Miss Beardslee's Missionary Tiger Story

I was beyond afraid.

I gripped the edge of the church pew until the white knuckles of my thin, eight-year-old hands threatened to burst through my taut skin.

Miss Harriet Beardslee, a Christian missionary to India, was retelling her well-known “Tiger Story.” As frightening and true as it was, I had to hear it again. I had even invited two school friends to join me in listening to this amazing tale that thrilled and chilled me at the same time.

Miss Beardslee, a master storyteller, leaned forward with great drama and loudly whispered, “There we were, another single missionary and I, sleeping in a canvas-covered wagon with an open slit in the back. Outside, the fire we had built earlier, was still burning brightly enough to cast an eerie glow over the blackness of the night near this small village in a clearing at the edge of the jungle. We had come to tell people in India about God’s love for them.

“Suddenly, we felt our wagon shake violently! A huge, man-eating tiger from the jungle put his heavy front paws on the end of our wagon and thrust his massive, furry head inside the canvas curtain. He bared his 7-inch-long fangs and unleashed an unearthly growl deep in his throat.

“We were terrified. He was only feet from us, ready to spring! And this species of tiger, when hungry, is known to savagely tear into human flesh, kill around the throat, then eat his prey until satisfied.”

“What would you do if you’d been there?” she asked the sixty children sitting rigidly in fear before her.

One small boy’s hand shot up. “I’d run and get in bed with my mother!” he gasped.

Miss Beardslee carefully explained that they had been alone, no houses, no other people around. And this was before cars were available in India for easy travel.

She continued on.

“Suddenly, I remembered a book I’d read in grade school many years before in America which explained how you can stare a tiger down. You must appear unafraid to the tiger. You can’t take your eyes from his, no matter how long it takes.

“Then I remembered something else. Just before I took the ship from America to India as a missionary, a little girl prayed aloud for me. “Dear God,” she said, “Don’t let the tigers eat Miss Beardslee.” I knew that God had brought these two things to my remembrance to comfort me and give me courage!

“I whispered to my companion in the semi-darkness, “You pray and I’ll stare.” I would explain the staring part to her later.

“She quickly began to pray silently while I began to stare. Straight into the tiger’s huge eyes which were only a leap away from me.

“I stared and stared. I stared until my eyes hurt and tears started streaming down my cheeks. The tiger gave no indication that he was going to back away. In my mind, I recited every Scripture verse I knew about God’s promise of protection. And still we continued to stare into each other’s eyes.”

By this time, the tension in the church was palpable. Every child was intently focused on Miss Beardslee as she opened her eyes wider and wider for effect. We knew she was a godly woman and would never invent such a story or embellish it in any way.

“Finally,” she continued, “After about a half hour, the tiger lowered one giant paw to the ground, but kept on staring. Then he slowly lowered the other paw to the ground and began to back slowly, slowly away. When he was at the edge of the clearing, he turned and ran into the jungle, disappearing from our view.”

Sixty children exhaled simultaneously with profound relief.

Miss Beardslee then told us of the wonderful protecting power of God, how we can trust Him but that we must also exercise watchful care over ourselves. She thanked God over and over for sparing their lives, allowing them to spend many more years in India, working in the dreaded leprosariums and telling people that Jesus loves them.

She ended her story with this heart-stopper: “In the morning when we had enough light to move our wagon to a safer spot, a guard at the nearby village stopped to advise us to be careful. A man-eating tiger had attacked someone in the small village during the night, had killed him and dragged his ripped and torn body into the jungle to feast on it. It had occurred near us, about one hour after God had helped me stare down the tiger in our covered wagon at the edge of the jungle in India.”

Mariane Holbrook is a retired teacher, an author of two books, a musician and artist. She lives with her husband on coastal North Carolina. She maintains a personal website www.marianholbrook.com and welcomes your Emails at [email protected].

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