Did anyone see Gorillas in the Mist? I don’t mean literally, but the movie starring Sigourney Weaver about Dian Fossey who went to Africa to study the mountain gorillas, became their saviour, and ended up being martyred for their cause. Well, I had my own gorilla experience, BEFORE the movie, but AFTER Ms. Fossey’s, because she made them famous. Otherwise I would not have known about them. And through my experience Father taught me a profound truth.
It was on my 1987 trip across Africa, then not so deep and dark as it has been since or was in its distant past. I was on a truck with a group called Hobo Expeditions. We arrived in Goma, a town near the border of Zaire–now called the Congo–and Rwanda, both countries at that time innocent of their later carnage, although their histories have never been particularly smooth.
We camped near Lake Kivu and learned there was a ferry that could take us to a town from which we could go see the gorillas. About ten of us hobos took the plunge, thinking the ferry trip would take a couple of hours. However, one should always factor Africa-time into things like this. It took all night, sitting uncomfortably on a wooden seat with no back, and crowded with humanity of all ages. Travelling is seldom comfortable unless one is on an oldies’ or a luxury tour. But the adventure makes it more than worthwhile.
Next morning we disembarked in Whatever Town (perhaps Bukavu)–details are hazy because it was so long ago–found a place to stay (where they wouldn’t allow the couple who were fornicating to share a room, but did permit, of course, Chris and Bob who were married. Before you start thinking evil thoughts, Chris is short for Christine, homosexuality not even being LEGAL in Australia then, or New Zealand from where Chris and Bob sprang). We rushed off downtown to find the agent responsible for gorilla tours and booked for next day.
This next day found us being taken by vehicle up to a ranger station at the foot of the mountain. From there two guides led us into the rain forest while searching diligently for gorilla scat (poo). Once it was discovered, we all stood around it rejoicing as if we had discovered America, for then it was an easy matter to follow the swathe of destruction in the foliage the gorilla family had made in their pursuit of food and lodgings.
At this point, before meeting up with our gorilla quarry, our intrepid guides gave us a rundown of the ONE RULE. Always obey the ONE RULE of gorilla guides. When we find them the old silverback male, whose family it is, will charge us. Under no circumstances were we to turn around or run. (Dian Fossey and her mate did the opposite, risking death before she had even begun. They had learned a thing or two since then.)
Okay, no worries, we all thought with confidence. I don’t remember if we had also been told to visit the toilet before we left, but it was a good idea if we had. When we arrived, the massive old man gorilla did indeed charge us, punching his pecs, bellowing, just like King Kong, and came at us like a missile.
To stand and stare this monster down was one of the most frightening things I ever did. My whole body just screamed: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING STANDING HERE. TURN AROUND AND RUN!” I was about ten metres away from it. The guides screamed back, “Yahhhh!” and waved their sticks in the air. The gorilla, RIGHT in front of them, looking as if it would bowl them over, almost chest to chest, STOPPED DEAD, went silent, retreated, and did not threaten us again. Good rule that.
That is how our spiritual enemy is when we stand in Yahshua’s authority and refuse to waver. Later the gorilla went into a hollow, burnt-out tree trunk and peered out at me with one eye. I took a photo of that eye from less than a metre away. It is one of my most treasured photos. I call it Eye of the Gorilla!
Back in town, we all decided a return trip on the ferry–which sank in 2011 and drowned a lot of its passengers–was too much to cope with so went to try catching a mini-bus ROUND the lake back to Goma where our truck awaited us. That didn’t work out. They were all full, not going our way, not speaking our language, or SOMETHING. But a man driving a beer truck offered us a lift. Four or five of us, I can’t remember how the others got back, jumped on the back. We sat on the top of beer bottles covered with a layer of hessian bags to protect our organs of sitting. It didn’t.
Again thinking it be far quicker–there’s that demon of presumptuousness again which fails to factor in Africa-time–we sat and sat and swayed and bumped along the rough roads of Africa until we had beer bottle tops tattooed on our YKWs. It must be remembered I was pregnant at the time. During the evening our generous truck driver stopped at a roadside cafe for dinner. Can’t remember what we had or if we ate anything at all, because we dare not get out in case he took off without us. And he stayed and stayed and stayed. Then came out to the cab and went to sleep.
We bedded down on the beer bottles. It started to rain. There was a canvas tarp to pull over us. Eventually the driver resumed his trip in the early hours, getting us back to Goma at dawn. Sometimes we wondered if we were actually GOING to Goma because none of us could speak his language. My backside has never been the same since and I am radically grateful for a comfortable seat.
Goma incidentally was inundated by lava from a later erupting Nyiragongo Volcano, the lava flowing down the street; and it also became the scene of chaos in 1994 when starving Hutus fled Rwanda after they had slaughtered up to a million of their Tutsi compatriots. A Tutsi government was elected and it’s military came to the aid of their people, chasing the Hutus beyond the border. It was depicted in the movie Hotel Rwanda.
I remember seeing news footage of hungry Hutus fighting desperately for food from the aid trucks, without realizing at the time they had just murdered their fellow countrymen, women, and children, not believing it was the same pretty lakeside town in which we camped. One cannot help contrasting the peaceful mountain gorilla with the people and wondering which really are the animals. Many of the Tutsis were Christians who stood also to meet their deaths bravely. But many of the Hutus had called themselves Christians too, lived side-by-side with the Tutsis, went to church with them, and worked together with them.
Many times since then when I have been afraid I hear that still small voice whisper to me, “Remember the gorilla in Zaire, stand and do not waver, for I AM with you.”