unlucky days are days the spirits have declared work to be taboo. Breaking this taboo meant death.
  10. Children born on unlucky days were left at the entrance of the cattle yard to be trampled. If the cattle miss the babies, they could live.
  11. Criminals were put to death based on the “Tangena Test.”
    1. The suspect must eat a bowl of rice.
    1. Then he drinks juice made from a nut and banana.
    1. Then he eats 3 pieces of skin from a bird.
    1. Then the witch doctor curses him.
    1. Then he drinks warm water.
    1. If he vomits the pieces from the bird, he is declared innocent regardless of evidence for or against him.
    1. If he does not vomit, he is put to death.
  12. They spoke a language, but no one could write or read Malagasy.

David Jones returns

  1. 1820 At 23 years old, having lost his wife, child, and teammates 2 years earlier, Jones returns to Madagascar.
  2. Immediately, he started a school with only 3 pupils teaching them to read.
  3. 6 months after the school opened, he is joined by a friend from Wales, David Griffiths and then another David Jones—3 David’s!
  4. 1820 Jones translates the book of John into Malagasy!
  5. While less than 24 years old, bereaved, and alone, Jones single-handedly reduced the Malagasy language to writing so that all future people could read the Bible.
  6. The team of missionaries slowly grows as more come and more die.
  7. 1824 King Radama allowed the missionaries to open a school in his house.
  8. Soona network of schools was started so that people could learn to read the Bible.
  9. 1825 The first edition of the NT is finished!
  10. 1826 A printing press arrived, and they began printing portions of the Bible that had been translated.
  11. 1828 The whole Bible is translated and revised twice.
  12. 1828 From the beginning with three children, 32 schools with 4,000 pupils were teaching reading and Bible.
  13. While beginning schools, the missionaries began preaching points which at first were ignored.
  14. The people were so sinful that when they heard about the demands of Jesus Christ, they quickly gave up any interest.
  15. On top of teaching reading and Christianity, the schools also taught carpentry, building, and other trades.
  16. King Radama was thrilled with the development that Christianity was bringing to his people.
  17. 1828 But he died at only 36 years old having been a constant friend to the missionaries.
  18. Though he never laid hold of Christ, God used this king
    1. to sign a policy with the British ending the slave trade,
    1. to end infanticide, and
    1. to expose the witch doctors for their foolishness.

An evil queen

  1. 1828 When David Jones was 31, having worked there for 9 years, a new queen took power, Ranavalona.
  2. She had been the wife of Radama, but she conspired to murder the rightful king, 17-year old, Rakotobe.
  3. Demons controlled this woman who dressed in fashions from Paris, but hated Christianity.
  4. Loving idols and hating reading, she determined to crush any who opposed her.
  5. By deception she arranged for the murder of King Radama’s family.
  6. “She vacillated a great deal, forbidding one day what she permitted the next.” Page 41
  7. Since she closed the schools, the missionaries devoted themselves to translation and printing.
  8. 1828 The government decided that their people did not need schools anymore since the people knew how to read.
  9. In desperation to stay long enough to finish the Bible translation, the missionaries devised a plan to make their presence attractive to the queen.
  10. James Cameron asked for 7 days to learn how to make soap which means of production he would then teach in the schools.
  11. He scoured chemistry books and experimented with woods, ash, fats, and oils.
  12. At the end of 7 days, he presented 2 small bars of soap to the government officials.
  13. “It was largely to the production of these two little bars of soap that the missionaries were allowed to continue their work for several years longer, and to lay deep and firm the foundations of the Malagasy church.” James Sibree, The Madagascar Mission, quoted on page 42.
  14. 1831 12 years after arriving, they baptized 28 people!
  15. A witch doctor named Rainitsiheva had grown wealthy through witchcraft.
  16. At his baptism, he burnt his items of witchcraft, joined the students in the school, and asked to have his name changed to Paul.
  17. 1831 The queen refused the privilege of reading to slaves and banned communion and baptism from some citizens.
  18. 1831 David Jones who had lost his wife and child becomes deadly sick again.
  19. Jones left the country to recover, and died at 44 years old in Mauritius trying to return to Madgascar.
  20. 1832 A government official who opposed Christianity, is converted. But too quickly he began preaching a mixed gospel of idols and Christ.
  21. 1834 The church is 3 years old, the queen has been ruling for 6 years, and now some of the missionaries are expelled.
  22. During this time, the school rooms which were used on Sunday for preaching, were filled on the Lord’s Day, often with people standing outside.
  23. 1834 200 applied for the new members’ class.

Persecution grows

  1. 1835 The queen orders spies to search out the “evil” of the Christians.
  2. These spies made up terrible and silly stories which angered the queen.
  3. So the queen ordered a list of all the houses which believed this teaching.
  4. The royal counselors gave bad testimonies about the Christians.
  5. But one said the Christians were faithful, honest, and hardworking without lying, laziness, or stealing.
  6. 1835 On the 1st of March, baptism, Sunday meetings, and church membership are banned because of the spirits.
  7. The queen gathered a national meeting of men, women, children, and infants.
  8. They were given 7 days to confess and repent of following the new religion.
  9. Whoever did not confess or whoever was informed on before he confessed would be killed.
  10. Many school teachers and others who had received benefits from the mission confessed and left the church.
  11. The missionaries were greatly discouraged to see so many leaving the faith.
  12. A government official mocked the people who ran out of breath to avoid death after singing a hymn that he had heard from them, “I have no fear of death, for Jesus is ever nigh.”
  13. This government worker said he did not think there was one true Christian in the country apart from the Europeans.
  14. But many still persevered meeting with the missionaries in the middle of the night.
  15. Some met privately when no one else could tell the government.
  16. An army general became a Christian when he saw this injustice, and then his wife followed her brave husband though it might mean death.
  17. 1835 9 March, Christianity is banned in every way. Those who have any portion of the Bible or who pray to the Christian God will be put to death.
  18. Most of the missionaries had been ejected, now only 2 remained, but they were not allowed to see any of the Christians.
  19. Without any preaching or churches meeting, the 2 remaining men tried desperately to finish the third revision of the OT and Pilgrim’s Progress.
  20. 1836 Finally, the entire Bible was revised and 70 copies were left with the few hundred believers in Madgascar.
  21. They buried extra copies so that the government would not find them.
  22. With this last gasp, the missionaries left the country as the demons working through the government attempted to destroy Christianity.
  23. 1836 The Malagasy Christians are forced to lean on Scripture, prayer, and secret meetings.
  24. The missionaries said that they commonly asked one another when they met, “Are you praying?”

Believers who suffered

  1. 1837 Rasalama, a young woman and new Christian, was speared to death by the government.
  2. Those who killed were heard saying, “There is surely some charm in the religion of the Christians which takes away the fear of death.”
  3. A large crowd watched her murder including a 22-year old named Rafaralahy.
  4. He quietly went home and began inviting Christians to meet at his house.
  5. Upon his arrest he refused to recant or give the names of other Christians. His body was speared while his Christian wife hid at home.
  6. His wife was arrested and tortured though not giving up the faith.
  7. Two slaves had to flee for their lives, but first they arranged all the financial matters for their unconverted masters so that no one could say they had lied or stolen.
  8. Rafaravavy, a Christian woman who had been sold into slavery wrote to one of the missionaries,

“Health and happiness to you, beloved friend. … I rejoice that [the persecution] has happened to me. It brings to my remembrance Acts 14:22 and 2 Timothy 3:12. … May he enable me to obey the words of Jesus to his disciples, ‘If anyone will come after me, let hi deny himself,’ None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself that I might finish my course with joy. I exhort you not to grieve, for your labor has not been in vain in the Lord. The number of converts is increasing. … The power of God cannot be hindered. … Pray for us—May God open a door for his Word among us, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2.”

  • This same woman was in a house when soldiers approached.
  • Hiding under a bed wrapped in a mat, Rafaravavy waited nearly an hour while the soldiers searched the house.
  • When questioned about her, the other people said, “Which Rafaravavy do you mean?” rather than lie.
  • Ranivo was a beautiful 16 year old girl who became a believer from reading a tract even though Christianity then meant a death sentence.
  • Since she was from the house of the kings, they threatened her with death to make her recant, but she would not turn.
  • From that time period was found a Malagasy Bible very worn and rubbed on its pages from use.
  • During this time, 117 were sent to a life of slavery
  • A pregnant woman delivered her baby the morning she was to be burnt so they threw the baby in before she expired.
  • Malagasy unbelievers who watched said, “The believers prayed as long as they had any life. Then they died. But softly, gently. … And astonished were all the people around that beheld the burning of them there.”


  1. 1849 A man named Andriambelo is converted though he had never met any of the missionaries.
  2. The story of his life sounds like the book of Acts—preaching constantly.
  3. Traveling on Saturday night, preaching in small house churches in village after village, and escaping death by narrow misses everywhere.
  4. 1861 The queen Ranavalona dies and though they hunted for Andriambelo, he survived!
  5. 1862 He is chosen to be the pastor of the largest church.
  6. He baptized nearly 1,000 people refusing to take a salary.
  7. 1904 Andriambleo dies having served the Lord for over 50 years.

Lessons learned from the Church in Madagascar

  1. Their faith was their own, not merely borrowed from missionaries or squeezed into them by convenience.
  2. The missionaries cared for the souls of men and the glory of God not money or comfort or life.
  3. The Holy Spirit can build with a Bible alone a few believers into an enduring body of Christians.
  4. We should expect both growth and persecution.
    1. They endured 26 years of persecution.
    1. They saw thousands converted.
    1. But still the great majority were lost.


Smith, Graeme. Triumph in Death, Evangelical Press, 1994.

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One Response to David Jones and The Madagascar Mission

  1. Tim Cantrell says:

    Amen Seth, love this story!

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