The Nature, The Wildlife, and The Image Bearers of God

I’ve mentioned several times that Compassion always tricks you into a hike. Yesterday was no exception. Our group made our way down the hillside adjacent to the church we visited, and when we reached the lookout, there was just a smidge of a drop off.

I’ve never been more prayerful that I left all my clumsy back in Alabama.

But the view, y’all. My goodness. It was – it is – absolutely stunning. And as much as I kid about being tricked into hikes and preferring to see nature from the air conditioned comfort of my home, I really do love and enjoy God’s creation. I don’t know if you’ve seen my Instagram feed or not, but I sort of have a thing about sunsets. I lose my fool mind every spring when baby leaves sprout from the trees because I think they’re so beautiful. I stand next to pretty much any body of water and feel overcome by the goodness of God. I absolutely believe that our Creator shows us more of who He is through the world around us; like Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”

God made it. And it is good.

*****

Today our group went to a local elephant orphanage with some Compassion folks. Jamie and Patricia had sponsor children with them (I wished several times that little Joseph could have been there, but at eight months old, I think the appeal of the elephants would have been lost on him). Some Kenyan Compassion staff members joined us as well – along with Eliud, a former Compassion kid who is now in his 20s (and one fantastic daddy); Mildred, a university student (at 17!) who has been enrolled in her local church’s Compassion center since she was 10; and Jaiden, Eliud’s three year-old son who gives the word “cute” a whole new meaning.

I MEAN.

I didn’t know anything about an elephant orphanage in Kenya, so I was surprised when we arrived there and found ourselves in quite a line. Apparently the orphaned elephants garner quite a bit of interest.

This is understandable because they are in fact adorable.

There were hundreds of people lined around the elephant area (corral? pen? I do not know the appropriate elephant care terminology). The gentleman who narrates the presentation at the orphanage is actually a former Compassion child, and he did such a good job of telling us the animals’ stories and letting us know how the orphanage prepares the elephants to return to their natural habitat. He even gave us the scoop on which elephants are a little naughty. And about midway through his talk, he asked the audience to consider sponsoring one of those orphaned elephants, to invest in their care and rehabilitation.

People were all in with the elephants, y’all. At least half of them were taking pictures or filming videos, and they asked lots of questions. When our time with the elephants was over, people were standing three-deep at the adoption information bulletin board. I smiled as I walked past the crowd, because people really do have so much compassion, don’t they? We all want to care for something; plus we have an innate desire to make a difference on this earth – whether it’s for the environment or wildlife or the local church or whatever makes our heart beat a little faster.

We long to be a part of something with purpose.

God made us that way.

*****

Earlier this week Shaun, Alex, and I visited a Compassion child’s home in the Rift Valley. The boy’s mom was delighted to have visitors and quickly invited us inside.

There were about seven of us who squeezed into the home’s one bedroom; some of us were standing, some were sitting. The mom asked Shaun and me about our families, and as I explained that I have one son (the tall guy sitting beside me), a husband of 20 years, and a dog named Hazel, the Kenyans in the room immediately wanted to know if the dog lives in the house with us. When I told them that she does, they couldn’t get over it, and we all got sort of tickled, to be honest. Alex even pulled out his phone to show them her picture.

You know, the one where she was laying on the ottoman in our bedroom. Like a princess.

I certainly didn’t tell them that, you know, SHE GOES TO THE BEACH WITH US.

And I’ve thought about that conversation all week.

It’s certainly not that I’ve decided that we no longer need to care for our dog. Oh my goodness, no. We love her. We’re responsible for her. God made Hazel just like he made you and me. God created every animal, every insect, EVERY LIVING THING with intention and with purpose. In God’s economy, every creature in His kingdom is valuable. Every creature in His kingdom should be treated with care. After all, He made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24).

However. Here’s what’s really been challenging me today.

As gorgeous as nature can be – and keep in mind that I have shed many a tear while beholding a summer sunset – I’m all too aware that we can get pretty sideways about its importance.

As wonderful as our animals can be – and keep in mind that there have been times when I have attempted to talk to one of our dogs ON THE TELEPHONE – I’m all too aware that we can worry more about the fate of, say, the Alaskan goldfinch (which I’m sure is a lovely bird – I hear wonderful things about it) (I’ve never really heard anything about it) (but yay for levity!) than we do about people.

It’s so easy to forget, but Scripture is clear about how we order our priorities:

“‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30-31

God first. People second.

Yes, we want to be good stewards of God’s creation. Yes, we want to take care of what He has entrusted to us – whether it’s the Rift Valley or orphaned elephants or a neurotic mutt named Hazel who really prefers her dog food with a little bit of scrambled egg on top. All of these things are wonderful – such good gifts from our Heavenly Father.

But they aren’t made in His image.

Creation deserves our care, absolutely. But image bearers deserve our honor (Romans 12:10).

So if I find myself more protective of a certain variety of tree than I am of, you know, people, it might be time for a gut check. It might be time for some perspective.

Because when people are our biggest priority second only to God, you can bet that we’ll look out for one another, y’all. We’ll step up for one another. We’ll love one another well.

“It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.” — Proverbs 14:21

“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” — Proverbs 14:31

I never, ever want to lose sight of the good gifts God has given us. I want to soak up all the sunsets and snuggle with the aforementioned neurotic dog and maybe even get to know the Alaskan goldfinch a little better.

But here’s the thing, y’all. We bear the image of God. And He deserves all the glory. I can’t think of anything that would honor Him more and honor His people more than taking care of each other. We have the privilege of being able to step up and speak up and fight for children who don’t have a say in their circumstances, children who are so precious in His sight.

You can be a part of honoring God’s image bearers by sponsoring a child through Compassion for only $38 a month and releasing that child from poverty in Jesus’ name.

God made every one of them.

And it was very good.

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Comments

  1. Fuzzytop says:

    Hi Sophie (and Alex)! This is powerful stuff: “So if I find myself more protective of a certain variety of tree than I am of, you know, people, it might be time for a gut check. It might be time for some perspective.”

    Just sponsored Mary from Kenya, and am looking forward to getting to know her. Thank-you!

    Hugs,
    Adrienne

  2. Such a good word!

  3. Such a good word! I’m quitting my job of 13 years that pays well Friday to go to SWBTS because I have to do something with eternal significance, and mutual fund investing ain’t it. But it’s hard, so this was a great reminder of what’s important. Thanks.

  4. Jennie Lee says:

    Oh Sophie, thank you for putting things in proper Biblical perspective. Thank you for sharing your heart and love for God’s creation and His children. I am so thankful you were able to make this trip with Alex. Such a blessing!!!!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Your posts this week have been preaching! Thank you.

  6. I love this!!!!

  7. Beautifully written, Sophie. I needed to hear this! My crazy introvert mindset has always been that I’d rather hang out with my dogs and my immediate family because people are SO COMPLICATED. But your words cut me deep — God first, people second, everything else third.

  8. Erin in CO says:

    Sophie, amen and amen. Thanks for saying this, and for putting our eyes on how the Word tells us the order of our priorities. I am loving being able to follow along on your and Alex’s journey!

  9. Yes & Amen.

  10. Mary Lou says:

    Amen!!! What a beautiful reminder of our priorities–God first, people second, then everything else.

  11. A good, good word. Thank you. We all need to be reminded of priorities.

  12. Such a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. There are so many needs in this world. If only….we could help everyone…but even one can make a difference.

  13. Jeannette says:

    Are you getting to spend any time in Nairobi? My missionary friends love to visit and shop when they are there.

  14. Thank you!

  15. Yes, ma’am, Sophie. Yes, ma’am. That’ll preach. :-)

  16. Can’t wait to hear about the rest of your trip!
    Please do a podcast! And tell us about the trip, your travel clothes, airplane ride, traveling with a teenager, and most of all about the sweet little kids and mothers!

  17. Off your main topic, I have to comment that I sponsored one of the elephants for about three years, at the same time I was sponsoring Compassion kids. I have been a fan of the Sheldrick Foundation since before I ever heard about Compassion.

  18. Amen!

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