GENTLY SHAKE YOUR WORLD

It was Gandhi who admonished his generation saying, “In a gentle way you can shake your world.” Gandhi certainly shook his world during his lifetime. While traveling throughout this world, I have met my share of passionate people who have likewise shaken their world in gentle ways.

One of my dearest international friends was Daniel Kalnin. He was born in the mysterious country of Burma, present-day Myanmar. The British had colonized Burma, which is bordered by China, India, Thailand, and a bit of Laos. Burma had become a strategic defense post for the Brits during World War II. But in 1948, Great Britain decided to pull out of Burma and sail home. The vacuum created by the lack of leadership and stability threw Burma into political, economic, and cultural turmoil. They had grown to depend on the British rule of law, available health-care, and the advantage of international trading. Power struggles, tribal wars, and a lot of bloodshed became the rule.

Daniel realized that if he were to see any of his dreams come true, he would have to leave Burma. When he was eighteen years old, he slipped across the Thailand border and became a fugitive. Eventually, some Americans rescued Daniel and brought him to America, where he was educated and where he met his Canadian wife, Beverly. Upon graduation, the two of them determined to return to Thailand and work with the hill-tribe people who lived on the border of Thailand and northern Burma.

In Thailand, with the blessing of the king, Daniel constructed a small housing development. He tested twenty-seven water sources to find an uncontaminated water supply for the village. None could be used. But high in the mountains he discovered a spring of pure water and built a water system of cisterns and pipelines to serve the people. One of the criteria for families to move into his development was to stop cultivating poppies for opium resale, take ownership of some of his land, and start growing a cash crop of coffee. Daniel returned briefly to the US and raised money to buy coffee plants. While here, he set up distribution outlets to market the new Hill Tribe Coffee brand in America. The villagers discovered they could make more money with coffee crops than with poppies. Because of the new water system, the villagers became dramatically healthier.

I traveled with Daniel on motorbikes over the steep trails of the lower Himalayas along the border of Burma to a bustling town in his new development of Bayasai. Daniel showed me the large brown church the people had built with a large red cross painted on the front. It was the only place in the insurgency area where the people from five different tribes were living together peacefully.

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In the commercial city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Daniel and Beverly had also built the House of Blessing. When I first visited the Kalnin’s home in Chiang Mai, there were forty-seven throwaway girls between the ages of ten and twelve who had been taken from slavery and prostitution and were being housed, loved, and educated in that home. And yet for thirty years, Daniel had been estranged from his family and beloved homeland of Burma. Eventually, Project C.U.R.E. was privileged to join Daniel in returning to Burma and seeing his dreams come true in establishing the highly effective Barefoot Doctors organization that has saved literally thousands of the lives of the hill-tribe villagers and citizens of Thailand and Burma.

My dear friend Daniel has since died, and I am still grieving the loss. I originally wrote this story to honor Daniel, his family, and his never ending life’s work. Today I salute him as a true champion, because in a gentle way, Daniel shook his world!


THE POWER OF STORY

I realize looking back that so much of my destiny lay in a handful of stories, a few that were personal and others I found in books.

My parents taught me that doing well in business and doing good deeds in the world should be inseparable. They instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit that looked forward to philanthropic ends. I was taught how to create wealth in order to practice virtue.

I loved the evenings at our house as my mother, Josie Jackson, created a soothing atmosphere that eventually lulled us to sleep. After dinner and once all of our chores were finished, my mom would relax for half an hour by sitting down at the piano and playing her favorite songs. My mother was a dedicated school teacher. When she was twelve years old, her church’s regular piano player died suddenly, so Mom started playing the piano for church services.

In the evenings when Mom’s piano playing stopped, we kids all headed for the sofa. We curled up around her, and she read to us. Our home was full of books, and usually we got to choose the evening stories. It was in that setting that I first began to hear about young boys who had overcome incredible obstacles to become great successes.

I learned about the adventures of Andy Carnegie, the little Highlander boy who had come to America from Scotland when he was thirteen years old. I had nearly memorized the stories of Henry Ford, Cecil Rhodes, and William Carey, but something made my heart pound when I listened to Mom read about John D. Rockefeller and Dwight L. Moody.

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During my teen years, I read books like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, the book Hill wrote with W. Clement Stone, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, and Stone’s book The Success System That Never Fails.

The power of the stories my mom read to me changed my life for good. By the time a child is three years old, there is a readiness level to mentally and emotionally reach out to the outside world to find pegs on which to hang feelings, dreams, and fantasies.

Those pegs have a way of later becoming the linchpins of life. I’m so glad my mom took the time to read enduring stories to me.





WEALTH ROOMS

Snuggled up against the western borders of old Burma (now Myanmar) in the rugged front range of the majestic Himalayas, just south of the Bhutan and only a few miles from China, lay three orphaned substates of India. Because they are nearly cut off from the rest of India by Bangladesh, the territories of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland are characterized by dangerous insurgency and wild independence. I traveled there to assess some needy hospitals and clinics.

While I was in the city of Kohima, Nagaland, my host took me to a village near his birthplace. Before the missionaries had come to the area, the residents had been ferocious headhunters. The sturdy ceremonial, wooden gates of the village had been carved and painted with scenes of warriors carrying the heads of their tribal enemies as trophies. No longer do they hunt down their neighbors, however. Now, heads of bear, deer, straight-horned bucks, monkeys, and wild boars are displayed on the roofs, porches, and outside walls of the homes.

Just inside the door of each village dwelling was a special room that immediately revealed the earthly wealth of the owner. Woven reed baskets nearly six feet tall were filled with rice, maize, and other grains. Ears of corn were draped over the rafters, and cuts of meat were hung from racks to dry.

My doctor friend interpreted as I talked with an old village resident who told me that the entry areas were called wealth rooms. “It is good to be considered wealthy because it lets everyone know that you are not lazy but are very productive. You care about life. But the wealth rooms serve an even greater purpose,” he told me.

“Later in life, when a man becomes rich and his room is very full, he invites all the other village people to his house for a giveaway party. All his friends and neighbors come and honor him because he had worked very hard, had been a good hunter, and had lived wisely. At the end of the party, the host goes to his wealth room, takes the contents and divides them up among the other inhabitants of the village. In return, the villagers confer on the man and his family great honor and influence, guarantee him a legacy of greatness and respect, and vow to take care of him as long as he lives.”

I had never before heard of wealth rooms and giveaway parties. What a great way to move from success to significance! But I quickly agreed that the concept had certainly been established in heavenly wisdom. It had been both refreshing and confirming to realize that way back in ancient Mongol history, some folks had it figured correctly:

Your greatness is always determined by what you give away from your wealth room while you are still alive.





PERFECT PEOPLE

In Colombia, South America, 1997 was a year of lawlessness and murder. The drug cartels ran unchecked not only in the cities but also in the rural mountain districts. No one was safe and the frightened victims from the countryside would try to escape the violence and guerrilla warfare by rushing to the cities to find food, protection, and perhaps work. Invasion cities were built overnight out of junk and trash on land where folks had no permission to squat. Single mothers with a half-dozen homeless kids hunkered down under cardboard or a piece of sheet metal to keep out of the rain or scorching sun. Once there, they were slapped with the cruel reality that there was no food, no protection, and no work. There were thirty-two such invasion cities in Monteria.

Barrios were a little different. The city would give the poor dwellers permission to build on the land or would sell the land outright to the people for a small price. The shelters in the barrios were constructed out of gathered stones or concrete blocks. But the characteristic level of abject poverty was the same—no jobs, no money, no hope!

I went into several of the squalid huts. Because of the recent heavy rains, the floors of the invasion-city units were soggy mud holes. The sewage ran down the center of the makeshift roads or behind the huts. As little babies crawled along the floors and through the mud, I watched with amazement and wondered why far more of them did not die from lung congestion and parasites. My feeble coping skills acquired over the years totally failed me when a pair of haunting, hungry eyes locked in on mine with a panicked plea: “Please help me; I have no hope of getting out of here!”

Then, like a burst of warm Colorado sunshine, I experienced a bit of the Divine. In front of me was a small, whitewashed building that was being used as a school. Alita was only fifteen years old; she was the teacher. Over the years she had walked out of the barrio every day to attend a small Catholic school in the city. “I knew I wanted to do something for these children in the invasion cities and barrios,” she told me.

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Alita had gone through the tenth grade but had given up her opportunity to enter the eleventh grade in order to start teaching the children of her neighborhood how to read and write. She had never received any teacher training but simply taught as she had been taught.

She could only teach the children a half day because she had ninety students—forty-five in the morning and forty-five in the afternoon. The prior week another fifteen children came, but she simply could not handle them and had to turn them away. “I was able to bring some bananas today to my school to feed some of my students who have been going hungry. I did not eat today, but that is just fine,” she told me.

I looked around her little whitewashed school building with pictures and artwork fixed to the outside walls, and I stopped and thanked God for Alita.

The work of the world does not wait to be done by the perfect or pretty people. God’s work is accomplished by people of great compassion who will pour out their own lives so that others are better off!




SEEKING TRUTH

Many old, salty sea captains have managed to sail their ships back to the safety of harbor lights with nothing more than a magnetized sewing needle balanced on a cork, floating in a cup of water. That was the only compass they needed to get back to the comforts of home and hearth. And while it is touted that a compass never lies, it can deceive you. The direction of north that your compass gives you just might be wrong. Compasses point toward the magnetic north pole, located near Ellesmere Island in north Canada. But true north is not there. It is over seventy miles away. Depending on where in the world you are located, the difference between where your compass is pointing and where you are in relation to true north can be considerable.

When I was just a kid, I learned that it was possible to take even the finest compass and make it tell you that north was anywhere you wanted it to be. All you needed was a cheap refrigerator magnet close by, and you could perform miracles. No longer would the needle of the compass point to earth’s magnetic north, but it would point to wherever the refrigerator magnet was placed in close proximity. Of course, the accuracy and utility of the compass was completely spoiled. No longer would it perform the function for which it was designed. No salty sea captain would set his cup of water, cork, and magnetized sewing needle on top of a refrigerator magnet and expect to sail safely home.

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Through the years I have been concerned about how easy it is for folks to employ their handy refrigerator magnet to situations of life and truth. It doesn’t take much for someone to slip his refrigerator magnet onto the table and proclaim that north is precisely where he says it is. I have become increasingly bothered with the proliferation of relative truth and the difficulty of determining “true north.” While growing up, I used to wonder why glib politicians were referred to as having magnetic personalities. Today, I think I better understand. With their handy little refrigerator magnet, they can change the compass direction of north two, three, or four times in a day—or even within a debate. But where precisely is true north?

I was traveling in the Bulgarian city of Haskovo, performing a medical Needs Assessment Study for Project C.U.R.E., and I struck up a conversation with one of the health officials, a former officer of the Soviet Union. We began talking about what it had been like to live in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet regime. “Everything was relative,” he said. “You never knew just what to expect as ‘truth.’ You could only depend on what you were told at the moment and you were expected to respond accordingly. Everything was relative with no unattached or independent ‘absolutes.’”

Then he related a story to explain his point. “There was a certain clock shop on the main street of our town. The man who operated the shop had a good reputation in the community. He was conscientious and kind and knew a lot about clocks. On the back wall of his shop, he had on display a large and beautifully hand-carved clock with an expensive and precise set of works inside. It was, indeed, a masterpiece and kept very accurate time. The clock man loved the clock and was very proud of it.”

My new friend went on to tell me, “Everyday an important-looking man walked by the clock shop. He would stop momentarily and study the clock on the back wall. He would then pull out his own pocket watch that was attached to his jacket by a handsome chain. He would reset his pocket watch, place it back in his jacket, and hurriedly walk away. One day the clock man stepped out of his store and stopped the man as he reset his pocket watch. ‘Do you admire the clock on my wall? I see you stop every day and look at it before you walk on.’

‘Yes,’ the man said, ‘I love your clock, and I know that it is very accurate. I have a very important job. I work at the large factory by the river, and I am in charge of blowing the whistle precisely at eight o’clock. I check the time on your clock every day so that I will know exactly when to blow the whistle.’

The clock man gasped. His mouth fell open as he stumbled with his words. ‘You are the man who blows the whistle each morning? But I set my clock each day by your whistle!’”

Here's the advice that I would offer to myself and all my friends. Don’t get caught up in depending upon relative truth, but diligently seek, as if for the finest treasure, truth that is unattached, loosened from, and non-manipulated by the agendas of this world.





HELPING THE UNHEALTHY

In a rural village outside Salem, India, Dr. Siddharthan tried to persuade Shanthi that he could successfully perform the needed eye surgery on her young son and make him see for the first time in his life. “I will send Samuel Stevens to the village and pick up you and your son. He will bring you to the eye hospital. Everything will be fine. Can you imagine how happy your son will be when he sees his mother for the first time? And the whole village will rejoice when they see the great miracle.”

“No,” said Shanthi softly as she lowered her head and stared at the ground. “I want my son to see, but the people of my village will not hear of any such thing. They have warned me that if you put a new eye into my son’s head, he will be forever cursed, I will be cursed, and my other children will be cursed.” Shanthi began to shake with fear. “My villagers demand that they like my son just as he is—blind. They want to take care of him all of his life. When he needs them to help him walk or eat, it makes them feel very good and important. They want him to depend on them forever. They will not allow me to bring my son to your hospital.”

Samuel Stevens and Dr. Siddharthan decided, however, that the day before the surgery, Samuel would drive to the village and try to persuade Shanthi to allow the surgery to take place on her son. I was invited to go with Samuel and meet Shanthi and the villagers. When we met with Shanthi, she began to cry openly. The previous night she had a dream. She saw a man come and take her son away, and later he brought him back to the village, and he could see! She had never seen Samuel before, but he was the exact man who had come in her dream for her son. “I do not need to come with you,” she said. “I know that when I see my son again, he will see perfectly!”  

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And indeed, when he returned to the village, he could see perfectly. Oh, what a day of celebration!

On my airplane ride back from Salem and Coimbatore to Madras, India, I began to search my own heart. “Are there people or situations in my life in which I am encouraging unhealthy dependencies?” The villagers wanted Shanthi’s son to stay blind because it made them feel good and needed. What a tragedy that would have been.

Who or what in my life do I need to relinquish for someone else to become healthy?  



NEEDS

People give to you because you meet needs, not because you have needs.

I have been involved in humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors in some way most of my life; perhaps you have been too. We must be satisfied that the cause is a good cause, or we would not be involved. The problem boils down to not having enough money in our own blue jeans to cover the financial requirements to accomplish the project. That necessitates the expansion of our revenue base and the solicitation of funds and resources from other people. How shall we do that?

Usually, the plan-of-action statement includes phrases like “Well, bless your heart! We’re just going to tell it and show it like it is, and the people will catch on and respond by giving generously.” Then there comes the hitch. What method shall we use to motivate the prospective giver to join in? There are a few favorite default motivators. You can give guilt, because guilt is the gift that just keeps on giving. Using pictures that are borderline horrific, or at least disgusting, seems to be another favorite method to motivate. The shock and awe may move the hand to the checkbook or the credit card.

Anna Marie and I were in Minsk, Belarus, following the collapse of the old Soviet Union. It was about seven o’clock on a Monday evening when we arrived at Minsk Medical Hospital No. 1 to perform a Needs Assessment Study of the facility. We were there to determine the appropriate medical supplies and pieces of medical equipment to be donated to  hospital by Project C.U.R.E. Dr. Anna Novechenko was the chief physician of the pediatrics division of hospital No. 1. She was a very dignified and competent lady and compassionate about the children and her work. She had been head of the pediatrics division during the unraveling of the Soviet economy and the collapse of their medical system.

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As we walked down the old stairway and out into the parking lot of hospital No. 1, Dr. Anna walked with us, holding on to my arm. “Please don’t just walk away and leave me,” she begged. “As you can see, we are doing everything we possibly can to save these children.” Then she stopped us and pointed back to the darkened windows of the pediatrics wards. “There are many children up there who desperately need surgeries. But I can’t cut them open because I don’t even have any suture to sew them shut.” Dr. Anna went on, “There are many groups from the US who come here and take graphic pictures of our terrible plight. And they go back to the US and mail out our pictures and collect a lot of money, but they never come back, and we have never received any help from any of them!”

After many years of observing life and maintaining a mental score card, I have come to this conclusion: If you are involved in philanthropic work in your community, your church, or a special humanitarian cause, and you need other people to come alongside you and help support you with donated time, funds, or other resources, forget about the dramatic shock and awe motivators. If indeed you are meeting legitimate needs, be simple and forthright in sharing with your friends what you are doing to solve the immediate problem with help and hope. Don’t under estimate the discernment and integrity of your potential donors.

People will give to you because you meet needs, not because you have needs.


THE ETERNAL GOAD

Haiti’s squalor, poverty, and chaotic governance lay naked for the whole world to see following Haiti’s epic earthquake disaster in 2010. No one could look away and ignore the failed social and economic experiment. Something was wrong and had been wrong for a long time. Of course, I had tears of gratitude in my eyes as I scanned the media coverage and watched the millions of dollars’ worth of medical goods donated by Project C.U.R.E. being flown from the decks of US Navy ships by helicopters directly to the front lines of the terrible disaster. But our determination to help Haiti did not just start with the earthquake.

In 1996 I had been summoned to Port-au-Prince to assess the local hospitals and arrange for donated medical goods to be delivered from our US warehouses. Of Haiti’s seven million people, four and a half million were children. Fifteen out of every one thousand children died from malnutrition, dehydration, infection, and HIV/AIDS.

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Dr. Frank Thomas, director of the central hospital, accompanied me on the assessment study. We walked through stuffy passageways, ducking into large open wards crowded with sick and dying people. The tumult and turmoil was reminiscent of war hospital scenes from Gone with the Wind or Doctor Zhivago. There was no such thing as privacy, and one person’s groans or screams were piled upon everyone else’s misery.

As Dr. Thomas and I walked along one of the outside walls of the children’s ward, we passed a closed door. Through the door I could hear the screams and wailing of some tormented soul. I nudged Dr. Thomas with my elbow and winked as I asked, “Psych ward through there?” He stopped in his tracks and opened the door to the outside. The sun had not yet burned the jungle mist from the Haitian morning. At the foot of the stairway was a very young woman kneeling in the moist soil. Her face and hair were a mess. I could tell she had been lying face down in the mud, and the tears had washed down through her dirty face and fallen on her starched, white blouse. The noise she was emitting was not crying. She raised herself out of the mud and began with a low guttural moan. As she straightened up, the wailing crescendoed into an agonizing scream and then into sobs so deep she could have been vomiting.

Dr. Thomas took hold of my arm and pointed back through the doorway and into the children’s ward. “Look over there where all the babies are lined up lying on that long wooden plank.” I looked across the large room and saw perhaps ten babies lying side by side. At either end of the plank was an IV station with a baby tethered to an infusion tube that was connected to a bag of saline hanging from a rusty IV pole. “We have only two infusion stations for the dehydrated babies. They must wait in that line until it is their turn. That young mother’s baby could not wait long enough to receive the infusion. He just died, and they wrapped him in a towel and carried him away. This young mother intuitively knows her precious baby didn’t need to die.”

I looked away from the room and back out at the tormented young mother. At that moment I could not move. I felt her grief start in the back of my head, down over my shoulders, through my thorax and into my abdominal area, across the fronts of my thighs and into my shins. I didn’t just feel sorry for her; I didn’t just feel compassion toward her. At that moment, I owned her grief!

After a bit I could walk again, and Dr. Thomas and I moved back into the hospital and gently closed the door. In my warehouses in the States, I had thousands of IV stations and thousands of bags of saline solution! Sympathy and compassion were not enough; I had become spiritually engaged.

The grief and compassion I had experienced was not guilt; it was a goad. I had been prodded by eternity. From that time on, I would endeavor not to stumble, not to take my ease, but to press on, to push to the desperate locations where the need would not wait for my own convenience. I would endeavor with all my heart to arrive in time in the future so that it would not be necessary for another precious young mother to fall in the emotional mud of despair, weeping for her lost child.

No wonder I was so happy to see those US Navy ships unloading millions of dollars’ worth of Project C.U.R.E. donations at Port-au-Prince! 


SHIPPING INTO NORTHERN CONGO

Friday, February 6, 2004: Kinshasa, Congo: I think the Sthreshley family was trying to spoil me because for breakfast they had fixed peeled grapefruit and real French toast.  What a delight after eating rice and leftover chicken or fish for breakfast up north. 

The lung and sinus congestion that I had brought with me to Africa had gotten worse in the Congo.  By Thursday night I had started to run a fever.  Fortunately for me, I had toted along in my suitcase some biaxin, a strong antibiotic product for such problems.  I knew I should not take lightly what I was feeling starting to happen.  Pneumonia could be a killer in the Congo.

Larry and I started talking seriously about Project C.U.R.E. Friday morning.  After spending time with him previously in the Congo and Cameroon, assessing his work and the Presbyterian hospitals and clinics there, Project C.U.R.E. had sent to him nearly $2 million worth of medical supplies and pieces of equipment for his institutions.

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He wanted to take me to his warehouse in Kinshasa to show me how he was handling the distribution of the goods.  When the cargo containers arrived he and his people there would break down all the pallets and big boxes and inventory and stack all the separate items on shelves in his warehouse.  From there he would send out or take the needed supplies or equipment pieces to the individual Presbyterian hospitals from his stock. 

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Dr. Murray, with whom I had met and traveled before, was working with Larry checking out all the pieces of equipment.  Recently, they had visited the hospitals and clinics and determined where they were regarding their specific needs and what level of medical expertise could be found at each institution.

I was thrilled.  Larry was performing a “value-added” service to everything Project C.U.R.E. was sending and greatly enhancing our effectiveness and success.  I told him that I would like to see his same model rolled off into Malawi, Kenya, and Zambia where his Presbyterian counterpart, Frank Dimmick, was located. 

We raced from the warehouse back to Larry’s office where Rev. Mossi and Mr. Ndimbo were waiting to escort me back out to the Kinshasa airport. 

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At 11:05 a.m., I was to take Cameroon Airways flight #817 from Kinshasa, Congo, to Douala, Cameroon.  Pastor Mossi and Mr. Ndimbo were going to see to it that I would be on that flight.  I told them how much I appreciated them and that it really made a difference to have a local get me through the African airports so I could avoid all the hang-ups and bribe attempts.

Flight #817 from Kinshasa to Douala was only about an hour and a half long, but it took about the same amount of time in Douala to unload and return my checked luggage.  I recalled all the years when I never took anything I had to check in.  But since September 11, 2001, everything had changed.  Now security measures in both the US and internationally had made it impossible for me to travel without checking certain things through.

At the Douala airport the workers knew that I was not going to leave without my luggage so there really was no need to hurry and get it delivered to me within any given time frame.

I was met at the airport by a Canadian missionary named Dale but was quickly handed off to a sharp, young, black national named Vincent.  Since it was late in the afternoon and the trip north to Mbingo was a very long one, Vincent delivered me to another missionary guesthouse just across the street from the port and docks in Douala.

While eating with Vincent, I asked if there would be any possibility of meeting with any government or shipping people who could help guarantee our success in getting our containers into Cameroon without problems and without getting gouged with shipping fees, duty, or taxes.

Later, Vincent rounded up and brought to where I was staying a roly-poly local man named Tim Francis.  Tim ran his own company and specialized in receiving shipments through the ports and all the government officials.  I found Tim to be a wonderful and warm Christian who was dedicated to helping the Baptists get their cargo shipping containers into Cameroon successfully.  I told Tim that my old granddad had taught me that it was easier to stay out of trouble than it was to get out of trouble.  I was there in Cameroon before I shipped anything into the country for the Baptists so that I could stay out of trouble and be successful, rather than getting one of my valuable medical loads tied up in customs or with the port authorities.

Tim thanked me for my approach and said he wished every shipper would be as dedicated and efficient.  He then pulled out of his briefcase files showing me exactly what I needed and how to word the different letters and forms.  It was important to use certain words in the official letter of donation, as well as the request for tax exemption. 

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Tim was a real answer to prayer.  I had fretted and stewed all the previous week wondering how we would ever deliver the medical goods to the far north of Congo.  In Cameroon I now had an ally who would help us. Tim had been able to do through the Cameroon government what Larry Sthreshley had never been able to do in Douala or Younde. 

Before parting ways, I asked Tim if I could count on his help if I had problems with getting my loads into northern Congo.  I had been thinking all last week of the possibility of shipping the Congo loads into Douala, Cameroon, and taking them across Cameroon and the Central Republic of Africa, then directly into northern Congo since there were no roads to Loco, Wasolo, or Karawa from Kinshasa.

Tim thought that just might be the way to ship and promised he would help Project C.U.R.E. try to accomplish it.  


                              
 

A CANDLE OF HOPE Travel Journals - 2004 Democratic Republic of Congo

Tuesday, February 3, 2004: Karawa, Congo:The hospital at Loco had been built by the Belgians as a leprosy hospital, but it had never been finished or used.  Then in 1963 a Covenant Church doctor by the name of Dr. Carlson traveled to Congo and began working among the people.  He was shot to death by warring soldiers, and later the government honored the request that the facility be given to the Covenant Church as a permanent memorial to Dr. Carlson.  It was a fine facility as far as Congolese medical facilities would go, but oh my goodness, it needed everything!

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 In the late afternoon we once again bounced down the dirt runway and headed south to Karawa.  As we were trying to beat the darkness we ran into a horrific rainstorm above the jungle.  Sam, the MAF pilot, was flying our Cessna and for a while we completely lost all sight of the runway, the jungle, the sky, everything.  He almost had to pull up and out of the approach path because we could not see anything out the front or side windows.  Then suddenly there was a break in the fierceness of the burst, and Sam caught a glimpse of the runway and set the plane down in the layer of rain and mud.  We were back on the ground in Karawa.  It was dark as we walked from the landing strip area down the jungle pathway to Keith and Florence Gustafson’s house for candlelight dinner with the two MAF pilots. 
 
I felt great admiration for the missionary pilots.  They risked their lives on a daily basis to keep open the only available lifelines into those remote areas.  There were simply no roads available from Kinshasa to the health facilities in the north.  Part of our challenge at Project C.U.R.E. was to figure a way to transport the donated medical goods into northern Congo.  No one else had been willing to accept that challenge.  But after having been there I was convinced that we could get the goods delivered even if we needed to ship them into Douala, Cameroon, and transport them inland across central Africa and into northern Congo.  I believed God would help us figure out a way of delivery.
 
At about 10:30 p.m. our candles were burning low and our energy was burning even lower, so we stopped our discussion with the pilots and the Gustafsons and I went to a nearby guest facility in the old compound.  There was once again no electricity and no running water.  The only water was in a rusty, 50-gallon barrel, and there was just a plastic bucket to dip the water out and pour it over myself in the darkness of the Karawa compound.
 
Mosquitoes were on the lookout for soft, white, Scottish/Irish meat and blood, so I had to hurry right along and get in under the safety of my mosquito netting over my bed.
 
Over the years of Project C.U.R.E.’s existence God had been gently preparing me to adjust to really bad and awkward situations in the most remote places of the world.  I had slept in Kyrgyzstan in a log house in the middle of a severe winter storm with the snow blowing in through the spaces between the logs and onto my bed.
 
I had experienced thugs in India who wanted to rob me.  They tried to smoke me out of my hotel room in the middle of the night so they could attack me when I came out of the toxic smoke for air.
 
Living without electricity or running water had been my lot in places in India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa, and Central America.  Burma was a lot cleaner, but every bit as remote and primitive as anything I was putting up with in the Congo.  But God had allowed me to gently adjust and be able to cope over the past nearly 20 years without the feelings of panic and fear.  I had traveled around the world enough to know that it was already “tomorrow” somewhere in the world.  Instead of getting overwhelmed by the tough circumstances, God had allowed the candle of hope to burn just a little brighter as each tough circumstance occurred.
 
Wednesday, February 4
I was up at 5:30 a.m. and ready to meet for breakfast with all the medical doctors and hospital department heads.  It was good to also be traveling with the president of Congo’s Covenant Church and the medical director of all the northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

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 Our touring part of the assessment took us until 12:20 p.m.  Following lunch I had group and individual meetings with the leaders of Karawa.
 
The Karawa Township had about 350,000 villagers tucked away down jungle pathways.  Plus, people traveled on foot for many days to get to the Karawa hospital for help.  There were five doctors stationed at the facility along with 35 nurses.  Only about 50% of all the patients could pay fees for their help.  Some patients' families stayed at the hospital to work to pay off their medical bills.  The Congolese government paid nothing to support the hospital or the 48 rural health clinics that fed patients into the hospital.  In fact, the government would send its soldiers to Covenant Church clinics and hospitals in expectation that the church would cover all their expenses. 

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The Karawa hospital was the largest of the hospitals I visited but was totally pathetic.  Again, as with the hospitals in Loco and Wasolo, they were trying to make their own IV solutions out of poorly filtered water that was in no way sterile.  They desperately needed a new 20-kw, electric generator to cover their “current” needs. 

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They needed almost everything for their surgery room and there was not an EKG machine, ultrasound, defibrillator, sterilizer monitor, ventilator, centrifuge, cauterizer, working x-ray machine, lead apron or gloves or good microscope anywhere in sight.  They were washing all the surgery gowns and contaminated surgical drapes and sheets by hand in an open tub.  I thought, as I viewed, “my God, we have so much excess and these people have absolutely nothing!”
 
But I knew down deep inside me that God loved those village people as much as he loved my successful sons and it was imperative to help them in their need. They had an old autoclave someone had given to them.  But it had not worked.  So, the maintenance people had stripped everything from the outside of the autoclave down to the pressure tank, then adapted it so that they could set it in a pit of hot charcoal to get it hot enough to steam.  It did not thoroughly sterilize even the operating room instruments.
 
When I had walked the halls and different wards I noticed a four-year-old boy whose shirt had been ignited by an open cooking fire. 

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The shirt had stayed on him and burned him.  He was sitting upright in an old dirty bed with no sheets underneath a makeshift mosquito net.  His mother was sitting close by trying to comfort him but the hospital had absolutely nothing to treat a burned child.  He would probably die in a few days from infection.  The mosquito netting would certainly not be enough.
 
Another teenage boy was in a filthy bed.  They threw back the covering over his lower leg.  He had a tumor below the knee.  His lower leg was as big as his thorax and almost impossible to move.  “He is not strong enough for us to try any kind of surgery so it just keeps getting larger,” said the doctor who was with me.
 
At one time the Karawa compound had been a thriving community.  Then wars came and even people like the Gustafsons and many of the medical staff had to leave the country.  Now they were returning, including Keith and Florence Gustafson, to try to help strengthen the needed facility.  That was why Project C.U.R.E. was there.
 
As I returned to my mosquito-net-enshrined cot and my rusty water and plastic dipper, I reflected on my experiences at the three different Congo hospitals.  Nowhere else in my 17 years of Project C.U.R.E. had I seen hospital beds so disgustingly filthy, or walls, floors, and ceilings that so desperately needed paint to cover the dirt.

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There had not been one working monitor in all of northern Congo.  All doctors, nurses, and medical staff personnel were indigenous workers who were discouraged to the bone.  The only defibrillator I had seen was a monstrous contraption that looked like an electric execution machine out of a Cambodian torture prison (fortunately the thing did not work).
 
At my final meeting with the doctors and head nurses, I made them promise that if I sent them pieces of medical equipment for their hospital they would be trustworthy in throwing out all the old “prehistoric” pieces of equipment that had not and did not work.  Together we would start on an adventure of hope and pride and together we would push for excellence and significance at the Karawa Hospital.  They loved it!  The president of the Covenant Church of Congo, Rev. Luyada, the medical director of the zone, Dr. Mbena Renze, and the hospital chaplain all appreciated it immensely!
 
Thursday, February 5
I was up at 4:30 a.m.   Sam and Rod, our MAF pilots, would be ready after breakfast to take us on our long airplane ride back to Kinshasa.  Keith Gustafson stayed at Karawa so our first flight segment back to Gemena was to drop off Rev. Luyada.  At Gemena we picked up two paying passengers who needed to get back to Kinshasa.  They were two US embassy workers who had been out to Gemena studying the possibility of placing some grants and loans for development in the area.
 
We flew another seven hours in our cramped Cessna 206 jungle flying machine, stopping once to refuel at a MAF base.
 
At the Kinshasa airport I met up with another MAF pilot who had helped me on my previous trip to Congo.  After hanging around with the pilots while they refueled their planes and tied them down, just outside Kinshasa’s main terminal, the three of them took me back to their headquarters office.  It was in the same building where Larry Sthreshley had his office.  As we drove up Larry came out to greet me.  He had insisted that I spend the night with his family before going on to Cameroon.
 
However, Rev. Mossi and Mr. Ndimbo, my official Covenant Church hosts, said that Martin had stayed home from her law school classes all day to prepare dinner for me.  So, it was agreed that I would go to Rev. Mossi’s house for dinner then they would take me to Larry’s home to stay the night.
 
The Sthreshleys and I stayed up into the night discussing my previous visits with them in Denver, in Younde, Cameroon, and Douala, as well as Kinshasa.
 
I can’t tell you how nice it was to sleep in a house with some cool air, clean sheets on a regular bed, and real lights and nice warm water from a pipe in the clean shower stall.  It all felt so good.
 
Next Week: Shipping into Northern Congo