The day God gave me an elephant.

Thinking again about Africa and the mission trip I took in 2009 to Botswana and South Africa with a group from my church.


I never would have expected to go to Africa.

The trip, the people — the whole experience — was a gift.

It’s a long way to Africa, and we didn’t know if we’d ever have another opportunity to go there, so for one day, before heading home, our group went on safari at a game preserve in South Africa.

Driving in, before we’d even “officially” arrived, we saw kudu, impala, zebra, and giraffe.

The lodge was spectacular: wonderful accommodations, delicious food, great personnel. After the week we’d spent in the city, we were finally surrounded by what looked the Africa of my imagination, complete with monkeys and real Africa-looking trees.

We went to our rooms to get settled. The rooms were really individual cabins, with a true thatched roof, fireplace, and a view out on hills where we watched zebra and wildebeest graze. Walking through our room, I got teary-eyed, thinking about what a blessing all of this was.

We headed back to the lodge for lunch. Again, I was just overwhelmed at what I was experiencing.

Then, God gave me an elephant.

Here I was — a girl who grew up watching and absorbing all the National Geographic and PBS nature shows I could, learning about all the great variety of animals in the world but NEVER dreaming I’d see something like an elephant, one of my favorite animals, outside of a zoo. But an elephant walked by, and it looked at me.

my elephant

I was my typical, excited self, and couldn’t believe I was looking at a wild elephant, walking 20 or 30 feet from me. As the realization of this hit me, I started to cry. This was, to me, nothing short of a miracle. A divine gift. If we hadn’t seen any other animals the whole time, I would have been completely content. I ran down the boardwalk to an observation area that overlooks a watering hole, and watched the elephant drink, play, and bathe. I’m not one to cry in front of other people, but I couldn’t help it; I just kept crying at the wonder of it all.

I finally composed myself enough to eat, and as we sat outside having lunch, we saw a group of baboons up on the hill. First the big leader, checking things out, then the rest of his group. Our South African friends identified some of the birds we’d been seeing, like an iridescent blue-colored glossy starling. I wish I could’ve gotten a good photo of the birds we saw there.

We headed back to our rooms to rest until time to go out on safari that evening. Our friend who was staying in the room just past ours said he’d just seen a monkey run off of our porch. We laughed and said, “Good thing we closed all the doors like they told us to!” But when we got in our room, we saw that the monkey had been in there, opened our tea caddy, and stolen (and spilled) packs of sugar! Turns out he’d come in a small window over the toilet, which we hadn’t thought to close. How funny! So we cleaned up the spilled sugar, made ourselves some tea, and closed the window over the toilet!

On safari.

One of our team members, who has been to Africa and on safari many times before, told us that morning that he wanted to be on the vehicle with us to see our reactions. As I said before, I was VERY enthusiastic about everything! I don’t think I disappointed him with my excitement level. As soon as we had set out, and I leaned forward to say,

Hey Jeff!
(pause for response)
Guess what…
We’re in AFRICA!
(another pause)
And guess what else…
We’re on SAFARI!!!

the view

We drove around looking for critters.
Soon, our guide found lions! LIONS!!!

resting lion

Golden light, golden grass, golden lion.

Here I was taking pictures of two handsome lion brothers who work as a team. Big, powerful, lion brothers. They were lazing about, and almost looked cuddly. Seemed like you could just go scratch that big ol’ mane and give ’em a belly rub, and I said so. Jeff said to me, “that’s what we’ll be able to do in heaven.” Could you imagine?

Eventually we moved on, saw more critters, then stopped for a “sun-downer.” How lovely! A little biltong (African beef jerky), crackers, and a sparkly (non-alcoholic) beverage while we watched the sunset over the African plains. The guides even pulled out a table and tablecloth to set up for us. Unbelievable: that was the word I keep saying about everything; I just couldn’t grasp that this was all really happening. It felt like a dream!


After the sunset, we loaded back up, found a big herd of buffalo, and I had the first bit of disappointment: these were not water buffalo, but cape buffalo, which meant the Veggie Tales silly song I had planned to sing was not applicable. A few of the giant hairy things stared us down, but I don’t think any of them got fully into what our guide called “the death stare.” That’s a good thing, I’m thinking.

Just before it was completely dark, a family of elephants crossed nearby. I loved seeing the babies following along, flanked before and behind by moms, aunts, and older siblings.

Soon, it was dark. No streetlights, no nearby cities, just the almost full moon. DARK.

Nighttime safari = surprise encounters.

Our guide drove the dirt road while sweeping a spotlight all around in search of a leopard (which proved to be elusive). Then we came upon another set of brother lions lying right in the middle of the road! These guys had been hurt in a territory dispute with the first set of lions we saw, but our guide said they seemed to be doing better. We drove off-road to go around them, and stopped near to see them closer. Then the lion closest to us looked RIGHT at me and Ken, and our guide said (for the first time that day), “No one make any sudden movements.”

Not a problem. Gulp.

After a few tense moments, the lion broke eye contact, but he did get up, and walked to the other side (MY side!) of the vehicle. This is not the best shot of the lion but let me just point out that the white part I chose not to crop out of the right side of the photo is my seat! In the very open (see sun-downer photo above!) vehicle, I might add.

lion mouth

After that excitement, we continued back towards the lodge. The temperature dropped significantly once night fell, and I was cold, but it felt great. We saw a big eagle owl, a chameleon, and this rather large (four TON) fellow walking down the middle of the road towards us!

elephant approaching

Our guide had turned off the vehicle, as they always did when we stopped to see an animal. But the elephant kept coming, so our guide started the vehicle and backed up a bit, to send the elephant a message that we were not going to be a problem for him. But the elephant kept coming. Our guide tried to start the vehicle again — but it didn’t start.


The elephant was REALLY close at this point. So we all sat very, very still, and very, very quiet — and did not need our guide to tell us to do so!

It took the elephant a few moments of standing close enough to touch the vehicle before he decided what he wanted to do.

We could see him thinking, swinging his head a bit.

He opted for munching upon a nearby tree limb. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Then our guide proceeded to tell us that this elephant was in musth, which means he had raging hormones that often result in highly aggressive behavior. We watched him a bit longer before heading on our merry way.

No fear.

During our potentially dangerous lion and elephant encounters, I wasn’t afraid. Yes, I had some adrenaline going, but I felt that God was doing all this to give me a gift beyond my wildest imagination, so I really wasn’t worried about being eaten by a lion or stomped on by an elephant. That’s really saying something, because my tendency is to be very fearful.

The next morning, we went out before all the animals were awake; when we saw this sunrise, we stopped and sang “How Great is Our God.” It just felt like the right thing to do, surrounded by all that amazingness.

African sunrise

We saw more zebras, a big bull giraffe, and more impala and kudu. Our guides tracked a lioness, but never found her. I was happy just to be driving around in the gorgeous African outdoors.


Morning tea on the African plains.

We stopped for morning tea, and had yummy biscotti and little pastries to accompany it. I drank tea on safari in Africa. (That is quite possible THE coolest sentences I have ever typed.)


Never underestimate God’s power. love. tenderness. extravagance.

He is beyond our comprehension.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”

Ephesians 3:20-21