Day 2 of my safari changed my life. I met God out there. I know, it sounds melodramatic, right? But that’s exactly what happened.
Dearson and I arose early, had breakfast and got on the road because we had a far way to drive that day. We were going to the Serengeti. Yup, the same one that you’ve seen in National Geographic magazines. I hadn’t quite wrapped my mind around that; in my head I knew that was where we were going but it still didn’t seem real.
We drove for a couple of hours across flatlands before we started climbing up the wall of the East African Rift. If I thought I was smiling before, that was nothing compared to what I was doing now – we were driving up the wall of the Rift Valley, for goodness sake! I felt like I was driving through a nature special because I just couldn’t believe that this was my life! I teared up at one point as we wound our way up the valley wall, thinking about exactly what I was doing at that moment, and how gracious God was to give me this opportunity – that was one of those moments when Dearson realised that I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to revel in the experience, so he kept quiet all the way up.
Eventually, we got to the gate of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where we stopped to check in because we had to cross that area to get to the Serengeti. But we would be back the next afternoon.
As we ascended the mountain that we had to cross in order to reach our destination, it got foggy and chilly and damp. The higher up we went into the fog and damp, the more I felt like God was wrapping His arms around me. At one point, I felt the words, like a whisper in my heart, “Kristine, my daughter, I love you so very much.” I cried quiet tears as we continued up, feeling His love and peace wrap tightly around me, like He would never let me go. I think it was in that moment that my love of mountains was born, because Ngorongoro was the first place that I physically felt God’s presence.
After a quick stop for my first look out over Ngorongoro Crater and another check in at that gate, we continued for a couple more hours, passing Maasai villages and herds of animals, and then we were suddenly there, at the entrance to the Serengeti. We did our usual check in at the gate, had lunch, used the bathroom, and set off into this new wilderness.
And within minutes stumbled across a pride of lions, relaxing in the noonday sun.
It was the Serengeti that unbroke my heart. As we drove that afternoon, I began to understand the vastness of where I was. Dearson told me that it would take several days, perhaps a week or more, to drive from one end of this endless plain to another. Can you imagine the sheer magnitude of that place?
At one point, after not seeing any animals for a while, I was standing in the van as we drove, with my head up through the roof, when the reality of where I was and what I was doing hit me all at once. That was the exact moment when my heart started healing; I felt that there was so much beauty pressing in on me that I needed to absorb, and if I was going to fit it all into my heart then I had to let go of anything dark that was lingering there. I had already been working on forgiving the hurts that I was carrying, but that moment was when I truly forgave it all – my ex-company for rejecting me, my ex-partner for how he treated me, my friends and family for not sharing with me what they knew (I understood why but it still hurt), my ex-colleagues for turning their backs on me, my ex-friends for not caring about me, and me for putting myself into my various predicaments. I let go of even older, unrelated hurts that I thought were long gone. I brought it all out and I let it all go. How could I be petty and keep any ugliness in my heart when I had been granted the awesome privilege of this experience? So I left it all out there in the Serengeti. And as I lay it all down and absorbed the beauty surrounding me, my heart truly began to heal.
That afternoon, I saw more lions, elephants, gazelle, giraffe, and even hyena. The scenery was so sharp and clear that I said to Dearson at one point, “I feel like we’re driving through God’s postcard.” Honestly, guys, at some points it was like we were driving through a Photoshopped image, that’s how unreal it looked and felt.
It was dusty going (it was the dry season, after all) and my hair was beyond a hot mess (I spent most of the afternoon on my feet with my head and torso out the roof of the van) but I didn’t care. The awesome encounters that I had with God that day were more than worth ugly hair.
As dusk approached, we arrived at our resting place for the night – a camp of tents in the heart of the Serengeti, called Kati Kati. I had a shower (I don’t know how they managed it but there was a pretty good makeshift shower in my tent), ate dinner, and called it a night.
At this point, I was happier than I had ever hoped to be in my life, and after I said my prayers of thanksgiving, I fell asleep to the sound of hyenas wailing somewhere in the surrounding wilderness.
In fact, when I fell asleep that night, I was different from when I had awoken that same morning. One does not come into the presence of God or lay down one’s burdens, much less do both in one day, and stay the same. For that alone, Tanzania secured a special place in my heart…forever.