Baboons, Blood and Mad Bull Elephants

24 09 2013

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I know it’s not a National Geographic shot but hey, I don’t have a long range lens.  This took work.  And here is how the story goes.

Many of you may remember if you follow my blog that I have really wanted to get a shot of our local elephants.  Their signs are everywhere but really only come out into our shambas, (little farms) at night.  In November a group of elephants came on a man’s shamba and he tried to shoo them off and was trampled.  They don’t like humans and are afraid of nothing,

If you go back to my post in the past in the March archives you will find my original adventure Sunday Safari.  I found nothing but a huge number of signs.  That means elephant tracks and poop.  In April I returned and found the elephants, but was literally chased and ran for my life.  I have learned much in my little forays onto Mt. Meru.  And finally, success.

Now on my past journey I announced that I was going elephant hunting on Facebook before I went.   I was ambushed on that trip and could only surmise that the elephants had been tipped off by a Facebook spy, posing as a fan.  Or, the alternative, they are actually ON Facebook and watching for just my kind of behavior.  So this time.  NO warning.  Just up and go!

Like the last trip I left to head towards the mountain three hours before dark.  I knew where the elephants would be.  All three of my dogs went with me.  They think we are now inseparable.  Now don’t get me wrong, I like dogs.  But frankly can do without them, personally.  I merely fed one starving dog out of pity and now I have her two grown puppies to tend to and they think we are a pack.  They jog with me every day and on this day went out hunting for elephants.

Right away I knew I was low on calories.  I had already run today and lifted s little bit of weights with a new brother.  So I was not exactly fresh.  I asked Mama James for some bananas and we were out.  I stopped by the crude shop in our area and they had nothing but cookies. I decided to just stay hydrated and hungry.

I entered the forest near where I live.  I realized right away that not only did I not have food this time but I also left my compass at home.  No worries, I will just try to pay attention.  Just a note, this is yet to work.  I need my compass.  I hiked up steep hills and right away there were elephant signs everywhere.  The dogs were panting and probably wondering where we were going.  UP and down hills we followed the trails.  There were an incredible amount of elephant sign.  Much more than I remember.  And among them were now, baby elephant sign.  The large elephants leave waste behind that could fill a bushel basket every time they go.  Large pellets, as big as cantaloupes.  But now there were little ones, like little square oranges.  I really was excited at the prospects of seeing a mama and baby and fearful of being seen by the elephants with a young one in tow.  They are aggressive and dangerous alone.  With a baby they are deadly.

We walked for over an hour.  Every now and then the dogs would venture far in front of me.  I was regretting their coming.  They were loud and I could tell becoming very thirsty.  Then I started hearing monkeys.  Monkeys hate dogs.  And dogs love to run and try to catch the baby monkeys.  Fortunately, they are never really successful.  But it has been close a few times.  First, they chase some Vervet Monkeys and then the beautiful Columbus Monkeys.   But then a strange thing happened.    It sounded like a dog was barking from just a few meters away.  By now we were two kilometers into the woods and I could not imagine a dog here.  I was right, no dog.

The puppy of the group I call Happa, went boldly running straight at the barking sound.  The other two dogs followed.  And then I heard yelping and all three came running back with their tails between their legs.  Howling.  The older dogs hid behind me and Happa, stopped and then boldly went right back at the barking sound.  This time he returned in a dead sprint and unfortunately for me there was a huge baboon on his trial.  Did you know that baboons hair stand on end when they are angry and bare their fangs in a most fearsome manner.  A baboon can quickly kill a dog and as I said, all primates hate dogs.  The baboon was startled to see me standing there.  He broke off the chase and returned into the forest.  I could see him sitting on a log 30 meters into the trees watching me and then I noticed the dozens of other primates all around him.  He was the protector of quite a clan of baboons of all ages.  We quickly left the area.

It was then I began to think of an exit strategy.  I did not want to, necessarily, have to come running FROM an elephant TO a pack of large baboons.  I knew it was time for a strategy.  The droppings from the elephants were now a mixture of old droppings with some much fresher.  I looked down and realized Is was bleeding.  A lot.  Evidently, my adrenaline as so high that as the baboon attacked I have moved back into some thorns and had cut my fingers and arms.  Blood was running off me and onto the ground.  I guess my heart was really pumping.  I took my pulse and realized I needed to calm down.  I opened my backpack and bandaged myself while standing surveying the forest.  No time to let my guard down.  Do elephants smell blood like sharks?  Nah!

 Finally, I started by back down the trail and found droppings left   in the last hour.  The elephants  were very near.  But where?  Paths cross this trail from many directions all the time.  It is evident from the signs, that the elephants travel all the trails up here, eating and just being elephants.  I know I am going to be 57 years old in two weeks, but I simply must spot those elephants from a distance this time and not have them ambush me from 50 feet like last time.  I truly thought I was going to be killed on my last trip.

I climbed a tree and looked around.  I was looking for a high spot to look down on the elephants.  I want to watch them, unseen.  Besides, everyone has told me that elephants hate thorns and they hate to run downhill.  So the ideal situation would be for me to be on a hill, with thorns between me and them and a great way to run down.  I could tell from climbing the tree that I was very high on this hill and that I was nearing the area where the elephants should be.  I descended noting that at my age climbing a tree would not be a good option of escape.  I am a very slow climber.  As a kid I swung and lunged at branches climbing with ease.  Now, frankly, I thought too much, calculated too long, and moved to slow to evade anything by going up a tree.  Scratch that option.  Finally, I got to a spot that seemed familiar.  In the distance, from a ridge, I spotted a landmark I recognized.  Meaning,  if the elephants were near where I found them last time, I was within a few hundred meters.  I saw a path leading down to where I could get a good look over the ridge.

It was then I realized that these jumping running and generally loud dogs might be the best thing for me to escape.  I figured if the elephants come after me they would have to choose who to stomp.  Since it was me and three dogs I decided that I had a one in four chance of not being targeted.  We came to the ridge and I heard one of the same sounds that lead me to the elephants last time.  The crushing of branches, munching of leaves and the occasional grunting.   There were obviously more than one elephant this time.  Of course there were last time but I did not know it until it was almost too late.  I am a bit more experienced now. Elephants don’t travel alone.  There are always more.  You don’t see elephants at first you hear them.  And hear them I did.

Immediately, I saw two problems.  One, the thorns.  As I said I was told that elephants hated thorns and if you are chased climb under a big thorn patch. Well.  These elephants had actually plowed through the thorns and were eating the trees growing in the their midst.  Scratch off, hiding in the thorns.   The next thing I noticed was that the dogs, which normally barked and chased anything that moved, were flattened on the ground like pancakes, in terror.  The elephant would never see these guys if they looked for me as these little guys had no intention of raising their heads six inches off the ground.  Scratch off multiple options for the elephant to choose from if and when they decided to attach.  And last but not least, the elephants were down below me but had a clear path to run straight up at me and the only way I could run downhill from here was to run right at them.  I was excited to be so near again and sure I would succeed this time in getting a picture,  but none of my intel or planning was working out to my advantage.

Now I had another problem.  There was a huge clump of thorns easily 12 feet high in front of me.  The elephants had made a trail going to both the left and right of the clump.  I heard two elephants, at least.  I am looking at the left trail around the clump, big enough for a truck I might add, when I hear the elephant stop eating and go silent.  I hear it began to move towards me very slow.  Then I hear another elephant making a noise at the other trail bend.  Man, two elephants, one on each trail and I can’t see either one.  Then they began to move quickly.  But it seemed they were everywhere going in every direction.  All the branches below me began to be pushed in directions to both my right and left.  I moved to right trail on the other side of the clump to get see if I could see the other elephant and to see if it was coming.  I was reminded that the last time this happened they actually came at me together at the same time as though they were in a military maneuver.  I thought they would just bluff me and then leave me alone as long as I moved away.  I was wrong.  There were seriously searching for me to do me harm.  Of that I am sure.

I looked down at the dogs and realized they were all three sitting at my feet whimpering and staring at me.  It was as though they expected me to make this terrible sound and these terrible animals go away.  It was apparent they would be of no help in a crisis.  About that time to my amazement one elephant trumpeted and began to actually run.  This brought back the nightmare of my last trip to this part of the mountain.  Running, sweating and fearing for my life.  I had no idea which way to run and just froze trying to get some more information before I moved.  I did not want to choose a path that lead me to a certain confrontation.

I heard some terrible crashing and another elephant trumpeting then I saw a huge male elephant charging.  But, praise God, he was charging at a 45 degree angle from where I was.  I don’t know where he had picked up a scent from where we were earlier or thought he heard us over there earlier and perhaps upon hearing us again decided to challenged that position.  Whatever the reason, he had now lumbered 150 meters from where we were.  He was behind us but It was evident that when he got to the top of the hill, our hill, he was just standing there looking around.  The sound stopped.  It was then my brain registered that he had run up that steep hill at about twice the speed I could run on flat ground.  He was now behind me and there were elephant noise in front of me and below me.  Was I being surrounded by these guys?  I looked and looked where I thought the sound was coming from and soon realized that the silence of the forest was playing tricks on me.  It sounded like elephants 50 feet from me but I finally saw motion two hundred meters away.  A momma elephant and her young.  They were paying me, no attention.  They were just eating.  The little one leaned on the mother almost the whole time. In the picture above you have to look to see the little guy next to her.  Later, I got a blurred picture of the little guy with his trunk extended.

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Daddy on the other hand had huge tusk.  I now had my pictures; it was time to head home. I worked my way slowly to the left of the momma and baby and descended at a slow rate as not to intercept them.  Only the puppy followed.  The two adult dogs were so afraid they were frozen to the ground where I left them.  Sorry, you will have to come on your own.  I am not going to carry you.  About thirty minutes later they caught up.   I had to be diligent.  I was now on the same level of them in the bush and knew they would come this way soon.  They travel each night right to where I am walking now heading to feed on corn.  I occasionally saw a place on the ground where they elephants dug the grass up and wallowed in the dirt.  This is their home. They love it here.  They are raising their families here and are willing to kill to protect them.  But I am learning the rules.  The last time I passed here it was dark, I was covered in sweat exhausted and my heart was racing.   But the sun was still up and I would be safe going this way for the next hour.   My heart was calm and I was having a ball.  I walked home past the dirt homes of some of my house church members.  I prayed for them.   I arrived home, ate my meal, told my story and studied Swahili, read the bible, prayed and went to bed.  I thought about you as I went on my safari.  I knew, if things went well, that I would tell you this story.

I am not an adventurer.  I am just a regular guy trying to take the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the least of these.  People with the same hopes and dreams all people have.  To raise their families and provide for them.  They just happen to live right next door to antelope, elephants, boars, leopards, monkeys, buffalo and giraffes.  And sometimes I take a walk and go visit them.  I see what I can see.  Thanks for coming along.  I hope you enjoyed the adventure.  You know you can come and visit and I can show you amazing things.  Karibu! You are welcome.





Part Three: The End of My First Year

8 09 2013

I landed in Dar es Salaam ready to get started, but things did not go as planned.  I am reluctant in this last post in this series.  There is so much that I simply cannot relate to you.  I would like to, but I am still working with many of the people that were part of my learning experience and some of that information causes me concern over relationships I value.  Perhaps it is better in a book published years from now.  But not too many details here.

Marc Carrier, my recently visited mentor in Kenya, was running at light speed when I left.  His model at that time included seminars teaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, Luke 10 evangelism, the church in the house and discipleship.  Basically, applying the methods of our King Jesus Himself.  Jesus selected disciples whom He poured His life into.  He taught them the Kingdom Ways, Kingdom entrance and then He sent them out training them to go out in twos sharing the Good News.  Jesus sent out the 12 then He sent out the 70.  We have no reason to believe these were the only times He sent them out with clear instructions to preach the Kingdom Gospel, baptize, heal the sick and proclaim the Good News.

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Marc was being hosted in churches and by leaders all over Kenya and had a team of brothers and sisters that went with him on these trips to do these teachings.  After the first day and a half they took out people and went two by two and demonstrated these methods in person, practically modeling the evangelical part.  He did this every week and literally lead hundreds to the Lord and into repentance and baptism in a pretty short time span.  Many Kenyans spoke English and he was surrounded by potential translators and disciples ready to assist him in just a few months.

I hit the ground, not only inexperienced, but in a culture that spoke Swahili and tribal languages and were very traditional in their Christianity and their tribalism.  I had no translator and indeed had no idea where they would come from.  My model of taking a disciple, or man of peace that would become my translator, into the field on one on one evangelism was quickly smashed.  I interviewed Christians and learned right away that NO ONE wanted to jump on a bicycle with me and take a tent and head out into the bush.  That is just not something a new disciple, translator nor newly met brother wants to do.  I had people that loved what I shared but were NOT going to leave their families and go off with me.  Tanzanians are a very traditional people and everything in their tradition screams for them to fit in and cooperate with existing systems in society and in traditional church.

I hired a translator and started doing seminars like Marc.  After three or four I decided to go back to those churches and follow up and examine their progress.  There was none.  Tanzanians love to invite Muzungus in to speak and teach them.  They love rallies and tent meetings, big events and big productions.  That is what the Western church has taught them.  Frankly, they were a bit disappointed I did not come to do crusades.  That is what they wanted. So even when the listened to me teach and clapped and praised the seminar, the gains were short term.  They were amazed as we went out door to door sharing the gospel.  One brother in particular was astounded.  He had never seen anything like it.  We went out and lead a group to Jesus in repentance.  I taught we DON’T then invite them to church but rather we then go to them lead them in repentance, baptize them and get them to invite their friends, family and neighbors to come to their homes and learn about their new faith.  We plant a house church right there with those new believers and then disciple and train them to do the same thing.  We led Muslims to Jesus that first day.  The Psator returned to his church that afternoon and announced he had never seen anything like it.  He had tried to get to those same people for years.  I later found out that his efforts were to go out and invite them to come to church.  To Muslims, he told them that Islam was wrong and they needed to come to church and become a Christian.  I, on the other hand, simply shared the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  That there were two kingdoms.  Jesus was the  King of the Kingdom of God and Satan the king of this world system.  I shared about the cost of becoming a disciple and invited them to repent and enter the Kingdom of God.  The did.

I then instructed the leader to go to them the next day and take them bibles, as promise.  Then he was to schedule an immediate meeting to invite their neighbors to attend, in their home and begin the training I had demonstrated.  And oh yeah, baptize them.  Water baptism is an event that needs a bit of planning in Tanzania as in most parts, water is 200 ft down and not readily available for baptizing without a long journey.  This requires planning and transportation.  I had to go to anther seminar and would have to leave the follow up to this brother. I returned 10 days later.

I immediately wanted to know how it went?  Not so good.  We led  them to the Lord on Thursday of that week.  The leader never took them the bible.  He never followed up at all.  He told me they did not come to church Sunday so he decided they were not serious.  I immediately went and took them the bibles and got a Christian lady next door to begin meeting with them to do training.  These new believers were so poor their children played in the yard naked.  I asked the leader why he wanted them to come to his church?  He somehow did not digest anything I had taught and simply wanted these and other new believers to come to traditional church.  He had no intention of following my instructions.  Although he agreed with my teaching while there, it was evident he had no interest in house church.   I asked him if he really thought that someone who had naked children was going to come to his traditional church where some members drove cars and everyone dressed up like princes and princesses for each service.  I tried to explain how this was just one of the many reasons he needed to disciple them there. In their homes where they lived.   I soon learned that almost everywhere I went people enjoyed the seminar, were shocked at the response in the field but then never followed up on the teaching that I brought.  They simply wanted some new and exciting lessons from the Mzungu and had no intention of really changing anything or even trying anything new.  This was repeated over and over.

Eventually, I was invited to a very poor area and meet some pastors who had almost no building and only a handful of members.  I shared my usual message but I stayed to model the teaching for weeks afterwards.  I eventually began to feel this was God’s plan for me.  I moved in with one of the families and became one of them.  I shared all my meals with them, and simply did life together.  Eventually, I told them I wanted to move to the area and that lead to a wonderful opportunity.  They gave me a small piece of land and then came the big surprise.  Due to a family difficulty they became aware some distant family members wanted to sell their plots of land on their shamba, or small family farm.  They had been denied this request by Babu the leader of the clan in this tribe.  The Meru people have a strong tribe and adhere to the old ways.  They mostly dress Western but very modestly.  The distant family members were told they could not break up the family plot by selling to strangers. They jumped on this new situation of Babu giving me land and letting me move on the property.  How could they be denied the right to sell their land when he gave me land right in the middle of the property.  Me, a stranger. The solution?  I would not be a stranger.  I was formally, at least from a tribal way of thinking, adopted by Babu and become his son.  Now all Babu had done,  was give his own son land.  The right of every son.  To hold the deed to land on the shamba.  I am Wameru.

From there I began to plant the first house church then another and another.  We have four good ones now and others in the works.  Not long after this I was invited to come and do a seminar in Kenya.  I meet with a small group of pastors and held my normal seminar.  But like Tanzania, these were not middle class pastors with middle class congregations.  These were pastors that lived and worked in the slums.  They had terribly small and poor church buildings and congregations.  They had stagnated in recent years.  The prosperity gospel had a strong foothold in this area with promises of a way out and riches for all.  But of course the pastors of those churches moved out of the slums as soon as the congregation began to grow and “sowed seed”, money, in hopes of riches.  I later visited a couple of those prosperity teachers that now lived in very wealthy neighborhoods in what can only be described as mansions.  Well at least the prosperity gospel worked for them.   Some opened multiple churches and members flocked to them.  Pastors that were not interested in this get rich gospel were left with dwindling congregations and few ideas on growth. So these guys were looking for answers.

I assured them my teachings were not going to make them rich.  But that if they joined in the work of the Kingdom in a meaningful way, that the teachings of Jesus were the only way to go.  Jesus, I assured them, left the roadmap for Kingdom expansion.   I left but had no idea if they would follow up without me being there, as that was the case in Tanzania.

After about two months they called and said they had 6 house churches.  They were excited.  I quickly scheduled a return trip and found that actually, one pastor had 6 house churches and the other 9.  They admitted they were not prospering  financially but the Kingdom of God was exploding.  We trained more on discipleship and evangelism.  Then, if you have followed my facebook and blog post something amazing happened.

We meet with the leaders of each house church after another month or two to learn of their challenges.  I quickly learned that these folks were applying these teachings seriously.  The house church leaders were literally further impoverishing themselves by helping the poor, widows and orphans in their area.  Just as we taught.  You see we teach obeying Jesus.  Sacricifial giving, turning the other cheek, loving our neighbor, making disciples.  Caring for widows and orphans.  These ladies were taking their earnings and spending them on the body.  My kind of ladies.   I noticed several churches had at least two members that had job skills and in fact little businesses in the slums.  Many sewed.  I asked those that had skills, what they needed to grow their business.  For example the sewers needed an overlock machine.  A device that puts the finishing touches on clothing taking them from that home made look to the look of a well finished product, desirable to all.  These ladies had to pay someone else that owned a machine to do this work.  Owning one of these machines would cut their overhead and because they could now finish their own clothes and it would also create a new revenue stream by using the overlock machine on other peoples clothing.  I saw my opportunity.  I asked them if they would be interested in teaching other women to sew and in return I would buy them on overlock machine.  I did this in faith as I had no money for such a purchase.  They agreed. I further stipulated that once the other, newly trained women, got good at their skill I wanted the established sewers to give their old machines to these new ladies and I would buy them new ones.  I was confident that if I blogged about this the Lord would place it on the heart of others to give for the machines.  I was right.

Later we inserted a new product line of purses and things exploded.  Now some of my ladies are actually hiring unsaved people from the area and training them as well and leading them to the Lord.  I never saw that coming.  Then the newly trained house church members learned to share their faith.  And now we have over 30 house churches.   People that came to Jesus 6 months ago are now going out two by twos and leading others to the Lord.  Hopefully, starting new house churches.

Later Marc Carrier, my in country mentor, came to Nairobi and shared for about 30 minutes, our mission and the Gospel of the Kingdom, with a brother that worked among Muslims leading them to Jesus through one on one evangelism.  I began to visit with him as he stayed in the same missionary house I stayed in, when visiting Kenya.  To him it was a safe house.  He had fled another country due to persecution and was living there.  He had been poisoned, beaten and put in a comma by radicals. I began to work with him each month and now we have 7 house churches in the refugee area.

We have a long way to go.  But we have come far.  I have learned I cannot teach alone.  I have to model.  I have to demonstrate what I teach.  When I do, like Jesus did, people get it.  If I want them to share with widows, I have to share with widows with them.  Want them to use the proper teachings in discipleship? Then you use the exact methods you want them to use, with them, all the time.  Jesus let the disciples watch Him do it, then he sent them out.  Hands on real discipleship.  We are not meeting oriented, we are disciple oriented.  Go into all the world and MAKE DISCIPLES.  Not converts, not believers, disciples. Disciples who make disciples, who make disciples.   Pray for me as we continue on this adventure in the Kingdom of God.  I am just a student.  I have so much to learn.  I am flawed, but God is Great.  And yes God is Good.  Especially here in Africa.  And I can’t help but add, He is good to me.