On a phone call a few days ago a friend was telling us of a trip she had made to Africa. Rhonda had gone to accompany a group of university students on a short-term mission trip. They would be out in the bush, teaching Bible classes, telling stories to the children, and even setting up a simple clinic to do some health education. The kids were thrilled beyond measure, and so was Rhonda.
As the project drew to its end, Rhonda decided she was going to cross an item off her bucket list so she signed up for a real, live African safari. It would be a week of hiking, carrying their food, sleeping on the ground, canoeing. Oh, and swatting mosquitoes.
Third day out they loaded their gear into canoes and began paddling down a major river they had encountered. It was the stuff of mission stories. Rhinos and crocodiles in the water, monkeys in the trees. And mosquitoes. At times they paddled; at times they drifted. There were maybe a dozen in the group and the chatter was as loud in the canoes as it was in the jungle.
After a short stop for lunch they re-launched the canoes and resumed their journey downstream. Bye and bye the guide in the lead canoe turned to the flotilla and signaled for quiet. In a loud whisper he told them they were approaching a bend in the river, and once they got around it they would see an island just off the river bank and that it was common to find elephants grazing among the reeds growing on the island.
Right on cue the elephants appeared. But Rhonda immediately recognized something wasn’t right. One of the elephants had been injured. A female, tall and apparently healthy as the others, either because of a fight or some other trauma, was totally without a trunk. Rhonda’s first thought was, “How can she eat? How can she possibly survive?” The others in the herd would pull up the reeds with their trunks and put them in their mouths. But without a trunk this female could not do that.
Soon the answer was clear. Every few minutes one of the other elephants would pull up a trunkful of reeds and tuck them in the mouth of the injured female. In the course of time as the canoes passed the island it was evident that the injured member of the herd was getting as much to eat as the others. The herd became her strength.
A little bit like a praying church, I thought. There are always injuries in this “jungle” where we live. None of us escape. But when one of the herd is injured or attacked, discouraged or overcome with a temptation, the others gather around to support, nurture, encourage. The mantra becomes, No one from our herd will be left behind! I’ll bet your church is like that.
By Don Jacobsen