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At the Movies: Incredible Animal Journeys

Image: Jack Salen

When my great-great grandparents set sail for America, they had two young children in tow already, and my great-great grandmother, Bronislawa, was pregnant.

Very pregnant.

She was so pregnant that she gave birth to a baby girl on the ship, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. On a ship, of all places!

It was a tale my great grandmother, Anna, told me over and over again. “I was born on the boat coming to America,” she’d say, and I would shake my head, doubting the truth of this wild tale.

But then, Ancestry.com came out, and with it, loads and loads of military documents, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, and, you guessed it, immigration records.

There, long after my great grandma had passed away, was the proof of the story she’d been telling me the two decades I was blessed to know her. “Anna B. Born on ship.”

What would it take for me to board a boat that pregnant?

Migrations like my great-great-grandparents’ come to mind at this time of year, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth after Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem. Mary probably never dreamed of delivering God incarnate in a foreign town, away from her immediate family. 

In a manger, of all places!

The reasons they had to travel were different, but the fact of the matter remains: we are always on the move.

Incredible Animal Journeys

Migration seems to be baked into the DNA of all creation, both human and animal. A new series from National Geographic captures never-before-seen footage of some of earth’s most fantastic voyages. Incredible Animal Journeys begins in the ocean, featuring the birth of a newborn humpback whale. The mother and child spend five weeks together in the warm waters of Hawaii before beginning their long swim to the abundant hunting grounds off the coast of Alaska, over 3,000 miles away.

Driven to leave for food, shelter, and love, creatures from the depths of the sea to the heights of mountaintops ascend and descend, swim, hike, and crawl across this wild and crazy planet. This has been happening for ages and ages, longer than human history can account. 

Somehow, they know, in the deepest, secret places of their being, what they need to do, where they need to go, and how they will get there. It is as if they have been equipped with an internal compass, that “whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21 NIV).

Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing

In order for life to persist, everything needs to move.

Zebras have to spring up from the African savanna and gallop alongside their mothers. Sea turtles have to hatch from a beach dune, paddle across the sand, and push off into the ocean to swim for 30 years before they’re ready to return to land. They will face trials and tribulation. Some won’t make it; in fact, only 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles survive to arrive on that sandy shore.

Even trees, things we think are stable and rooted, still drop their seeds and expect them to sprout just beyond the shadow of their limbs.

Journeys are part of our existence. They are part of our stories, both those intimate and personal and the universal story of humanity. From the first migration out of the Garden of Eden to our modern-day relocations, these expeditions and adventures, this leaving and cleaving, this listening for a call and answering, all of it is in pursuit of something more, something that will fill us, something that will make us whole and complete.

That desire is by design.

Ever longing for and valuing relationship with his creation, God continues to call us out of darkness and into light, out of injustice and into mercy, out of violence and into peace. God calls us into love, into compassion, into caring for each other. 

Historically, people don’t leave their places of origin just for fun. There are reasons we leave—food shortages, drought, unemployment, violence, war, and more provoke us to pick up our stuff and look for the whiff of an opportunity to make a better life somewhere else. Whether those journeys are by necessity or by choice, they are always with the purpose of greater unity and fulfillment. 

When God says to us, “Go,” it is for our own good, a greater good than we can even imagine. It’s what drove Abram to follow God away from his country of origin. It’s what empowered Moses to keep leading his people through the wilderness for forty years before arriving just beyond the Promised Land. It’s what prompted Joseph to usher his young family to Egypt to flee from the Massacre of the Innocents. It’s what led Jesus into the desert for forty days and nights, tempered and readied for the ministry that awaited him. It’s what compelled the disciples to teach and preach the Good News of God’s love beyond their small circles.

Whether people have fled their homeland because of threats to their very lives or simply lifted up their roots to find fresh opportunities in foreign cities, God calls his people to care for foreigners in foreign lands, to be hospitable and make a way for life to triumph. 

God is calling us to follow, trust, and love, in animal and human migrations both.
Incredible Animal Journeys is available now on Disney+.

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