Let me long-story-short this because it really is a long story.  I’m Canadian.  I was born here but I was raised in central Africa, and I went to high school in Kenya at a school called Rift Valley Academy (RVA).  Yes, I loved it there.  Yes, I got to see and do some cool things.  This was one of them. 

It’s my grade 11 year.  I and a group of my schoolmates are having breakfast on the Maasai Mara which is an enormous game park in Kenya (like 1500 square kms).  It was a part of a week-long excursion called Game Trackers in which we lived in tents and spent our days working with professional guides to study the incredible wildlife of Kenya.  

Each day we would get up before the sun and climb into the back of a large canvas covered truck.  We would drive out onto the savannah and watch it wake up.  Even for a group of kids who had been raised in Africa, it was amazing.  I have a few crystal-clear memories of that trip.  One was sitting in silence as the sun rose over the plain watching a pride of maybe twenty lions walk around our truck and onward as they headed out in search of food.  Another was the night our guides told us we couldn’t use the bathrooms because a lion was wandering in and out of them.  But the one I want to tell you about today involved a herd of elephants. 

As I said, we would get up before the sun and head out.  We were typically in the truck before 6am.  We did this because, once the sun was up, it got hot, and the animals don’t move around much in the heat.  And the thing is, nobody feels like eating at 6am, so we waited until about 9am when the sun was already quite high and the animals were settled in whatever shade they could find, and then we would stop for breakfast.  Breakfast was always the best meal of the day game tracking.  For some reason I recall excessive amounts of delicious cheese.  (To my mind cheese is all that is required for a great meal.)

Picture maybe fifteen teenagers and three or four staff and guides just hanging out munching cheese and baguettes on an arid plain in the middle of nowhere with wild animals visible grazing in the distance.  The predators slept all day, but as far as I remember the zebra, giraffe and myriad antelope were always milling about.  They never got very close, but they were near enough to identify various species and their approximate ages. The Mara draws tons of tourists, so they didn’t really care about people as long as we gave them their space.  Barely visible in the distance was a small group of elephants, maybe six or seven.  We could see them well enough to observe that they had at least one baby among them, but they were off in the distance, too far off to really get a good look.

Someone had a soccer ball, so a few of us were kicking that around.  While it was technically an educational trip, for us it was mostly an awesome vacation away from classes and we were laughing, talking, and munching happily.  I will go to my grave declaring that we were not being particularly loud, but apparently the elephants thought otherwise. 
Suddenly one of our guides became very animated.  He pointed into the distance where the elephants had been.  A cloud of dust was swirling and at first I thought he was worried about a dust storm.  As we looked more closely at the cloud of dust, however, we realized it was being caused by the elephants.  The whole herd was heading our way.  Now elephants are not the swiftest animal on the savannah, but they are big, and properly motivated, they can flip a truck.  Our guides gave brief, clear instructions.  Grab whatever you can, get in the truck, don’t move and BE QUIET.  Don’t ask.  We’ll explain later.  

Something about a herd of elephants thundering towards you has the effect of making teenagers very good listeners.  We grabbed everything we could as quickly as we could and got in the truck, eager to get out of the path of the oncoming elephants.  Once we were all in, we held on expecting our driver to hop in and get us out of there.  He did not.  While everyone else was crouching in the truck, he and one of the guides stood quietly in front of the truck as the elephants barrelled toward us.  Having been instructed to be quiet, we began to make anxious eye contact with the other leaders in the group.  “Wasn’t it time to be going?  Surely we could outrun the elephants in the truck?  Shouldn’t we at least try?  I really think the driver and his buddy would be safer inside!”  I had heard the odd joke as a kid about the goo between elephants toes (You’re right, they don’t really have toes to speak of) and I was not eager to be goo.  Our guide gazed sternly at us raising a single finger to his lips in a silent “Shhhhh.”  

The elephants were getting closer and closer and the ground really did start to shake.  A few of us closed our eyes tight, the rest stared in terror.  I can safely say we were all praying though no one spoke.  The elephants were within twenty or thirty feet of the truck when the herd suddenly parted and ran furiously past us on both sides and kept going.  Confused, we began looking at one another and then at our guide who continued to hold his finger to his lips for several minutes until the elephants disappeared from view.  

As the dust literally cleared we were invited to climb back out of the truck.  None of us were particularly eager to do so, but slowly we complied.  Our guides seated us on the grass and then explained.  

Elephants have very large ears.  Not coincidentally, their hearing is excellent.  A sound that doesn’t even startle a herd of antelope can be a real annoyance to elephants.  Conversely, elephants have comparatively small eyes, and they don’t work well at all especially in bright sunlight.  So as the elephants approached us, they knew the direction the sound came from but couldn’t see its source.  To them, our big safari truck looked like a rock and no sound was coming from it, so they ran on by in search of that annoying noise. By sitting still and shutting up, we were kept safe.  We didn’t have to fight back. We didn’t have to run for it.  We just had to listen to our guide, shut up, and be still.  I mean, there was no winning that battle.  Let’s see, elephant vs. person.  Elephant – champion.  Person – aforementioned toe jam.

It’s kind of a great picture of how we who trust in Jesus are called to “fight” our battles.  I remember the first time I really paid attention to the verses that set up the famous passage in Ephesians about putting on the armour of God.  It’s almost comical when you think about it.  Have you read it lately?  Paul says, Suit up! You have an enemy, and you need to resist him.  Put on the belt of truth, breast plate of righteousness, the running shoes of the Good News (paraphrased, but it checks out).  You’re also gonna need the shield of faith, and don’t forget the helmet of salvation.  He’s got us decked out like soldiers, but for what?  Look at Ephesians 6 verses 10 and 13.  They both say you are going to need to put on all this stuff just to stand.  There’s no battle strategy where God has us advancing against the enemy, setting up ambushes or building siege works.  He just says, “stand.”  There is a similar elephant vs. person situation in Exodus 14.  The people of Isreal, newly escaped from Egypt, are camped by the sea and now the Egyptian army is pursuing them.  Keep in mind, Isreal is a slave nation.  They aren’t soldiers.  They are just a community of people who have been oppressed their whole lives by a bigger stronger community.  And the army of the oppressing community are coming for them.  Frankly, they don’t have a chance.  And what is God’s battle plan?  Look at Exodus 14:14 “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Wild right?  But I suspect this is a trend we are supposed to follow.  Some days we are going to be staring down a plain at an enormous enemy thundering towards us.  And on some of those days it’s going to be very clear that we have no chance of overcoming that enemy.  On days like that, we can take a page from the Bible (and from my guides on the Maasai Mara).  Be still.  Our God can fight impossible battles.  In fact, when it suits his purposes, he can make that battle run right on by like a bunch of half-blind elephants! 

A scrap book page from my Kenya days

2 thoughts on “Elephant Toe Jam and How to Not be it

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