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African Elephants

It was in the dark of the night in an isolated village of Africa over a century ago. Village families had just completed a strenuous day of weeding the garden that would eventually feed the village for months to come. So on this one fateful night everyone had been fed, families snuggled into bed and off to sleep in a cozy, but frail grass hut. But then life changed.

One faithful husband and farmer was awakened in the middle of the night by a crunch and a crash. The sound was coming from the garden that he had worked that day. He knew exactly what was now happening, for it had happened almost every year since he could remember as a small boy. All the fathers and farmers of the village also knew what the crunch and crash meant. It meant that all the hard labor that they had put into their crops for over two to three months was now being both destroyed and stolen. The crunch and crash they heard was the monstrous feet of invading elephants going through their gardens, smashing the crops into the ground, while they dined on the succulent produce of the garden.

The gardens of every farmer in the village lost almost everything that fateful night to some merciless elephants who were trampling and feeding on their way from one village to another. This had been going on for centuries. There was no end in sight, and thus the villagers of Africa simply made the best of it, and struggled on. One thing can definitely be said about African villagers in those days, they were resilient and persistent.

I just finished reading for the second time J. A. Hunter’s book, Hunter, and W. D. M. Bell’s three volumes on his adventures as a “white hunter” in Africa. These were two of the most famous African hunters because they hunted in a different Africa than what exists today. In fact, their Africa will never exist again for there are now too many humans in Africa. Both Hunter and Bell were famous “white” hunters in Africa in the early part of the 1900s. At that time, these, and other African hunters like them, supplied most of the ivory for the world.

In the preceding books, both Hunter and Bell together recorded that they had killed thousands of elephants during their adventurous days of African hunting. In their business of ivory, they were only after the ivory that was shipped off to Europe. In view of the present status of the population of elephants in Africa, you might wonder why they killed so many elephants only for the ivory. Back then, ivory was big business. But there was a serendipity that came with their ivory business. Their hunting was good news for the villagers in Africa at the time who had been suffering from the marauding elephants for years.

When the white hunters entered the scene of the African community the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s, elephants often rampaged from one village garden to another, destroying one crop after another, year after year. There was no mutual coexistence between elephants and humans. So when the ivory hunters showed up, things changed.

When the white hunters went on one of their one to two year safaris for ivory, it was all good news for African villagers. Once an ivory hunter came to a particular village with his safari of up to one hundred people, wives and children included, they set up camp. All they had to do then was wait.

Word went out to all the surrounding villages that an ivory hunter was in town. Subsequently, from distant villages as far as twenty to thirty miles around came messengers from villages with news of elephants that had raided village gardens. The ivory hunter, with his tracker, gun bearer, and porters would then follow the messengers to the last location of the marauding beasts. In contrast to the village hunters who had only flimsy spears, the ivory hunter had big guns that would bring down with one shot the thieving monsters who had no concern for the local village people. The elephants wanted that for which they had not labored, and thus were willing to steal it for themselves. They simply stole and consumed, leaving the poor villagers with smashed gardens, and destitute of food.

But when the big guns of the ivory hunter arrived, the day was saved. Bell recorded in his elephant hunting adventures that he brought down in one particular day nineteen bull elephants. All he wanted was the ivory tusks. But the villagers swarmed over the carcasses of the now dead thieving elephants, and stripped them to the bone of all flesh. It was a joyous occasion when villages from miles around the killing zone heard the shots of the ivory hunter’s big guns. Everyone rushed to the scene in order to feast on the fresh meat of the now dead marauding elephants.

King Solomon was one of those kings of Israel who had great integrity with all his power. After reigning over all the territory of Israel from the great River Euphrates in the north, to Beersheba and the River Egypt in the south, Solomon deemed it time to build the house of God in Jerusalem (1 Kg 5 – 8). He set out to build the temple because God had given a concession to King David to do so. But King Solomon needed wood for the building of the temple, and the wood was in another country, growing in the “garden” of another king, King Hiram of Tyre.

Solomon then sent a message to King Hiram of Tyre and informed him that he needed some of the trees of Lebanon to build the house of God in Jerusalem (1 Kg 5:1-12). Hiram essentially responded, “We have trees. How many do you want?”

These were honorable rulers over two great nations in those days. So Solomon said to Hiram, “I will pay you wages for your servants” to cut down your trees and sell them to me (1 Kg 5:6). “Then Hiram gave Solomon cedar and cypress logs according to all his desire” (1 Kg 5:10). Solomon then paid for the wood (1 Kg 5:11).

With his great power, Solomon could have invaded Tyre, stolen the trees of Hiram out of his “garden,” “nationalized” them, and then taken them to Jerusalem. But these were kings of nations who had great integrity. They conducted their rule with national moral principles. And thus, they coexisted with one another with honesty and in peace. They did not invade one another’s gardens and take what they wanted. They did not barge into one another’s nations like hungry elephants and ravage the livelihoods of the people. (It seems that we now live in a world today wherein there is little honor among some dictators.)

The two preceding situations seem to reveal that we are living in an “elephant” age in the behavior of some nations. Here is an example. Good investigative reporting is interesting to read and watch. This is especially true in these days when the air waves are filled with so many lies and fake news stories. Nevertheless, there are still out there some very good investigative reporters doing their job in the free world. (We must never forget that democracies cannot exist without a free press.)

We were recently watching and listening to an investigative report that was aired on BBC international TV out of London. One BBC investigative reporter was presenting the results of his most recent research in working among the wheat farmers of eastern Ukraine. In order to do this investigative report, he stationed himself in eastern Ukraine in what is now under Russian control—the reporter probably spoke Russian fluently. He then went to work on a story of theft that was being rumored, but few believed. It was the theft of wheat from Ukrainian farmers.

The report was aired more than once on BBC TV because many people would not believe that such a deplorable deed was being done by one nation against another. For security reasons, the farmer being interviewed was an actor in the shadows with a disguised voice in order to conceal the farmer’s true identity. (More on this later.)

What the BBC reporter had done was to go to the empty wheat granaries where a farmer had stored his wheat from the recent harvest. During the interview, the farmer revealed that one day Russian trucks showed up at his farm and emptied out all his wheat granaries, and also, the granaries of neighboring farmers. The wheat was loaded on Russian trucks, and then, the trucks went on their way, where to, no one knew.

But this was a smart investigative reporter. One may not know what a GPS tracker is, but it is a small electronic device about the size of a man’s hand that communicates with satellites that circle the earth, receiving and sending out the exact location of the tracker. (For pilots, this is the same device as an ELT—Emergency Locator Transmitter—in an airplane.) Once turned on, the GPS tracker will stay in constant contact with the satellites, and then relay its exact location to a receiver on the ground almost anywhere in the world.

So the BBC reporter simply went to another farm where Russian trucks were emptying out wheat granaries. He then threw a GPS tracker into one of the loads of stolen wheat in a Russian truck. The truck went on its way, while the GPS tracker, unknowingly to the truck driver, continually sent to a satellite the exact location of that truck of wheat on its entire journey, and to its final destination.

During the BBC TV interview of this farmer in the eastern region of Ukraine, the reporter pictured the exact route of the truck on our TV screen as it left an eastern Ukraine farm with stolen wheat, out of Russian controlled Ukrainian territory, through Crimea and then on into northern Russia where the wheat was off-loaded into Russian wheat granaries. It was then claimed to be “nationalized” wheat of Russia, and sold to unsuspecting buyers around the world.

We simply cannot help but think of those herds of marauding elephants invading the gardens of innocent villagers in Africa a century ago who would have no harvest for another year. But now the table has turned. Because many African countries buy their wheat for making bread from Russia, some in Africa are now possibly eating sandwiches made from stolen Ukrainian wheat. (There is an awesome irony somewhere in this story.)

The Ukrainian farmer who was interviewed by the BBC reporter made the statement,

“The people who stole our wheat, also stole or destroyed our harvesting equipment. But I wonder if countries that are now buying ‘Russian wheat’ realize that they are actually eating sandwiches made from stolen [Ukrainian] wheat?”

An added irony to the story is that two weeks before the BBC reporter aired his report on international television, two representatives of the African Union went to meet with Putin in Russia in order to negotiate the continued sending of “Russian” wheat to Africa. Their trip was successful, and thus, the “nationalized” Russian wheat is subsequently being sent to many African countries, some receiving up to fifty percent of their supply of wheat from Russia.

As long as the elephants steal from the garden of some other neighbor, can we now conclude that we can eat the stolen crops without violating any moral principles? Maybe the world is closer to the judgment of Genesis 6:5 than we think.

(BREAKING NEWS: Of the estimated 800 thousand tons of Ukrainian wheat that was stolen from Ukrainian farms, the nation of Turkey recently seized a transport ship in the Black Sea loaded with “Russian Wheat” that was headed for sale to some nation in the southern hemisphere. This saga will continue.)

This might be the time to read again the biblical account of the wicked actions of a king in reference to stealing someone’s garden and crops (See 1 Kg 21 — Naboth’s vineyard.)

Macedonian Marvel

The thanksgiving of the free grace of God through the sacrificial offering of the Son of God should cause thanksgiving in the hearts of those who claim to be Christians. This helps us understand why the Macedonian disciples, who were at the time new in the faith (At 16:12), gave so sacrificially when opportunities arose to abound in the grace of God, and thus, freely give. Because they had discovered the power of the gospel of grace, Paul used them as an example to a church with some stingy disciples in Corinth who would not be caused to give in thanksgiving for the grace of God that was revealed to them. We have the Macedonian disciples as an example in Holy Scripture today because their sacrificial giving was a true testimony of people abounding in the grace of God.

A. Overcoming stingy behavior:
Paul wrote to the stingy Corinthians the following grace-responsive example of the disciples in Macedonia: “We make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia” (2 Co 8:1)—one does not know if he or she is abounding in the grace of God until he or she is freely giving to others out of a thankful heart. Notice in Paul’s preceding statement that he referred first to the “grace of God” that was given to and received by the Macedonian disciples. They received through Paul a message of God’s gospel of grace. But their free reception of the grace did not stop with saying “amen” to Paul’s sermon. On the contrary, “in a great trial of affliction, and the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Co 8:2).

We must keep in mind why the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, about which Jesus referred in Matthew 10:15, will receive more consideration in the final judgment than stingy Christians, some of whom were in the Corinthian church. If the sacrificial response to grace of the Macedonian disciples teaches any clear lesson, it is that even if one is in deep poverty, he or she is still obligated to abound in living the grace of God. Poverty is no excuse for not giving in a thankful response for the free grace of God. There are no poverty-stricken grace-purchased Christians. Even a poor Jewish widow in Jerusalem gave her last two coins, and this before the revelation of the whole gospel (Lk 21:1-3).

So Paul continued to shame the Corinthians: “For I testify that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3). Paul did not beg the Macedonians to give. On the contrary, they were cheerful givers because they had freely received and comprehended the free grace of God. Those who truly understand the grace of God do not have to be asked to give blessings to others who are in need. They need only to be directed toward opportunities to give. It is for this reason that legally motivated givers often become grudging givers. On the other hand, grace-responsive givers are always cheerful givers, always looking for some need upon which they can release their sincere gratitude for the grace they received freely through Jesus (2 Co 9:6-9). And once the opportunities are made known to grace-driven disciples, they do as Paul testified of the poverty-stricken Macedonians, “. . . begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift [of their contribution] and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints [in famine in Judea]” (2 Co 8:4).

B. Learning to beg to give:
It is this last statement of Paul that shames so many today who continue to be colonial minded in reference to their behavior as Christians. They function the opposite of how the Macedonian disciples functioned in reference to giving money in order to relieve the famine victims of Judea, the occasion (opportunity) for making the contribution. And—this is important—in order to be in fellowship with all grace-motivated Christians around the world, the Macedonians begged Paul to receive their contribution. They understood that if they did not freely give, then they would not be in fellowship with the universal church of Christ. Colonial-minded disciples, therefore, can never be in fellowship with the universal church of Christ simply because they persist in being takers and not givers.

The Macedonians “begged” to give; they did not beg to receive. This is what grace does to one’s heart. If a Christian continues to beg to receive, then he or she is masquerading as a Christian, having either forgotten or never understood the motivating power of the gospel of God’s grace. Maybe such a person never really understood the nature of the gospel, and thus was baptized only legally in following a command to be baptized. We must keep in mind that if one legally does down into the water, he or she will often come forth from the water and behave as a legal-oriented disciple. He or she may be a good law keeper, but not so much a grace-motivated disciple.

On the other hand, those who are grace-responsive to the gospel are seeking opportunities to freely give as they had freely received the grace of God. If we desire to be a colonial nation in which we may find ourselves today, that in the past some foreign government built all our roads, schools and hospitals, even supported the government officials, then the adoption of this foreign dependency culture will cripple the church, even as it continues to do so in some places today. The disciples who live in former colonial possessions are often cursed with a sense of colonial dependency that cripples their willingness to give freely.

We had to smile when we recently listened to a BBC broadcast out of London that was made by a reporter who was in the former colonial possession of England. The setting for the broadcast was that Jamaica was following the example of the island West Indian country of Barbados. (Keep in mind that these countries are near to our hearts, for during the 1970s and early 1980s we lived and worked in the West Indies.) But now some of these island nations are seeking to leave the trade relationship of the British Commonwealth in order to be totally on their own as a republic, which is a good thing.

So the BCC reporter was out on the streets of Jamaica, interviewing residents concerning Jamaica’s move to be a republic and not a part of the Commonwealth. One old Jamaican resident responded to the reporter, “They [England] never gave us anything; we might as well be a republic on our own.” This is a laughable statement in view of the fact that when we visited Jamaica on several occasions while living in the West Indies, we drove down England-built roads; we met in England-built schools, having passed by numerous England-built hospitals. We bought countless articles in the market that were imported duty-free as a result of the country being a colonial possession in the past and now a part of the Commonwealth. We even spoke English, a blessing from England. And for this particular person to say that England had never given them anything, was simply a failure to remember and appreciate the past history of Jamaica.

Jamaica is a good example of the colonial arrangement of those nations that were created as a part of the world Empire of England. At one time, one third of the world was a part of this Empire. But during the 1950s and 1960s, and under the queenship of Queen Elizabeth, the Empire disengaged from its former colonial possessions. We lived in the West Indies when many of these island nations were informed by England that they were being given their independence. They were thus instructed to get their constitutional and financial house in order for they had to stand on their own. England would not longer hand out free roads, free schools, free hospitals, etc.
Jamaica was released to be a free nation on August 6, 1962. There was no revolutionary war where the Jamaicans fought for their independence. After England had given her resources to the country for over a century and a half during the post-slavery era, it was time to truly release the slaves. The people were subsequently freely given their independence. By the grace of England, these island nations of the West Indies, after being granted independence, were allowed to remain in the free-trading arrangement of the British Commonwealth in order to continue to receive duty-free imports from England and other Commonwealth member nations. So England was expected to continue to give, but the now independent nations were not expected to give anything back to England in return.

(For those of you who might be interested in this matter of history, BCC reporter Jeremy Paxman recorded a five-segment TV series from 2015 to 2020, which TV series was first broadcasted on the BCC network. The name of the series was entitled, Empire. The entire series is now online. At the end of the magnificent series, notice carefully what Paxman stated in summation in about two sentences at the end of segment five. His statement will help Western minds to understand better the nonsense of the statement that was made by the old Jamaican gentleman in the previous BBC comment, as well as the colonial mentality of many of those older Christians who continue to hinder grace-motivated giving in the present church in all the former British colonial possessions.)

Nevertheless, throughout the years we have had the privilege of working with some very dedicated free givers in Africa. They have overcome their culture of colonial dependency by responding to the grace of God. We have found it interesting that as the poor Macedonians, those who qualify themselves to accept the free gift of God’s grace have no fear of impoverishing themselves further in the matter of giving because they are often already poor. For example, we recently sat down on a Sunday here in South Africa and turned on our TV to a channel that was dedicated to religious broadcasting. And there for the next thirty minutes was a second generation brother on the other side of South Africa whom we had known for over forty years. The “poor” churches in his area had scrapped together enough funds to support him on a live TV broadcast. This is the Macedonian marvel in action.

This was a case where Macedonian like-minded Christians had discovered the joy of grace-motivated giving. As the Judean church in the beginning of the gospel had sent out of Jewish missionaries who ministered the gospel to the Gentiles in Macedonia and Achaia, so those who obeyed the gospel in Macedonia in turn contributed to minister the gospel to a greater audience in their own region and beyond. It was as Paul wrote of them, “And you [Macedonian Christians, specifically, you in Thessalonian] became imitators of us . . . so that you were examples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For the word of the Lord was sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has spread abroad” (1 Th 1:6-9).

We must never underestimate the power of grace to motivate “poor” Christians who are highly motivated by the grace of God. It is because of the Macedonian church example that a principle is taught that no Christian can ever give an excuse of poverty in reference to giving to the preaching of the gospel. It is for this reason that whenever a supposedly Christian group says, “Give us something because we are poor,” we immediately turn away from them. We do so as Jesus instructed His first missionaries when He sent them out during His earthly ministry. He instructed His missionaries that if they were not received by a particular individual or village that would give them bread and a bed, then they were to turn away and shake off the dust of their feet in rejection of that individual or village. If people do not reveal through sacrificial giving that their hearts are fertile soil for the gospel of grace, regardless of how poor they may be, then they have disqualified themselves to be worthy of the offering of the incarnate Son of God, who, though in the form of God, emptied Himself into the poverty of a fleshly body in order to go to the death of a cross (See Ph 2:5-11). Anyone who does not sacrificially give in response to his eternal sacrifice cannot truly understand the grace of God.

But in reference to the grace of God that should cause thanksgiving in our hearts, this grace is contrary to colonial thinking and behavior. Grace moves us to look for opportunities where we can give, not get. It was for this reason that Jesus warned and cautioned those who would seek to be His disciples: “For which one of you, intending to build a tower [become My disciple], does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it” (Lk 14:28).

Colonial-minded people often seek to be takers, whereas grace-driven disciples seek opportunities by which they can freely give the gospel of grace to the world through their free-will support of evangelists or materials to be sent to those who are yet to hear the gospel. So in order to shame the stingy “takers” of the Corinthian church, Paul again reminded them of the grace-motivated givers of Macedonia:

:Have I committed an offense in humbling myself [while in your presence by supporting myself through making tents] so that you might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God without charge [your support]? I robbed other churches [who supported me], taking wages from them, in order to serve you [freely]. And when I was present with you and in need [of support], I was not a [financial] burden to anyone [in Corinth], for what I lacked [in funds] the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied [my needs]. And in all things I have kept myself from being [financially] burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself” (2 Co 11:7-9).

There were some among the Corinthians who were taking financial support for themselves. But Paul said of these charlatan apostles, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Co 11:13). Deceitful workers who would use the church as an opportunity to receive financial gain, are false. The church must financially support those who preach the gospel to the lost (1 Co 9:13,14). However, the church must not become the occasion for support by masquerading takers.

It was for this reason that Paul did not pass through the Corinthian church immediately, but instead wrote a letter of warning in advance of his coming. He did not go immediately to the church in Corinth in order “to spare you, I did not return to Corinth” (2 Co 1:2). In other words, and according to the authority that was given to the Christ-sent apostles to keep the church pure of financial beggars and deceivers, inflict physical punishment on them, as did Peter and the other Christ-sent apostles upon Ananias and Sapphira many years before (See At 5:1-11; 3 Jn 9,10). Paul thus spared the Corinthian church from being disciplined because some of the members had involved themselves in using the church as an opportunity for financial gain (See 1 Co 4:21).

On the other hand, those who would impoverish themselves in order to freely give the gospel to others, are true and sincere (See 3 Jn 1-6). Paul impoverished himself for both the Corinthians and Macedonians. The Macedonians discovered the blessing of life-changing grace. And for this reason, when he went on from Macedonian, the Philippian disciples sent support once and again to him, even when he was in Corinth (Ph 4:16).

Research: The Godly Giver, Book 57, Biblical Research Library, africainternational.org