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November 29, 2017

I do not believe in coincidences. Having followed God through the wilderness, we have experienced His humble and invisible hand of love reach out and lead us too many times to think otherwise. Each time I was surprised at the gentle and quiet way He connected with us. His tender care and sweet love always catch me off guard. So when my family gave me the book The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony for my birthday, I was not expecting God to break into my world and speak to us as He did. From that book came a powerful truth about love and humility. I would like to share with you how it affected us.

There was a herd of elephants who lived in northern South Africa that had run afoul of the people they lived around. The matriarch of this rogue herd had learned to take the hit of 8,000 volts to break through electric fences, and the herd was very much feared for their uncontrollable nature. This angry temperament had not been their fault; but the humans who lived around them were in fear for their lives. Lawrence Anthony was a conservationist who owned the Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, South Africa. He was given the chance to take in this herd of rogue elephants that were slated to be destroyed if he didn’t. Despite his reservations, Lawrence’s compassion compelled him to take the animals. However, he had to electrify 20 miles of the game reserve fencing and build an electrified paddock called a boma; a Zulu term for ‘small enclosure’. This was to hold the herd while they settled in. To acclimate to their new surroundings would take some time. This herd was restless and traumatized so it would not be easy. To make matters much worse, before they had been shipped to Thula Thula, the authorities had killed the matriarch and her calf so the herd size was reduced to 7. Since elephants are deeply emotional and have very strong family bonds, this further traumatized the herd.

This emotionally distraught group of elephants were then transported to Thula Thula on a very rainy day. They were quite agitated and the unloading was filled with difficulties. To make an already difficult situation worse, and unbeknownst to Lawrence at the time, his guards were poachers. They were actively, but secretively, trying to sabotage the electric fencing so the elephants would escape and they could continue poaching. Sometime in the night, shortly after the elephants arrived, someone shot a round of ammunition off that spooked the herd. The elephants broke through the boma fence and then escaped the reserve altogether. Eventually, they were found; but not before they had almost killed a gamekeeper in a neighboring reserve in the process. The whole area wanted to kill them. The rangers were even issued powerful elephant guns to hunt them down if they got loose. Lawrence pleaded for their lives and to be given one last chance to save them. Knowing that there was no other hope for them, Lawrence had the elephants brought back to the repaired and reinforced boma. He knew that if they escaped again, the herd would all be killed without mercy.

Knowing what was at stake, and having deep compassion for their traumatized state of being, Lawrence decided that the elephants only chance was if they could connect with one human. He decided to be that human. Lawrence and an assistant gathered some supplies and then camped out at the boma. They spent weeks there; staying with the herd and getting them used to his presence. Each day they would watch the elephants and make sure they got fed. The animals were really angry at being locked up and very fierce. The first night at exactly 4:45 AM, the new matriarch Nana decided she would break out through the electric fence and head home with her family. Lawrence knew that if they escaped, their fate would be sealed; so he stood in their way. Terrified as he was, Lawrence stood his ground and spoke calmly to the fierce matriarch. A 250-pound man is no match for a 5-ton angry elephant; especially one that had busted through electric fences a few days earlier. She trumpeted, flared and looked like she would take the herd right through the fence and him with it; but yet did not. Lawrence had laid his life down for this herd, knowing that he was their only hope for life. The elephants seemed to know this too. After a few minutes Nana stood down, then turned around and left with the herd.

Exactly at 4:45 a.m. every morning, Nana would repeat this blustering routine; lining up due north with the herd, ready to go home. Lawrence would stand in her way and talk to her; soothingly. She would always stand down. One day she did something unusual. After the herd turned and left, Nana turned around and stared at Lawrence for a short time. He knew then something had changed. She still came to take the herd out at 4:45 AM each day, but now she was less aggressive. The days passed and Lawrence could see them calming and settling down. One day during their morning check, Nana put out her trunk past the electric wires and reached out to Lawrence. This was dangerous. He could easily have been pulled into the electric fence and subsequently trampled to death. Once again he put his life on the line, in simple trust, to help those wounded elephants. Lawrence stayed just out of reach so that Nana’s trunk couldn’t pull him in; but yet close enough that she could just barely touch him. Her trunk was soft and slimy as she touched his forehead and made contact for the first time. Lawrence knew then that a bond had been formed; there was a small level of trust given on both sides. It was time to let the herd out of the boma and into the reserve.

Lawrence and another ranger pushed open the door to the boma and waited nearby. The adult and teenage elephants came out slowly, but a little baby elephant couldn’t get past a mud hole at the entrance. No problem. Nana easily pushed down a 30-foot tree by the entrance and made a way for the baby. Pure power that could easily have busted down an electric fence with Lawrence on the other side; but yet didn’t. The herd eventually acclimated to the reserve and made no further attempts at breaking out. Lawrence’s guards, who were also undercover poachers, did everything they could to sabotage the fence and try to make the elephants escape. Because they were terrified of these huge wild animals, their poaching activities had been severely curtailed. They wanted the elephants to be gone or shot so they could continue illegally poaching. Thankfully, the herd stayed in the reserve and the poachers were discovered and left.

In this story we see the tender, sacrificial love of a man for a herd of elephants that had no place else to turn. By giving them a home and showing them respect and compassion, Lawrence had earned their respect in turn. The herd settled into their new home and became an integral part of Lawrence’s life; just as much as he had become a part of their family. He had won them over not by dominance, strength or control; but by simple, humble love. Such is the awesome power of love.

After we left our basement apartment on July 1 of this year, we had no home either again; no place to go to where we could rest and relax. We drove around the city for 20 days; sleeping in a tent in a local sports park and cleaning up at an athletic facility. We ate hot dogs and ramen noodles for the most part and just watched and waited. Then we connected with a lady we had been in touch with earlier. After many emails, she felt led of God to support us as missionaries and bring together our faith journey with some financial stability. This temporary arrangement has now lasted since July 23; thanks to her sacrificial love and obedience to God’s voice. However, even though we were inside, we still felt trapped and frustrated that there was no clear leading yet for a new home. God, however, in His infinite wisdom and love had purpose and reason for keeping us confined. Although we could not fathom the reason, we had to once again trust in His unfailing love and stay put. All the while we kept connecting with this dear sister who had formed such a family bond with our own. Then in His singularly quiet and unassuming way, God used this story of a rogue herd of elephants to help us understand what He had been doing with us all along.

Such is the quiet, humble love of God. His sweet and tender understanding knew that we had been deeply hurt and traumatized by our wilderness journey; way beyond our own understanding. He was reintegrating us back into the body of Christ through the real church that entered in with compassion; just like Lawrence did with the elephants. God led us to our own boma and connected us to a dear sister in Jesus who understood the pain and trauma we had been through. Her humble sacrifice was God’s direct love to us. The wilderness season is all about betrayal. Betrayal that cuts and tears our insides apart and leaves deep heartbreak and wariness. God’s humble heart of love wanted to heal us from that trauma. His way is quiet, respectful and tenderly gracious; just like Lawrence. Over these past few months we have, like the elephants, begun to trust again. Although we may be trapped and frustrated at times with our confinement, Jesus quietly stands in our way and speaks soothing words to our heart. How can we not be moved by such humility and sacrifice?

Today as we were out on our errands, I parked beside a car. Written neatly in the dust on the door of the other car were the words, ‘God is love.’ Once again God’s subtle, quiet and humble message was coming through to us. He was unveiling to us that it is His love that matters. We know that God is love, but we need to become love. We are to let His sacrificial, humble love flow through us; just like our dear sister did for us. We need to, like Lawrence, lay down our lives in sacrifice so that the love of the Father can come through. However, first we need to know we are loved; only then can we bring that love to others. By his humble acts, Lawrence taught Wanda and I about the love of God once again. Thanks to our sister’s act of sacrificial love, done in humility, we too have been shown mercy. The Father will know when our touch is soft enough; Jesus’ love flowing freely through His beloved to others. This is the lesson of the boma.


Homer and Wanda