Tag Archives: African Memories

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.”

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Pioneer Faith

Rufaro Mission 1949

(Photo – Rufaro Mission house in 1949)

During the last years of my mother, Florence Wilson’s life, she recorded many of the experiences that our family dealt with in the early years as a missionary family in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Africa. This week I received a “treasured gift” from my eldest sister Suzanne Coetzee. She sent me copies of mother’s hand-written notes that had been transcribed into a typed document. Many of the accounts that she recorded I have already shared in some of my “Nuggets”.

As I poured over her memories, life as a child in Rhodesia became alive in my own heart.  Reading my mother’s own words was such a moving experience and I felt like a window into my own early upbringing had been cracked open bringing profound joy to my soul. I want to share with my readers my mother’s account as our family moved from the very isolated Mission station called Gobatema to what would become my second home on Rufaro Mission.

In 1949, the General Superintendent of the church came up from Johannesburg, South Africa for a visit to Gobatema Mission. While there he told my parents that their Headquarters in South Africa had bought an old farm with farm buildings on it, located in the low-veld area of Southern Rhodesia. He went on to say that as the work at Gobatema was well establish and had several trained missionaries on staff, he felt that my parents were the ones who should go head up this new Mission Station. This place was a full day’s hard journey from Gobatema Mission.

My parents decided to visit the place before making a final decision.

The name of the derelict farm was “Rufaro” which in the Shona language means “joyful” Mother records that upon arriving there they found that the place was “anything but joyful”!

The old house was so dilapidated that the windows were falling out and the bats were flying in and out at will. The floors were dried mud except for one bedroom, that had the broken remnants of cracked cement flooring that heaved up and down when it was walked on. The doors were hanging askew on their hinges. In other words, the apology for a house was unlivable especially for a family with two young girls. My sister Suzanne was 7 years old and I was 5 years old. Our eldest brother, Lawrence would remain at Boarding School in Bulawayo.

The next reality check came when my parents asked where the toilet facilities were. The family was told to take a path outside the kitchen door and wend our way up the rocky hill, where we would find it.  So, the family gingery picked our way up the very rocky path, keeping a sharp eye on each place we stepped because this was a snake’s paradise!  To our horror, we saw a door-less hut with a box over a big gaping hole and another big hole to catch the overflow. Very hygienic, l must say!

Mother decided to cook something to eat as we saw an old wood stove tucked into a huge big chimney in the so called “kitchen”. After much coaxing, plus a lot of prayer and elbow grease, mother got the semblance of a stove going. Leaning into the black hole of the chimney opening, that the stove stood in, was an exercise in futility. Black smoke belched into my mother’s face, filling the kitchen and choking us all. The meal was a total disaster. Right then mother declared that if the family moved to Rufaro then the good wood stove that she cooked on at Gobatema was coming with us!  The Full Gospel church in Mars Hill, Maine had provided enough money to buy a beautiful stove for mother to cook on and she wasn’t about to part with it.

While there was still sufficient light our little family left the depressing house, to explore what lay outside the house. We walked among the beautiful Eucalyptus trees and the cedars that towered alongside the house. Then we walked through a large orchard of fragrant Lemon, Orange and Tangerine trees.

The peace of the place descended on us. What a contrast in beauty to the surroundings of Gobatema Mission, which was barren except for some Mahogany trees and scrub bush. Gobatema house was built on the top of a hill which was nothing but rocks and it was virtually impossible to grow a plant of any kind. So being among so many trees was a touch of Eden to us.

My parents felt a stirring in their hearts that despite its inhospitable living conditions, there was immense potential to make the place become something good and live up to its name Rufaro, meaning “joyful”. The need for teaching and guidance was very evident and they felt strongly that God was leading them there to do a work for Him.

The farm bordered on an African Tribal Trust Land of 54,000 acres. It would be a mission field right on our doorstep!

The family returned Gobatema with a great vision for the new open door. There was much consternation among the missionaries, when Dad announced that we were moving.

Moving to what?

A Derelict house and a rundown farm?

My parents did not look at the present state of things but to the future, to what it could be.

We loaded up the 5-ton Mission truck with our few bits and pieces plus my mother’s most prized possession, the beautiful wood stove!  After a long tedious journey in the big truck, we arrived at dusk, weary and hungry. Having no electricity, we all pitched in to hurriedly unload the necessary things before night settled upon us. There is no twilight in Africa.

Suzanne and I pitched in carrying smaller things that we could manage.  Suddenly the air was pierced by a shriek coming from mother, as she was going up the steps with an armful of things, a snake slithered across in front of her into the long uncut grass.

What a welcome!

The Africans would say that it was a “good omen” for it meant that one of our ancestors had welcomed us to our new home!  Mother’s encounter with the snake shook her up a bit and she comment to Dad: “Is this what I must-expect in this unkempt place? What about our children playing among the trees and through the grass?”  Dad re-assured her that those fears were just the whisperings of the enemy. God had sent us there and He would look after us, no matter what hardships we as a family had to endure.

Mother already knew the condition of the dilapidated stove, so she had prepared a meal that could be eaten cold. We off loaded a small tea wagon and a little oil burning camp stove which was fine for making tea. In the light of a candle we ate our meagre first meal sitting on grass mats placed on the dirt floor.  This new chapter in the life of our family would prove to be a great challenge to our faith and trust in God!

First order of business was to make a suitable place for us to sleep on our first night. Before we even set up our few bits of furniture, the African Teacher that we brought with us, insisted that she first clean the floors. Quickly she ran to the pasture and got a pan of fresh cow manure. Watering it down until she could make a paste out of it, she began to smear it on the floors like wax, after having covered all the floors with the manure paste, she let it dry. Then she swept out the residue. With a big smile, she announced to the family that the floors were now clean! Together we gave thanks to God for bringing us safely to our new home and even gave thanks for the “clean” floors!

It was decided that Suzanne and I would sleep out on the open veranda (porch) until a suitable bedroom could be prepared for us.  There was no money available to make repairs to the house, so our makeshift bedroom, the veranda, became our sleeping quarters for some time and when it rained mother covered us with raincoats!

We two girls were having the adventure of our lives!

The old farm did have a herd of cattle that gave a pint or two of milk each, so Dad decided to save the cream and sell it to get money to repair the house. It proved to be a success and eventually the house began to take on a fresh look as Dad lay cement floors and repaired windows and leaks.

There were old sacking bags draped over the rafters to act like a ceiling and they were rotten causing dust, dirt, along with scorpions and insects to fall through the holes.  It was quickly decided to pull all those rotten sackcloth bags down. The first night after accomplishing this task, mother felt something run across her chest. It was a scorpion. It stung her on her arm before she could kill it. God’s protection was true, as other than a bit of pain mother was not harmed. Obviously by tearing down the sacking we had disturbed a nest of scorpions!

In due course the house was becoming quite livable.

We still did not have a bathroom or toilet. So, Dad built a small toilet, outside the house, near the kitchen. Then he placed a large tank on its roof, built a septic tank and finally installed a flush-able toilet. This was luxury indeed!  No more climbing the hill or being on the alert for snakes, and we had running water too. Mind you, the water had to be carried from the well in a bucket and up a ladder to the roof and poured into the tank but it was a vast improvement from the door-less shack on the side of the rocky hill!

God had proved Himself so faith during these tough times of adjustment but my parents’ faith was strong. They believe that He would continue to work miracles as they poured their hearts into the lives of the people God had called them to minister to.

They “modeled” their faith to us children in such a way, that to this day, their sacrificial examples are imprinted deep within my character.

Do you wonder now why my heart belongs to Africa? Especially after you read the idyllic childhood I had where God’s love and provision reigned supreme in our home.

My heart is full as I look back over the years and am truly humbled that God called me and my husband, Glyn, to follow in the footsteps that our Godly parents walk before us!

The scripture is so true: Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)  “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

 

A Trilogy of Triumph

Ele imitating each other by Michael North Imagery

(Elephant family by Michael North Imagery – used with permission)

A TRILOGY OF TRIUMPH

Our lives are regulated by times and dates. Before the proliferation of electronic gadgets many people carried a small “date minder” with them to write down appointments, dates to remember, birth dates, wedding dates, anniversary dates, dates projects are due, vacation dates plus a whole host of other dates.  Some dates come and go and its events are never thought about again, other dates are etched into our memory down to the most infinitesimal detail never to be forgotten.

My husband and I have many dates we can recall but there is one that stands out like a defining landmark in our lives……..the date is April 20th.

A trilogy of miraculous events over a period of years in our lives; has happened on this date. Let me pick up the thread of these amazing God-ordered events beginning with the birth of our second son, Gary Anthony at the Gatooma Hospital in Rhodesia. (Zimbabwe)

Gary did not live to see his first sunrise and Glyn had the heart wrenching task of burying our infant son all alone.  Then a series of medical errors left us with the diagnosis that we would never be able to have any more children.  Even though this was a huge heart-ache we knew that Lord had our future steps in His Hands and we were content to trust Him.  We focused on our calling as missionaries and poured ourselves into the lives of the African people that God had placed us among. Five years passed; then during a routine checkup my doctor told me that he had some amazing news for me. I was six weeks pregnant and did not even know it!

Our beautiful daughter, God’s gift to us, was born on April 20, 1971 at the Lady Chancellor Maternity Home in Salisbury (Harare) Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).  Our cup of joy was running over and we knew God had intervened and over-ruled the medical mistakes.

Seventeen years passed and April 20, 1993 arrived but instead of celebrating her birthday, Donna-Mae sat with her Dad and many church members of our congregation in the hospital surgery waiting room in Lowville, New York waiting for news about me. Before long the surgeon broke the news to them that I had Cancer and would undergo a Radical Mastectomy the next morning. Not exactly a birthday that any seventeen-year-old wants to have to remember. The prognosis for my length of life, even with treatment was poor. Once again Glyn and I turned to God knowing that “my times” were in His hands.  God was the only One who would make the final decision, whether I would out live the medical prognosis or not. So, I was determined to live each day as a “gift of life” from God.  Friends that was 24 years ago today and God is still giving me breath!

Another twenty years passed and on April 20, 2013; I stood in the delivery room filled with wonder and feeling as though my heart would burst, as I shared with Bruce and our daughter, Donna-Mae, give birth to their third child, also another miraculous gift from God!

As I stood in the delivery room cradling this precious new life in my arms, drinking in the perfect face of our little Owen; the empty void in my heart, that I had carried since our son Gary Anthony had slipped away, was once again filled. I felt like Naomi of old, must have felt when she held Obed in her empty arms and those around declared to her: “….. may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age;……” Ruth 4:15 (NKJV) Our little “buddy” certainly has been a restorer of our old age.

A trilogy of events on April 20th stretched over 37 years; each one standing as a landmark of a miracle of life from God’s abundant mercy to us!

For the child of God, the path that we walk is illuminated by His Divine love which pierces the shadows that continually press in around us. His shining love shepherds our footsteps even in the darkest of hours.  Listen to His promise to us in the words of the Psalmist:

Psalm 32:7-8 (NKJV) “You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.”

What have we to fear? We can walk with confidence in the journey of life as God will lead us. The Lord will surround us with “songs of deliverance” during our deepest times of testing. His very personal interest and care for His children is reflected in the fact that “He guides us with His Eye….”

HE IS NOT AN INATTENTIVE GOD!

I draw intense comfort from this image as it means that God is intricately involved and focused on every facet of my life; NEVER letting me out of His sight!

Yes, these “dates of triumph” are glorious memorial stones reminding us that no matter what our tomorrows hold, we have nothing to fear for our God WILL ensure His best plan for our lives.