Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

December 12, 2003

Bats and Cats and the Bible

One night recently, I heard a strange animal sound. If you made a loud clucking sound against the soft palate in your mouth with the back of your tongue, and made it slightly metallic sounding, that's how it sounded. I was talking with Ezira, my night guard, when I heard it, so I asked him what animal or bird made that sound. He told me it was a large bird that flies only at night. His English is limited and he did not know its name. He tried to describe it to me.

He said it was this big (measuring body and wing span on his arm) and it has a head like a dog. Wow! I couldn't think of any bird that has a head like a dog, but then I am in Africa and I sure don't know all the wildlife (Plus, Uganda sports about one thousand types of birds!). Then he said it has teeth like a dog too. A bird with teeth?! He pointed to the glass shade on my burning kerosene lamp and told me "It looks like that." The only thing I could see was the reflection of the flame in the glass, and it did resemble the head of a Doberman. He said when it sits on a tree branch, its head hangs down.

Have you figured it out yet? It's a BAT! A large, probably fruit bat. When I finally figured it out, I realized that had Ezira pointed to my second kerosene lamp, it has a shade on it that has a bat in the glass, but the one he'd pointed at was a different brand.

Last week, something tried to kill my cat, Sam. Poor Sam was terrified, screeching at the top of his lungs as he tried to flee. He ran up a tree, and the creature also ran up the tree after him! Now if a cat can't escape up a tree, what is he to do? Fortunately, one of my workers was here. She ran after them, shouting and throwing stones. The wild animal dropped from the tree straight to the ground, and ran off. She talked of little else for 2 or 3 days afterwards, and we gave poor little Sam lots of love and sympathy.

What was this creature? Most people don't know the names of any but the major animals, and if they do know a name, they don't know it in English. So here is what I've been told. It's about the size of a goat. It's like a leopard, but it's not a leopard. It's like a cat, but it's not a cat. It has a long tail like a dog, but it's very big (fluffy). It's black with white spots.

Someone thought it was a civet cat, but when I looked that up in my Uganda book, I learned a civet is nocturnal, vegetarian, rarely seen, and has a ringed tail, like a raccoon. (I have seen them dead on the highway.) When I asked after the second sighting a week later, if this animal has a ringed tail, I was told no. And both sightings were in the daytime.

Then Ezira told me the animal's "white spots" are not really white (colors are very limited in the Luganda language) and are not really spots. It's more like the patterns on Army clothes. He said this animal frequently preys on chickens, both night and day, and on squirrels, and will sometimes come after a tame cat at certain times if the cat is a female (Sam doesn't qualify!). He told me this animal's name in Luganda is a nongo.

I have asked my best English speaking friend if he knows what a nongo is. He knows, but he's never seen one. And he doesn't know what it is in English…

Do I know what this animal is yet? No… I still haven't figured it out! Any ideas?

Now that Christmas is fast approaching, I find myself thinking a lot about the birth of Jesus, how clever God was to send His Son to reveal His nature to us and His love for us as a Father. You see, God had a language and cultural barrier to cross to be able to communicate His love to us. Prior to Jesus, God had terrified us. Once upon a time, we spoke God's language. But sin changed all that. All we could see was His judgment, often His wrath. So how could He convey to us how much He loves us, with a love that is so deep that with our human, finite minds, we cannot even begin to comprehend?

Even now, having the whole Story spelled out in the Bible (pick your translation!), we still often do not understand… Jesus was just a historical figure, he was just a prophet. A saviour? Who needs a Saviour? A security blanket! A crutch. He was just a good man.

When I read in Revelation or Daniel, I see the same problem. How could a prophet of centuries ago even begin to describe the things he saw in his visions, some of which might be common things or events to us today? His language was limited and even different from ours. His era was different, his culture was different. He could only relate things as he saw them through his own limitations.

So I find myself in the same situations sometimes spiritually, as trying to figure out African animals. Some things are very foreign to me, but as I question and search them out, sometimes I begin to understand. That's why I am a Christian today. God has revealed Himself to me through Jesus, I have understood and accepted to the best of my ability, and it has changed my life. Other things, like that animal trying to kill my cat, I'm still trying to figure out. I don't understand the language, or I don't get the picture.

Even Jesus had to grow and learn His human language and culture. Many times He was misunderstood. But to those who desired to learn of Him, He opened their eyes, and they saw. They changed the world. They changed me.

How about you?

Margaret Nelson