WHO IS LEFT TO HELP SOMALIA? Travel Journal - 2001 (Part 1)

Note to Readers: I am including here another episode directly from my Project C.U.R.E. Travel Journals. Somalia is definitely not a destination vacation spot. You probably shouldn’t even think about going there. It is a very dangerous country, but “Oh, so very needy.” Project C.U.R.E. was actually able to deliver help and hope to Somalia in a wonderful way. JWJ

Somalia: February, 2001: As I worked on the priority list of countries requesting us to come and help them with their health care needs, I was overwhelmed with telephone calls from members of the Somali community in Denver. They were urging me – no, -- begging me to consider traveling to Somalia in East Africa. The callers described the medical conditions there and told me that no one else was helping to meet the needs in that war-torn country. I tried to explain to the callers that I probably wouldn’t be able to travel to Somalia until the next year or even 2003. But they didn’t want to wait that long to get on my list.

Early this month, Anna Marie and I were invited to a dinner meeting with the members of Somali Aid in Aurora, Colorado. We were served authentic Somali food and learned a lot more about the conditions in Somalia and the work of the organizing group, which originated in Denver five years ago.

Before we left that Saturday night, I promised our hosts that we will carefully consider their request and perhaps be able to work their needs-assessment trip into a time slot this year should a previously scheduled trip be canceled or postponed.

To my amazement, it became necessary to reschedule a trip I’d planned to take to Brazil between February 22 and March 5. I called Mohamed Egal, the spokesman for Somali Aid, and asked if the timing would be too soon for his organization to plan a trip for the two of us to Somalia on those newly opened dates. He said their organization would grab the dates gladly and make all the necessary arrangements for the needs-assessment trip.

After I agreed to travel with Mohamed to Somalia, I checked my information sources at the US Department of State in Washington, D.C., and this seemed to be the warning:

The State Department cautioned US citizens against all travel to Somalia in view of multiple threats including kidnapping and murder. Without a US “diplomatic presence” in Somalia, travelers would have no recourse in an emergency, and the Somalia government clearly stated that it could offer no police protection. There is no US embassy or other diplomatic presence in Somalia.

That State Department message triggered mental replays of TV newscasts in the United States during the early 1990s when the Somali civil war totally devastated Mogadishu, the capital city, and many other cities and communities in the country. I also had vivid memories of TV coverage of the rebel Somali soldiers driving an old pickup truck down the streets of Mogadishu and dragging the flapping body of a dead US marine in the dust behind the truck.

The State Department went on to warn that non-Somalis shouldn’t even sail close to the shores of Somalia because of the extremely high risk that Somali troops could seize the ships, crews, and passengers in an effort to extract ransom money for their release.

The rest of Somali is still unsettled and very dangerous. As I prepare for my trip to the area, everything is still uncertain. There truly is no agreement in Somalia, nor is there a central government, infrastructure, civilized politics, or security. But tragic need is certainly everywhere, exaggerated by years of exploitation, hatred, and strife.

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Somalia desperately needs Project C.U.R.E., and the help we could give could make a very dramatic impact in this war-torn country. I wouldn’t be exaggerating in the least to say that Project C.U.R.E. could significantly alter the health-care system of Somalia and thereby greatly influence the everyday life of its people for many years to come.

Wednesday, February 21–Friday, February 23

Wednesday morning I asked Anna Marie to drive me to the Project C.U.R.E. office instead of dropping me off at Denver International Airport for the first leg of my trip to Somalia. Otherwise, she would have had to deliver me to the airport about five to twelve hours before my flight so she could head back to Evergreen and open her school before her students arrived. This way, I was able to finish a few more tasks at the office before departing.

At 10:30 a.m., I checked in at the airport for United flight 252 to Chicago. At the airport I met up with Mohamed Egal from Somali Aid, who would travel with me all the way to Somalia. From Chicago we changed planes and flew United 928 to Heathrow Airport in London, arriving Thursday morning just after 7:00.

Our routing required us to switch airlines in London and fly British Airways from London to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Monotonous international travel is usually punctuated by irritating layovers, flight delays, and airline-staff incompetence. We tolerated all those frustrations trying to get to Somalia. It was nearly midnight Thursday before we landed in Dubai. Because of one delay or another, we spent the night walking and sitting in the Dubai airport waiting on delayed flights.

Because of the escalated US bombing in Iraq just days before this trip, I was a little apprehensive about encountering anti-American hostilities as Mohamed Egal and I traveled through the Arab countries neighboring Iraq. But everything on the political front went well, and our flight finally left Dubai Friday morning at around 5:00, headed for northern Somalia.

No one in the political world diplomatically recognizes Somalia. The only way we can get in and out of Somalia is to either charter a private airplane or fly on Daallo Airlines. No respected international carrier will accept the risks or try to work through all the entanglements and chaos of servicing this troublesome country. However, some enterprising Soviets decided to seize the opportunity to make some quick rubles and agreed to set up Daallo Airlines to service Somalia. They stole, hijacked, or by some other means procured five airplanes. Those five airplanes are the only way Mohamed and I can commercially fly to and from Somalia, or within the country. Only one of the planes is a jet; the others are propeller driven.

All of the flight crews on Daallo Airlines are Soviets. The airline employs a couple of Somalis on each flight to instruct and control the passengers, since, quite obviously, none of the Soviets want to learn the Somali language. I made friends with one of the pilots, who was from Tajikistan and spoke some English. When I told him that Project C.U.R.E. sent about a million dollars’ worth of medical supplies and equipment to his country as a gift to help his people, and that I had traveled extensively throughout that part of the world, he really became friendly. I figured that if anything went wrong on the flight, I would like for him to be watching out for me.

When we boarded the airplane in Dubai, I spotted lots of things that could go wrong with the flight. We were going to fly in the only jet in their fleet, which was an ancient Russian-built plane with a configuration of three jet engines on the tail. The last old jet of that kind that I had flown in from Beijing, China, to Pyongyang, North Korea, had Air Koryo painted on its fuselage.

In the front of the plane were fold-down, wooden table trays for reading or serving food. Torn fabric on the plane’s interior had been repaired with glued-on canvas patches. Many of the passenger seats didn’t match the rest, so some airplane cannibalism must have taken place somewhere along the line.

I could only shudder when I thought about whom and where—or if—anyone maintained the equipment. There was no aircraft hangar or maintenance facility to be seen. Pictures immediately replayed in my mind of the old Russian helicopters that the general in Nagorno-Karabakh had used to fly Baroness Caroline Cox and me over the no-man’s-land between Yerevan, Armenia, and Stepanakert. The engine oil from the radial helicopter engines had actually been leaking profusely from the bearings and running over the cowling just below the rotor blades. The old Russian choppers had safely ferried us to where we needed to go that day, and I was praying like crazy that this old Russian museum-piece jet was up to taking Mohamed and me safely across the long stretch of gulf waters from Dubai to the northern coast of Somalia.

Surprisingly the flight was quite smooth and quiet. My Soviet pilot friend left the cockpit and came back a couple of times to chat with me. He had placed me in one of the front seats, where I could have some leg room. Serendipitously, seated next to me on the flight was the Somali minister of industry. We had lots to talk about before we landed in Berbera, the main port city of Somaliland.

The airport facilities weren’t much to brag about in Berbera. Ten years ago, when the United States was involved in Somalia, our military had operated a base out of Berbera, so after the US departure, the Somalis inherited a nice long runway paved to our government’s specifications.

All of our luggage was unloaded from the Russian jet, and those of us traveling on to Hargeisa watched as our bags were thrown into the cabin of the next plane we would board for our destination.

I wandered into the dirty, crumbling air-terminal building and found a dusty, old wooden bench to plop down on. I had been traveling three days and two nights without sleep, shower, or change of clothes. But only one short segment of travel remained to reach our final destination of Hargeisa, Somaliland. While sitting on my wooden bench, I was fascinated by the scenes around me. Many of the men were sitting in clusters breaking off green leaves and twigs from small plants cut to about twelve inches in length. Mohamed told me they were chewing qat, a mild narcotic that can become quite addictive. He explained that it was a cultural tradition, but it has become a big financial commodity now. I shook my head and wondered where in the world a country so racked by abject poverty might come up with any money at all to purchase narcotics.

Another interesting observation made me smile. Conservative Muslim women who live in Arab-influenced countries cover up almost their entire bodies. Usually only their eyes and the bridges of their noses are exposed. And depending upon the style of footwear, a portion of their feet might be visible. But for Muslim women, the hands and arms just a few inches above the wrist are the prime areas for displaying status and style. Over the years henna has become very popular. I’ve seen henna art displayed on women from Pakistan to Palestine.

Henna is a dark natural ink that is used to draw intricate and delicate designs on the skin. The colors usually include dark browns, dark greens, and black. The artwork looks like a tattoo, but the ink isn’t injected into the skin, so it isn’t permanent. Eventually it wears off. Instead of polishing the fingernails, the women ink the tips of their fingers. To top off the display of status and style, they accent their fingers and wrists with as much gold as their positions in life can afford.

Mohamed Egal told me that the only way many families survived the Somali wars and famine of the previous decade was by the parceling out and selling hidden gold rings, bracelets, and neck chains, since there were no banks or other financial institutions where they could store their wealth.

The Russian plane assigned to fly us to Hargeisa was something I would have expected to see in a windblown, airplane-salvage graveyard in Arizona. It was a twin-engine, propeller-driven craft set up with forty-four hodgepodge, old seats. All the luggage was stacked inside the passenger compartment toward the front of the aircraft, without any tie-downs, nets, or constraints. It was just stacked loosely and piled to the ceiling. It reminded me of the time I flew across Uzbekistan in a Russian Yak-20, in which two rows of seats in the passenger cabin had been removed to accommodate a full pallet of sacks of grain. On both occasions I had grabbed a seat as close to the back of the plane as possible. In case we encountered turbulence, I didn’t want to be crushed by a renegade piece of cargo.

Just as we were boarding the old Russian plane, I noticed the tires on the landing gear. They weren’t just bald; four of the six plies beneath the tread had worn through. That bothered me. I had Mohamed jump out and take a picture of the tires. I figured that photo would be good for memories somewhere down the road.

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Also good for later memories was an incident that happened midflight. A common old cockroach crawled out of the covering of the seat I was occupying, quickly ran over my shoulder and across my chest, and then jumped and disappeared somewhere in a dark crack. That was a first. I had never seen a cockroach on an airplane before. Besides the six-legged stowaway, I looked around and counted fifty human passengers. I knew I had correctly counted forty-four seats. Some of the passengers were standing, and some were sitting on the stacked luggage toward the front of the cabin. I really didn’t want to know how many had fastened their seat belts—if they had seat belts that worked. Even the aisle was crammed with luggage, buckets, and packages.

Next Week: Encountering Problems in Somalia – Including the U.N.


THE ARROW OF FEAR IN THE QUIVER OF CONTROL

I must admit that I’m sick and tired of being made afraid. Throughout history, several lethal arrows have been drawn from the quiver of control and used quite effectively to paralyze hearts and minds. But none has been more lethal or used more often than the arrow of fear. In fact, it’s the one essential arrow in a politician’s quiver that virtually guarantees success. If a politician can get into the heads and hearts of his constituents and establish a spirit of fear, he can, at the same instant, establish a spirit of dependency. Abdication welcomes control . . . all in the name of protection and peace of mind.

Many times when I was traveling in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe would dispatch his military and police units in the middle of the night to race through the streets and strike fear into the hearts of his sleepy citizens. The frightened citizens would awaken to sirens blaring, lights flashing, and horns honking and think, Oh, it’s awful and scary and dangerous out there! I do hope that our president will take care of us.

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Hitler’s confidant Hermann Göring claimed,

Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. . . . Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

I recall my very first awareness in the 1950s and 1960s of a leader using fear to control the masses. Newsreels showed President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt sounding the alarms in Cairo, rousing all the people out of their beds in the middle of the night and into the streets for defense drills, saying the British and French were coming to kill them because he had taken control of the Suez Canal. The next night he would order the people out of beds again and into their defensive positions because Prime Minister Qasim of Iraq or the troops from Saudi Arabia or North Yemen were on their way to kill them. Nasser kept the people of Egypt in a continual state of fear and confusion. Yet they loved and supported him because they believed that he was the only one who could protect and take care of them. Ironically, to quell any opposition and gain their confidence, he promised them universal health care, subsidized housing, construction of vocational schools, and minimum wages. Nasser came closer to unifying the Arab world than anyone in recent history, and fear was his sharpest arrow.

On any given day, media reports can swamp us with myriad fears, including

  • a loss of individual net worth through increased taxation

  • looming hyperinflation

  • a loss of religious and civil liberties, including freedom to use the Internet

  • nuclear attacks from Iran or North Korea

  • the government’s inability to continue paying for Social Security, military pensions, or Medicare

  • death panels for those over seventy-five

  • epidemics, killer diseases, and natural or man-made disasters

  • a systemic failure of our banks and monetary system

  • a loss of our electrical and communication grids

  • foreign intrusion on US soil or radical domestic upheavals

And the list goes on.

Most fears are based on some percentage of truth, so at best we deal with half truths. The problem with our species is that we usually glom onto the wrong half. And once we begin to let fear terrify us, the quality of our personal lives diminishes. The ancient Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Where fear is, happiness is not.” If we allow our minds to become focused on fear—no matter who creates it—fear will choose our destiny, because fear is the enemy of logic and effectively robs the mind of all its powers of reason and action.

So what’s to be done? If you have a legitimate concern, and you can do something about it, then do it. If you need to vote, then vote. If you need to protest, then protest. But don’t let the fear possess you. Let go of the fear. You need not be made afraid anymore. Dale Carnegie used to say, “Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a positive correlation between the amount of fear that possesses me and how unusually concerned I am about myself. I find that I am less apt to be made afraid if I can get my thoughts off myself and start concentrating on helping someone else become better off. That just may be one reason why our twenty thousand volunteers at Project C.U.R.E. are such a happy lot. They’ve discovered that as you focus your attention on helping other people become better off, even if they’re on the other side of the world, the superimposed fears that were once yours seem to lose their grip on you.

I don’t want to be made afraid anymore! Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed, and I no longer need to be a part of that picture!


EVERYONE'S BETTER OFF: A SHOE STORY

There once was a man who entered a shoemaker’s shop and told the proprietor that he liked the pair of shoes on display and wanted to know the cost. The shopkeeper responded that the price of a new pair of shoes was one hundred dollars. The man tried on the shoes, liked them, pulled out his money, and paid the shoemaker the required sum. 

The shopkeeper wrapped the old shoes in paper, and the man tucked them under his arm to leave, wearing his new shoes. As he exited the shop, another man entered and indicated that he needed desperately to purchase a pair of shoes.

“How much will you charge for the shoes?” the second man asked.

“My shoes cost one hundred dollars a pair,” the shopkeeper answered. 

“But I have only fifty dollars.”

Thereupon, the man who had just purchased his shoes stepped forward and pulled from under his arm the package that contained his used shoes. “I have here a good pair of shoes that I would be willing to sell for fifty dollars. Try them on.”

The second man tried on the shoes and found they fit very well indeed. “These will work just fine,” he said. He gladly pulled out his fifty dollars and paid for his shoes.

Both men left the shoemaker’s shop smiling. Both ended up better off. They shook hands and went their separate ways.

Now both men bought a pair of shoes that day. Each had paid fifty dollars for his pair of shoes. The one man ended up with a used pair of shoes for his fifty dollars. The other man had walked away with a new pair of shoes for his fifty dollars. 

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The story of the shoes has always intrigued me. As a boy I determined that if it were all the same to everyone, I would like to be the man who ended up with the brand new shoes for the fifty dollars. A second look at the simple story reveals that there are a lot of interesting principles involved, and one element in particular made me curious.

In order for the successful transaction to take place, it seemed that there had to be someone who was perceptive enough to see the need, quickly find a solution, and rearrange the resources to everyone’s benefit. There had to be an individual who would step forward and become a change maker. Individuals who possess those problem-solving skills within an economic society are known as entrepreneurs.

A person who has entrepreneurial abilities can take something that appears to be of lesser value and reorganize it into a product or service of added value. There has to be someone who sees a need and realizes that he has tucked away in a package under his arm exactly what’s necessary to make everyone in the situation better off.

This is the basic principal of cultural economics—everyone’s better off!


BETTER OFF

I think it’s time that someone bring to the discussion table the difference between the concept of “greed” and the idea of the pursuit of someone’s “best interests.” The two concepts are not the same. However, the  intent to confuse the two has some ideological appeal, and as usual, time aids in the erosion of many traditional words and concepts. 

Historically, greed has been considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is a sin of excess and inappropriate expectation—the “me first regardless of cost or consequences.” Greed is not always easily identifiable in the beginning, and that makes it confusing. But be assured that sooner or later, harbored greed will surface into observable behavior. Another thing I have noticed is that greed delivers a different result from what was anticipated in the beginning, and sad and terrible consequences of greed may take a long time to surface.

Pursuing one’s best self-interest, however, is not necessarily greed or selfishness. It has to do with appropriate expectations and comes along as a necessary component in the “free choice” package. When you are given daily alternatives, it is the expected behavior to choose that which is highest, best, and most fulfilling. Of course people pursue their own self-interests; thus the beauty of individuality and divergent creativity. Pursuit of their own self-interests includes seeing their families become better off. It also includes their concerns for their friends and neighbors being better off, as well as the entire citizenry of their communities. 

I am a businessman and an economist—a compassionately involved cultural economist dedicated to helping other individuals in the wholesome fulfillment of their self-interests.

I often tell people that “I have decided to give the best of my life for the rest of my life helping other people be better off.” So what on earth does that mean? Albert Schweitzer acknowledged, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Serving other people includes the concept of helping them become better off. 

Lately, I am running into more articles and interviews where I hear frustrated folks bashing the concept of anyone advancing or moving ahead in their circumstances, saying, “They are getting more education and trying to acquire more skills just because they want more of the pie, and I get less of the pie as a result. They are just greedy, and it’s not fair.” Or “The earth is sufficient to meet every man’s need . . . if only those profit people would just stop their greed.”

I have two dear friends, husband and wife, each of whom is a talented medical doctor. They are highly motivated, full of energy, and are Nigerian.Their burning passion was to build a fifty-bed hospital in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, with a fine radiology department, laboratory, and well-equipped operating room. Impossible!

Dr. I. C. Ekwem and Dr. Linda Ekwem heard about Project C.U.R.E.’s work in Nigeria. They pursued me aggressively and even secured the money, purchased airline tickets, came to Colorado, and stayed at our home in Evergreen. They shared their dream and passion with Anna Marie and me. They showed us what they had already done to accomplish their dream. I really wanted to help them become better off, so we helped them finish and furnish their dream hospital. Today, the Ebony Hospital stands as a miracle near the shores of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. 

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The doctors Ekwem were aggressive, passionate, and persistent in pursuit of their self-interests. They wanted to see their hospital become a reality.Today they are better off, and hundreds of patients are alive and not dead, and thousands more are healthier. All are better off. But I implore the cultural levelers to never bash my friends as “greedy” and assign them to their contrived category of “selfish.” Acting in one’s self-interests is not the same as being selfish. Making good choices that serve one’s best interests is different from greed.


STEPPING STONES

Every act of kindness defines our character and becomes a stepping stone toward heaven.

We become the sum total of every moment and every event of our lives on earth. Every episode forms our stories and writes in time the adventures of our lives. The enjoyable experiences, as well as the tough spots we encounter, set up occasions that demand a response. Our responses then set into motion the actions that give rise to the consequences of our intentions. And lo and behold . . . we then have what we call character. That character becomes our temporal as well as eternal identity. But character is built one episode at a time.

One of the great privileges afforded me in traveling to nearly every corner of the world was being able to quietly observe the countries, cultures, and character of the people. Though the mores and folkways varied vastly, the core similarities of the people were astounding. Many times I was overwhelmed by the responses of individuals to the opportunities of goodness presented to them.

While working in Lilongwe, Malawi, in eastern Africa, I encountered a delightful twenty-two-year-old man named Fletcher Mutandika. I listened carefully as he unwrapped his story for me:

One night an old, shriveled woman came gently but insistently
knocking at the apartment door of the boarding school I was
attending. She was holding an emaciated baby in her hands.
She pleaded for enough milk to help the baby stop crying.
looked at the starving baby and quizzed the old grandmother.
I learned that her daughter and husband had both died recently
of HIV/AIDS. The grandmother could not care for yet another
orphaned child, but she was desperately trying to keep this baby
from dying and being buried with the dead mother.


Fletcher was faced with a character-defining moment in his life. How he responded would set events in motion that would have far-reaching consequences.

Fletcher’s own mother had been orphaned when she was just ten years old. When Fletcher was a child, his mother had told him what it was like to grow up alone, with no family. But by God’s love and mercy, she had eventually gone to school and married a young man, who later became a Presbyterian preacher in his native country of Malawi.

As Fletcher stood in the doorway gazing at this grandmother and her grandchild, something happened inside him. He not only came up with some milk for the starving baby, but he also took the baby to receive medical attention. Sadly, it was too late to save the child, and she was buried with her mother three days later. But Fletcher decided in his heart that from that point on, he would get involved in helping with the orphan situation in Malawi.

Five years earlier, a census had been taken that estimated the number of orphans in Malawi at more than a million. Old grandparents who should have had someone looking after them were trying to care for fifteen or twenty little kids. Many of the grandparents’ children had died of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses, leaving all their living offspring to be raised by someone else. It wasn’t uncommon for a child to be orphaned two or three times. Both parents would die, and the children would be taken in by an aunt or uncle, who would also subsequently die and leave all the kids orphaned again. Nor was it uncommon for young children to be heads of households, trying to raise their brothers, sisters, and cousins after the deaths of their parents. But with no adults around, who would teach the children how to cook, plant crops, tend the goats, or even fetch water? 

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By the age of twenty-five, Fletcher was operating his own day-care center for orphaned kids in Lilongwe. He was caring for 750 orphans in his program, but his day-care concept had an interesting twist to it. He didn’t want to break up extended families if it could be prevented. Instead, he wanted to make it possible for the families to retain some of their original identity. He wouldn’t take the kids on a full-time basis, but he gave them a place to go before and after school, and he even helped purchase their school uniforms and pay their school fees. After school, the kids would flock to Fletcher’s pavilion, where all would receive a good, hot meal. Then he would send them off to a relative’s hut to sleep for the night.

Every act of kindness bestowed on those 750 orphans defined Fletcher’s character. Every episode transformed the story of his life. Even to this day, Fletcher continues to build stepping stones to heaven not only for himself but for countless others in the country of Malawi as well.           


ANXIETY

During the recent holidays I had the occasion to observe and ponder the pesty phenomenon of anxiety. It’s the great equalizer . . . the common denominator of earthlings. What would life be like if we didn’t have the ability to make it complicated? Without anxiety and complication, who would be left to purchase those over-the-counter sleep and indigestion medications? Those who embrace anxiety are hugging a thief who will gleefully strip away their peace, security, and happiness. No one is better off for having invited the vagabond of anxiety for a sleepover. You can’t change the past, but you can certainly ruin the present by allowing anxiety to mess with your future.

I quietly chortle to myself when I hear my friends tell me how fortunate I am to have spent so many years in the “peaceful, laid-back cultures” of Africa, Asia, and Indonesia. They make it sound as if Americans have some sort of exclusive lockdown on angst, apprehension, and fretful stress. We almost pride ourselves on the perceived exclusivity of frantic panic and disquietude. We almost take as truth that no others work as hard as we do, no other culture accomplishes as much as we do, none goes as fast as we do, none deserves to worry as much as we worry, and none works as hard at deserving to wear the badge of anxiety as we do. 

However, what I’ve learned is that the misery of anxiety is universal. It’s prevalent in all cultures. Trouble seems to create a capacity to handle even more trouble. In your lifetime, you’re going to see a lot of anxiety, and you had better be on speaking terms with it. I loved the story Max Lucado told about one fellow who experienced so much anxiety that “he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. [So] he found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, ‘Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?’ To which the [boss] responded, ‘That’s your worry.’”

In case you’re one of those under the misperception that all foreign cultures are tranquil, composed, and nonchalant, I must tell you I’ve witnessed some pretty bizarre cases of anxiety in foreign countries. In 2001, on one of my first trips to Kinshasa, Congo, my host from the ministry of health insisted we travel north out of the city to Bandundu on the route to Mbandaka. The route runs south of the equator right into the great Congo River Basin, with its virgin tropical rain forests. The road is highly traveled out of Kinshasa, but the quality of the highway deteriorates the closer you get to Bandundu.

During the trip, our driver made a sweeping curve off the highway and drove down a steep plateau to the river basin. Then he steered our Land Rover to the side of the road and stopped. We all got out. My hosts pointed out to me the location of a tragic incident that had taken place about six months earlier. It had been raining, and a portion of the highway had washed out. That wasn’t necessarily unusual in that area, but in the past, whenever there was a washout on the highway, drivers would simply steer their cars onto the jungle floor, drive around the washed-out area, and then return to the roadway and continue their travel. However, on that day, things didn’t go as usual.

The first cars pulled off the highway and attempted to drive on the jungle floor, but the rain had softened the ground, and the cars got bogged down in the mud and became helplessly stuck. Large trucks followed, honking their horns. The drivers knew full well that with their driving expertise, they could easily get through if they could pass the stuck cars. But as they passed the cars, they also became stuck. Cars and trucks just kept coming as drivers became impatient. Anxiety levels began to rise, and tempers flared as drivers drove a little farther out into the jungle, thinking they would find solid ground and be able to pass all the stupid people who had gotten stuck. But they, too, got stuck.

The protocol of African highway management doesn’t afford such conveniences as planned detours or traffic officers to direct vehicles in such situations. Some drivers tried to turn around and go back, but there was no way to do this, because the traffic just kept coming around the corner and down the steep road off the plateau. The only option available to them was to shake their fists and swear at the incompetence of the others ahead of them and then try to go out even farther to get around the washout. Each driver thought he was the exception and could find a way around either to the left or the right.

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Before long, there were well over 250 large trucks and cars jammed up in that area. No emergency vehicles could get through to help. No one had food. The thirsty people began to drink contaminated flood water. They became sick with dysentery. Several died of dehydration. Other people died of heart attacks. One pregnant mother went into labor. But there were complications with the birth, and the mother bled to death, and the baby died as well. A couple of drivers were beaten to death as fights broke out. It took weeks to unscramble the mess and clear out all the vehicles. My hosts explained to me that the vehicles were spread out over a kilometer into the jungle, where drivers had tried unsuccessfully to pass each other. A total of more than twenty people died as a result of the fiasco.

Plato once advised, “Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.” The unusual consequences of anxiety in the Congo River Basin that day certainly attest to the wisdom of that counsel. As the old preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon used to say, “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.”

After that serious illustration, let me offer you another option for handling anxiety. I once overheard a fellow exhorting some of his friends with what I would call “wisdom with a warp:”

      If you can’t accomplish something all at once, just take it little by little.          That way you only spend a small part of each day not accomplishing anything,
             and you can take the rest of the day off!


ACCEPTANCE AND RECEIVING

In our discussion last week, we concluded that when it comes to commodities  such as kindness, justice, and righteousness, you should spend exponentially more than you earn. It should be the rule of thumb that lavish and exorbitant behavior is the investment rule of the day. You can throw all restraint overboard and be totally thriftless.

Another key to life, however, is found not only in exercising and dispensing kindness, justice, and righteousness, but also in graciously accepting occasions of kindness, justice, and righteousness. Once people stop doing this, they cease to live. 

George Orwell once wrote, “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” You may dream of being happy, you may sincerely wish you were happy, but until you allow yourself to open up and embrace happiness, it won’t be yours to experience. Or as Woody Guthrie used to say, “Take it easy, but take it.”

I vividly recall an experience in the country of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, where I was taught well that receiving the goodness coming my way depended upon my willingness to accept it. I had visited all of the individual republics of the old Soviet Union over the course of my travels. The history of that region, which boasted eccentric characters like Genghis Khan and Timur Tamerlane, was rich and colorful. People would gather around fires at night and listen to ancient tales of adventures along the old Silk Road. This historic road was the primary trade route in that part of the world for centuries, stretching approximately seven thousand miles from China to the Roman Empire. 

But over the years, sailing ships replaced the camel caravans that plodded across the shifting sands of central Asia, and upstarts like Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev played their dirty political games and rearranged the geoeconomic chessboard.

Prior to my trip to central Asia, Project C.U.R.E. had received several official applications for medical assistance from ministers of health, hospitals, and clinics located in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. My schedule at the time would only allow me to travel there during the first two weeks in February. My itinerary had me flying from the United States to Germany, and then to Almaty, Kazakhstan, and eventually to Bishkek and Osh in Kyrgyzstan. An epic winter storm, however, changed all my travel plans. I arrived, eventually, in Kara-Kulja, Kyrgyzstan, by automobile. The storm was so severe that the entire region had run out of natural gas and electricity. The local hotels had nothing to offer, so I was invited to stay at a farm home. 

Traditional Kyrgyz homes were built on a compound, with several separate buildings joined together by a fifteen-foot-high wall and a large metal entry gate for protection. One building served as a bath house, another building housed the cooking facility, another was for sleeping, and yet another building was for eating. I was served dinner while sitting on the floor on frayed carpet and leaning against a pillow.

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Because of the cold, we all wore our coats during the meal. The hot food that had been brought in from the cooking building, in addition to our body heat, took off some of the chill.

After dinner, the old patriarch of the family invited me to join them as they slept in the kitchen building around the open cooking fire. There was no other heat. I glanced around the small building where we had eaten and decided that it was tolerably warm. I told the family I’d be all right staying there for the night if they had some blankets I could use to make a bed on the floor. I didn’t want to impose on them or intrude on their privacy. That was such a stupid choice, but they respected my decision and didn’t argue with me. They brought in a quilt and some leather horsehides to use as covers.

During the night, the temperature dropped dramatically, and the blizzard moved in with full gale force. The snow began to blow through the chinking of the ancient log walls and covered the floor and my bed. I was so cold that I tried putting my head under the blankets to consolidate my body heat. But that didn’t work at all. The old horsehide blankets smelled terribly like a barnyard, and I could count the length of time my head was under the covers in nanoseconds. 

Finally I rummaged through the contents of my suitcase in the darkness and pulled out all my clothes to either put on or use as covers. I even took a couple of preworn undershirts and promptly wrapped my head with them, turban style, to stay warm. I actually worried about the possibility of freezing. I kept thinking about the open fire in the cookhouse. Why wasn’t I there? 

As the condensation from my breathing turned to ice around my face, a crazy thought flitted through my brain: “If you can’t be content with what you’ve received, be thankful for what you’ve escaped.” I was going to be thankful for making it through the night. 

I could have experienced warmth and comfort if only I had accepted the hospitality I had been offered. I might have dreamed of being warm. I might have sincerely wished for snuggly comfort, but because I had forfeited the offer to open up and embrace the warmth of the kitchen fire, comfort wouldn’t be my experience that wintry night.

In the future, I needed to do a better job of learning an important lesson. In order to receive a kind or helpful gesture, I would have to graciously accept the offer and then receive it. The offer to sleep by the family fire didn’t become mine that frigid night in Kyrgystan because I failed to accept the offer . . . So I nearly froze to death. Since that night, I’ve wondered just how many other occasions during my lifetime I’ve failed to benefit from something good because, for one reason or another, I didn’t accept and receive what was intended to make my situation better off. 

These days, I’m trying to be a lot more open to accepting and receiving what I’m offered!


SPEND MORE THAN YOU EARN

I’m convinced that when dealing with simple but priceless commodities like kindness, justice, and righteousness, we should spend more than we earn. Because of the debt-oriented structure of our present economy, people and organizations are allowed to do things they could not otherwise do. In our culture, many things are too expensive for people to buy with the cash they have on hand. Debt enables them to make purchases they couldn’t otherwise afford by allowing them to pay off debt with small monthly installments that include the price of the item as well as interest.

Companies as well as individuals can utilize debt to leverage the return on the equity of their assets. That portion of debt to equity is used to determine the riskiness of the investment. In other words, the more debt per equity, the riskier the investment. At that point, debt becomes dangerous for both individual and corporate borrowers. 

Although debt can appear helpful, it can also become a burden and a hazard to your personal well-being. The real trouble comes when the cost of servicing the debt grows beyond the ability to repay what is due. Usually that inability happens because of insufficient income or poor management of resources, coupled with increased interest rates, late fees, and penalties. 

Historically, excess debt accumulation has been blamed for many of the world woes, as well as the tragic breakup of many long-standing relationships. I grew up following the Great Depression and the stress of World War II. The accepted advice of that era was, “Who goeth aborrowing goeth asorrowing.” Or as Ezra Pound said, “Wars in old times were made to get slaves. The modern implement of imposing slavery is debt.”

Benjamin Franklin gave this advice on debt: “Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.” And Samuel Johnson expressed his concerns about debt in these words: “Do not accustom yourself to consider debt only as an inconvenience; you will find it a calamity.” 

Following the Depression, most people saved up enough money under their mattresses to pay cash for their automobiles and other major purchases. They believed that home life would cease to be peaceful and beautiful once they needed to depend on borrowing and debt. As kids, we were instructed to run from debt as if it were the plague or an addiction. Today we’ve grown quite accustomed to words like bankruptcy, foreclosure, short sale, bubble, meltdown, and universal default, as well as expressions like “too big to fail” and “spending more than you earn.”  

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Living with debt seems to be the attitude and structure of our economy today. I have, however, discovered a wonderful alternative economy when it comes to earning and spending, as well as spending more than you earn. I’ve become convinced that when it comes to commodities such as kindness, justice, and righteousness, you should spend exponentially more than you earn. With those commodities, it should be the rule of thumb that lavish and exorbitant behavior is the investment rule of the day. You can throw all restraint overboard and be totally thriftless. You can never bankrupt your assets of kindness, justice, and righteousness no matter how much you withdraw from the account. Consider the immeasurable dividends you can gain when you lavishly invest these assets:

  • Kindness—People universally long for others to show kindness to them. After all the traveling I’ve done around the world, I’ve concluded that people will be exactly as happy and kind toward you as you are toward them. That was true in North Korea, Pakistan, Congo, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Showing benevolence, courtesy, tact, gentleness, patience, and unselfish consideration sends a signal of kindness that pays great dividends.

  • Justice—Everybody carries around a psycho-spiritual scorecard labeled justice. It’s a high-tech device that’s placed somewhere up front on the inside of one’s forehead. Justice has an extension cord that runs down to the heart, and it’s emotionally activated when issues of fairness, due process, equity, integrity, fair treatment, reasonableness, and reparation come into play. You can never go wrong dispensing way more truth and justice than you ever dreamed possible. Spending more justice than you could ever earn will always prove to be a blue-chip stock investment.

  • Righteousness—More than likely, you find your greatest fulfillment in living from freely pouring goodness, virtue, fairness, respectability, honor, and dignity into the lives of others around you. Righteousness is a powerful phenomenon that keeps you alive in the hearts of others long after the action onstage is over and the audience has gone home. That’s because the source of righteousness is from a different economy. 

In the debt-oriented structure of our present economy, people and organizations are allowed to do things they could not otherwise do. But there is usually a tragic downside that accompanies the use of debt. In this alternative economy I’ve discovered, people are allowed to do things they could not otherwise do because they transfer into their lives such qualities as kindness, justice, and righteousness. In our culture, we have to utilize debt because of the reality of limited resources. But there’s no limit to the supply of kindness, justice, and righteousness, because they flow freely from God’s economy, and you simply can’t outgive God! 

Here’s my simple challenge: Try it. Freely invest in the lives of those around you the simple riches of kindness, justice, and righteousness. Spend out of your limitless supply. Plant the fertile seeds and watch the astounding harvest as the people around you do things they otherwise could not have done                    


GROUP PROCESS

Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” I’ve learned something over my years of travel: Folks running around wearing the same soccer jerseys are not necessarily a team. Sometimes teamwork happens; sometimes it doesn’t. Fortunate is the occasion when some relatively likeminded folks get together, and the psychodynamics result in successful interaction and accomplishment. 

One of my most enlightening but disappointing experiences happened in Krasnodar, Russia, near the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. A group of nine people from a large organization in Arizona requested that I take them with me to the old Soviet Union. Following the collapse of the Soviet Federation, they had selected an ethnic group close to the border of the Georgian Republic to adopt. All of the team members claimed common objectives and articulated well their sincere desire to help this group. They had even selected one person to be their team leader. Project C.U.R.E. was donating about half a million dollars’ worth of medical goods to the project.

We all traveled together from Los Angeles to Moscow in an uncomfortable, smelly Russian Aeroflot plane, simply because one of the group members had discovered that it would save them one hundred dollars. By the time we reached Krasnodar, I sensed quite a reservoir of ill will among members of the group, even though they had been long-standing acquaintances. At a formal dinner in Krasnodar, a prominent member of the delegation decided to unleash a salvo directed at the elected leader. It all went downhill from there.

It was agreed at one of our prebreakfast meetings that I would take only two of the men with me to my meetings with the ministers of finance and health in Krasnodar. The others agreed to stay busy shopping. But as it turned out, they had other plans. Instead of shopping, they waited in an outer office at the ministry building until the agreed-upon delegation arrived. Then the entire group suddenly appeared from around a corner, followed us into the minister’s office, and made themselves quite at home. It wasn’t just awkward; it was diplomatically unconscionable.

My efforts to correct the errant ways of the disjointed group weren’t successful. And even though the half-million dollars’ worth of donated medical supplies were delivered and distributed to the appropriate medical institutions, the full potential of doing good in Krasnodar was wasted. The members of this group were all wearing the same jerseys . . . but they certainly weren’t on the same team!

Fortunately, over the years I’ve had the rewarding privilege of being part of many productive groups that have interacted successfully and accomplished significant goals.

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As I’ve observed hundreds of successful groups make a positive difference, I’ve noticed a specific process that takes place as a group comes together, finds its identity, and moves toward accomplishing its goals. This team-building process is characterized by five distinct stages:

  1. Groping —The first stage is marked by an incessant flow of questions. Groping for validation, clarification, and significance is a natural first response in a group: “Why are we here?” “What is our specific task?” “Is this worth my time?” “Do we need a mission statement so we can validate our findings?” “Are we sure we need to try to solve this problem? Who cares?” 

  2. Griping—Not surprisingly, group members begin to gripe during the next stage. Working through differences is completely normal as individuals with unique personalities, interests, and abilities come together to form a unified group identity: “This isn’t a good location for us to meet.” “This isn’t very convenient.” “I have to take my kids to day care, so I can’t meet this early.” “Can’t we meet at the coffee shop?”

  3. Grasping—Eventually the new cluster of individuals begins to focus and engage their common intellect as they deal with the assigned issue and start to understand its scope and sequence.

  4. Grouping—As the new group consciously works at interacting with one another, a certain magic takes place. The group experiences a melding, a bonding, a solidifying of purposes and personalities.

  5. Group action—In the final stage, individuals have melded together into a unified whole and use their collective strengths to implement the appropriate plan of action.

As coach Vince Lombardi used to say, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society.” 

Isn’t it delightful to see people who are wearing the same jerseys actually become a team?


ON BEHALF OF ALL THE WOMEN IN UZBEKISTAN Travel Journal - 1996: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan (Part 9)

Friday, June 28, 1996: Andijon, Uzbekistan: Today started out at a quick pace. The newspaper reporters and the television people were gathering at Ahunov Uktem Nabievich’s office. He is the chairman of the Andijon Regional United Committee for the Republic of Uzbekistan and is one of the main leaders in Andijon. He works in the same office building as Ted Elder, only up on the top floor.

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We gave a briefing to the committee and the reporters regarding Project C.U.R.E.’s work in Central Asia. Then, we informed them about Ted’s activities in teaching English to the people of Andijon, aiding in health-care development, and supporting of small businesses, and reminded them how all our efforts tied in to helping and encouraging the wonderful people of Uzbekistan. At that point, the media folks were ready to go outside in the garden area to do some video shooting. The TV people interviewed me first near a fountain area. The interviewer was very generous with his comments about Project C.U.R.E. and the fact that we were bringing over half a million dollars’ worth of medical goods to Andijon. The newspaper reporters’ interviews were quite short, and they said they would have more questions after the presentation of the containers.

Our media interviews made us run late for getting to the presentation site. One official from the health department could not stay for the whole ceremony and left early. Ted Elder had arranged for the containers to be located in a very secure storage area, unloaded from the trailers, and set on the ground. Everything was perfect. When will I quit fretting about details that God has already successfully worked out?

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The head medical man opened the ceremony with some remarks and then turned to me to make the presentation. During the presentation I called for Dr. Erkin to come up and stand with me. That was a signal to the medical people that he was not to be cut out of the loop. Dr. Erkin’s face just glowed. I tell people that Project C.U.R.E. is not political – but we sure are diplomatic.

During my part of the presentation, I took the liberty to give my personal testimony as the reason for Anna Marie’s and my being there to give the medical supplies. I told the audience that it was a special day for me because once again God had given me the opportunity to fulfill my vow to him to use my energies to bring honor and glory to him and help as many people around the world as possible by distributing donated medical supplies to help their hurting hearts and bodies. All through the testimony about God giving me a second chance with my life and about giving away our wealth so that we could start over again, the men in crowd were really into it, nodding their heads and agreeing.

After I spoke, the head man responded. Then Ted spoke, another man spoke, Don spoke, Dr. Erkin spoke, and so on, but before the ceremony came to a halt, something strange happened.

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The woman reporter from the Uzbekistan national newspaper signaled that she had something she wanted to say to the crowd. “I have never before in my life met anyone who has given away millions of dollars to help other people. On behalf of all the women in Uzbekistan, I would bend down and kiss the ground this man walks on for his acts of kindness to other people. I hope the men of Uzbekistan who will now be making lots of money from business, will follow this man’s example.”

We were all kind of speechless as we realized that the Holy Spirit had been faithfully ministering while we talked. I guess that we will never know just where the ripples of obedience will travel before they lap up against the shores of eternity.