Mortality, Eternity, and Elephants

Recently in the last few weeks there have been a few things that have made me stop and think a bit about life and death. One morning during devotions here at the clinic my Tanzanian friends told me they just received news of a pastor friend of theirs who died in a car accident near their home town of Shinyanga. He was in a public transport mini-bus heading to Mwanza for a pastor’s seminar. The bus overtook a motorcycle and then lost control and went off the road, killing two people instantly. The pastor was rushed to a local hospital but died there later from injuries. He left a wife and children and recently new congregation. It’s a sobering thought when we pray for safety during travel. Do we pray honestly and earnestly? Or do we take our safety in the west for granted? My Tanzanian friends seem to take seriously the potential hazard travel is for them here, in a developing country where road accidents kill more visitors than any other cause, and regulations about licenses and vehicle safety and inspection are much more lax.
I also recently received word from a friend in the States regarding one of the men who was in my freshmen Bible study during college. I was a senior at the time, an R.A. in a freshmen dorm, leading a Bible study for some of the guys on the hall. One of the original members of that Bible study was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago and died from it a couple weeks ago after a valiant fight. He was in the early 30’s.
Two weeks ago I admitted a patient from the remote village of Handa, an hour and a half drive away. He and a friend came across a herd of elephants eating their crop around 5pm. They attempted to scare the herd away (on foot!) and they were successful except for one elephant. There were young ones among them, and presumably this one elephant was defending them. It charged and before he could climb a tree it gored this man in the lower leg with a tusk, grabbed him around the waist with it’s trunk and threw him in to the air four times. The fourth time he hit the ground he was knocked unconscious. Then the elephant left and the man woke up and his friend found a motorcycle to bring him to our place for treatment. What’s amazing is that the typical scenario (I learned from neighbors here) is that after throwing you in to the air, an elephant will usually trample you considerably to make sure the job of killing you is done. The pastor here, along with many other people who visited this man while he was admitted, told him over and over that God had decided to let him live still, that he got a second chance. They told him if an elephant decides to go after you, it is the rare person who escapes. They shared the gospel with him, urging him to consider the state of his soul before God and to believe in Christ for salvation.
I think certainly there is something to living wisely, to not taking inordinate risks (like rushing an elephant herd on foot), but also there is trusting the Lord with our lives, resting in his sovereign goodness, knowing that He has planned our days and their number on this earth, and He knows what lies ahead for us. How then ought we to live? We don’t know when the Lord will call us to Himself. I’m not suggesting we live in reckless abandon (eat, drink for tomorrow we die), I’m suggesting we live in urgent anticipation. Redeem the time, make the most of these days God has given us. So that if He comes back in our lifetime, or if we die and meet Him in Heaven, either way we are found to be living for Him and His Kingdom.


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