Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

July 20, 2007

Elephants and Chameleons

The small boy sat on my couch, talking with me in his slightly halting English. Deus (DAY-oos) looks about 12-13 years old but is actually 18. He is an orphan from the Banyarwanda cattle tribe and heís just now in 6th grade. He is small, as many Ugandan children are, who were malnourished in childhood. During his first year at New Life Academy, Deus came close to death with sleeping sickness. He had caught it from the tse-tse flies that plague the cattle and their keepers. We thought at first he had TB as he had a bad cough for a long time. But when he began falling asleep in class, even with his hand raised to answer a question, we knew what was wrong, and took him for the proper treatment. Even so, he became head prefect, the top student in the school.

Firing bricks.
Firing bricks

Deus was telling me about making bricks. There are so many termite hills in Uganda that most homes must be made from bricks or mud. He told me how when the bricks are dried in the sun, they become hard, but if they get rained on, they will deteriorate. To become truly functional, they must be put in the fire. Bricks are stacked up high with hollow centers in the stacks, covered with mud on the outside, grass is piled on the top. Huge wood fires are built inside the stacks, the bricks become their own kiln, and when theyíve become so hot, after 2-3 days of continual burning, the grass on the top ignites. Thatís a signal that the bricks are fully fired. Then the stacks are dismantled and the bricks are sold or used, and the rain cannot melt them.

He told me itís also like baking bread. The bread we eat is only so tasty after itís been put to the fire. I had often thought of that same illustration when Iíve pondered Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. We do not eat flour alone, nor do we eat raw eggs, or salt, or any of the usual ingredients in bread. However, when all things are mixed together, the dough is somewhat palatable, and children often will want to eat it. But when the bread is the best of all, fit for a king, is after itís been baked, subjected to the heat of the fireÖ

Deus is a story teller. I donít know if that comes from his tribal history or if itís just a gifting God has given him. One day in church he talked of an elephant crossing a suspension bridge, and how that bridge swayed up and down with his massive weight. A tiny chameleon hung onto the elephantís tail and enjoyed the motion of the elephant and the bridge underneath him, which got him across to the other side in record time. A chameleon by nature is a very slow creature. He walks slowly across any road, never speeding his pace, no matter what the traffic may be. His bulgy eyes move separately in any direction, but never seem to note impending danger. And if he stays on one color of ground or grass long enough, his color begins to blend into his surroundings, so heĎs not easily seen.

The story pointed out that the elephant and the chameleon were like us and Jesus. We can walk slowly across the bridge ourselves, but we are so tiny comparatively that it will take oh, so long, facing many dangers, and weíll never feel the pleasure of the swaying of the bridge. But when we link up with Jesus, the trip is a lot more fun, safer, and we get there faster and easier.

Another thing Deus told me about the fire is that it never lasts too long. Nothing is baked too long, otherwise it will be destroyed. Bricks become brittle, bread is burnt and tastes bad. No matter what our trials are, no matter where theyíre taking us, they wonít last any longer than what it takes to make the brick hard enough or make the bread tasty enough. The fire of our trials makes us into a tool fit for Godís specific job. (Isaiah 54:16)

God has been putting our SEVO and New Life Academy ministries together in Uganda for several years now. Theyíve had many ingredients mixed together and have become functional, with wonderful fruits. But now the fire has been applied and they are coming out much more refined, functional. We also know the joy of the ride with Jesus as He takes us across impassable canyons on suspension bridges of sorts, which add pleasure and speed to the fear and slowness of our own ways, to bring us to His perfect destination, fit for His perfect work.

Margaret Nelson