Good Friday morning ...

Of all the places I have visited in East Africa I have been most impressed with the Serengeti National Park, the centerpiece of several magnificent wildlife areas scattered across northern Tanzania. It lies a hard day's drive by four-wheel-drive vehicle from Arusha, the starting point for most game safaris in northern Tanzania. Many of my short-term mission teams have been to small villages that border this great land mass: Gelai, Arash, Piaya and Engare Sero.

I understand that the Serengeti has remained virtually unchanged for millenniums. In fact, archeologist Mary Leakey maintains that this place looks very much the way it did, in her words, "millions of years ago."

I have never witnessed it, but here, from the northern woodlands and into the plains to the south and west, one of the greatest animal migrations on earth takes place each year. It happens after the November rains when more than a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras move south, spreading over the plains like spilled coffee across a tiled floor. To the north, elephants trundle through woodlands and lions, following the migration, hunt wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. It is a massive expedition of animals.

In fact, the great migration is far more staggering today than it was seventy some years ago when Karen Blixen (of Out of Africa fame) left Africa. When she and Denys Finch Hatton ranged across East Africa, the herds that had wandered the plains for millenniums were just beginning to recover from a plague of rinderpest that had decimated the herds at the end of the 19th century and shrank the limits of the migration to a fraction of their extent today.

The Collins Field Guide says the Serengeti today has the "greatest and most spectacular concentration of game animals found anywhere in the world."  Altogether, the guide counts 94 mammal species and 401 bird species within the confines of the park, a land mass just a bit larger than the state of Connecticut.

Flat, endless and harsh, the Serengeti plains swallow the visitor in a remote silence. The grass, only fractions of an inch high before being nourished by the rains, seems matted against the rough soil baking under the midday sun. The only road into the park is a hard-packed yellow dirt surface running arrow-straight through the park from Olduvai Gorge (where the Leakey's made their discoveries) across the plain to the midway point at Seronera, one of only two lodges within the park. Along the road, dirt tracks shoot off in different directions leading one to discover whatever. Anywhere along the route you may discover a pile of bleached bones or, more than likely, just a skull of a zebra or a wildebeest … perhaps left from a lion kill or where the beast simply dropped from exhaustion. There are few trees. and only the hardiest of them can survive.

Traveling the solitary road, a clump of mammoth gray boulders called kopjes can be seen in the distance, one of several such clumps isolated on the plain. One of these outcroppings has been named Simba Kopjes because it has been home to prides of lions from time to time. From there they hunt, especially during the great migration.

There are few places on earth where the landscape is so severely intense and where animals exist in such profusion as in the Serengeti. It is indeed a remarkable habitat of God's creation, but only one of many fashioned by the hand of God and left for mankind's management. The entire earth is filled with unique environments and natural settings over which we marvel. The mountains and deserts, the lakes and rivers and oceans around the world, the islands that dot the oceans and seas, the extremes of Antarctica and the African Sahara ... they all cause us to pause and marvel at God's creation. As Christ followers we are admonished to remember that we are called to be care-takers of that which God has given to us. We should treat the earth like the gift it is, realizing it is possible to misuse this gift and take it for granted as we are so apt to do.

The Serengeti serves for me as one of earth's marvels reminding me to sing praise to God and give thanks for His wonderful creation.

"All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made." [John 1:3]

Have a great weekend ... perhaps taking your own bit of time to marvel and give thanks for the created world around you ...