Don’t worry, the tiger can’t escape…

By Elizabeth Prata

I discovered the series of children’s books by The Millers. I found “Missionary Stories with the Millers” which is aimed at 6-10 year olds. The stories are about missionaries and are intended to be inspiring and interesting for kids. Here is the blurb:

“Experience thrilling adventure as the Christian missionaries on these pages meet witch doctors, disease, drought, hate-filled guerillas, a Bible thief, and killer cats. Each story is based on actual happenings from the lives of real people.”

I was inspired and entertained myself by this story in the book, one of many. It’s called “The Tiger Can’t Escape” featuring pilot missionary Jack McGuckin. Colonel Jack served 4 years as a pilot in Peru with Wycliffe Bible Translators before going on to be a global evangelist for 30 years. Before all that, Col. Jack was a Marine Corps fighter pilot who served in WWII and the Korean Conflict. Col. McGuckin had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Bronze Star and the Presidential Citation. Born in 1921, he died in 2007. Here is the adapted anecdote from the book Missionary Stories, called “The Tiger Can’t Escape!”

“The tiger cannot possibly escape from the basket,” said the sergeant. “Are you sure?” Jack the missionary pilot stood beside his small plane pushing back his cap as he wiped a trail of sweat from his forehead and looked doubtfully at the huge wicker basket.

Inside the basket, which had been made from reeds and strips of bark, crouched a fierce looking spotted cat. The tiger was really an ocelot, a tiny South American panther.

“Oh, si Señor,” the Peruvian soldier assured Jack. His white teeth flashed in his face as he grinned. “The tiger cat will be quite safe in your plane. My basket is very strong.” Jack was not enthusiastic about having a wild ocelot aboard the plane. He looked pretty mean. He was flying alone on this trip with a cargo of supplies for different missionary stations.

“I’m already carrying four live chickens and two turtles in a box,” Jack mused. “This plane is turning into Noah’s ark.” But Jack remembered the missionary director’s rule always cooperate with the government people whenever possible we are in their country by permission to preach the gospel, so be courteous.

“Yes, I will take your tiger along and deliver her to your friend,” Jack agreed. The two men loaded the big basket behind the back seat. The plane skimmed lightly over the river on its pontoons and rose into the air. Jack was flying one of the small fleet of mission planes which soared daily over the most savage dangerous jungles of South America. Any mistake on his part could bring his plane crashing down to vanish in the trackless expanse of jungle where death waited in many forms; from poisonous snakes… poisonous plants…and man-eating fish with sharp razor-sharp teeth… or head hunting Indians.

They all lurked in the thick green rain forest before airplanes came to the South American missions. The missionaries and the Bible translators had needed to travel on foot through the treacherous jungle trails or by small boats on the rivers. A trip to the nearest town or doctor might take days of dangerous travel. But now pilots like Jack took the same trip in an hour.

This made things so much easier for the brave missionaries who were risking their lives to bring the gospel to the Indians.

Jack whistled happily thinking about this as his hand skillfully held the controls. He peered through the plexiglass windows of the cockpit. Feet below were the lush jungles of the northern Peru with the strangely black waters of the Nanay River churning through them.

Suddenly a flurry of squawking noises erupted from the seat behind Jack. It sounded just like the noise of chickens that had made on his father’s farm the time a fox had crept into their hen house late at night. Whirling around in his seat, Jack saw that the ocelot had escaped! She was climbing over the seat yellow eyes gleaming as she hungrily looked at the chickens. Grabbing his canteen, Jack threw water at the big cat. Snarling, she slunk back into the luggage compartment. In just a few moments though, she started over the seat again. Frantic, the chickens flopped their wings and fought to free their feet from the vines that tied them together. Jack hurriedly hurled his empty canteen at the cat. He missed and the ocelot pounced, landing in the seat beside the chickens. Snapping the weed vines around their feet, the panicked chickens exploded in all directions. Their wings beat against the windows and in Jack’s face as the ocelot stood up on her hind legs.

Sharp claws swinging for a drumstick, feathers flew everywhere. Jack forgot all about flying the airplane and began grabbing for chickens. But it was no use. The ocelot soon had a chicken trapped on the floor under Jack’s seat and he could hear its sharp teeth crunching on flesh and bones.

The plane was three thousand feet up in the air and no help was near. What could Jack do? Would the ocelot be satisfied after a chicken dinner and sleep for a while, or would she decide to hunt for more meat?

Slash! One tiny foreleg tipped with steely claws shot out from under the seat toward Jack. For an instant the ocelot’s claws hooked into the pilot’s pants and then tore free. Jack’s pounding heart seemed to be squeezing the breath from his lungs. The tiger was hunting him with all of his might!

Jack kicked back at his enemy she held a blood-curdling cry of rage that filled the small plane. “Lord what shall I do? Help me find a place to land!” Jack prayed desperately looking out the window he spotted a small settlement by the river below. Jack rolled down the flaps of his plane and began to circle around for a landing. Kicking the cat with his heels every time she reached for his leg, he finally got the plane down to the water.

EPrata photo

A crowd of men appeared as Jack taxied the plane up to the bank. “Help!” he shouted out the window. “I have a loose tiger cat in here!” A dozen men jumped onto the pontoons at the same time all trying to see into the plane which began to sink.

“No!” cried Jack, “Not all at once!” The men jumped off again and their leader sent for a coil of rope. Soon the angry ocelot had been lassoed and safely tied up. Sighing with relief Jack thanked the Peruvians.

“Oh, it is nothing,” the leader smilingly told Jack. “We are just so glad you landed here. One of my men had a heart attack this morning, and may die if we cannot get him to the hospital. Will you take him along to the city?”

“Of course I will take him,” Jack agreed.

“So the Lord had a purpose in allowing the tiger cat to break loose,” Jack mused as he helped lift the sick man into the airplane. “God used a snarling ocelot and a scared pilot to get his plane to the right place and save this man’s life.”

Less than two hours later the sick man was safely in the hospital at Iquitos. The army officer had his ocelot and Jack was on his way back to the mission station.

This loose ocelot incident occurred in the 1960s on almost one of Jack’s first missionary flights. Jack was fairly new pilot with Wycliffe then.

When people complain about God’s election of individuals to salvation, they say ‘Well what about the native in the deep jungle who never heard of the Gospel or of Jesus?’

First of all, because God is wholly in charge of a person’s salvation, when the appointed time for them to be saved comes, God is perfectly capable of sending a missionary to them, or bringing that person to a pastor, or having the word go out in some way.

Secondly, He made the entire world, nothing is too far for the Lord to reach His intended sheep. Nothing is too difficult for Him to bring the spirit of repentance on a person, whether they live in London apartment or a Mongolian hut or a Peruvian jungle.

God’s work is pure, holy, and always perfect. He is powerful and delights to bring people to salvation. He must have had plans for the man whose heart attack necessitated a trip to the city hospital. So God arranged for the ocelot’s escape on a plane than landed out of nowhere! God is amazing!

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