My history with colorful pets on the mission field is a long one. As a child in Melanesia we had pythons, owls, parrots, praying mantises, tree kangaroos (my favorites), and a baby bat. We also had seasons with the more typical dogs and cats. Mostly these were good experiences. Though an eclectus parrot once bit a chunk out of my thumb and a tree kangaroo bit a chunk out of my big toe. That same tree kangaroo also bit one of my classmates, and for some reason his parents insisted on getting him a tetanus shot, which was probably much worse than what the frightened marsupial had done. Sorry about that, Ken.
This part of my life – an enjoyment of local critters – never quite went away, even when I moved to Central Asia. There was a part of our previous city called “Under the Bridge,” where the animal sellers would gather. All kinds of strange and interesting animals would be for sale there, though their conditions were sometimes lamentable. But sometimes you could see eagles, ostriches, chipmunks, or beautiful pheasants for sale. Locals have a thing for birds, especially of the dove, pigeon, and pheasant variety.
One day as a new single on the field, I saw a couple of monkeys for sale under the bridge. I committed one of my classic language blunders that day by asking “Where are the monkey’s people?!” over and over because I thought I was asking, “Where are the monkeys from?”
I later enthusiastically told my team about the little monkeys for sale. “Guys! We could have an office monkey! It would be great, we could teach it to serve chai to guests!”
Needless to say, my team didn’t share my enthusiasm.
Many years passed and I never saw a monkey for sale again in the bazaar. Alas. But one day, I spotted hedgehogs. Just a few months beforehand I had been reading in Zephaniah and was struck by the peculiarity of this passage:
Zephaniah 2:13–14  And he will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and he will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert.  Herds shall lie down in her midst, all kinds of beasts; even the owl and the hedgehog shall lodge in her capitals; a voice shall hoot in the window; devastation will be on the threshold; for her cedar work will be laid bare. (ESV)
When I read the word desolation in verse 13 I wasn’t exactly expecting it to be illustrated with such a cute friendly little critter in verse 14. I mean, who saw that coming? “I will bring desolation… the hedgehog!” (cue thunder and lightning). Now that I’ve lived in Central Asia for a while I understand that hedgehogs (like owls) represent one of the desert creatures that would move into an abandoned city, as Nineveh was to become. Still, I couldn’t quite shake some level of amusement with the connection of these particular words in the text.
“Darling,” I told my wife, “If we ever get a hedgehog, we’re naming him Desolation.”
“OK, love, whatever you say,” was my wife’s response. She didn’t actually expect me to buy one.
But when I came across some for sale in the bazaar for the grand sum of $8 each, it was too good to pass up. I bought one and brought him home in a shoebox, proudly presenting him to my wife and two toddlers. The kids of course were thrilled. My wife was bemused and skeptical.
“His name is Desolation! Desi for short.” I announced. My wife shook her head. The TCK in me occasionally takes over and she remembers that she did indeed marry someone who grew up swimming in jungle rivers and shooting his friends with coffee cherries.
I asked my wife tonight what she remembers about Desi.
“He was a punk,” she said. “And whenever we held him he would hiss at us! And shrink his little head back up under his spikes. Then we would set him down and he would run and try to get under the couch. But he was too fat so he would get half way under, get stuck, and then scurry his little back legs against the floor until he got flat enough to eventually fit under.”
Indeed, Desi had a grumpy personality befitting the name. Still, sometimes he was very cute and would let us rub his belly. Though most of the time he would just hang out under the couch – once he had finally managed to squeeze through. Every night I would tip over the couch and put him back in his cage. The greatest danger for him in the house was that he would somehow find the bathroom and fall in the squatty potty in the floor and drown.
Ultimately, Desi never found the perilous bathroom, though he eventually succumbed to some kind of mysterious hedgehog virus and passed away, as Tolkien would say, “an image of the glory of the splendor of the kings of [hedgehogs], in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.”
The kids were sad. I was sad. Even my wife was a little sad. We haven’t had a pet since, but I keep my eyes open every time we’re in the bazaar. I would love for my kids to also grow up with strange tales of colorful creatures that are usually grumpy and sometimes even cute. There are some downsides to growing up as TCKs. But there are many upsides also. Tree kangaroos. Hedgehogs. Parents who are naturally adventurous and who let you have things like pythons.
Meanwhile, perhaps we’d better bring more hedgehog imagery into our teaching on God’s judgement? I’m sensing a theme…
Isaiah 14:23  “And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,” declares the LORD of hosts. (ESV)