We took the kids to the zoo earlier this week. It is one of our favorite places to go spend a few hours together as a family. It’s just the right size for our small children and has a fairly wide range of animal species for being a smaller zoo. David and I agreed that day was by far the most active we’d seen the animals out of all our visits. David suggested it could have been due to the slightly cooler temps we had that day. Whatever the reason, it made for a livelier walk through the zoo than normal. (I’ll share my story about the bird who was trying to attack me through the fence for another time.)
Not only were the animals more active, but some of the animals who usually keep themselves hidden away were out for us to see. We saw the grizzly bear, another bear that I didn’t catch the name of, these dogs from South America, some really cool monkeys with long white hair, and the most beautiful cat I’ve ever seen… a jaguar.
It was the most beautiful creature I think I’ve ever seen. I even walked back to his exhibit after we left, so I could take a picture. While I was doing so, David walked up behind me with the kids and said, “You know, that right there is what you were probably running around with that one time.”
My eyes got big, and I cringed. I knew exactly what he was referring to.
“You could have had one of those up in the trees while you were running and you never would have known it.”
And now it’s time for a story to put his statements into context…
Several years ago I served as a team nurse on a short term mission trip to Ecuador. It was my second time to go there and serve with this particular ministry. I’d gone several years prior as a teenager with my youth group, so I thought I knew what I was signing up for.
I had no clue.
This trip was unlike any I’d been on before. (And that’s saying something if you know much about my history.) I could tell you story after story about the things we experienced- it’s almost mind boggling that we were only down there for 10 days.
But, one experience that stands out, which David was referring to, was the trip we took via one engine aircraft to a remote jungle village. I honestly don’t remember the name of the village. I wish I did. But, it was located just a short walk from the Curaray River and 15 minutes upstream from Palms Beach, where Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Flemming, and Roger Youderian were killed by natives in 1956.
Our plan for the day was to fly in, hold an open air meeting at the village, and then if time permitted, travel by boat to see the beach where this tragedy occurred, sail back, hop on our planes, and fly back to the city.
Upon landing we were greeted by a swarm of warm smiles including that of an old wrinkly gentleman holding the skull of a jaguar, whom he’d killed a few days prior after it tried to get inside his hut. Then someone mentioned something about a small child being snatched out of a canoe by an anaconda the previous week.
I considered climbing back into the plane and staying there all day. But, the planes were leaving. Although we had chartered them for this trip, these weren’t private jets. They were Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) planes that delivered medical and food supplies to remote villages. These pilots had a full schedule to get to, and I had a team of teenagers to help look after, so I swallowed hard and just focused on keeping an eye on our surroundings.
I heard a pilot mention to our host missionary that we had to be back at the airfield (which was just a giant clearing in the jungle forest) by 2:30pm, and if we weren’t there, they’d have to come back for us the next day, because they had a schedule and couldn’t wait. Our host missionary told me as the pilots were getting ready to leave that if it rained and the field was too wet, the planes wouldn’t be able to land, so again, they’d come back for us the next day.
And so I started praying against the rain while the little old man walked by with that jaguar skull and burned 2:30pm into my memory bank. We would not be sleeping in the jungle that night.
A couple hours later I found myself looking at a very skinny wooden canoe with a motor on the end of it. This, we were told, would be the vessel that would take us to Palms Beach. There was just one little problem… It only fit half our team! The captain apparently had it all worked out, so half of us climbed in, and motored off.
I assumed another canoe was going to pick up the other half of the team, but when we got to Palms Beach, our captain told us to hop out, so he could go back and get the rest of the team. We scratched our heads, as there was just one more little problem…
There was NO BEACH.
The beach had eroded away. So, there we stood, IN THE RIVER praying an anaconda wasn’t swimming nearby. It was at that moment that I remembered the faces of the parents when they dropped their teenagers off with me and the other leaders before we left on this trip and their asking me to take care of them and my promising to bring them home. (Cue internal sobbing.)
After the rest of our team made it to the “beach” we spent about 20 minutes hearing the martyrs’ story (and praying the anacondas would stay away). And then we, as respectfully as we could, scrambled back into the canoe- well half of us at least.
But, there was just one more little problem….
The canoe pulled over to the side of the river about halfway to where we had initially boarded. The canoe was out of gas. So there we stood without our translators (who we’d left with the other half of our team in the middle of the river) by a little hut with a few chickens running around on the banks of the Curaray River… where anacondas apparently reside. It never even occurred to me from where or how the captain would acquire gasoline in the middle of the jungle. There was a woman and a few children outside the hut, but they didn’t appear to have that kind of resource.
Our team leader, Michael, and I were starting to get very nervous as we knew 2pm was approaching, and he didn’t want to sleep in the jungle any less than I did. I noticed there was a trail leading upstream that appeared to be parallel to the river. So, I asked, in very broken Spanish, if one of the little boys by the hut knew how to get to the airfield. He nodded and then started walking up the trail.
I grabbed two of the girls on our team. We followed the kid in hopes of making it to the airfield before the planes landed, so we could stall the pilots until the canoe got gassed up and the rest of our team transported up the river.
That kid walked as fast as the speed walkers do in the Olympics! We had to run to keep up with him. But we were desperate to get to the airfield by 2:30pm, so we ran as fast as we could, jumping over thick, twisty roots along the trail.
Eventually, dripping with sweat, we emerged from the jungle into a clearing, which just so happened to be the airfield. And no sooner had we run across the “runway” did we hear the little boy shout, “Avion! Avion!” and point to the sky.
The MAF planes were preparing to land.
Praise the Lord, by the time all the planes had landed, our entire team had made it back to the village, and therefore, none of us had to sleep in the jungle that night.
Fast forward to this morning, where I stood looking at that jaguar while I chewed on David’s words.
He was right. There very well could have been a jaguar up in one of those trees as I ran through the jungle towards the airfield- and I would have never known it.
Sure, a jaguar would be hard to spot even if you were looking for it. But, if you’re focused on something else, like not tripping on twisty roots on the trail, you’re definitely not going to notice the large cat perched over head.
How much is this like many of us , focusing on all these things that make our day harder, like hitting all the red lights on our way to work, the baby spitting up all over your new shirt RIGHT before you have to leave the house, the toddler needing to go to the pediatrician AGAIN for a suspect ear infection, the co-worker’s passive aggressive comments, the spouse forgetting to do that one thing you ask them to every day, the slow internet speed (or worse, slow computer) that makes you late turning in that report to your boss…
At some point all you want is a coffee and for someone to bring it to you while you cry out to God, “Can’t you cut me a break?!”
Meanwhile He’s keeping a jaguar from jumping on your head, which in the non-jungle-parts-of-the-world means any zillion number of things.
The twisty roots really hurt when you trip over them. They do. Especially when you don’t see them coming and you land on your face and scratch up your hands and your knees. I’m not belittling them. They beat me up some days.
But man oh man, am I sure grateful I’m not having to keep that jaguar off my back too.
So, I took a picture of the jaguar at our zoo, and he’s my new wallpaper on my phone. When my days are extra rooty, I hope the picture will remind me that while I run this race where God is calling me to run and try not to get tripped up on the roots along the way, He’ll be keeping a sovereign eye (and hand) on all the things I can’t see.
And in case you were wondering how much Spanish I speak, I speak enough to get to an airport.
Until next time,