Donkey Talk

“Do you know what I think?” Simon stood, hands on hips, glowering down at Tie Li.

Tie Li adjusted the pile of books on her lap as she sat waiting for the school bus to fill up. “Do you think? I thought you just talk.”

Simon’s scowl grew more intense. “I think lots of times, and don’t try to confuse me. I’m mad at you and that brother of yours who thinks he’s so smart.”

“Why, Simon Gorby!” Tony squeezed past the bully and sat down beside his sister. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“You’re holding out on me!” Simon waved his finger in front of Tony’s nose.

“What do you mean?” Tony placed his lunch pail under his seat.

Simon looked up and down the aisle, then moved close to Tony. “You know, the machine,” he whispered.

Tony looked surprised. “You mean Voyager?”

“Yeah. We haven’t gone anywhere for weeks!”

Tony thought for a moment. “You’re right.”

“Well?” Simon moved even closer.

“Well, what?”

“Well, when are we going?”

“Going where?”

Simon rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. Tony winked at his sister, who covered her mouth, trying to hide a snicker.

“Tell you what I’ll do.” Tony also spoke in a whisper. “Can you meet me at the workshop at four this afternoon?”

Simon’s face grew somber. “You mean sixteen hundred hours?”

“No, I mean four this afternoon.”

Simon sighed. “I’ll be there.” He stood to leave.

Tony grabbed his coat and pulled him back down beside him. “And another thing,” he said, looking the bully straight in the eye. “For this trip you’ll need to know donkey talk.”

Simon stood up. “Got it!” He turned to leave, then stopped. Facing Tony, his lips moved silently. “Donkey talk?”

“Be fluent,” Tony said with a smile.

The bully stared at Tony, then slowly continued down the aisle. As the bus pulled away, Tie Li waved at Simon standing on the curb. He seemed to be repeating something to himself.

That afternoon at the appointed time Simon lumbered into the workshop. “I’m ready to go,” he said, brushing snow from his boots and pants.

Tony made last minute entries on his computer and studied the screen. “Good,” he said. “One thing I have to say about you, Simon Gorby, is that you’re always on time.”

“Well, I don’t want you flying off in this thing without me.”

Voyager doesn’t fly,
it . . . it . . . oh, never mind. You did learn donkey talk today, didn’t you?”

Nervously Simon wet his lips. “Oh, sure, I—uh—went to the—uh—library. They had a book on it. So I’m all set.”

“Great. Tie Li and I are a little rusty in that particular lingo, so you’ll have to translate.”


“Yeah, let’s go!”

Tie Li, who had been sitting in the entrance of Voyager, got up and let Tony and Simon take their places inside the machine. Slipping her football helmet over her long dark hair, she pressed in after them and closed the door. In moments Voyager faded from view.

The air was warm and dry as the children stepped down from the machine. A bright sun shone on the waters of a nearby river that flowed through fertile valleys bordered by green, tree-covered hills. Fields of corn, wheat, and barley soaked up the sun’s rays and added patches of gold to the lush living carpet of grass and wildflowers.

“What a fantastic place!” Simon let his gaze sweep the countryside. “Where are we? California?”

Tony ignored his last remark. “That’s the Jordan River. To be precise, we’re in the land of Moab, part of the Promised Land.”

“So all those people did find Promised Land?” Tie Li asked, remembering the multitude by the Red Sea.

“Well, not exactly. They’re over there.” Tony led Tie Li to higher ground and pointed across the river. A great gathering of people had pitched their tents on the plain separating the Jordan from a distant range of mountains.

“The king of Moab, the Book says his name is Balak, has sent for a man to come and curse these people so they can’t conquer the land and make it their new home.”

Simon spoke up. “But God promised this land to them. Now they’ve got to fight for it?”

“I guess so,” Tony said. “God must not just give things away. I guess they’ve got to do something about it too. But anyway, the king has sent for Balaam to come and curse everybody.”

Just then the youngsters heard the sound of hooves on dry ground. Looking down the path, they saw a rider and donkey weaving their way among the boulders and tall grass that invaded the small roadway. The rider seemed to be in a hurry.

“Come on, you old bag of bones,” he said, slapping the donkey on the rump with a stick. “I haven’t got all day.”

The donkey let out a long, loud hee-haw that echoed up and down the hillside. Tony turned to Simon. “What’d he say?”

“He said,’Come, on you old—'”

“No, not the man. The donkey.”

Simon stared at Tony. “The donkey?”

“Yeah. You said you knew donkey talk.”

Simon’s eyebrows rose in surprise. The donkey let out another loud bellow.

“Well, what’d he say then?” Tony asked.

Simon cleared his throat. He wasn’t about to show his ignorance in front of Tony and Tie Li. “The donkey said,’Stop hitting me with that stick.'” The bully looked out of the corner of his eye at Tony.

The boy nodded his head. “That makes sense.”

Another long hee-haw blasted from the mouth of the animal. Simon was ready. “The donkey said,’It’s hot and I’m tired. Why don’t you get off and walk, you old slave driver?'”

“You’re very good at this.” Tony spoke approvingly.

Simon beamed.

The donkey began to act very strange. First it ran off the path and stumbled into a wheat field. The rider yelled at the animal. The donkey bellowed its response. Simon translated.

Then the animal pressed against a rock outcropping by the path, crushing the rider’s foot. The man blasted the donkey with words and his stick. The donkey hee-hawed. Simon translated.

All of a sudden the animal simply lay down on the path, with the unhappy rider still on its back. The man beat the donkey angrily.

As the animal stood to its feet, it turned to face the rider. In a strong, clear voice it said, “What have I done to make you beat me these three times?”

Simon leaned toward Tony. “The donkey said,’What have I done to make you be—'” The bully stopped in midword.

“Yes, yes, go on,” Tony urged.

Simon’s mouth and eyes opened wide.

“Well, come on, Simon. What’s the donkey saying?”

The man addressed his animal. “You’ve made a fool of me. If I had a sword, I’d kill you right now.”

Tony snickered. “Imagine talking to a donkey like that!”

Simon remained speechless.

The animal responded to its master’s threat. “Don’t I belong to you? Haven’t we ridden many miles together? Do I usually act like this?”

“Simon! What is the donkey saying?” Tony nudged the bully with his elbow. “Come on, you’re the one who knows donkey talk.”

Tie Li burst out laughing. Tony could contain himself no longer. With forced seriousness he added, “So what’s the donkey saying?”

Simon’s face clouded with anger. “You knew about this, didn’t you? You knew that donkey would talk regular human talk, didn’t you? Why, I oughta—”

His words were interrupted by a blinding flash of light. There in the pathway before the rider and donkey stood a tall, majestic angel, with sword drawn.

The man fell to the ground as the angel spoke. “Don’t blame your donkey, Balaam. It saw me in the path when you couldn’t. God is displeased with you. You were going to curse Israel and accept the riches Balak offered, weren’t you?”

Balaam’s voice quivered. “I have sinned. I’ll go back home.”

“No!” The angel’s voice shook the ground. “Complete your journey, but speak only those things I command you to say.” With that, the angel disappeared. Hurriedly Balaam mounted his donkey and rode down the path toward the river.

Tony smiled over at the bully. “Hey, I’m sorry, Simon. We just wanted to play a little trick on you, that’s all. Friends?”

Tony held out his hand. Simon paused, then reluctantly accepted the boy’s apology. “It was pretty good trick,” the bully admitted, “even if I say so myself.”

As the three made their way back to Voyager, Tie Li kept looking up at Simon. A grin played at her lips as she spoke. “Simon. I understand donkey after it fell down, but before, how you know what donkey said?”

Simon’s face reddened. Closing the door of Voyager, he spoke in the dark. “Simple, I know donkey talk. You should learn it sometime.”

Farther down the river a nation waited for words of blessing from the God they served. Balaam hurried along the path, the angel’s instructions ringing in his ears. Other words echoed there, too. He didn’t slap his donkey quite as hard anymore. When God has a point to make, one never knows what an animal is likely to say!

* * *

In a jungle clearing many thousands of miles from the Parkses’ farm, a wooden building sat on tall stilts above the steaming rice paddies. Tiny green shoots peeked from the beds of mud.

A man stood in the doorway looking out over the fields. “Is it always this hot here?” he asked in a thick English accent.

The woman sitting at a tiny desk across the room looked up from her typing. “Oh, no,” she said, lifting her arms in a long stretch. “Sometimes it gets even hotter!”

The man smiled, walked to the counter by the far wall, and sipped water from a metal container. “Not exactly London in January,” he responded, savoring the cool liquid. Looking at his watch, he picked up a clipboard. “Time for rounds.”

The woman rose and followed him as he walked toward the long hallway that ran the length of the building. Lining the hall were doors leading to small rooms, each filled with cots. The man stopped and examined the bandaged occupants of each room. “Whoever taught people how to fight wars should be executed.”

“I think they were, Doctor, during the first war.”

The man smiled. “I believe you’re right.”

Entering one of the rooms, the woman pointed in the direction of a young boy seated by the window. “He’s still at it,” she said with a sigh. “He never speaks, doesn’t eat much. He just sits there.”

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “His leg and arms healed sometime ago. I guess not all war wounds are physical. It must be hard to see your whole world go up in smoke. The chart says he lost everything. It’s sad. He’s so young.” The man and woman left the room and continued their tour of the clinic.

The boy remained by the window, his eyes staring into the thick foliage of the jungle.

1. Why didn’t Balaam notice when the donkey first talked to him?
2. The angel allowed Balaam to continue his journey. Why?
3. Tony said, “God must not just give things away.” What does that tell us about God’s promises?
4. Why do you think the angel made the donkey talk to Balaam?
5. How can we listen to God talk to us (without His having to use a donkey)?

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Donkey Talk

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