Surrounded By Zebras And Wildebeests

In times of great stress, we yearn for tranquility, for an absence of anything hostile.  In its place we hope for a situation that is void of whatever it is that is bringing upheaval to our emotions.  We tell ourselves that if somehow an end can come to whatever is bringing stress, then we can at last experience serenity once again.

The above is a definition of the peace that the world hopes to gain.  What the world pursues involves getting rid of a thing or a situation.  We tell ourselves — if only we can rid ourselves of the source of our difficulties, then surely peace will follow.  It’s a logical conclusion but not a lasting solution.  At times, it’s no solution at all because the thing bringing distress cannot always be made to disappear as if it were a rabbit stuffed into a magician’s hat.  The rabbit always returns!

Life is much more complicated, but there is an answer.  I was reminded of this as I recalled a lovely memory concerning zebras and wildebeests.  Less that two years ago I experienced a lifelong dream of going to Africa.  I still get shivers of excitement when I think back to those days when my feet walked in that great continent.

One night as I was sleeping in my tent somewhere in Tanzania, I was awakened by a sound I could not identify.  My body froze as fear ran over me.  Ever so slightly I turned my head toward the mesh window.  I had earlier rolled up the canvas covering before I went to sleep.  Wonderfully, it was a night of a full moon.  I am forever thankful for that full moon because it revealed to me the most exhilarating sight —  zebras and wildebeests meandering around my tent!  I could see the outlines of their bodies as they brushed against the canvas.  They were pulling and chomping at the grass.  I never knew munching could be so loud!  I watched the zebras and wildebeests for nearly an hour as they continued to stroll past my tent, eating their way into the black of night beyond.  Fear completely subsided and total joy filled me as I realized, that at that very moment, I was alone in the middle of a herd of wild animals!  My heart pounded with the sheer excitement of what I was experiencing and seeing with my own eyes!  I lack words to fully describe the emotions washing over me during that most unusual experience of animals in the wild of Africa.

As I have thought about that incident many times since then, I realize that it could have turned into something disastrous.  If I had given way to fear, screaming and jumping up in fright, it would have startled the animals and a stampede could have easily taken place.  Instead, finding and hanging onto peace, a most joyous experience took place instead.

You see, although possible danger lurks all around us, in the tents of our hearts, peace and joy are available to take command of our startled and stressed emotions.  This takes place in our spiritual worlds.  Jesus said something most interesting in John 14:27, “I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”  What did Jesus mean, it is a gift the world can’t give?

The world defines peace as an absence of hostility or a mastering of anxiety.  We learn mechanisms to either compress stress or we maintain a goal of working hard to get through the thing that causes us to be upset or feel uneasy.  God has a very different definition of peace.  His peace is called in the Hebrew of the Old Testament — Shalom.  Shalom peace means to be whole, safe, sound.  It doesn’t entail removing the stress; but rather, it means to live emotionally whole no matter the fears and troubles of life around us.  It is nothing to do but everything to be.  This peace is something totally God given.

When the Spirit Of God resides within, there can be all manner of chaos in our worlds, but no amount of stress  or anxiety can overpower the peace God gives.  The Spirit Of God always commands peace.  Remember the New Testament record of the time Jesus was in the middle of a dangerous storm?  It is said of Him that, “even the winds and the waves obeys His voice.”

Are the storms of life too hard for the world to handle and bring peace instead?  Often.  Is there any fear or stress too hard for the peace of God to overthrow?  Never.

Reaching The Destination

My time in Africa has been among the most amazing experiences of my life.  To be up close and personal with so many animals, working with fascinating people from around the world, experiencing life in the bush, trekking through the jungle, and bumping along the way (literally) but knowing of a certainty that the outcome will be so worth it all!  

I have had the pleasure of flying in a bush plane.  As we ascended, the plane lifted and fell, wobbled to the left and to the right, but when we reached our intended height, it became a smooth ride.  The ariel view of the African bush stretching for miles in shades of brown, gold, and cream was a fabulous sight.  What our eyes beheld was certainly worth the bumps.

I learned on many occasions just what is meant when someone laughs and shouts, “African massage!”   For miles our landrover would jump and bump over a million rocks and ruts in the road.  Every passenger bumped and jostled, too.  A rough ride but when we would reach our destination, perhaps trekking a lioness, or perhaps to sit and find zebras grazing, or hippos enjoying rolling in the water, it was spectacular in every instance.

A most exciting moment was reaching the Mara river in Tanzania to find hundreds of wildebeest gathering on the other side.  It was the time of year for the Great Migration.  To get to our viewing spot with the speed our driver took to get us there, was yet another wild “African Massage.”  We watched for a half hour and another half hour and yet another.  Finally, one wildebeest crept down the slope of the bank; then, a second and a third followed close behind. The three stood together watching the water.  Crocodiles are often waiting their chance for a meal.  When a fourth wildebeest came down the slope, a hundred, then a thousand and more descended down the bank, jumped with wild abandonment into the water, swam to the other side, ran up the waiting bank, and divided themselves to race around each side of our vehicle.  What an amazing moment of time!  For forty minutes we watched in wonder as 10,000 wildebeest migrated to the other side in a wild dash of great speed — and we were in the middle of it all!   What a terrific thrill and privilege to have witnessed this event.  It was worth every hard bump to reach that destination.

Trekking up the Virunga mountains in Rwanda has been amazing!  Our trekking guides were armed with machetes and literally had to cut paths for us.  Tall, thick, green foliage was all around.  A smell of damp lingered in the air mixed in with fragrances of wild flowers.  Vines tangled themselves around every piece of foliage.  My back and leg muscles began to ache with each step up and up and up.  At last, after many pauses for sips of water and resting for moments to catch our breath, we stepped into the presence of the Silverback Mountain Gorillas.  Every ache was well worth the journey, not to be traded for any comfort that would have otherwise been offered had we stayed at the bottom of the mountain.  Avoiding the bumps would have led to — nothing special. 

As we travel through life there are plenty of rough patches along the way.  Bumps and bruises come to us all as we climb our mountains of difficulty and challenge.  Even so, it’s the climb that makes us stronger.  Then, when our life’s journey is over, we slip from this life into our eternal destiny where our Father will welcome us home with words of, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Every bump and hardship will have been worth it all and the view that awaits us is promised to be breathtaking!

“He knows where I am going.  And when He tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.  For I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed His ways and not turned aside.”   Job 23:10-11

The way is not always easy, but don’t surrender to hardship; takes God’s own strength and press on!  The destination is out of this world!