A few years ago I visited Pilanesberg Park, a South African game preserve, and learned that not too many years earlier, the survival of the white rhinoceros in this game park was in question. Several of these endangered rhinos had been found slaughtered.

The game wardens decided to electronically tag and track the remaining rhinos, placing video cameras in strategic locations to record any evidence of foul play. After tracking the rhinos and reviewing the video footage, park officials were astounded to discover that young bull elephants were harassing the rhinos without provocation. Although the behavior was unnatural for them, these teenaged elephants were chasing the white rhinos for long distances, throwing sticks at them until they were exhausted and then stomping them to death.

Why were these young elephants acting so violently? The answer was found in a decision made 20 years earlier. At that time, park officials decided to transport some elephants from another national park into the  Pilanesberg preserve, because the other location was unable to support the increasing elephant population. The elephants too large to transport were killed, including a number of mature bulls. Only younger elephants were sent to Pilanesberg, where they matured without the presence and influence of mature males. By investigating the rhinos’ mysterious deaths, park rangers and scientists discovered that without the presence of mature bulls, the young male elephants were suffering from excessive aggression and becoming violent.

To remedy the situation and preserve the white rhino population, park officials killed five of the most aggressive young bull elephants and then imported older bulls in order to provide an influence for the remaining young males. The older bulls began to assume their place among the herd as fathers and disciplinarians, and the young bulls learned quickly that they were no match for the more mature elephants.

Some park officials were surprised when it became apparent that the young bulls actually enjoyed their relationship with the older, more mature males. The former lawbreakers returned to normal patterns of elephant behavior, and after the arrival of the mature elephants, there were no more reports of dead rhinos.

The elephant story illustrates what younger Christians can gain if they have spiritual mentors to help them by supporting, counseling and teaching them. Of course, the story also demonstrates what happens when seasoned Christians fail to act as spiritual parents. When mature Christians neglect to assume their responsibility to share their wisdom and love with younger Christians, the younger ones are not fully equipped for the task that lies ahead. They may be energetic and gifted, but without direction and loving oversight, they have a tendency to get off track—or even to trample those in their path.

There is a desperate need for spiritually mature men and women to mentor younger Christians, helping them to clarify what really matters in life and work. Spiritual parents who act as mature coaches can help younger believers achieve their dreams and visions and feel connected as they integrate life and work and grow to maturity.

Much of this was taken from my book, “The Cry for Spiritual Mothers and Fathers”.