I’ve been reading a lot about the shock, dismay, and celebration connected with the new law in the state of New York allowing abortion up to delivery. As I pondered this, a memory came to mind.
Senyati… Even the name evokes a feeling of serenity and mystery at the same time.
It was a place like no other I had ever been. It was a place I would never forget.
I was ministering in Africa at an orphanage with my friend Julie. I had been there for two weeks. Julie and her family and I had a few days to spend together before I left. They had been to Senyati once before and wanted to experience it again.
After checking in, we made our way to our room for the next couple of days. Along the way, there were a number of tall poles with lights. I wondered why the lights were pointed out toward the landscape instead of toward the buildings, but I didn’t ask.
Our “room” was a gorgeous house. We walked through the double doors into a spacious tiled kitchen area with a big table in the middle. A large fan in the cathedral ceiling slowly moved the warm air. To the left and right were hallways with large windows on one side that allowed the African sun to stream in. On the other side were glass doors with closed curtains that only heightened the anticipation of what was behind them. It did not disappoint. Huge air conditioned bedrooms with individual beds awaited, complete with a beautifully tiled bathroom the size of my bedroom at home. Outside was a wide, gorgeously tiled deck that ran the length of the house, with couches and chairs to sit on.
Senyati consisted of a group of individual ‘houses’, some smaller ones for couples, and other larger ones like ours.
It’s not just the gorgeous accommodations that make Senyati what it is. It’s situated in the countryside between two game parks that the local wildlife migrate back and forth between. But Senyati has no fence surrounding it. The wildlife, which include every African animal that you can imagine, can come right up to your door. And our ‘home’ was on the edge. Imagine yourself sitting on the deck watching the elephants, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, along with animals that you’ve never seen before, passing by within one hundred feet of you…with nothing between you and them. I felt like we were the ones on display with the animals coming to view us.
At one end of Senyati was a raised viewing deck, resplendent with carved African chairs and a thatched roof to sit under, that residents could enjoy any time of the day or night. The deck overlooked a watering hole that was frequented by the wildlife.
That night, the lights came on. My question was answered as to why these huge yellow lights were turned outward. In the eeriness of the warm African night, the animals could be seen passing by on their way to the watering hole. We grabbed the flashlight and made our way to the viewing deck. Everyone spoke in hushed tones as we watched and listened to the sights and sounds of the incredible wildlife coming to quench their thirst. It was like a gift to be allowed in the presence of such majesty. It was surreal to say the least.
After some time, we walked back to our home and had a fire under the stars as we listened to the trumpeting of an elephant off in the distance. As the fire reduced itself to embers, Julie, Dwayne, myself, and one of their children, Boston, decided to stay out a little longer. Have you ever experienced an African night beyond the city lights? There is nothing like it. The stars seem so close and bright that you can almost reach out and touch them. As we again spoke in hushed tones, a herd of elephants started slowly making their way past us to the watering hole. They sauntered by many times during the day, but there was something extra special about watching them at night.
After a few minutes, one of them made his way over toward where we were sitting. He was interested in the leaves of one of the trees nearby and was seemingly unaware of our presence. In the back of our minds, we knew we needed to be careful. A couple of tourists had been killed by elephants the week before close to a city.
Slowly, the elephant was inching closer and closer. An alarm goes off in a human being’s mind when you know you are in crisis mode, or when you know you’re in clear and present danger – the fight, flight, or freeze mentality takes over. At exactly the same instant, the four of us bolted from our chairs and ran to the door of the house, Boston actually running full force into the glass door, not realizing it was still closed.
In seconds, we were inside, eyes wide, gasping for air as adrenalin continued to pump through our veins. But the elephant wasn’t threatened by us – he was high-tailing it as fast as he could in the opposite direction.
The next night, once again, we made our way to the viewing deck to watch the animals at the watering hole.
But a roar off in the distance jolted us from our reverie. The hair on my arms was standing straight up. We all glanced at each other with that look. You know the one that I’m talking about – the ‘What the heck was THAT?’ look! It was exactly what we had hoped for, yet ferociously hoped wasn’t. The owner confirmed that it was, indeed, a lion. We were told not to be concerned because it sounded like it was a distance away, and we learned that a lion’s roar can be heard up to 8 kilometres.
My friend Julie and her husband Dwayne have four children. There was no one falling behind as we made our way back to the house in a very tight formation, our little flashlight meekly leading the way.
The next morning, news quickly spread that the remains of a young zebra had been found, with its mother still standing nearby.
You might wonder why this experience would make me think of New York.
I am a woman who had an abortion many years ago. I am also a woman who has spent the past eleven years as director of a Crisis Pregnancy Center, counseling women who were contemplating having an abortion. I heard everything from, ‘There won’t be enough money,’ ‘I will disappoint my parents,’ ‘This may not be my partner’s child,’ etc., etc., etc. – all based on fear – or on perceived threats. But I also heard things you wouldn’t expect. In many cases, the woman had a faith, or was pro-life, or both. Tears streamed from their faces as they would tell me that they had debated against abortion in high school or had participated in pro-life events. But you see, they were in crisis mode.
Think back to a time when you were in crisis. Did you take the time to think clearly? Or did you run from a perceived threat and injure yourself further by running straight into a closed door, thinking it was a way out.
Many women would declare that they never thought they would ever contemplate having an abortion. I would look at them and say, “I’ve come to learn that you cannot change someone’s heart with a law or a sign. I’ve also learned to ‘never say never’ – because you don’t know what you will do until you are in that situation.” One thing I love about Crisis Pregnancy Centers is that a woman should never feel judged. She is given accurate information and allowed the space and time to discuss her thoughts so that she can ‘see the forest for the trees’, so to speak.
I also counseled women, sometimes just a month after they had experienced an abortion, and at times, up to 40 or 50 years after. In each instance, I asked if it would’ve made a difference if someone would’ve been standing at the entrance to the hospital or clinic with a sign. Or, would it have made a difference if there was a law against it? Not one of them said yes.
Our hearts are becoming hardened. We don’t think family matters anymore. In society’s eyes, fathers can be replaced. Mothers can be replaced. Why would we not think that we can just get rid of a child in our womb and have one when we think the timing is right? Heck, we even tell women who have had a miscarriage or who have lost a child, “It’s okay, you’ll have other children,” as though they don’t need to grieve the loss of this child, they will have others to replace it.
I’ve come to learn that abortion is not the problem – many times, it’s the symptom of something very deep in the heart of the person contemplating it. Did that person feel valued? More often than not, the answer is no. Do we think that the person will then value their children? THAT is the real threat.
Many feel that if we just change the laws, abortion will go away – the perceived threat of the elephant will go away. But the elephant isn’t the problem. Changing the laws will serve only as a Band-Aid remedy. It will not heal the bitterness in the hardening heart of the frightened woman. Interesting that abortion is against the law in the African country that we were ministering in, but it’s still rampant.
They say that a lion’s roar paralyzes its prey. It puts the animal in crisis mode so that it doesn’t think clearly…
At Senyati, It wasn’t the elephant that was the threat. It was the roar of the prowling lion, hardening the heart of its victim in fear, allowing it to be devoured…
You have no idea how ironic it is that this blog post is being published today. It’s my birthday. Fifty seven years ago on this day, my birth mother placed me for adoption.