Dr. Jones and the Spitting Cobra

Spitting Cobra

Spitting Cobra

As a missionary surgeon in the bush in Zambia for over 25 years, my friend Dr. Gordon Jones had a myriad of experiences and stories. He loved sharing those stories, and whenever he came home on furlough to El Dorado I would listen with rapt attention.

Gordon received his training in surgery and tropical medicine in New Orleans at Charity Hospital where I trained and in the Bogalusa Community Medical Center in Bogalusa, LA. We had some mutual friends in the New Orleans medical community, and I could usually get him caught up on the latest news from south Louisiana. Just the fact that he trained at the enormous Charity Hospital prepared him for almost any surgical problem he might encounter in the Zambian bush. I particularly enjoyed having him assist me with my surgical cases during the months he was in El Dorado on furlough. He would show me different techniques he had perfected in his mission hospital, and I could show him newer technologies and techniques that he had not seen.

One of the more serious problems he regularly treated that fortunately I never encountered either in south Louisiana or south Arkansas was that of cobra bites. The cobra was a common reptile in Zambia and a frequent intruder into the homes and huts of the locals. The cobras were searching for mice and small animals and were not usually aggressive until cornered. Gordon said that a major problem for all missionary doctors in Africa was in obtaining cobra anti-venom. They had discovered that an excellent substitute for the anti-venom for successful treatment of cobra bites was to use a stun gun. That initially sounded to me like something out of a science fiction novel, but Gordon insisted that it really worked. Within the first 5 to 10 minutes of an envenomation, if one applied the stun gun to the site of the bite and fired an electric current, Gordon claimed that the electricity neutralized the effect of the toxin and greatly reduced the risk of death or serious complications. I accepted his explanation and was thankful that I didn’t have to learn the use of a stun gun for such a purpose. When Gordon arrived in El Dorado, one of his first activities was to search every hardware store in town and purchase every stun gun in their inventory. He said in the event he could purchase more of these instruments than he could use, he would mail them to some of his missionary colleagues in Africa that were in need of them.

I asked him if he had every had a close encounter with a cobra, and he related the following story. One morning while making his rounds at the hospital, a woman that he knew came running into the hospital breathlessly asking if he could come quickly to her nearby home. She had discovered the cobra in her bedroom that morning and was unable to coax him out of the house. She knew that Dr. Jones kept a 410 shotgun in his home for that express purpose. He went to his nearby home to get the shotgun and several shells and followed her to her home. As they slowly entered her bedroom and very carefully moved some furniture out-of-the-way, the cobra came into view and being threatened, reared his head. Gordon knew he was safe out of striking distance, so he began loading his shotgun. Gordon had a habit displayed by some of us that when he is doing something requiring concentration, he slightly opened his mouth and had his tongue pursed against his lower lip. He said just as he slipped the shell into the chamber, the cobra did what they frequently do. He ejected (spit) venom toward the eyes of his victim! Fortunately (or not), the venom didn’t get into his eyes, but the entire amount went into Gordon’s mouth!! Gordon said, “I began spitting as much of that stuff out of my mouth as I could, and told the woman to run as fast as she could back to the hospital to get the anti-venom. I didn’t know if I needed a shot since I had never treated anyone who had a cobra spit in his mouth!” I asked him 2 questions; “What does cobra venom taste like and what did you do to the cobra?” He said, “It has a nasty salty taste, but I was spitting it out so fast that I didn’t think about the taste! As far as the cobra, I blew his durn head off!!” By the time the woman returned with the anti-venom, Gordon was experiencing no symptoms and decided that the risk of taking the anti-venom was greater that not taking it, so he didn’t inject himself.

I asked Gordon if he had any advice concerning cobra encounters should I ever be in a place where I might spot one. I remember well him saying, “Don’t get close enough to them where they can either strike or spit, but blow their heads off before they have a chance to do either.” I am determined to do as he says.

Dr. John

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A Divine Appointment in South Africa

Luampa Mission Hospital Zambia

Luampa Mission Hospital Staff
Zambia ~ 1970

Dr. Gordon Jones was a well-known missionary surgeon in Zambia for 25 years. I was fortunate to have known and loved him, but I knew about him long before we ever met. He was born and raised in El Dorado but had already left for his graduate and post-graduate work in medicine by the time I got to my teen years. His younger brother Delmas was the same age as my sister Marilyn, and I knew him because he was an excellent football player in high school. Gordon’s younger sister Carolyn was married to James Thomas who was a friend in high school.

When Cathy and I moved to El Dorado in the early 1970’s, James was in the food service business, and it wasn’t long before he opened a restaurant, The Union Station Restaurant which was a particular favorite of our family for Sunday lunch. James and Carolyn would tell us interesting and sometimes funny stories about Gordon, his wife Jeanette and their ministry in Zambia. After hearing about them and their ministry, we made it a top priority to meet them on their next furlough home, and that happened in the late 1970’s.

Gordan and I had an immediate connection because he had received his surgical training in New Orleans where Cathy and I had spent 4 years of our lives while I received my training at Charity Hospital. We had several common friends from those days and were able to reconnect some of those relationships from the past. Over the next 15 years we were able to maintain our relationship with Gordon and Jeanette and were part of their support team with AEF (Africa Evangelical Fellowship). We received regular correspondence from them and learned that their ministry was at the Luampa Mission Hospital in the village of Luampa which is a full day’s auto trip from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. According to Gordon, “Luampa is 300 miles out in the bush and 350 miles from the supermarket in Lusaka.”

Every 4 or 5 years Gordon and Jeanette would be on furlough for 6 months or so and would spend most of that time in El Dorado. He would assist me with some of my surgical cases, and he told me it was invaluable experience for him because he had very little interactions with other surgeons in Luampa. We exchanged many stories and some of them will be the subject of other articles. The photo above is the staff of the hospital taken in the early 1970’s. Dr. Jones is located on the back row next to the end on the right.

The International Congress on Revival is an overseas mission organization which encourages and enables pastors and their wives in numerous countries of the world. Cathy and I were privileged to have been a part of that ministry for over 25 years and traveled together with the team to 7 different countries  ICR had a long-standing relationship with the pastors in South Africa, and a conference was held there annually during the month of July. I had a great desire to go to South Africa, but Cathy preferred that I travel with the other men in the organization because far fewer wives made those conferences than the ones in Eastern Europe. I made plans to attend my first conference in South Africa in July of 1999.

In a previous post I wrote about some of my experiences travelling to that initial conference with John Morgan and Freddie Wilson from El Dorado. On the first day of the conference I was seated at a table positioned toward the front of the conference room. I had not met any of the attendees of the conference at this point and only knew they were from South Africa and several adjoining countries. At the first break in the morning session, I turned around and introduced myself to a couple seated directly behind me; a pastor and his wife who were serving in South Africa. I asked how long he had served as a minister, thinking it must have been 25-30 years since he appeared to be in his late 50’s or early 60’s in age. He said he was a civil engineer for the first 25 years of his professional life, and had only surrendered to vocational ministry in the previous 10 years. He asked me how many trips I had made to South Africa, and I told him this was my first. I said, “In fact, I have only known one man from Africa, and he was a missionary doctor in Zambia for many years.” He asked if he was still there, and I told him unfortunately he had died just 2 years previously, and I had never taken the opportunity to visit and work with him despite being invited many times. When he asked where he worked, I said it was a little known mission hospital in Luampa that had been there since the early 1960’s. He said, “You may not believe this, but in the early 1960’s I was a civil engineer working in Lusaka, Zambia and was given the responsibility as project engineer for building that hospital in Luampa. I know every stone and piece of lumber used in that hospital!” He said he had never met Dr. Gordon Jones but had heard stories later told about what a wonderful man he was and what an impact his life and ministry had been there.

As I turned around in my place to experience the remainder of the conference that morning, I again thanked God He always does such amazing things. The first man I personally meet in South Africa is the one man responsible for building the only hospital in Zambia I  knew anything about and was managed by the only doctor I  knew in all of Africa. My what a God!!

Dr. John

Freddie Wilson Visits Africa

Freddy Wilson in South Africa

Freddie Wilson – South Africa 1999

Freddie Wilson was a well-known personality in the medical community in El Dorado during the years of my medical practice there. I would run into him in various places in both hospitals and initially wasn’t quite sure where he worked, but his primary employment was with Dr. Ken Duzan and Dr. Wayne Elliott who were the pathologists. He had other jobs including working part-time for the Country Club and assisting other physicians in various capacities. Freddie had an outgoing personality with a continuous smile and was quick to express his love and devotion for the Lord Jesus. His cleanly shaven head and his rapid walking pace made him easy to spot at a distance. I loved stopping and having a 3 to 5 minute chat concerning things of the Lord and ministry opportunities. He seemed to always know what was currently happening in town because of his multiple jobs and his genuine love for people. At one point I told him about the International Congress on Revival with which Cathy and I were involved and mentioned that the ministry included South Africa. He said, “some day I would love to go to Africa.”

In the early spring of 1999 I began making plans to attend my first conference in Africa during the month of August and without going into details of how it happened, Freddie obtained the necessary funding to join us. John Morgan, a local businessman and outstanding Bible teacher in El Dorado felt led to go and the three of us traveled together. Early in our planning Freddie asked me, “Now just what am I going to do while I’m in Africa?” I jokingly said, “Freddie, it will be your job to go ahead of us with a machete and make a clear path for all of us white folks to walk.” Freddie quickly said, “Doctor, I ain’t going out in no woods!”

Upon arrival in Johannesburg after a grueling 21 hour flight, we boarded a van driven by an ICR team member for an additional 5 hour trip southeast into the Drakensberg Mountains. This mountain range is in the South African province of Kwazulu-Natal, and is the home of a large number of Zulu villagers. The contrast between the majesty and beauty of the mountains and the poverty of many Zulus is striking.

The conference was held annually in a beautiful lodge called The Drakensberg Sun and upon arrival, we were thrilled to have a few hours to recover before the conference began. The purpose of the conference is to bring South African pastors and their wives to a conference setting and give them 5 days of rest and encouragement in the Lord. All of their expenses are covered by the organization because most of these pastors are serving long hours without  a great deal of compensation. By making investments in the spiritual enrichment of these pastors, the dividends of those investments are multiplied by the number of people they serve in their churches. The speakers for the conference included pastors and lay leaders  from America and some of the South African pastors who also serve with ICR in other parts of the world. In addition to leaders from South Africa, there were present also pastors and wives from surrounding countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.

Freddie was an instant encourager for everyone at the conference because of his outgoing and winsome personality. During the preaching and singing he was verbal and expressive in his hand clapping and amens. When there were breaks in the sessions, Freddie introduced himself to all the attendees and learned as much about them as he could. Several afternoons were free for everyone to relax, rest and visit some of the nearby Zulu villages. The photo above shows Freddie at the home of one of the villagers. The children had flocked to Freddie to get an up-close view of an African-American, and he didn’t disappoint any of them by being aloof or unfriendly.

For the morning session on the 3rd day of the conference, Brother Bill Stafford, the ICR President asked me to prepare a message. He notified me the afternoon before and in order to have the right word and have my heart prepared, I awakened at 2:30 AM to study and prepare. At approximately 3:30 AM while preparing my notes, I heard some muffled sounds from the adjacent room. I knew that it was from Freddie’s room and that he was rooming alone. The sounds got a little louder and more animated and because of the hour I assumed that Freddie was talking long distance by phone to his wife Verna. The conversation continued for at least 30 minutes, and I thought at the time that a conversation for that long from South Africa was going to be very expensive for Freddie.

The next morning at breakfast Freddy joined me at the table, and I asked him how everything was in El Dorado. He said, “I’m sure Verna is doing fine.” “Didn’t you talk to her on the phone last night?” I asked. He looked rather puzzled and said he had not spoken to her since we left. I said, “Freddie, I heard you talking to someone last night, and you were pretty loud.” He laughed and said, “Doctor John, I was praying for your talk this morning and also thanking the Lord that He let me come over here and meet all these wonderful people. I was especially glad, so I got down on the floor and put my nose to the floor!” He told me that often at home when he can’t sleep, he goes into his living room and has a “little talk with the Lord Jesus;” and when he gets real happy, sometimes he talks pretty loud.

Freddie’s prayer touched me so much that I mentioned it to Brother Bill, and when I finished speaking, Brother Bill asked Freddie to give a short testimony of his prayer for the conference. I happened to record his testimony on video, and it still inspires me when I relive the moment. Praise God that “He does exceeding abundantly above anything we can ask or think” and that He allowed me to travel to South Africa with Freddie, John and the ICR team. None of us will ever be the same for what He allowed us to experience.

Dr. John