(Continued from last week.)
Any country can be a dangerous place. Every region has its own threats. In California, it’s earthquakes and fires. In Florida and the Gulf states, hurricanes are prevalent. In the Midwest and in other regions of the country, it’s tornadoes, and, in the north of the U.S.A., snow and blizzards are a winter concern. Africa is no different.
In August 1998, I was part of a team that traveled first to Kenya and then to Uganda. Our mission was to teach pastors, strengthen the local churches, hold confirmation services, ordain deacons and priests, and consecrate two bishops. I was the default photographer of our group.
The dangers were not imaginary. The U.S. Embassy in Kenya had just been attacked by Jihadists with over 200 dead and 4,000 wounded. Facing the threat of a similar bombing, the U.S. Embassy in Uganda was closed. The threat was real and present, with precautions being taken throughout the day, including the hiring of armed security personnel. There was also the danger of critters — snakes, spiders, and other poison-bearing creatures.
But Africa was also beautiful. On a trip out into the nether regions one day, we came upon a herd of zebra. There were hundreds, their black and white striped bodies munching contentedly on the high grasses in the plains. I called out for the driver, A Ugandan, to stop the van. Grabbing my camera, I made my way toward the herd. Actually, a group of zebra is called a “zeal” or a “dazzle.”
They viewed me with curiosity but apparently considered me to be no threat as they continued grazing. I slowly made my way through the waist high golden grass to get good photos. On the edge of the herd/zeal/dazzle, just a few feet from a zebra, I heard the driver call out to me. Since he spoke in his native tongue, I didn’t understand a word. So, I yelled back at the interpreter, a Ugandan who spoke English, and said, “What did he say?” He called back, “He says, ‘if you see a lion, you should not stop to take its photograph!”
Suddenly, every National Geographic television program I had ever seen flashed through my mind and the message transmitted was, “Where there is prey, there are predators.” Of course there are. This wasn’t a herd of horses (also called a band, harem, or mob), and the animals likely hiding in the tall grass weren’t cows. This wasn’t Georgia, this was Africa.
I knew better than to run. That action would trigger an automatic pursuit and destroy instinct. I also knew that staying in place wasn’t an option. My body wasn’t as filling to a hungry pride as an 880-pound zebra, but I would at least make a snack and I was much easier to catch.
Slowly, ever so agonizingly slowly, I began my return to the van, listening for a rustle in the grass or the frantic cries of my team. After what seemed an eternity, I exited the grass and approached the road. All, obviously, ended well.
It was a wake-up call. In the news over the past years, we have seen accounts of Americans kidnapped in Iran who were merely hiking through the country, a tourist arrested and, virtually, killed in North Korea for taking a poster off a wall, people thrown into brutal Mexican jails for years for what would be minor drug offenses at home, and businessmen detained in Communist China at the whim of their government. We simply cannot be complacent when we are in an unfamiliar environment, be it at home or abroad.
I learned the lesson. I wouldn’t let down my guard for the rest of the trip and I would try to think things through before acting. I didn’t become a hungry lion’s meal, but I occasionally still get chills when I watch a special on Africa and watch a lioness run down and kill a frightened zebra twice her size. Sometimes, I even view, Petey, my 26-pound Maine Coon Cat, with suspicion!
(To be continued.)
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and is the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]