Lions — A Gift of Grace

15 12 2005

About a month ago, Isaac, Graham and I went to the Pendjari National Game Park in Benin for a camping safari trip. We enjoyed some serious guy time – joking in the car, telling stories around the camp fire, reading the Chronicles of Narnia under a star-filled sky and sharing the wonder of God’s great creation . It was a time I hope my boys never forget (and one we plan to make into a yearly Ries tradition as long as we are near a game park)!

I must confess, though, that having special, focused time with my two oldest sons was not the only (or even primary) reason I planned the trip. Selfishly, I was looking for a way to soothe the great disappointment of missing out on the survey trip to Rwanda, visit with mountain gorillas and safari in the Mossai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, my good friends and teammates had embarked upon. I knew that getting out on my own little West African adventure would be a nice distraction – and maybe give me something my buds didn’t have in the process. Not very noble, I know.

So what’s with the lions? Well, they are reason I’ve titled this blather ‘A Gift of Grace’ is because that is exactly what they were. I say that because, on that safari trip, not only was I blessed with tremendous quality/quantity time with Isaac and Graham in which we grew closer together, but we all were blessed with the sighting of 7 lions! Here’s another picture of the group we saw on the second day of our trip.

Pretty awesome, huh? Now, to give you some perspective on this, in my 8 previous trips over the past 4 years to Pendjari, I had seen lions only once. During this ‘drought’, I have come to not expect, or even hope, to see lions on safari, because I’d almost always been let down. On top of all this ‘bad lion luck’, this trip was early in the dry season so the weeds were still very, very thick in the park and, except for in the roads and the rare clearings, visibility was pretty low.

To see 7 in one trip, at that time of the year, is pretty incredible. To see them at a time when the green monster of jealousy was ready to eat me up… well, that is a gift of grace.

We followed the group on the road until they veered off toward the forest. The best picture I got of them was when, alerted by some rustling in the nearby forest, they had their backs to us and were about to bolt.

The whole time we were watching the lions, the boys and I, talked in excited whispers. I was shaking with excitement (and fear maybe?) and I’m pretty sure Ike and G were too. We were sky high for the rest of the day. Every now and then, one of us would blurt out a “Wow! We saw lions!” or “Those guys were huge!” and “Can you believe that?!”

The story of the first lion we saw on the trip is even more amazing.

Every time we enter the park, we play a little game in which everyone calls out the mammal which they think will be the first to be spotted on the trip. On this trip, Isaac called baboons, I said roan antelope and Graham said we’d see lions first. Both Isaac and I didn’t think Graham had a chance of ‘winning’ the game, but we tried to humor him.

Turns out the joke was on us because not 20 minutes after we had entered the park (and while we were still a long ways away from the main area for animal sightings), a large lion crossed about 10 yards in front of our truck. He froze for a second, long enough for us to get a good look at him, and then jumped into the tall grass on the side of the road.

I pulled up to where he entered, thinking he was long gone, but as I examined the roadside, my eyes finally locked on his face gazing at us not 10 feet from the truck! I could not get my camera out fast enough, what with my hands shaking and trying to get the boys to see him too. He took off before I could get a picture, but not before we all had a good look and Isaac and I began to eat some crow for doubting Graham.

It was the best tasting crow I’ve had to eat in a long time! I still can’t believe it. That God would be gracious to me in my petty desires and head off my silly jealousies — that’s even more unbelievable!

Just one more illustration of the tall, long, deep and wide Love of our Creator!




One response

22 12 2005


I love this story. It reminds me of the first summer that we saw all the elephants in BF (2000). The interns had prayed and asked God that we would see some elephants. Not only did we see several when we went looking for them in that one area where they can almost always be found nowadays, but a whole herd crossed in front of us on the highway as we were leaving!! God sure is good and amazes those of us with little faith.

God bless you guys and Merry Christmas!

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