There is no lion on pride rock. They tell us there are seven but all we can find are three cubs lying in a pen filled with mud and a bizarre hunk of meat. Lions are one of five species native to Africa known as “The Big Five”, that is, the five most dangerous game on the continent. Today we saw four.
We all climbed into the vans at 6 this morning for the 3 hour trip to Aquita Game Preserve for our day off and a legitimate African safari. We are quickly informed, however, that only Americans call them safaris and learned soon after that this game drive was maybe not so authentic either. A large, decrepit Mercedes flatbed, loosely fitted with canopy and benches (which relied more on the people sitting on them to stay put than its unsecured bolts) pulls around, we awkwardly lift ourselves up and are informed there is no guarantee we will see any of their animals. All around wealthy Europeans snap pictures with pricey cameras and as the truck travels around the park we pass other groups on the side of the road having tea. We laugh, asking “Did you see the lions?” Apparently everyone gets tea in this game reserve, as well as bizarre sausages, much to our humility, and the whole time it is cold outside.
The reserve was certainly not the African savannah we imagined but much more like Western Colorado and extremely beautiful. Don’t worry, we did see animals, all of which were native to South Africa, and quite a few of them. In addition to the lions, we saw white rhinos, water buffalo, and elephants, the rest of “The Big Five” found in the reserve (the other is the tiger). We also saw hippos, ostrich, springbucks, zebra, and wildebeests, which apparently come in blue and black. There was even a pair of cheetahs several of us got to pet. One of them even cuddled up to Chad and refused to get off him, even after much coaxing from the ranger, proving that a cheetah is nothing more than your regular house cat, just 5 times the size and capable of running 120km/hr. I can’t hardly remember all the things we had to laugh at today and while the park was more of a glorified zoo, we all got a little sunburned, some more than others, and had a great time.
The rest of the trip was spectacular as the drive from Cape Town to the reserve took us under a mountain and through a breath-taking canyon of high and dynamic rock walls. We then passed through South Africa’s wine country and enjoyed incredible views the entire drive. We all agreed Cape Town is as beautiful as any place in the world, but the drive proved the country stays just as beautiful inland. It’s sort of like Napa Valley but in the middle of the Colorado Rockies and much more drastic and beautiful. None of us knew anything like this existed in Africa.
I reflect on a day in the country and see that this part of creation - mountains, valleys, and animals alike - shows a tremendous amount of purpose on behalf of the Lord. There is so much creativity and intention in the design of this place that I cannot help but see God’s love in it all for there is hope in God’s love and purpose.
Tomorrow, we get to worship with the congregation of the Masiphumalele Baptist Church. This is a church seemingly in the middle of hopelessness. Their pastor was murdered a little over a month ago and the community it is named for carries an HIV/AIDS infection rate of 28%. You’ve read about the people we’ve encountered there and the reality is that the residents of this community have tremendous joy and hope. They are people who have experienced Christ, who do not measure their worth by their health and their surroundings. I believe God is showing us that his goodness in creation is merely a glimmer of the hope and purpose given to all people through Jesus Christ.
I had a hard time when we first got here reconciling such hardship in such a beautiful place but now it all makes sense. God has poured Himself out on Cape Town, South Africa, and the rest of the continent and continues to do so; the evidence is everywhere. God has blessed us today through our bumpy ride in the park and He is continuing to show us His heart and vision for this place. Cheers!