I have always been interested in animals and birds. When I learned to read, I found books about birds and animals and came to know much about them. By the time I was in my teens, I could identify most of the African animals. I could tell a klipspringer from an impala, or a gemsbok from wildebeest.
I always wanted to go to Africa and see the animals, and finally that opportunity came. Sister Packer and I were assigned to tour in South Africa. We had a very strenuous schedule and had dedicated eight chapels in seven days.
The mission president was vague about the schedule for September 10th. (That happens to be my birthday.) I thought we were planning to return to Johannesburg, South Africa. But he had other plans. “There is a game reserve some distance from here,” he explained, “and I have rented a car, and tomorrow, your birthday, we are going to spend seeing the African animals.”
Now I might explain that the game reserves in Africa are unusual. The people are put in cages, and the animals are left to run free. That is, there are compounds where the park visitors check in at night and are locked behind high fences until after daylight. They are allowed to drive about, but no one is allowed out of his car.
Because of a delay in getting our evening meal, it was long after dark when we left to go to our isolated cabin. We found the turnoff and had gone up the narrow road just a short distance when the engine stalled. We found a flashlight and I stepped out to check under the hood. As the light flashed on the dusty road, the first thing I saw was lion tracks!
Back in the car, we determined to content ourselves with spending the night there! Fortunately, we were rescued by the driver of a gas truck who had left the compound late because of a problem.
In the morning they brought us back to the compound. We had no automobile and no way to get a replacement until late in the afternoon. Our one day in the park was ruined and, for me, the dream of a lifetime was gone.
I talked with a young ranger, and he was surprised that I knew many of the African birds. Then he volunteered to rescue us. “We are building a new lookout over a water hole about 20 miles [32 kilometers] from the compound,” he said. “It is not quite finished, but it is safe. I will take you out there with a lunch. You may see as many animals, or even more, than if you were driving around.”
On the way to the lookout he volunteered to show us some lions. He turned off through the brush and before long located a group of 17 lions all sprawled out asleep and drove right up among them.
We stopped at a water hole to watch the animals come to drink. It was very dry that season and there was not much water, really just muddy spots. When the elephants stepped into the soft mud, the water would seep into the depression and the animals would drink from the elephant tracks.
The antelope, particularly, were very nervous. They would approach the mud hole, only to turn and run away in great fright. I could see there were no lions about and asked the guide why they didn’t drink. His answer, and this is the lesson, was “Crocodiles.”
I knew he must be joking and asked him seriously, “What is the problem?” The answer again: “Crocodiles.”
“Nonsense,” I said. “There are no crocodiles out there. Anyone can see that.”
I thought he was having some fun at the expense of his foreign game expert, and finally I asked him to tell us the truth. Now I remind you that I was not uninformed. I had read many books. Besides, anyone would know that you can’t hide a crocodile in an elephant track.
He could tell I did not believe him and determined, I suppose, to teach me a lesson. We drove to another location where the car was on an embankment above the muddy hole where we could look down. “There,” he said. “See for yourself.”
I couldn’t see anything except the mud, a little water, and the nervous animals in the distance. Then all at once I saw it!—a large crocodile, settled in the mud, waiting for some unsuspecting animal to get thirsty enough to come for a drink.
Suddenly I became a believer! When he could see I was willing to listen, he continued with the lesson. “There are crocodiles all over the park,” he said, “not just in the rivers. We don’t have any water without a crocodile somewhere near it, and you’d better count on it.”
The guide was kinder to me than I deserved. My “know-it-all” challenge to his first statement, “Crocodiles,” might have brought an invitation, “Well, go out and see for yourself!”
I could see for myself that there were no crocodiles. I was so sure of myself I think I might have walked out just to see what was there. Such an arrogant approach could have been fatal! But he was patient enough to teach me.
I hope you’ll be wiser in talking to your guides than I was on that occasion. That smart-aleck idea that I knew everything really wasn’t worthy of me, nor is it worthy of you. I’m not very proud of it, and I think I’d be ashamed to tell you about it except that telling you may help you.
Those ahead of you in life have probed about the water holes a bit and raise a voice of warning about crocodiles. Not just the big, gray lizards that can bite you to pieces, but spiritual crocodiles, infinitely more dangerous, and more deceptive and less visible, even, than those well-camouflaged reptiles of Africa.
These spiritual crocodiles can kill or mutilate your souls. They can destroy your peace of mind and the peace of mind of those who love you. Those are the ones to be warned against, and there is hardly a watering place in all of mortality now that is not infested with them.
On another trip to Africa I discussed this experience with a game ranger in another park. He assured me that you can indeed hide a crocodile in an elephant track—one big enough to bite a man in two.
He then showed me a place where a tragedy had occurred. A young man from England was working in the hotel for the season. In spite of constant and repeated warnings, he went through the compound fence to check something across a shallow splash of water that didn’t cover his tennis shoes.
“He wasn’t two steps in,” the ranger said, “before a crocodile had him, and we could do nothing to save him.”
It seems almost to be against our natures, particularly when we are young, to accept much guidance from others. But there are times when, regardless of how much we think we know or how much we think we want to do something, our very existence depends on paying attention to the guides.
Now, it is a gruesome thing to think about that young man who was eaten by the crocodile. But that is not, by any means, the worst thing that could happen. There are moral and spiritual things far worse even than the thought of being chewed to pieces by a monstrous lizard.
Fortunately there are guides enough in life to prevent these things from happening if we are willing to take counsel now and again. If you will listen to the counsel of your parents and your teachers and your leaders when you are young, you can learn how to follow the best guide of all—the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. That is individual revelation. There is a process through which we can be alerted to spiritual dangers. Just as surely as that guide warned me, you can receive signals alerting you to the spiritual crocodiles that lurk ahead.
Fortunately, there is spiritual first aid for those who have been bitten. The bishop of the ward is the guide in charge of this first aid. He can also treat those who have been badly morally mauled by these spiritual crocodiles—and see them completely healed.
That experience in Africa was another reminder for me to follow the Guide. I follow Him because I want to. I bear witness that He lives, that Jesus is the Christ. I know that He has a body of flesh and bones, that He directs this Church, and His purpose is to see all of us guided safely back into His presence.