The people's voice of reason

Dangerous Encounter with African Elephants

Several years ago, I took my daughter on a medical mission trip to southern Zimbabwe. Ciara had just graduated from high school and was about to begin nursing school. We were working with our ministry partners there, Saving Safaris; while I helped with drilling wells and renovating schools, Ciara worked in medical clinics fitting people with glasses and volunteering at Mutare Provincial, a Methodist mission hospital that has been around for decades. It was a wonderful time with my girl, who sealed her calling as a nurse during that trip. She has since graduated from nursing school at UAB and has just recently graduated from UAB with a Doctorate in Nursing Practices. We are so proud of her!

Another thing we did while in Zimbabwe was visit the Gonarezhou National Park, which has the largest concentration of elephants anywhere – approximately 11,000 – and also has elephants with the largest tusks in the world. These beautiful animals are protected inside the national park, of course, but when they cross the Zambezi River and leave the park at night, they are hunted. The adults are rightfully very protective of their babies, which means they are especially aggressive and dangerous.

Another interesting thing about these beautiful animals is that they recognize vehicles by the sound of their engine. While hunters have traditionally favored Toyota Land Cruisers, the guides in the national park always drove British-made Land Rovers. When we were there, however, the guides had just made the switch to Land Cruisers, and that’s what we were riding in that day. The elephants in this park associated the Land Cruiser with hunters out to do them harm so they were much more aggressive and angry.

As we were driving through the park in the open-air vehicle, we were forced to stop because there were several elephants on the road. Before we realized what was happening, we were surrounded, and these elephants were agitated. They began fake charging us, their trunks in the air. We were terrified that they would either turn over our vehicle or use a trunk to yank one of us out of it. Although the elephants are protected, it is legal to shoot one who is threatening a human, and for that reason, our guide kept a hunting rifle on the dashboard. He jumped out of the vehicle and began waving the rifle, prepared to use it if things got any worse; fortunately, the elephants backed off, but it was very slow going before we were able to feel secure again.

I’d heard before the saying that an elephant never forgets, and that encounter convinced me it’s true. The elephants in Gonarezhou don’t forget being hunted. I always think about those elephants when I teach on forgiveness because as I watched them threatening us, I realized that if we don’t learn to forgive and let go of our resentments, those resentments can hurt everyone in our lives – even those who are innocent. That’s why Jesus insisted in Matthew 18:22 that we forgive “seventy times seven,” meaning we should never stop forgiving.


Dr. Lester Spencer

Lead Pastor


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