Boyd K. Packer, "Spiritual Crocodiles," April 1976
With a dash of wildlife and heaps of adventure, President Packer shared this incredible story that became so popular it was turned into a seminary video.
In order to teach a lesson not easily learned, I will relate an experience.
I have always been interested in animals and birds and when I was a little boy and the other children wanted to play cowboy, I wanted to go on safari to Africa and would pretend I was hunting the wild animals.
When I learned to read, I found books about birds and animals and came to know much about them. By the time I was in my teens I could identify most of the African animals. I could tell a klipspringer from an impala, or a gemsbok from wildebeest.
I always wanted to go to Africa and see the animals, and finally that opportunity came. Sister Packer and I were assigned to tour the South Africa Mission with President and Sister Howard Badger. We had a very strenuous schedule and had dedicated eight chapels in seven days, scattered across that broad continent.
President Badger was vague about the schedule for September 10th. (That happens to be my birthday.) We were in Rhodesia, planning, I thought, to return to Johannesburg, South Africa. But he had other plans, and we landed at Victoria Falls.
“There is a game reserve some distance from here,” he explained, “and I have rented a car, and tomorrow, your birthday, we are going to spend seeing the African animals.”
Now I might explain that the game reserves in Africa are unusual. The people are put in cages, and the animals are left to run free. That is, there are compounds where the park visitors check in at night and are locked behind high fences until after daylight they are allowed to drive about, but no one is allowed out of his car.
We arrived in the park in the late afternoon. By some mistake, there were not enough cabins for all the visitors, and they were all taken when we arrived. The head ranger indicated that they had a cabin in an isolated area about eight miles from the compound and we could spend the night there.
Because of a delay in getting our evening meal, it was long after dark when we left the compound. We found the turnoff and had gone up the narrow road just a short distance when the engine stalled. We found a flashlight and I stepped out to check under the hood, thinking that there must be a loose connection or something. As the light flashed on the dusty road, the first thing I saw was lion tracks!
Back in the car, we determined to content ourselves with spending the night there! Fortunately, however, an hour or two later we were rescued by the driver of a gas truck who had left the compound late because of a problem. We awakened the head ranger and in due time we were settled in our cabin. In the morning they brought us back to the compound.
We had no automobile, and without telephones there was no way to get a replacement until late in the day. We faced the disappointment of sitting around the compound all day. Our one day in the park was ruined and, for me, the dream of a lifetime was gone.
I talked with a young ranger, and he was surprised that I knew many of the African birds. Then he volunteered to rescue us.
“We are building a new lookout over a water hole about twenty miles from the compound,” he said. “It is not quite finished, but it is safe. I will take you out there with a lunch, and when your car comes late this afternoon we will bring it out to you. You may see as many animals, or even more, than if you were driving around.”
On the way to the lookout he volunteered to show us some lions. He turned off through the brush and before long located a group of seventeen lions all sprawled out asleep and drove right up among them.
We stopped at a water hole to watch the animals come to drink. It was very dry that season and there was not much water, really just muddy spots. When the elephants stepped into the soft mud the water would seep into the depression and the animals would drink from the elephant tracks.
The antelope, particularly, were very nervous. They would approach the mud hole, only to turn and run away in great fright. I could see there were no lions about and asked the guide why they didn’t drink. His answer, and this is the lesson, was “Crocodiles.”
I knew he must be joking and asked him seriously, “What is the problem?” The answer again: “Crocodiles.”
“Nonsense,” I said. “There are no crocodiles out there. Anyone can see that.”
I thought he was having some fun at the expense of his foreign game expert, and finally I asked him to tell us the truth. Now I remind you that I was not uninformed. I had read many books. Besides, anyone would know that you can’t hide a crocodile in an elephant track.
He could tell I did not believe him and determined, I suppose, to teach me a lesson. We drove to another location where the car was on an embankment above the muddy hole where we could look down. “There,” he said. “See for yourself.”
I couldn’t see anything except the mud, a little water, and the nervous animals in the distance. Then all at once I saw it!—a large crocodile, settled in the mud, waiting for some unsuspecting animal to get thirsty enough to come for a drink.
Suddenly I became a believer! When he could see I was willing to listen, he continued with the lesson. “There are crocodiles all over the park,” he said, “not just in the rivers. We don’t have any water without a crocodile somewhere near it, and you’d better count on it.”
The guide was kinder to me than I deserved. My “know-it-all” challenge to his first statement, “crocodiles,” might have brought an invitation, “Well, go out and see for yourself!”
I could see for myself that there were no crocodiles. I was so sure of myself I think I might have walked out just to see what was there. Such an arrogant approach could have been fatal! But he was patient enough to teach me.
My young friends, I hope you’ll be wiser in talking to your guides than I was on that occasion. That smart-aleck idea that I knew everything really wasn’t worthy of me, nor is it worthy of you. I’m not very proud of it, and I think I’d be ashamed to tell you about it except that telling you may help you.