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. So when my family gave me the book The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony for my birthday in 2017, I was not expecting God to break into our world and speak as He did. From that book came a powerful truth about sacrificial love and humility.
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 Private Game Reserve in Zululand, South Africa.
The authorities gave Lawrence the chance to take in the herd that was slated to be destroyed. 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.
Acclimating to new surroundings would take time. The herd was restless and traumatized. To make matters much worse, before the authorities shipped the herd to Thula Thula, they killed the matriarch and her calf reducing the herd size to 7. Since elephants are deeply emotional and have strong family bonds, the herd was further traumatized.
They transported this emotionally distraught group of elephants to Thula Thula on a very rainy day. The agitated elephants were difficult to unload. To make this situation worse, unbeknownst to Lawrence, his guards were poachers. They were actively, but secretively, trying to sabotage the electric fencing. These rogue guards hoped the elephants would escape so they could continue poaching.
Shortly after the herd arrived, a gun shot rang out in the night, spooking the herd. The elephants broke through the boma and escaped the reserve altogether. Eventually, they were found; but not before they had almost killed a gamekeeper in a neighboring reserve.
The whole area wanted to kill the elephants. They even issued the rangers powerful elephant guns to hunt down the herd if they got loose. Lawrence pleaded for their lives and asked for one last chance to save them. Knowing there was no other hope, Lawrence had the elephants brought back to the repaired and reinforced boma. He knew if they escaped again, rangers would kill the herd without mercy.
Knowing what was at stake, and having deep compassion for them, 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 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 and feed the elephants. The animals were furious at being locked up and were ferocious.
Standing in the gap
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 if they escaped, they would seal their fate; so he stood in their way. Terrified, 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 busted through electric fences a few days earlier. She trumpeted and flared like she would take the herd right through the fence and Lawrence with it; but yet did not. Lawrence laid his life down for this herd, knowing he was their only hope. The elephants seemed to know this too. After a few minutes Nana stood down, then turned around and left.
Exactly at 4:45 a.m. every morning, Nana would repeat this blustering routine; lining the herd due north, ready to go home. Lawrence would stand in her way and talk to her; soothingly. She would always stand down. One day, after the herd left, Nana turned around and stared at Lawrence for a short time. He knew something had changed. Nana still came to take the herd out at 4:45 AM each day, but was less aggressive.
Touching the heart
The days passed and Lawrence could see them calming and settling down. One day Nana put out her trunk past the electric wires and reached out to Lawrence. This was dangerous as he could have been pulled into the electric fence and trampled to death. Once again he put his life on the line, in simple trust, to help the wounded elephants. Lawrence stayed out of reach so that Nana’s trunk couldn’t pull him in; but close enough that she could barely touch him. Her trunk was soft and slimy as she touched his forehead and made contact for the first time. Lawrence knew they had formed a bond; a small level of trust on both sides. It was time to let the herd out of the boma and into the reserve.
Lawrence and a 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. Nana pushed down a 30-foot tree by the entrance and made a way for the baby. Pure power that could have busted down an electric fence with Lawrence on the other side; but didn’t.
The herd eventually acclimated to the reserve and made no further attempts at breaking out. Lawrence’s guards, the undercover poachers, did everything they could to sabotage the fence and make the elephants escape. They wanted the elephants removed or shot so they could continue illegally poaching. Thankfully, the herd stayed in the reserve. 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. 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.
Lawrence won the elephants over not by dominance, strength or control; but by simple, sacrificial love. Such is the awesome power of love.
After we left our basement apartment on July 1 of 2017, we had no home again; no place to go to where we could rest and relax. We drove around Kingston for 20 days; sleeping in a tent in a local sports park and cleaning up at an athletic facility. Then we connected with a lady we had been in touch with long ago. After many emails, she felt led of God to support us as missionaries and bring some financial stability to our faith journey.
Our ‘temporary’ arrangement has now lasted since July 23, 2017; thanks to this sacrificial love and obedience to God’s voice. However, even though we are inside, we sometimes feel trapped and frustrated there is no clear leading for a new home. God, however, in His infinite wisdom and love has purpose and reason for keeping us confined. Although we cannot fathom the reason, we trust in His unfailing, sacrificial love and stay put.
In His unassuming way, God used this story of a rogue herd of elephants to help us understand what He has been doing all along.
Such is the quiet, humble love of God. His tender nature knows we have been hurt and traumatized by our wilderness journey; way beyond our own understanding. He is reintegrating us back into the body of Christ through the real church that entered with compassion; just as Lawrence did with the elephants. God led us to our own boma and connected us to a dear sister in Jesus who understands the pain and trauma we have been through. Her humble sacrifice was God’s direct love to us.
Learning to trust
The wilderness season is all about betrayal. Betrayal cuts and tears our insides apart and leaves deep heartbreak and wariness. God’s humble heart of sacrificial love heals us from the trauma. His way is quiet, respectful and tenderly gracious; just like Lawrence. Over these past 2 years we have, like the elephants, begun to trust again. Although we may feel trapped and frustrated 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?
One day as we were out on our errands, I parked beside a car. Written 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. He unveiled that it is His love that matters. We know that God is love, but we need to feel, sense and become conduits of His love.
We are to let His humble, sacrificial love flow through us, as our dear sister did.
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 Jesus loves us; only then can we bring His 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. May we learn the lesson from the boma and become conduits of His sacrificial love.
Homer and Wanda