My Father Jackie Ross
My father was Jackie Ross, a minister in Lochcarron, but best known for his work with Blythswood Care, a Christian charity he started with friends in 1966. He led Blythswood through major growth years in the nineties, and continued to be involved with the leadership team until his death in 2001. I don’t hold him up as a magnificent man and a perfect example, because he wasn’t. I write this article in response to an invitation to tell what I learned from my father and how my memories of him help or inspire me to serve Christ.
One message Dad gave was, ‘Time is short and the work is urgent.’ He loved writing letters to Blythswood supporters, appealing for help or thanking them for donations. Sometimes he would quote Jesus speaking to the disciples in John 9:4: ‘I must work the work of him who sent me while it is day, for night is coming, when no man can work.’ Dad believed the time to help was now, because the opportunity would be lost if we didn’t act. That was often true. Doors opened and closed. Dad’s door of opportunity to help closed earlier than we would have wished. In John 9, the disciples wanted to know who to blame for the man being blind from birth. Jesus didn’t apportion blame but told them ‘we must work’. Sometimes, instead of wondering why something is wrong, I need to get on and take the opportunity to do good.
One of the last things Dad said publicly (on a Blythswood video) was that he wanted Blythswood to be an organisation where ‘people would feel free at whatever level to help’. His personal target for Blythswood was not how many people could be helped, or how much aid could be sent, but he wanted to get as many people helping as possible. He didn’t believe there was a Christian in the country who couldn’t help in some way. He enjoyed showing people they could be useful if they would take the opportunity. That is beneficial for me to remember, as the work of the church is helped when people feel able to be involved in the work, whether leading Bible studies, visiting friends, or doing the routine things that make Sunday worship run smoothly.
I remember upsetting Dad. During holidays from college I worked for Blythswood. I loved working in the garage; it was fun, challenging and a break from classrooms. One holiday, however, Dad instructed me to stock up Christian books in charity shops and make the displays more prominent. This didn’t excite me. I told him I thought it was boring and unrewarding. His response made me feel as if I was a crushing disappointment to him. I was a student at Bible college; did I not want to serve God? Could I not see Christian literature as the most exciting tool in the world? Why was I not hoping some broken person would pick up one of these books and read about Christ and find salvation? I changed my attitude.
Many people remember Dad’s driving. My first trip to Romania in a truck started with Dad driving to Manchester to meet drivers who would take it the rest of the way. Five miles out of Lochcarron we were going sideways in a passing place. He got it back. On another occasion, on an icy night, coming through Glencoe in a van, Dad had taken over the driving from someone who was being too cautious for his liking. After a few minutes we were all over the road and it looked like we would be on our side. He said, ‘I’ve lost it, boys’, but he hadn’t; he got it back and kept going. His driving was often exciting, and typical of the way he worked. Financially, at home and at Blythswood, it often felt like we were seconds or pounds away from everything stopping. On occasions there were car crashes and financial problems, but as soon as he could get going again, he’d go as fast as he could. I’m glad he did. Many good things were achieved by keeping going and not giving up.
This attitude was also visible to me in his relationships with people whom he had upset. There could be personality clashes and misunderstandings. He was often rushing between meetings whilst trying to keep contact with others by mobile phone in areas with poor reception. Friendships were stretched and broken, and sometimes it was his fault. He knew that. But he kept going, often trying to get the same people to trust or work with him again. I hope I’ve learned from that. I think one of the things my Dad loved was forgiving and being forgiven. This outlook came from his understanding of what Christ had done for him. As someone who knew he failed Christ often, he felt privileged still to work for and with Christ (‘Surely I am with you always!’). He couldn’t see a reason why he shouldn’t therefore be forgiving, but he seemed to think it would be helpful for everyone if they were able to forgive him too.
People said his work with Blythswood must have affected his preaching. It did, whilst enriching his experiences; yet he must have had less time to prepare sermons. His sermons haven’t been gathered and published on the internet; nobody would hear what they couldn’t read in the commentaries or books his sermon content came from. He counted preaching a privilege. He appealed to the heads and hearts of the people he preached to. He was direct with unbelievers. As a child, my memory of Dad in the pulpit is how he cried as he addressed those who had not come to the Lord’s Supper; looking back, I’d say it was a mixture of fear and frustration. They were heading for hell because they didn’t believe, and seemed unaffected by it. Over the years it’s been pleasing to meet people who believe God used Dad to speak to them in ways which they consider helped them in their Christian experience.
People who knew Dad sometimes say I sound like him and if they closed their eyes they could be listening to him. Their statement is of assistance for me. It tells me I’m not going to be the next international preaching sensation, but I should prepare to preach as passionately and persuasively as I can, and God, who is in sovereign control, will not let his Word return useless or empty, but will accomplish what he desires.
I don’t think a calling to Christian ministry came because Dad inspired me – rather, he expected his children to put service to God as their highest priority. He didn’t so much ask his sons if they were willing to preach, but rather he tested us by telling us a preacher was needed somewhere and which car we should take. Things developed from there. He wasn’t negligent; our first sermons were checked and changed by him (or Mum) before we were let loose with them.
One thing I have been unable to forget is being at a Ross family gathering at which Dad was asked to pray. He prayed the children would be better than their fathers. I remember the rare grunt of agreement from some of the other fathers there. His prayer acknowledged that, as ministers and fathers, they could have done better. It pained Dad that all his brothers were not together in the same denomination after Dad and five other siblings left the Free Presbyterian Church in 1989. I’m sure he still believed it was right to maintain liberty of conscience, and the church he had belonged to was not allowing this. Yet the schism which he was part of, and had believed necessary, never brought a sense of glee; maybe sometimes relief, but mixed with it was sadness at brothers and friends being separated. I trust I have learnt from these difficult times, hopefully to avoid what Dad and his brothers knew as a painful experience; but also, as a pastor in small village communities, I see clearly that splits damage the churches’ witness. And so, when there are opportunities to work and worship together with other local Christians, it’s something I’m glad to be able to do. My own hope is that I might be part of a generation where Christians come together, and from it there would be fruit to the glory of God.
Disappointingly, I have not found a legitimate reason to run trucks as part of my ministry, so I doubt my children will enjoy all the experiences Dad’s wide ministry brought me. In 1975, when Dad was five years into his ministry in Lochcarron, he would have been surprised at the changes ahead. People he prayed for would suddenly be removed or new families would come. A sense of failure was evident when Blythswood Christian Bookshops closed in the 1980s, but followed by surprise at the opening of charity shops with Christian books in the 1990s.
I don’t know the disappointments or the joys ahead, but night is coming, and before it arrives the work must be done. Dad taught me that, and he learned it from Christ. For Dad, night on earth did come, as for Christ, in the sense that time on earth was short. How wonderful to think, because of Christ’s work, Dad’s night was so short. He is now in the city described in Revelation 22:5, where there will be no more night. Dad is in Heaven, not a hero, but perfected and part of the worshipping throng. Perhaps more than memories, thinking of Dad in Heaven, imagining the face he sees, should be my greatest inspiration for serving Christ.
Rev. Jeremy Ross is pastor of the Free Church of Scotland congregation in Poolewe and Aultbea, Ross-shire. This article is taken with permission from the monthly magazine of the Free Church of Scotland, The Record, April 2013 edition.
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