In Hannibal’s Elephant Tracks

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I was attending college in England when the London Times ran an animated discussion between two learned professors as to which path through the Alps Hannibal had taken. More than 2,000 years before, with 50,000 troops and 37 elephants, the Carthaginian general had set out to reach and defeat Rome. Intrigued by the speculation, three friends and I spent that summer youth-hostelling and hiking over the Alps, comparing likely paths, and increasingly convinced that Hannibal and his caravan routed over the Col de Clapier. Three years later when someone casually asked me, "Why don't you take an elephant over to test out your theory?" I couldn't sleep for thinking of the possibilities. Imagine manhandling a live elephant over Hannibal's pass. Our path might go down in history as the right one. Of course, it would be highly unlikely to get an elephant.

The next morning, expecting little response, I wrote to inquire of the British Consuls in Lyon, France; Geneva, Switzerland; and Turin, Italy whether they knew of an elephant for rent. Only a week later came a reply from Turin: "Dear Sir: Unaccustomed as I am, as Her Majesty's Consul General, to receive such requests, I am delighted to tell you that I have an elephant for you." It seems that the very day my letter had arrived in Turin, the newspaper there reported on a frisky young elephant at the zoo. The zoo's owner offered Jumbo for our trip and further offered to cover our major expenses. Little anticipating the problems and challenges that lay ahead, I accepted.

In the following nine months of preparations, our nine-member party secured Lloyds of London for elephant insurance, officially formed the "The British Alpine Hannibal Expedition," and designed custom boots and jacket for Jumbo. Then amid daily adventures, and to the delight of history buffs and children worldwide, in just two weeks, Jumbo crossed the mountains. Moreover, our expedition was able to financially contribute to the World Refugee Year, which was specially active that year. Daily we dealt with news-hungry reporters, a frisky and hungry elephant, uncertain terrain and weather, and myriad other crises and decisions. Through a series of small miracles, however, when it was complete, we had each conquered more than mountains.

Many times, as the inexperienced leader of an expedition drawing worldwide attention, Hannibal's trek through the Alps had become my own trek of faith. Of all people, we Christians are called to be imaginative and show creative exuberance, for we know who we are and how much we are loved by God. Through the expedition, I learned and am still learning that to live fully in His world usually means risking our own security and comfort; and the sooner we give these to Him, the better.
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