Where the Giraffe Lives

Sara and stuffed toy giraffe

Sara and her stuffie giraffe, Long-neck

Our daughter Sara, who just turned 3, has recently taken to announcing “I wish I could move to the place where the giraffe lives.” We have been trying to introduce her to the idea of our move to South Africa, and her table placemat with the world map has a giraffe right about where Johannesburg is, so she now has it firmly in her head that we will be moving to ‘where the giraffe lives’.

World map place mat

Sara’s dinner-time view of the world!

As we talk to people about moving to Johannesburg, we are often asked about the danger, or told how dangerous it is. One of Carmen’s acquantainces recently told her that she would never take her children to a place like that.

So we have had to think about this question. As we have thought, we have had a number of reflections.

First, danger is universal — we cannot avoid it by choosing to remain in our comfortable Canadian home. We have friends right now in Regina whose daughter (around Sara’s age) is going through treatment for a rare form of leukemia. Being in Canada doesn’t guarantee safety any more than being in Johannesburg guarantees harm. Our own personal experience in having our house broken into and our car stolen and destroyed right here in La Ronge reminds us of this fact as well.

Second, crime and its associated dangers are often very localized. One neighborhood can be very dangerous while another neighborhood a kilometer away can be very safe. From the reports we have heard from others who have lived where we will be, we will be living in a good area.

Third, as the news industry cliche goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Episodes of violent crime receive much news play, while days, weeks, and months of personal safety and security receive much less prominence. “Johannesburg block celebrates 10 years without crime” is not a headline we are likely to read. The recent news coverage about Oscar Pistorius’ defence for shooting his girlfriend reminds me that even from close-up, it is very easy to receive a distorted impression of risk. From a distance, it’s even easier.

Our North American culture often emphasizes very heavily our personal safety, and even more heavily the safety of our children. This is often reflected in decisions like tearing down playground equipment in case someone falls and gets hurt. We are acclimatized to safety, and the thought of risk troubles us. The thought of unfamiliar risk troubles us greatly, because we do not understand how to evaluate it.

Jesus, on the other hand, does not emphasize our personal safety. He calls us to be faithful even if it means suffering, persecution, or even death. He also reminds us not to be anxious about our life — “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27) We choose to follow Jesus, rather than our culture. We know that this may mean danger, but we trust him to walk with us through it.

And, as an added benefit — Sara will get to see where giraffes really live — not safely behind bars in a North American zoo, but roaming free in the wilds of southern Africa. We look forward to many such encounters!

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