Category Archives: Africa Journey

A Ranger & an Elephant

Elephant at Mana by Marlon du Toit

(Photo by Marlon du Toit – used with permission.)

Anyone that has followed my Nuggets or seen many of my posts and pictures on Face Book can quickly see that I have a long standing love affair with African elephants. Apart from the obvious fact that I was born in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), I lived in an era when the country had not yet been tainted by the trappings of the modern world.
I grew up knowing what it was to see these magnificent animals plus many other African animals, in their natural pristine wild setting. As a teenager and subsequent years I read everything I could get my hands on about the character, personality and habits of Elephants; the more I studied them the more I fell in love with them. It goes without saying that these are unique and highly intelligent animals that continually amaze the naturalists that study them.

This Nugget was passed onto me from a friend, who served in the security forces in Rhodesia. I am sharing it because it is a prime example of the nature and intelligence of African elephants.
The setting of this experience took place when the terrorist war in Rhodesia was ratcheting up; heinous and brutal attacks on innocent farmers, villagers, children and missionaries were being perpetrated by bands of roving terrorists.
As missionaries we had been targeted on several occasions. They were even returning to their own villages and killing their own families. It was a time of carnage, heart-ache and tension for our beloved country. The setting for this account takes place in a wilderness sanctuary called Mana Pools.
To any Rhodesian, this place will evoke warm memories of camping or staying in a lodge with so many species of wild-life moving freely in the bush, within sight of the camps. Mana Pools is well known for its elephant population.
Due to the ever increasing problem with poaching, there was a good Game Ranger contingency that patrolled the Mana Pools area daily. Many patrolled on foot and others patrolled with Land Rovers. One of the Game Rangers; who for the purpose of this account I will call “Boet” (to protect the identity of the family), was assigned the perimeter patrol.
He daily did his forays into the deep bush in his trusty bush scarred Land Rover. He carried a radio for communications with base camp, a high powered rifle and the obligatory canvas water bag; that hung on the front of the vehicle providing a source of cool water.
One day he was in a more remote part of the Reserve and he stopped under the shade of an Acacia tree to eat his sandwiches. The serenity of his resting place was disrupted by the entrance of a rather agitated young bull elephant. It would seem he had parked in this particular spot the elephant used for his afternoon siesta!
Boet gently released the clutch and moved a short distance away where he could observe the elephant in relative safety. He appeared alone; probably a young bull that had been kicked out of the herd as he was getting too big and it was time for him to be separated by the matriarch elephant from the babies. Once he moved the elephant relaxed and stood contentedly; while keeping a wary eye on the human intruder. Finally Boet drove off to finish his rounds and headed back to base camp.

Day after day this scenario was repeated! Boet would park under the tree and within a few minutes, his new found friend would arrive letting him know he needed to move!
Over time the elephant became relaxed and comfortable with this strange smelling machine and its human occupant! So Boet decided to try an experiment and slowly got out of the Land Rover and simply stood still beside it. The first couple of times the elephant became agitated but slowly he relaxed and would stand resting under the shade of the tree with what now was his human companion. Weeks passed and Boet gradually built a trust with the elephant, to the point of tossing him dog biscuits which he downed with relish.
Even though Boet had developed a comfortable relationship with the elephant, he did not try touching him as he did not want him becoming too trusting of humans, for fear he would easily become a poacher’s victim.

One morning he was asked to check an area that was not on his normal patrol route, as there had been some reports of a possible poacher camp. Boet headed out bumping along as he followed the animal trails. He reached the area in question and his keen “bush sense” told him something was wrong. The calls of birds, chirping of crickets…..all normal sounds of the African bush had fallen silent and there was an uneasy air prevailing strong enough to give Boet the goose-bumps.
His eyes scanned the tangled bushes then without warning, all hell broke loose. Boet had actually driven into a camp of a band of terrorists and not poachers, as he was expecting.
Four men came out of the undergrowth with their AK 47 assault rifles blazing; Boet was out gunned and outnumbered! As he tumbled from the Land Rover crawling on his belly to hide behind it, he frantically radioed base camp for help, and then began to fire back knowing that it was highly unlikely help could arrive before these four men took him out. If he was going down he was going to go down with a fight! Bullets were flying and hitting the Land Rover, Boet took a hit in the leg but was determined not to give up when suddenly silence reigned.

What had happened? Why had the terrorists not finished him off?
The shriek of an enraged elephant gave him his answer.
Out of nowhere the elephant that Boet had developed a friendship with, came charging through the bush and straight for the terrorists who dropped their weapons and fled for their lives!
Boet was shaking so hard with his brush with death that it took a few minutes to regain his composure. He pulled off his belt and made a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding, then propped himself up against the land rover hoping the ranger team would arrive soon as he could not defend himself if the terrorists came back.
Then the elephant did a strange thing; instead of continuing to chase the fleeing men, he came back and silently stood right beside the disabled vehicle and his injured human friend. He made no attempt to leave; just standing guard until a Patrol of Rangers arrived. Then silently, the elephant melted into the bush as though he knew his duty to Boet was done.

Why had the elephant come when he did as this was not their normal meeting place?
How did he know his kind human friend was in trouble and badly needed help?
I have no answers to these questions but it shows the amazing level of intelligence of these magnificent animals and the result of a trust that had been forged between the Ranger and a wild elephant. Amazingly Boet never ever encountered his wild friend again.

One thing I have learned in my journey with God is that many times God will meet our immediate need from the most unlikely sources!
He has promised His trusting children Divine protection! An example of this promise is:

Psalm 91:11 (NKJV) “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”

That hot day in the Mana Pools wilderness, God sent an “angel” in the form of an elephant to save Boet from being killed by evil men!

This gives me courage to face my tomorrows no matter how foreboding they appear, for I have a Divine friend who is walking beside me and who is greater than any enemy, or evil plan, that would harm me!
Yes, in today’s world, the “out-look” may be bleak; but I assure you the “up-look” is bright!

Let me close with God’s promise to Joshua of old, which still stands true today.

Joshua 1:9 (NKJV) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

 

Dusty Trails Along the River Bank

Elies on the move by Michael North Imagery

Photographer – Michael North Imagery (Used with permission)

Africa is such a land of contrasts. From barren dry deserts to rain forests; from rich farming land to rugged mountain ranges and rocky canyons; from mighty river courses, like the Zambezi, carving their way through the land to little unnamed streams.
From scrub bush and the grassy plains to untamed areas that soon will be the last refuge for wild animals to roam wild and free.
From modern cities teeming with people to remote primitive villages with its residents living exactly as their ancestors did, hundreds of years before them.

This vast land of contrasts embraces it all with such uniqueness that once you have breathed its air, soaked in the warmth of its sun or walked its trails; you are forever changed. For those of us who have been privileged to live and experience Africa; we carry its sights and sounds with us no matter where we wander and hold its memories close to our hearts.

Many of my readers know that my childhood years were spent growing up on Mission Stations and travelling with my parents to remote villages in the bush; where we spent many idyllic weeks in primitive camping.
This developed a love in me for the bush-veld and a huge appreciation for the wild life we encountered. To the trained eye and ear, the unspoiled bush is alive with the purest life and sounds that have not been touched by the trappings of modern civilization.
These are the memories that have stayed with me through the years. I have spent many hours walking the winding dusty trails created by the feet of countless wild game; the animals that have walked these paths, each leave their own messages to the observant eye!

Elephants are great trail blazers, creating paths through dense bush which eventually will lead the follower to a water source. Elephants have an amazing “internal compass” to search out water even in the driest of seasons. The matriarch will lead the herd of hot and thirsty elephants, sometimes for days in the dry seasons, to a water source with pin-point accuracy. She will do this year after year. This in turn opens a trail for other wild game to follow in their own search for the life giving water of these remote rivers and pools.

Not only do these bush trails lead to the cool refreshing wilderness waters but they provide a place of refuge from the heat of the day in the shade of trees, which have their roots tapped into the life giving water. The trees along the banks of the rivers in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe produce deep shade regardless of the arid conditions in the surrounding area.
I have watched in fascination as silently a herd of elephants will wend their way along the dusty, well-trodden trails to seek the deep shade of these trees during the heat of the day. Mothers will stand guard while the babies of the herd, nurse or sleep in total safety in this place of refuge.
It is a scene etched in my memory that brings back a deep appreciation for the rich heritage I experienced and a reminder of the many lessons I learned. The passage of time may change the environment around me but nothing can rob me of the call of the African bush and its “life lessons” it gave me! Those days that now seem so distant, helped to mold who I am and actually helped to deepen my personal walk with God. In the rugged wildness of the Rhodesian bush I was able to see the Hand of the Creator which only increased my love and devotion for Him!

The Prophet Jeremiah speaks of the individual who is like these trees growing along the river banks.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NKJV) “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”

The prophet Jeremiah was declaring the promise that as we allow our spiritual “roots” to grow deep into the “water of the Word” we will not faint or wither in the harsh heat of life’s trials.

Even the Psalmist David recognized the key to weathering the heat of the battles of life.

Psalm 46:1-4 (NKJV) “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.”

GOD IS OUR REFUGE – “He HIDES us” from the attack of the enemy of our souls.
I have watched as the mother elephants will pull the young calves against them in the middle of the herd at the first sign of danger. So too when the enemy of our soul attacks, he cannot penetrate the impregnable defense that God surrounds his trusting child with.

GOD IS OUR STRENGTH – “He HELPS us”.
The elephant herd will become a force to reckon with if a predator gets too close to their babies.
If these wild “gentle giants” will defend their young which such coordinated ferocity, how much more will God come speedily to the cry of even His weakest child?

There are times in our lives that we need a REFUGE to run to. When the storms are merciless and the battle raging; we sometimes find our strength to fight on waning; it is then we have a place to run to……..our God is our refuge!
This does not mean that we stay hidden though; God is our refuge so that He can HELP us.
This is not just a place of “escape” for the child of God but a place of “rejuvenation”.

When life bombards us with events that overwhelm us, we seek God’s place of refuge where we will receive strength, courage and wisdom which empowers us to return to the thick of the battle with fresh resolve!
With God as our refuge we have nothing to fear in these troubled times. When we are firmly planted in the Word of God and surrounded by His impregnable love, we will be able to withstand the fiercest winds of adversity. Our confidence and strength lies in the creator of the Universe to keep us safe, despite the heat of adversity!

Learn the lessons from the trails in the African bush!
No matter what you are facing today, focus on the promise that God is your REFUGE and STRENGTH and He will help you weather your storms and times of testing!
Let me close with the beautiful words of this inspiring hymn:

TIL THE STORM PASSES BY, (songwriter THOMAS MOSIE LISTER)

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face
While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place
‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry
Keep me safe till the storm passes by

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe till the storm passes by

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try
For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies

When the long night has ended and the storms come no more
Let me stand in Thy presence on the bright peaceful shore
In that land where the tempest, never comes, Lord, may I
Dwell with Thee when the storm passes by

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe till the storm passes by

A SUPRISE, A SAILOR AND A SPARROW

 

Family on furlough 1956

(Our family when we returned to the States on furlough in 1956)

A SUPRISE, A SAILOR AND A SPARROW 

It was mid-January 1956 – the Rhodesian summer heat still had not abated. Finding a shady spot to escape the rays of the burning sun was the last thing on my mind though. The anticipated day had finally dawned; our home was a hive of frantic activity as last minute preparations were being made. Suitcases stood lined up at the door like soldiers at attention waiting for their orders. Dad and Mom were making sure travel documents were in order; excitement was running rampant among my sister Suzanne, my brother Henry and me. It was all we could do to contain the pent up emotions of anticipation which we had kept bottled up for several weeks now. The minutes were counting down………finally……….we were about to take our very first plane trip! It was going to be a long “first plane” trip, as our family was flying back to America for our missionary furlough. It had been over seven years since our feet had touched American soil. My grandmother had hoped that we could arrive in time to celebrate Christmas with her, in the snowy winter wonderland of northern Maine. This was not possible though as we had to wait for the newest member of the “Wilson children” to make her appearance. Carolyn was born on December 15, so our return to the States had to be delayed until she was at least four weeks old! Our excitement about our pending trip was heightened by the fact that none of the “kin” in the States knew that our family had grown from four children to five! We would be arriving with A PRECIOUS “SURPRISE PACKAGE”!

 

Our flight from Salisbury (now called Harare) was on a small Douglas Dakota DC3 that had two propellers; it rattled and shook like a disintegrating cement mixer; which was rather disconcerting to this 11 year-old who had never flown before. I was convinced the plane was going to implode into a thousand pieces mid-air! We landed in Nairobi and boarded a “big plane”. This time it was a plane with four propellers…..we were moving up in the world! The family was spread across the aisle and I ended up being seated beside a sailor who quickly sensed a very scared child that needed re-assuring. It did not take the sailor very long to figure out that we were a missionary family returning to “civilization and US soil” after many years of primitive living in Rhodesia. It was a long overnight flight from Nairobi, Kenya to Boston, with several re-fueling stops on the way!

 

My “sailor friend” soon became my hero as he regaled me with amazing tales of exploits that fired up my imagination until sleep finally overcame me. It seemed like we were flying into a never ending night but finally the clouds below us began to become tinged with the scarlet colors of the morning sunrise. Peeking out the window I watched in awe as the sun began to paint glorious colors across the horizon, announcing the arrival of dawn and a new day. Then the crackle of the squawky intercom intruded upon my absorption of the beautiful scene unfolding before my eyes; it was the voice of the pilot announcing that we were starting our descent to land at Boston. He also announced that there had been a bad snowstorm and that the temperatures were in the single digits Fahrenheit! The family only had light jackets to wear as a mere 21 hours earlier, we were sweltering in 98 degree temperatures! Relatives that were meeting us at the airport had been instructed to bring winter coats for all of us, which they were holding in their waiting arms.

 

For some reason the only member of our family who did NOT even have a light jacket to wear, was me! All I had was a light sweater. The plane taxied to a stop quite a distance from the building, which meant a dash across the runway in the frigid whipping New England winter’s wind. When the sailor realized that I did not even have a jacket, he turned to my Dad and insisted that he put his winter uniform coat on me; assuring Dad that he was dressed warm enough and was accustomed to cold temperatures. Slipping his HUGE coat on me, my new found friend engulfed his large hand in mine; helped me negotiate the steep stairs from the plane to the ground. Then continuing to hold tightly to my small hand, we walked as fast as my legs could carry me, while he used his own body to shield me from the icy buffeting wind, until we reached the inviting warmth of the terminal building and the waiting arms of American “kin”!

 

He and I must have made quite a picture crossing that airport runway…..his coat with all of its military patches displayed with pride, completely enveloped my small body, reaching almost to the ground, while beside me walked a tall sailor in full military dress minus his coat, compassionately making sure his small charge would not freeze in the harsh wind.

 

What a picture this sailor made of a perfect example of how much God cares for you and me!

 

Jesus spoke of this very truth: Matthew 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

 

Did you ever wonder how God could possibly know every living person on the earth? It is pretty mind-boggling; there are billions of people in the world, and the Bible says that God knows everything there is to know about every one of us!

 

We might consider our lives insignificant in the global scheme of things, but Jesus would heartily disagree. In fact, in Mathew 10 Jesus made a point of showing the disciples just how intimately their Father knew them. He used the picture of tiny weak, sparrows, their life span so short, that no one even notices when it’s over…….but God does.

 

God is more than capable of loving each and every person he has created.

 

In case His disciples still didn’t understand His teaching, Jesus went on and explained that God even knows the number of hairs on our heads. The truth is…………. God knows us better than we know ourselves!

 

God doesn’t see us as a massive crowd; he sees and loves EACH of us INDIVIDUALLY. The disciples were about to go out into a hostile world. They would deal with dangerous, evil people. They would be mocked and threatened; they would even be face-to-face with demons. Jesus wanted to assure them that their heavenly Father was in control, that He loved each one of them, and that He was watching over them.

 

THIS PROMISE IS FOR YOU AND ME TODAY! Don’t ever assume you are just one of the crowd or that God isn’t intimately acquainted with your life.

 

We are precious to God…………. He knows everything about us………He loves us more than we can even begin to comprehend…………He will do whatever is best for us………… So we can trust him with our life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Integrity Challenged

AFRICAN hut

A typical hut in an African Village

Our house in Hartley, Rhodesia was a hive of activity as Glyn prepared to take a trip to the very remote village of Sahai in the Gokwe Tribal Trust land. It was late September 1970, the dry season still had its grip on the parched land; but it was the best time to travel to this remote area, as roads to it were nonexistent. I would not be accompanying him on this trip as it was going to be a rough journey nd I was expecting our first son.

Earlier in the month at our Quarterly conference an elder who ministered in the Gokwe area came to Glyn saying that the villagers in Sahai had expressed to him that a missionary had never visited their village. They asked if the “Mfundisi” (missionary) would come, visit and teach them about his God. During the meeting Glyn shared with the African ministers present, his plans to visit this unreached village. Immediately three ministers indicated they wanted to accompany him. Pastor Chigabadzira, Pastor Mpokatera and Pastor Chakanuka would travel with Glyn along with Richard Llongwe who lived with us and helped us where ever he could.

The Daihatsu truck was loaded to the max with everything the men would need for the journey as there would not be any convenience stores or petrol (gas) stations once they left the small town of Gokwe Center. The road deteriorated fast and eventually was nothing but a dusty, bone rattling, bush track. At one point they came to a dry river bed that was very sandy and it would be easy for the truck to become stuck. So they lightened the load by all the men getting out except for Glyn; then he gingerly drove across the river bed picking his way between deep sand and river washed rocks.

After they crossed the river they encountered groups of people walking; women with babies on their backs and loads on their heads and men carrying bundles of blankets. They stopped and asked where the people were going and discovered that the word had spread that the white Mfundisi was going to visit Sahai and teach about his God!

Finally after a very long exhausting day the village came into view. Mud huts with thatched roofs were dotted in a haphazard fashion across the landscape. The trees consisted of scrub bush, what little grass was left was dry and brown. Scrawny dogs started barking setting up the alarm that visitors had arrived. Glyn subsequently discovered that this village had only ever been visited by a white man forty years before; when a District Commissioner had visited. So anyone younger than 40 to 45 years old did not even know what a white man looked like! The children that had been playing in the dirt outside the huts ran in terror when Glyn got out of the truck. He must have seemed like a ghost to them.

It wasn’t very long and Chief Nenynka along with his counsel of elders arrived to welcome the “Mfundisi” and the three African Pastors. Once the customary greetings were completed the Chief explained that two huts had been prepared for the guests. One hut would accommodate the three African Pastors and the other was for Glyn to sleep in. Richard would make his bed on the back of the truck to protect their supplies.
The smell of the evening fires filled the air as the villagers prepared their evening meal. Great anticipation filled the air, as the Chief had declared that the whole village would gather that evening and listen to the Mfundisi tell them about his God.

As dusk began to fall a large bonfire was started in an open area; a few chairs were put out for the Chief, his councilmen and the visitors. The rest of the villagers brought grass mats and sat on the ground. Richard lit a hurricane lantern and brought it to Glyn so he would have a semblance of light to read the scriptures. All eyes were riveted on him as he began to unfold the simple truth of the Gospel message.

At one point while Glyn was preaching a scorpion ran out of the shadows, attracted by the flickering of the fire. Without hesitation it plunged straight into the fire. The villagers were so mesmerized by Glyn’s explanation about Jesus who loved them enough to die for them, that they did not stir when the scorpion rushed to its sudden death. These villagers were accustomed to bondage and fear of their heathen Gods; now to be told that they could worship a God who forgives and loves them unconditionally was hard to comprehend.
The night was growing late so Pastor Mpokatera announced that they should all go to their huts and think deeply what they heard; the discussion would continue in the morning.

Glyn was bone weary and was more than ready to crawl into his sleeping bag in the hut. Richard had kindly put the hurricane lantern on a bare table in the mud hut for Glyn. Before settling down for the night Glyn decided to make sure Richard was comfortable. As he stepped outside he noticed an African woman sitting on the ground beside the door of his hut. He greeted her and asked what she wanted but she simply dropped her head and remained quiet. Thinking she did not understand him, he asked Richard why she was there. Richard smiled and simple said, “Mfundisi it is this people’s custom to supply an important visitor with a woman for the night, to provide for his needs!” The reality of the situation dawned on Glyn; he was walking a fine line of offending the Chief by not accepting this “so-called honor” yet on the other hand he was not about to compromise his convictions and his relationship with the Lord; let alone his red-headed wife!

He walked over to the hut where the three African Pastors were sleeping; the four men discussed the best way to handle the situation. Pastor Mpokatera was the most fluent in the dialect, he would go tell the woman her services were not needed. Then he would go to the Chief’s hut and explain to him as diplomatically as possible that the Mfundisi appreciated Chief Nenynka honor; but this was not part of the Mfundisi’s custom and he needed to follow the ways of his own people and his God. Thankfully the Chief graciously understood and the matter was closed!

The next morning a great meeting was held, the truth of the Gospel was shared and many indicated they wanted to follow Jesus and his teachings, turning away from their heathen gods. The visit to this remote village had borne fruit and a new church in that village was birthed.

There is a lesson each one of us can take from this experience Glyn had. As children of God who love and serve Him, the one thing we need to guard and protect with all our strength is our integrity. If we lose our integrity by giving into temptation we will become like that scorpion, burned by the flame of selfish desires.

King David was known as the “a man after God’s own heart” but because of selfish choices he was denied the privilege of building the temple. He paid a high consequence for indulging himself in his own desires.
My challenge to my readers today is the time has come that those who love and serve God to stand tall and not be ashamed to be accounted as a righteous individual in a debased and immoral generation!

The Apostle Paul teaches this principle in Romans 1:16-17 (NKJV)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Water of Life

Elies on the move by Michael North Imagery

Photographer – Michael North Imagery (Used with permission)

One of the amazing things about the African bush is the symphony of sounds that are carried on the warm breezes during the course of the day and the night. The bush is never truly silent. Each insect, bird or animal has a distinctive musical signature. To those who have had the privilege of spending extended periods of time in the bush, quickly learn to recognize the “music of the heart of Africa” and the can identify its source. The bird calls are prolific, each one with a unique call. Animals both large and small have vocalization among themselves which communicate a variety of emotions that they are experiencing; from fear to contentment.
Throughout the uninhabited bush there are areas where pools of water collect during the rainy season and slowly shrink, eventually drying up at the height of the dry season. These areas are known as “salt pans” and the animals instinctively know how to find them to quench their thirst. It is not uncommon to see a whole spectrum of wild life mingle together around a salt pan as they satiate their thirst.

We have sat in the dubious security of a vehicle or up in a man-made viewing platform near a salt pan for many a pleasant hour. Our presence is not hidden from the animals as they all have a keen sense of smell. As long as we are still and quiet all is well as we do not pose a threat to them. We would sit drinking in the picturesque scene unfolding before us, listening to the distinguishing vocalization of the animals as they intermingled at the water’s edge. In a tree close by the call of the Grey Lourie; more commonly known as the “Go-away bird”; sounded the alarm of our presence. This bird’s call sounds as though he or she is saying “go-away”; to the hearer it instantly symbolizes the wonders of the Rhodesian bush.
A small herd of Impala hesitantly stepped out from the shelter of the scraggy bush and walked carefully to the water’s edge; ever alert even while drinking. Next a mother Warthog with 5 noisy squealing piglets came scampering across the dry sandy approach to the water. Across the salt pan two giraffe made quite the comical site with their front legs spread wide so their long neck could reach the water. Lurking under the surface of the muddy water was a veracious killer; a crocodile, just waiting for an opportunity to grab an animal that was not vigilant. Life in the bush can be cruel, survival of the fittest was lived out daily; but this was very much part of the natural rhythms of life.

Something to the side of our position caught our attention which caused us to hold our breath. As silently as the falling of the morning dew, a herd of elephant had moved within a few yards of where we were seated. It was mind boggling that such large animals could approach us so quietly that we were totally unaware of their presence until they moved into our line of vision. No wonder we love to call them “gentle giants”! They made their way confidently to the salt pan, they feared no enemies. The young elephants entertained us with their antics splashing with gay abandon as they played in the cooling water. Mothers would corral their little ones which strayed too far with gentle rumblings and nudges with their trunks.

Suddenly an eerie silence invaded the scene before us, not even the smallest bird was chirping. What had happened to change the tranquil scene that we were soaking in?
The animals showed their apprehension with every muscle ready for flight, except the elephants. The matriarch of the herd spun around with agility belying her bulk, letting out a powerful shriek while shaking her head. Instantly the herd closed ranks behind her putting the young ones in the center and out of harm’s way. The subject of her ire was the arrival of four lionesses either on the hunt or simply wanting a drink! Smaller animals took the opportunity to flee to the safety of the bush while the elephant Matriarch challenged the lionesses’ right to the salt pan. There was a few minutes of a stand-off but in this case “might was right” and the lions turned and sauntered back into the bush leaving the elephants the victors.
The haunting call of a fish eagle echoing across the valley reminded us that the sun was soon going to be setting; so reluctantly we headed back to “our world” carrying the sights and sounds of the unspoiled Rhodesian veld, at its best. We had a rich heritage that we carry in our hearts no matter where our feet take us!

The refreshment of the life giving waters of the salt pans in Rhodesia reminds me of the account in John 4 of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well. Now I am sure my readers are scratching their heads and thinking this a quantum leap on my part! Hold steady and follow my line of thinking!
In this passage of scripture we read the account of a Samaritan woman if questionable repute arriving at the well to draw water. To her chagrin she finds a Jewish man sitting at the well that breaks all cultural rules and asks her to draw some water for him to drink. This request from Jesus engages the woman in a conversation and this is where my picture of the Salt Pan comes into play!

You see thirsty animals had to make daily trips to the Salt Pan to drink from its quenching water. They needed that water so survive but it required returning daily.
So too, this Samaritan woman had to make daily trips to the well to draw water as its ability to quench her thirst was limited; it did not last forever.

Jesus explained this principal to the woman and then went on to give her an amazing promise:

John 4:13-14 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

The animals visiting the Salt Pan would never have the opportunity that the woman of Samaria had offered to her. Jesus was going beyond satisfying the physical thirst and offering the woman an eternal spring that would quench her spiritual thirst and lead her to everlasting life!

Are you tired of the chaos of life and THIRSTY for peace and security? Then drink deeply from the spring that the Lord makes freely available to weary mankind. That divine spring leads to everlasting life and peace.

God is not Mocked

Donna-Mae @ 3 months

(Our “miracle” baby girl)

One of the biggest challenges as missionaries in Rhodesia, Africa was combating the ingrained ancestral belief of heathen gods and heathen practices. Second only to the power wielded by the village Chief was the resident witchdoctor. He, or in some cases she, held the villagers in a vice-grip claw of fear and dread. So many of the heathen rituals concocted and practiced by them, were steeped in superstition and brooding darkness. Their charms, amulets, blood sacrifices, all represented a deeply imbedded belief system of constantly needing to appease the many evil spirits they worshipped, yet never succeeding.
Frequently when heathen villagers understood the one and only True God and turned away from their heather practices to follow the Lord; the witchdoctors became incensed with us missionaries and our lay preachers. It was not long before we became aware of something insidious raising its ugly head among our African congregations. The village witchdoctor had been replaced by “self-proclaimed prophets” who were nothing but charlatans preying on the deeply ingrained fear of mystical proclamations. They were nothing but false Pentecostal witchdoctors wreaking havoc among the new believers and sowing seeds of confusion and discord.
This resulted in us having to take a firm stand against these individuals both through Biblical preaching, teaching and when necessary publicly disciplining them. Naturally we became as unpopular with them as we were with the village witchdoctors, as we were diluting their power in the local church. Several of these men “prophesied” to the people that it was time the missionary was taught a lesson and they would prove that their power was greater than the missionary’s God!

When the time came to hold our next quarterly District conference, the word of the “challenge” the “prophets” had made, had spread like wild fire through our District.
Our African Pastors along with lay pastors, their families and many members from the 150 congregations that fell under our care, arrived by a variety of ways of transportation. Some walked miles, others on bicycles; many on rickety busses and a few with vehicles. They set up camp in the church yard, each family with a little camp-fire where they would cook and sleep.
On the Saturday of the conference Glyn would hold a business meeting with the Pastors, elders and deacons, to take care of District business in the humble church building. I gathered the rest of the crowd outside, all seated on the dry dusty soil, while I preached the Word. At this particular Conference I was expecting our third child and this probably would be the last trip the doctor would allow me to take before the baby arrived. The people were excited about the arrival of this baby as we had tragically lost our second baby the day he was born and they believed that God was blessing us again. I did not attend the evening preaching service as I was weary and Glyn felt I should rest and gain strength for our big final communion service on Sunday.
We had noticed on Saturday that there seemed to be a brooding attitude of tension festering under the surface; like a bubbling cauldron ready to spew its venomous contents upon the congregation.
During the worship time that evening a “self-proclaimed prophet”; that Glyn had dealt with on numerous occasions; rose to his feet with a defiant challenge to Glyn’s leadership and a proclamation against me. He told the stunned congregation that God had revealed to him that I was “with child”! May I say that this obviously was not a divine revelation, as all you had to do was look at me to see that very soon a baby was to be born!
He then went on to say that the baby I was carrying was dying and unless I went to a particular place of “his choosing” for three days of prayer I would deliver a dead child. When he was finished, it was as though a bolt of lightning had paralyzed the congregation; the silence was tangible and the faces registered abject terror.
Glyn broke the silence by instructing the man to sit down and then told the stunned congregation that God would prove He was more powerful than this false prophet’s curse. He added that we were not going to follow his instructions but we were going to trust God.
He instructed them not to fear but to wait and see God’s power revealed when a healthy baby was born!

The time came for the next quarterly District conference and the crowd had grown in size as the people wanted to see with their own eyes who was stronger; the God of the missionary or the curse of the prophet. Our daughter was barely three weeks old at the time; on the final service of the conference, we brought our “little miracle” with us and I sat on the platform beside Glyn with our baby daughter in a carry-cot beside me. Just before it was time to serve communion Glyn called for the “prophet” to stand up, then he turned and gently picked up our sleeping baby and held her up for all to see.
He did not have to lecture, ridicule or rebuke as the healthy living child in his arms, was all the proof that was needed to strip this charlatan of his power over the people!
God had shown Himself, all powerful in this situation and a valuable lesson was visually learned that God is not mocked by man’s feeble attempts to thwart His power.

This situation was living proof of a promise in God’s Word:

Isaiah 54:17 (NKJV) “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is from Me,” says the LORD.

No matter what our situation might be or the heart-ache we might carry; the foundation of our faith must be the UNSHAKEABLE belief that God will see us through since He knows how to frustrate every evil design that the enemy of our soul would plot against us!

 

A Mother’s Day Tribute to a Pioneer Mother

Gobatema-Mom giving medical care toAfrican baby -1947

(My mother, Florence Wilson, treating a baby with burns at Gobatema Mission, S. Rhodesia, Africa 1939)

The heritage a family passes on from one generation to another is not to be taken lightly. The investment that we pour into our children as parents and grandparents has life long lasting effects on the generation that follows. We do make a difference in the lives of our extended family whether we realize it or not.  Only once an individual looks back, do they see the fingerprints of their parents and grandparents that molded their character. I consider that I have the richest heritage anyone could ask for and I am so deeply thankful for the values and life lessons my parents instilled in me from a small child.

My parents, Willard and Florence Wilson left Mars Hill, Maine in 1939 with their one-year-old son, Lawrence, to sail to Africa in answer to God’s calling to serve as missionaries in Southern Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe). They sailed from St. John, New Brunswick, Canada arriving in Cape Town, South Africa in May 1939. Then they had an arduous 1,500 mile journey inland, to reach Gobatema Mission in Southern Rhodesia.

It must have been a torturous journey negotiating dirt roads, crossing low level bridges or dry river beds plus, protecting themselves and their infant son from wild animals when they stopped to rest at night.  Added to the challenges of the primitive conditions they were traveling under, they also were dealing with a massive climate adjustment.  When they sailed from the harbor in St. John’s it was 35 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The deeper they journey inland to Southern Rhodesia the more they became aware of the stifling tropical heat. I can only imagine what it must have been like for my young mother trying to be strong, brave and committed to stand at the side of her husband while caring for a year-old baby in a totally strange land; where they could not even speak the language of the local people!

It took determination and grit born out of a pioneer upbringing in Houlton, Maine along with a passion to carry the good news of the Gospel to unreached tribes that kept my mother focused on her goal.

My parents finally arrived at the very small town of Gwanda. They were met by my Dad’s elder brother, Bill Wilson, who would lead them to the very isolated and remote Mission. Once they left Gwanda and headed into the bush what vestige of civilization there was, quickly disappeared. Not even a road lay before them; just a bush track. The last leg of the long journey was negotiating the semi dry Tuli River which had no bridge or even a cement causeway. Gobatema Mission was built on a kopjie (rocky hill) which was about 4 miles from the Tuli River as the crow flies. This was a very arid part of Southern Rhodesian low-veld, with scrub bush, rocky outcrops and was a haven for snakes and leopards along with a variety of assorted wild game.

Reflecting on what must have been going to through my mother’s mind and heart when they finally arrived at a derelict Mission compound; is a very poignant memory for me. Mud huts and a couple of apologies for badly neglected brick houses stood forlornly as a welcome to their tired eyes and travel worn bodies. There was no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing, not even a phone line to connect them to the outside world. All water had to be hauled up from the Tuli River in 50 gallon rusty drums, by a span of oxen pulling the drums on a wooden skid. The reality of the fact that when the Tuli River was flooded there would be several months that they would be totally cut off from civilization, food supplies along with basic necessities, did not escape my mother’s thinking process! She had to cook the family meals in the terrible heat over a battered wood stove that probably was “older than dirt”! There was no turning back; this was the place they had chosen to spread the gospel to the unreached tribes.

Yes, this was to be home for my young mother and she was determined to turn it into place where love shone brightly in the midst of a harsh environment.  Somehow, she found the inner strength to produce delicious meals on a meager supply of food yet we never went hungry! Little touches of “home” could be seen in the ram-shackled mission house with handmade doilies on the rough wooden table and hand sewn curtains adding an air of domesticity.

Subsequent days were spent repairing the main mission house to make it safe from, snakes, scorpions and even the leopards that visited the compound in the dark of the night. My parents set about reaching out to the villages dotted in the bush; building trust by sharing salt, maze meal and also giving some medical help to the sick. Slowly the villagers began to venture up to the Mission compound to attend church under a tree.

Mom quickly organized a weekly meeting for women, teaching them child care, knitting, crocheting skills and home remedies along with sharing the love of God. The daily rhythm of life at the Mission began to give a sense of “belonging” and purpose for the privations the family experienced.

Another challenge mom faced was to be the “nurse” to all and sundry including the missionary staff. She delivered babies in dirty smoky huts under far from sterile conditions; but many times, her skill made the difference between life and death for the babies she helped to bring into the world.  The day one of the missionary men was badly mauled by a leopard, Mom stayed at his side through the night attending to his wounds until they were able to transport him to the Hospital in Bulawayo the next morning.

The next Wilson child to come along was my sister Suzanne.  Now Mom had two children to keep up with along with her busy schedule. Suzanne was a placid child and won the hearts of the African staff, so Mom was never bereft of willing helpers to keep an eye on the newest addition to the missionary family. Even though Suzanne was an easy-going baby when she was a toddler she became quite the escape artist when Mom would put her in her play pen.

Then the challenge to Mom’s true grit arrived when a feisty red-headed baby girl was born – according to the tales she told me I tested all her motherly skills!

Yes, I was that little red-headed girl who spent the longest time on this Mission and became either my Dad’s “shadow” or walked with Mom and African staff members on the long treks into the villages.

Once Lawrence and Suzanne were old enough for school they were sent to Bulawayo to a government Boarding school. I know this must have been a terrible wrench on my mother’s heart. This left me alone with my siblings away for months at a time, so the “mystery of the bush” became my world to explore and fall in love with. I know I taxed my Mom’s patience to the limit as I was fearless and curious which was a bad combination when living in the bush!  On more than one occasion she would catch me teasing a poisonous snake with a stick or trying to dig out a scorpion from its hiding place under a rock! These early years of my life seeing my parents pour their lives into African lives became the foundation in my own heart that grew into a love for the people of Rhodesia. Subsequently my husband and I followed in their footsteps as missionaries ourselves in Rhodesia.

Life was far from easy; added to that the family dealt with bouts of malaria, dysentery, scarlet fever and other tropical infections. Yet this did not deter my parents to keep forging ahead.

Mom’s dedication to the work God had called her to, burned deep in her heart and was not just “talk” but a living reality that radiated strongly within her. Both she and Dad were wonderful examples to my siblings and me. From a young age, they instilled in us the teachings of the Word and values that have stood with us down through the years.

Seven years passed before another sibling made his appearance. By this time, the family had transferred to Rufaro Mission which wasn’t in any better condition than Gobatema Mission. This did not daunt Mom and she took on her duties with a joyful heart.  Our brother Henry was born at this mission and was thoroughly doted on by Suzanne and me. Now Mom had four children to nurture and love while she faced the challenges of once again living under primitive conditions. Serving God was her greatest joy and she instilled that same love in the hearts of her children. Whatever living as a pioneer missionary in a third world country threw at her, she took in her stride with grace and determination.

God had one more surprise for Mom with the birth of my younger sister, Carolyn, five years later. She was the baby and by us older siblings’ opinion, she was spoiled thoroughly. Sibling rivalry was alive and well even in a missionary family. By now Dad had become the District Superintendent and we had moved to Salisbury. We thought we had died and gone to heaven! We had a home with electricity, indoor plumbing and black top roads to drive on!

Fifteen years ago, this week Mom slipped earth’s gravity in answer to a call from the Lord she loved and served. Her work on earth was done and it was time to move to her eternal home.

Both Dad and Mom took wings before I could make it to their sides to say my earthly good-byes but what a glorious reunion awaits me at the family gathering around the Throne of God.

I treasure my memories of my godly parents deep in my heart and during days of trial I can hear their voices cheering me on to finish strong.