One of my earliest memories of Sunday School is a hand-drawn illustration of Toto the monkey stuck in a bog after chasing a coconut he had inadvertently thrown there. Memorably (it was 30 years ago!), my teacher demonstrated how pulling his own whiskers would never get him out. The squelching noises of Toto’s efforts captured my imagination, but I also readily appreciated that our works are pointless with sin.
In case that doesn’t sound familiar (and you are wondering which obscure chapter of the Bible you need to urgently refresh!) this came from one of Dr. Paul White’s Jungle Doctor stories. The adventures of that mischievous monkey, his long-suffering friend Twiga, the giraffe, the lumbering Boohoo, the hippopotamus, and wise, resourceful Nhembo, the elephant, have enthralled children - and no doubt a few adults! - over the past few decades.
However, I think the best story is how those books came to be written. The author was an only child whose father died when he was young. As a teenager he professed faith in Christ and, in his late twenties, Dr. Paul White and his wife Mary felt called to serve the Lord in Tanzania.
Arriving in 1938, with some items so remarkably provided, they were sure the Lord was in it. They established a new hospital. Their work was in primitive surroundings (no electricity or running water) not far from Dodoma, the modern capital. Paul White learnt local languages and also became convinced that storytelling (or the use of parables as done in the scriptures) was essential in effective communications. He wrote later, ’My target now was to present the great facts of Christianity in a way that everybody could understand’.
Life was not easy with two young children, basic tools and physical weakness that meant he was sometimes pushed to work in a wheelbarrow! Mary White was very ill and, about three years after they arrived, they had to return to their native Australia. During that journey Paul White was confined to his cabin for a time but he used the time to write.
When things have been difficult I have sometimes thought about how I might have felt boarding that ship. Would changes to my plans have been difficult to accept? Would thoughts of care for others have made me bitter? Would perceived confusion about God’s direction have made me question God?
The writings during that unexpected journey began a series of books, drawing on their African experience, which, in turn, formed part of a remarkable work that continued for the next half-century. Back in Australia, he worked part-time as a doctor and used their short time in Africa as an effective tool in evangelism. A radio programme lasted for twenty-five years, more than fifty books were written, and their universal appeal meant that his work was translated into over one hundred languages. (More details are in his autobiography Alias Jungle Doctor.)
Do your circumstances seem impossible to understand? Do disasters seem to be restricting your opportunities? The story behind the Jungle Doctor stories is an inspirational reminder that the Lord always has a purpose. God has never yet made a mistake and is not going to start with you!
As Joseph, Moses, Job and countless others have proved, God loves us too much to allow anything that is not for our ultimate good and His glory. Sure He doesn’t promise to explain everything at the time but He does promise that we can totally trust His infinite wisdom and Fatherly care. There is not just a master plan for our life but, even better, the Master’s plan.