INDIA JOURNAL - 2004 (Part 3)

Wednesday June 16, 2004: Washim, India: It was into the shower at 4 a.m. and back to the airport where Dr. Noah and I were scheduled to fly on Jet Airways from Bombay to Arangabad.  It was almost tragic because we nearly missed our final boarding call while we were intently discussing a man from Phoenix, Arizona, and how he had almost totally messed up Nazarene Compassionate Ministry’s and the Reynolds Memorial Hospital’s fragile relationship with the Indian government and customs.  In the recent past, he had totally ignored protocol and shipping regulations, sent inappropriate items, and botched the official paperwork so badly that the Indian government had nearly concluded fraud or smuggling.
 
We agreed that we would work closely together to try to help rebuild the government confidence and heal the relationship with the Indian customs officials in order to mend the situation for the hospital.
 
The rain was pouring in Bombay as we left.  India’s rainy season had just begun and the people were eagerly welcoming the moisture.  Our arrival at Arangabad was delayed by the rain, and the sky was heavy and very dark as we loaded into a car and traveled another four hours to the city of Washim.  Washim, with a population of 65,000, was in the heart of the rural farm belt of the state of Maharashtra.

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The Reynolds Memorial Hospital was established in 1936 by efforts of Nazarene missionary and lay personnel.  There had been a medical mission presence in Washim as a result of the Methodist denomination’s efforts.  But, over nearly 80 years, the Nazarenes had built a strong facility, “all as a part of service to man in the name of God and to show all people the love of God by treating them as well as we can and as kindly as we can by love, compassion, and sympathy.” 

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Dr. Noah was a very effective administrator, as well as a skilled surgeon.  The hospital was a 210-bed facility.  The Nazarenes had previously handed over the organization to be managed by indigenous leaders but stayed in the relationship to donate about 7% of the hospital’s overhead.  The hospital was doing a remarkable job of reaching out and serving a catchment area of over a quarter million people.
 
The missionary guest house, where I would stay, had been built in 1906.  It was quite a stately old manor house with high ceilings and large rooms.
 
We started the hospital needs assessment study almost as soon as we drove into Washim.  The rain came in wind-driven cloud bursts, but the people all smiled and cheered on the moisture.
 
The Reynolds Memorial Hospital had, over the years, been frequented by Nazarene denominational work groups and medical teams.  It also had enjoyed some kind of relationship between the nurse-training schools of the US Nazarene universities and the hospital in Washim.  In fact, there was one nurse intern, Meredith Carroll from Point Loma University, also at the guest house with another team to follow a few days later.

Thursday, June 17
 
Thursday was set aside to visit the countryside surrounding Washim and observe the hospital’s medical work that had been established in the rural villages. In 1987, Reynolds Memorial Hospital and the Nurses Training School had reached out to ten villages, then to 36 in 1993, and 111 in 1998.  By 2001 they were taking their “community-based health project” to 145 villages and reaching over 200,000 people in the rural communities.
 
Their program became very successful in meeting the needs of preventive, as well as curative, medical service and included areas of:  (l) immunization, (2) under-five (years of age) clinics, (3) nutritional rehabilitation, (4) antenatal clinics, (5) HIV/AIDS testing and (6) mobile clinics.
 
One of the villages that I visited on Thursday was home to 1,500 people.  Many women and children had gathered into a make-shift clinic.  When I entered, one of the Reynolds Hospital nurses was teaching nutrition to the group with the help of charts, pictures, and other visual displays.  When that was completed the mothers and children all lined up for their monthly checkup exams.  Then when finished they sang some simple songs, had a scripture reading, and prayed.
 
Dr. Noah told me that when they first started in the villages the kids and mothers would all run away.  Now they eagerly awaited the team of about seven nurses and students.
 
He also related to me how the hospital had embarked upon a very ambitious plan whereby they were endeavoring to immunize every child and mother in all 145 villages in a three-month period of time.  No one in the government health offices thought the plan to be possible but they were happy to supply the medicines anyhow.
 
Somehow Dr. Noah’s team was able to accomplish 100% of their goal within the three-month period.  “We even chased some women and children down in the fields to give them their shots,” he told me.  To their knowledge there had never been a program to accomplish such a feat, either in India or the United States.
 
At 3 p.m. on Thursday, I was scheduled to meet at the hospital board room with Dr. Noah’s entire hospital and school team.  Their excitement and commitment was contagious.  They were eager to tell me all about their future goals and plans.  They had become a very successful unit.  The two hours I spent with them flew by quickly.
 
Upon leaving the team meeting, where I was given lists of prioritized department needs, we stopped for a cup of good Indian chai (tea).  Dr. Noah decided to contact Dr. Bidari in Miraj, India, on his cell phone and make sure my airplane tickets from Bombay to Kolhapur had been left off at the Avion Hotel in Bombay.  Anna Marie had carefully instructed Dr. Bidari that the connection tickets needed to be at the Avion Hotel so that I could continue on my trip to his hospital in Miraj.  Dr. Bidari’s assistant had not a foggy idea of what Dr. Noah was even talking about.  It was looking like Dr. Bidari had completely spaced out his need to get my ticket purchased and delivered.  Dr. Noah was upset because he had just talked to Dr. Bidari the week before and was assured that everything was “being well taken care of.”
 
Eventually, Dr. Noah got Dr. Bidari on the phone and he was very unsure of things in his responses.  Finally, I had Dr. Noah put me on the line.
 
“Hello, Dr. Bidari,” I greeted him cheerfully.  “I understand we have had some miscommunication.  I just need to tell you that I’m sure you have everything under control.  However, if those flight tickets are not at the Avion Hotel when I arrive in Bombay late Friday night, I know I will not have time to go and purchase the tickets needed for the 6 a.m. flight on to Kolhapur. So, I would then have to go ahead and board a flight directly back to the US and not visit your hospital in Kolhapur.”
 
Dr. Bidari assured me that everything would “be well taken care of.”
 
I tried to contact Anna Marie in Colorado by e-mail but was never able to make any connection with AOL in the US.
 
Thursday evening, Dr. Noah invited me to have dinner with his family in their home on the compound.

Friday, June 18
 
I had become accustomed to having some institution official in some foreign country just suddenly inform me that I would be speaking to some large group of people gathered in some building somewhere.
 
Friday morning I was delegated and informed that I would be speaking for 30 minutes at the campus church building for the hospital staff and Nurses Training College’s weekly chapel service.  I swallowed twice and commenced to speak.  It turned out to be a good time together; God really blessed the session.
 
We had been able to accomplish a lot at the Reynolds Hospital in a very short period of time.  I was very impressed with Dr. Noah and his team in Washim, India.  They were certainly proving that the quality, efficiency, and community impact of a missionary hospital need not diminish when the sacred missionaries with all the answers went back home.  My guess was the hospital was in better shape than it had been during the ten previous years when they were still there.  Of course, that was just one humble man’s opinion.
 
One feature of the Reynolds Hospital that greatly impressed me was the fact that they had effectively operated their own blood bank with full storage and investigative facilities for HIV/AIDS, as well as hepatitis A, B and C.
 
As you have read my previous journal entries, you have become aware of my deep concern for the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic around the world.  It would frighten me when I visited any part of Africa, India, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and even Russia, to realize that hardly anyone in the world had truly grasped the magnitude of the rampant killer disease.  Everyone still seemed to be in denial of the fact that over 40 million people in the world were proven carriers of the disease and that over five million more were proven to have contracted the disease for the first time in just the last year.
 
No one seemed to think that it would affect them.  And even if they did, they assumed there would be a magic cure developed by the American doctors to take care of them.
 
But the ugly truth had passed up fiction a long time back.  There was no cure presently, nor was there even one on the horizon.  But, the world had quickly and silently entered into the dying stage of the disease around the world.
 
Next Week: Can we make it to the Wanless Hospital in  Miraj?


INDIA JOURNAL 2004 (Part 2)

June 13, 2004: Destination: Mumbai (Bombay), India: Just one day after our return from Idaho, Project C.U.R.E. hosted a grand golf tournament at the prestigious Sanctuary Golf Course, a private and very exclusive venue.  We had been allowed to hold the tournament as a fundraiser for Project C.U.R.E.’s worldwide efforts.  Doug and his staff planned the event so well, and it ended up a smashing success with many important supporters of Project C.U.R.E. in attendance.
 
Every year it had become more and more necessary for us to push, push, push to raise more and more money.  In our endeavor to give away the medical goods and equipment, the simple mathematics proved that as our freely donated materials flowed out of our six warehouses around the USA, our costs for doing business increased by a similar or higher percentage.
 
Project C.U.R.E. had given away over $30 million US worth of wholesale medical goods in just the past year … that’s $30,000,000.00!  That was a far cry from the first load that Anna Marie and I donated to Brazil in 1987.
 
Now then, if we weren’t selling any of the goods but rather giving it all away to the desperately needy people around the world, where in heaven’s name were we getting the money to stay in business?  Great question!
 
We were running the most efficient humanitarian organization in the world, and had simultaneously become the world’s largest supplier of donated medical goods.  All this we had accomplished in less than 18 years of pressurized existence.  Indeed, we were the epitome of frugality.  Our audited financial statements proved that we were running a multimillion-dollar business on less than 2% overhead.  That’s unheard of in a world where charity organizations are smiled upon if they can keep their overhead down to 60% or 70% of their revenues.
 
Project C.U.R.E. had become a living example of a financial miracle of God being lived out in the 21st century world.
 
But, in reality, it was taking more and more cash to run our organization.  Each time we opened up in a new collection or distribution city in the US, we had to have trucks, gasoline, buildings, insurance, as well as funds for paying for utilities, health and protection insurance for our workers, brochures and other materials, and travel and … and … and.
 
We had worked very hard to procure overstock medical goods from manufacturers, wholesalers, and end users such as hospitals, independent doctors, and out-patient clinics.  But those gifts in kind did not cover our overhead expenses.  And we were just starting toward our goal of having Project C.U.R.E. centers in 25 major US cities.
 
Just to cover our current overhead expenses we had to raise $2 million US.  This was just to stay alive.  Even being the most frugal charity in existence, that was still our need for cash in one year.
 
On the surface that was impossible!  How could that happen?  Hardly anyone could believe that we were still in existence after nearly 18 years.
 
But God had performed miracle after miracle and had sent the right people to us at the right time to not only help us with the cash infusions, but also with expert advice and insights on how we could run our organization better.
 
The grand golf tournament had been one of the simple ways to make it fun and easy for our donors to get together and be reminded of how they could get involved and partner with Project C.U.R.E. to keep us going.
 
Another phenomenon that was taking place was that the more friends we were making within the US and also around the world, the more those friends wanted to come to Colorado and spend time with us.  Our home had become a grand central station of international dignitaries from the top leaders of North Korea to heads of state throughout Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America.
 
Anna Marie and I had just hosted two of our Project C.U.R.E. NGO board members from our organization in Accra, Ghana, in West Africa.  They had spent the best part of a week with us between two of my international trips.

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Less than four weeks earlier we had hosted the president of Rwanda in our home, along with an entourage of over 60 staff and cabinet members, for dinner.  Anna Marie had done all the cooking and had done a marvelous job as hostess.  Then another delegation from Nigeria had come, including the governor of Imo State.
 
In May, one of our major recipient partners from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, had called me to see if they could visit the second week in June.  I had to tell him that the Friday following the fundraiser golf tournament, on a Thursday, was completely booked with our own all-day board meeting at Project C.U.R.E. headquarters.  But, if he would schedule to come to Denver on Saturday, June 12, I would pick him, his wife, and grown daughter up at the airport.  We would spend the day together, and they could stay the night with us.  But on Sunday morning I would be getting up at 3:30 a.m. to start my trip to India.  It was agreed.
 
On Thursday, Dr. Ekwim from Port Harcourt left a very excited and happy message for me that all arrangements had been made.  The three of them would be flying into Denver from London on Saturday, June 12.  “Please pick us up at Denver International Airport at 10:45 p.m.”
 
My forehead was promptly flattened when I heard the message.  My hand went to my forehead with a slap!  Ten-forty-five P.M.!  They won’t clear out of the airport until after midnight!  I guess Saturday doesn’t mean Saturday during the daytime in Africa!  But there was no time or place for contacting them. They were on their way.
 
Our Project C.U.R.E. executives from our operation in Phoenix, Arizona, had come to Denver for meetings during the week.  Jason and Sheila Corley were doing a terrific job running the Project C.U.R.E. operation in Phoenix.  Part of the reason they had come to Denver was to watch and learn how to run a charity golf tournament so they could duplicate the effort in Phoenix.
 
Since our friends from Port Harcourt would not arrive until midnight, we decided to invite Jason, Sheila, and their three kiddos up to our Evergreen home for a waffle and strawberry breakfast.  We wanted to show them just how much we appreciated all their good efforts in Phoenix and encourage them in their teamwork.
 
At 10 p.m., Anna Marie and I headed for DIA.  As expected, our guests did not collect their bags and clear the airport until after midnight.  Then we still had an hour drive from DIA to our home in Evergreen.
 
When they arrived I asked if they had misunderstood that I would only be available on Saturday.  He looked at me with a quizzical look and said, “But it is Saturday!”  I just smiled and we got into our car.
 
By the time we got our guests settled into our lovely guest house it was 1:30 a.m.  And I still needed to pack and get ready to leave at 4 a.m. 
 
It was nice to see them and renew our friendship even if it was a quick visit for me.  Anna Marie would spend Sunday entertaining them and showing them our offices, sorting centers, and warehouse.  Then on Monday she would introduce them to the Project C.U.R.E. people at our headquarters facilities.  I was gone!

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Back at the airport (where I had been what just seemed as minutes before), I boarded United flight #857 from Denver to Los Angeles.  I then shuttled to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and transferred to flight #775 on Thai Airlines to start my 18-hour flight travel to Osaka, Japan, then on to Bangkok, Thailand.
 
Monday, June 14
 
Sunday had disappeared, and Monday along with it.  It was midnight on Monday when our Thai Airline #747 touched down in Bangkok.  Fortunately, I had hotel reservations at a spot close to the Bangkok Airport.  After a flight halfway around the world I was ready to lie down and rest a bit.

Tuesday, June 15
 
I wasn’t really pleased with having to fly Indian Airways flight #732 from Bangkok to Calcutta on Tuesday morning.  But there were no flights going directly from Bangkok all the way across India to Bombay where I needed to ultimately go.  Every time in the past, the Indian air service had managed to lose my luggage … every time!  Somehow, when I made the intermediate stop in Calcutta and went through customs as the entry point in India, they couldn’t get the luggage back on the connecting flight.  Of course, they couldn’t care less!
 
I recalled one time that it was actually necessary for me to fly all the way back from New Delhi to Bombay to collect my bags because the India folks simply refused to fly my bags on to New Delhi as they were required to do.  Their curt reply to me had been, “Well, Mr. Jackson, it makes no difference to us.  If you want your bags you will return and claim them.  If you don’t we will, to be sure, dispose of them as if they contained a bomb within.  It matters to us not a bit if you hold a piece of paper signed by one of our offices that we should send your bags on to you.  We know that we did not get your bags on to your connecting flight, but we also know that if you value your bags at all you will return to Bombay and retrieve them!”
 
I valued them and I returned all the way to Bombay and collected them.
 
In Bangkok, the Amari Hotel wanted to charge me $15 US to eat breakfast.  My Scottish/Irish frugality revolted and I headed to the airport where I ate for $2.50.  I was scheduled on Indian Airlines flight #732 from Bangkok to Calcutta (Kolkata), where I had a brief layover before hopping on Indian Airlines on to Bombay (Mumbai).
 
It was well after 9 p.m. when we arrived at Bombay airport.  But, Dr. Arun Noah was right there to pick me up and we hustled to the Avion Hotel close by to stay for the night.
 
Dr. Noah had traveled all the way by car and airplane from Washim, India, to pick me up.  I told him how very much I appreciated his being there because “the most vulnerable segments of my trips occur at airports when no one shows up to fetch me.”  I opted to skip dinner since it was so late, and instead try to catch some sleep.
 
Next Week: Bombay, to Arangabad. to Washim   


INDIA JOURNAL - 2004 (Part 1)

June 13, 2004: Destination: Mumbai (Bombay), India: I had, quite honestly, lost track of the number of times I had visited India.  Traveling to the populous subcontinent was always an adrenaline rush and always proved to be an exciting adventure, but I had to admit that India was not my most favorite place to visit.
 
I did recall my very first trip to the city of Madras on my way to Salem, India, and how it was expedient for God to perform a miracle to get me where I needed to go when no one showed up at the airport to meet me in the middle of the sweaty night.
 
I also recalled how my heart had been broken as I visited the tragic “rock breakers” in Rajahmundry, and how on that same trip some desperate evildoers had tried to smoke me out of my hotel room in order to rob me.
 
And there had been no way to forget my trip from the Kulu Valley in northern India over two scary Himalayan mountain passes to China’s border and watching our “jeep” tilting with the left front wheel high in the air, teetering dangerously, ready to roll down the face of the rocky precipice to a bottom that was barely visible from the site of our mishap.
 
Then, there was the vivid memory of being in Imphal and getting caught in a military vs. insurgent uprising in that part of the country, to the west of Bangladesh, where we struggled to get back to our hotel only to find it surrounded by military tanks and all efforts to lift us out of the mess by helicopter had failed.
 
Oh, my goodness!  I did have some wild and crazy memories of India.

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Perhaps one of the reasons I shuddered at the realization of my returning to India was the inner conflict I always experienced when I knew I had to again deal with the unjust and unholy caste system.  Just maybe it remained as the most sinister form of repression and slavery still in the world.  And the confusing thing was that almost no one ever spoke out against it.
 
Even Mahatma Gandhi, whose life was revered and his unorthodox practices admired and touted, never did speak out against, to my knowledge, the deplorable guise of servitude.
 
I had asked individuals of the Brahmans caste to please help me bring aid and assistance to the Dalits and untouchable folks.  Their answers to me had been, “Why would you want us to help you do that?  If we helped you help those people we would be doing them a most terrible disservice because, due to the things which they committed somewhere in their past, they are now in the position to learn their lesson in their present life.  They have done something so bad in their past that they have screwed up their karma and have the present to learn their appropriate lessons.  Should we endeavor to remove them from their lesson-learning positions we would be cheating them from that experience.  And enhancing their karma without having learned those lessons during their present lives, they would be relegated to come back to another life just in order to learn the lessons and be able to move on up the ladder.  If we helped those miserable people now they would not learn what they are supposed to learn in this lifetime, and it would take them another lifetime to fix their karma.  Just leave them be.”
 
And my many trips into the culture had likewise allowed me to hear the logical defense from the higher caste individuals to the wretched untouchables.  “Look, you don’t know the system.  You want to be where we are one grand day in the future.  Just do right and in due time you will arrive.  Wouldn’t it be terrible if you upset the system?  The glorious position that I now enjoy would not be even available to you in a future life.  Just be patient and stay the course.”
 
I had studied the drivers of those huge TATA trucks on the back roads and highways of India.  In my opinion, the most dangerous place to be in India was the open highway or winding mountain roads.  In my travels I had seen so many horrific traffic accidents where the bodies of people would be strewn like blood-soaked confetti after a ticker-tape parade.  I witnessed where one TATA truck loaded with steel had simply sheared off the top of a crowded public bus like the action of opening up a can of sardines.  I had seen the results of three TATA trucks racing side by side around a blind curve in the highway only to plow into ox carts, bike riders, and pedestrians who had no chance to scramble or escape.
 
I had observed that most TATA truck drivers and bus drivers were of the Dalit caste or were untouchables.  Walking down the road or in their communities they were powerless.  But once behind the steering wheel of the massive vehicle they experienced a power otherwise never known to them.  They would mix that feeling of power and pent-up vengeance with the strange reality that the only thing they would have to lose would be their wretched life.  This produced a situation much like a live hand grenade in mid-air with the pin already pulled. They could exert intimidating and lethal power and the only thing possible for them to lose would be their miserable life, granted, with the weird possibility of dying and coming back into a higher caste position.
 
I had always found India to be such an interesting study of land, people, religion, culture, strata, marriages, and of course, medical opportunities.  It was a disturbing model of pathos vs. privilege.

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If you had caste status and money you could purchase healthcare and medical procedures equivalent to New York City.  If you were one without privilege and you were a woman, you would probably be expected to give birth to your child at a local healthcare center much like I had visited and photographed, where, instead of a delivery table or a bed available, there were pieces of sheet metal lined up against a wall.  A concrete block under the head of the bed would be placed just a bit higher than the concrete block under the foot of the piece of sheet metal.  Near the middle there would be a hole made by a cutting torch with a plastic bucket resting under it.

If you went there in labor you were laid upon the piece of slanted sheet metal and left until you delivered your baby.  A caregiver would take the baby, cut the umbilical cord, and hand the baby back to you.  As soon as you had strength to get up and go home you would take your baby and go home on foot or in a scooter taxi.  Once you had left, the caregiver would return to the piece of sheet metal, scrape the placenta through the hole and into the plastic bucket and douse the sheet metal with a bucket of clean water to prepare for the next mother.

As I prepared to once again return to the vast country of India, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would observe and experience on the trip.  I knew that my life would not be the same when I returned to my home, because it never had been the same following any of my trips there.

And just why was I returning to India?  You guessed it … many more requests had flooded our office.  Institutions in India reached out to Project C.U.R.E. to supply donated medical goods.  For the current trip I intended to focus on requests from two of our international partners, Nazarene Compassionate Mission (NCM), and the Presbyterian group, Missionary Benevolent Foundation (MBF).  I had worked with both groups before in other parts of the world but it would be my first time performing studies for each in India.

The weeks preceding the scheduled trip had been a bit hectic.  Upon my return from Bogotá, Colombia, our whole family of kids and grandkids had joined Anna Marie and me to travel to Nampa, Idaho, in order to celebrate Anna Marie’s father’s 100th birthday.

Keller Johnson had lived a wonderful life spanning a time in history that had seen remarkable, if not unbelievable, changes.  When he started out there were no highways, cars, telephones, or airplanes.  He had seen so much change in his lifetime.  But at the age of 100 he still was in terrific health.  The only medication he was taking at the time of his birthday party was an occasional aspirin.

Keller was still as sharp as a tack and could tell you the price of carrot seeds, which he had grown and sold for custom cultivation twenty to thirty years before.  He could also give you his opinion on the current international and national political and economic affairs.  In fact, he still held a current driver’s license at the time of his 100th birthday.  He had become an inspiration to all of us and had been a wonderful father to Anna Marie and father-in-law to me.  Keller loved Project C.U.R.E.

Next Week: Destination Mumbai (Bombay)


 

 

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE?

During the thirty years I have traveled internationally, I traveled literally millions of miles to more than 150 countries and became very familiar not only with all types and shapes of aircraft but also all types and shapes of travelers.

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Since cabins had become my adopted abode, I was tempted upon occasion to velcro my family pictures to the plastic walls just to help me feel at home. I even learned to enjoy the company of my flying companions.

I boarded a morning flight out of Frankfurt, Germany, headed for Colorado when I met Sheri. Sheri wanted to know if my travels originated in Frankfurt. I asked if her flight to Dulles meant that Washington, D.C., was her final destination. She said her company sent her to Germany quite often, and she enjoyed traveling because she liked to observe all the people.

Then she asked me, “Where is your favorite place in the whole world?” I responded, “There is a twenty-five-acre spot in Colorado that boasts a crystal-clear mountain stream and is blanketed with majestic trees. A romantic fire crackles in the gigantic fireplace of the old log and stone house.”

Wow,” blurted Sheri. “Have you been there on vacation?”

“No, I live there every day when I’m not constrained by this seat belt!” I said with a smile, and then asked, “Sheri, you said that you enjoy observing people as you travel. What have you observed so far on this trip?”

“The thing that impressed me this morning at the airport,” Sheri confided, “was the high percentage of folks who looked terribly unhappy. And I suppose I looked as disgruntled as the rest of them. Except for this pleasant conversation, my own life is sort of bummed. It’s beginning to dawn on me that I am running faster and faster, chasing something that I can’t really identify. For certain, I’m not catching whatever it is I’m running after.”

“Is it possible,” I asked, “that someone or something, or perhaps the entire culture, has instructed all of us that we should be in hot pursuit everyday and spend our energy to the last dregs to lay hold of whatever it is that we are all supposed to be chasing?” I went on, “Sheri, don’t answer this unless you feel comfortable doing so. What was it that made you get up this morning and go through the hassle and security procedures to get on this flight?”

She studied her hands that were folded in her lap and pensively mumbled something about economic security and happiness. “This is none of my business,” I replied, “but I’m very curious. Just how much economic security would it take to make you really happy?”

Her reply came surprisingly quickly, “About twice as much as I’m presently making!” Then she grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, I think more money, about twice as much, would give me a good shot at personal security. That would be enough to make me happy!”

The captain came on the intercom with some announcements, and we put a bookmark in our conversation. But Sheri wasn’t through talking.

“You know something?” Sheri asked. “It just hit me. I am presently making twice as much as I was making two years ago, and now I’m back into the same emotional cycle, saying the same things over again—‘I need about twice as much as I am making to make me secure and happy.’ Who keeps moving the bar up on the high-jump standards?” We laughed together.

“Sheri,” I continued, “just one more question from a fellow traveler. If money were not the issue, what would your list look like of what would really make you happy?”

“I want to feel worthwhile,” she confided. “I would want to be involved in some worthwhile things. I would want to personally enjoy some love, some fun, some friendship, and respect from my family and a few other people. And, I guess, I would like to leave some kind of legacy when I’m gone.”

Then Sheri said something absolutely brilliant: “You know, none of those things I just listed are available on the open market or e-Bay. Therefore, I guess if something isn’t priced on the market, then you can’t buy it. And if you can’t buy it with money, then perhaps just possessing twice as much of the stuff called ‘money’ isn’t the answer. I guess I’ve been looking for happiness in the wrong places! What a wonderful observation I’ve made today!” 


THE PLAGUE OF ENTITLEMENT

Entitlement is defined as a feeling or belief that you deserve to be given certain privileges—that someone owes you something just because you are you. I am coming to believe that this entitlement plague is perhaps more to be feared throughout the world than malaria or dengue fever!

I have traveled in well over 150 countries and have viewed this pandemic condition everywhere. One day I was in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I was negotiating the logistics for sending millions of dollars of donated medical goods into the country following the ravaging earthquake centered in Gyumri.

Ruben Khachatryan was a leftover Communist bureaucrat who had assumed the privileged position of gatekeeper in the new administration. Ruben was a large man with no way to stretch his brown wool suit coat around his gigantic stomach. When he laughed, the light bounced off his gold teeth and around the room like the sparkles from a disco ball. During my first meeting with Ruben, he boldly announced to me, “There is a law that says that the rich countries have to send money to the poor ones, so you must send money to me here at this address so I can optimize my region.”

The only thing that was ever optimized was Ruben’s own wallet. Because of him, the area didn’t stand a chance of solving its plight.

A short while later I was traveling in West Africa. It was a difficult drive from Lomé, the capital of Togo, north to the city of Dapaong in the northwest corner, close to the borders of Ghana and Burkina Faso.

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During dinner that night at the Hotel Le Campement, our discussion at the table was troubling. It became quite apparent that our Togolese friends, on average, knew almost nothing about economics, business, governance, or how the “real world” works.

One of the top leaders of Togo declared emphatically, “Well, Europe and the US just have to come here and give us more money until we have enough. Someone must simply take it away from them and give it to us because we need it.” That sparked quite a lengthy discussion.

I received some great insights that night.

The whole attitude of entitlement, or you owe me, has become a great enemy of progress and human dignity, not only in West Africa and Armenia, but all over the world, including our own culture in America. It is one thing to graciously receive; it is quite another to expect, and worse yet, demand. Self-respect, dignity, and self-reliance have really suffered in pandemic proportions because of this contagious plague.

Once the collective human minds and spirits of a people embrace the notion that someone owes them something for one reason or another, it totally changes their character, self-motivation, and the perception of their own worth. It seems to neutralize the component of personal responsibility. They fall into the trap of seeing themselves as victims, and from that perspective they are totally blinded to creative possibilities within their own grasp.

Once they have transferred responsibility and accountability to someone else, and that new source fails to produce the expected answer to all their needs, then they feel they have a legitimate right to blame those who failed them and to emphatically devote all their energies to being angry and vengeful. And where blaming starts, creative growth stops! Additionally, the plague totally eliminates any expression of true compassion toward anyone else.

Ironically, today many developing countries are endeavoring to build their future economic systems on the idea of expecting or demanding that the rest of the world step up and give them more. And at the same time, they are blinded to the great opportunities of independent and sustainable growth and development so near to them. Blame and greed will trump the spirit of positive initiative.

Malaria and dengue fever can kill the body— entitlement can kill the soul!


ONLY ONE PERSON

I was thirty years old when Anna Marie and I decided to give away all our accumulated wealth and start over. We decided to start listening to a different drummer and restructure our value system. I decided to give the best of my life for the rest of my life helping other people be better off. That was the best business decision I ever made. That one decision set into motion unforeseeable consequences and an exhilarating adventure full of challenge and reward. That adventure took me to nearly every corner of this earth and taught me time and again, as someone has said, “To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world.” 

One day my travels took me to Madras and Salem in the southern part of India. Project C.U.R.E. had promised to deliver donated medical goods to needy orphanages and medical clinics in the region. When I finished my agenda in India, I traveled on to Singapore. My next venue was Hong Kong, where I had meetings scheduled with a number of nongovernmental organization leaders operating in mainland China. But in Hong Kong I had a most memorable meeting that had absolutely nothing to do with either governmental or nongovernmental agencies.

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Upon arrival at the Hong Kong airport, I hailed a taxi and rode to the downtown Kowloon Hotel. Once settled into my room, I made my way to the dimly lighted restaurant and ordered dinner. Minutes later they seated a white-haired gentleman at the table next to me. He was trying to read the menu in the near darkness, and he had apparently forgotten his glasses. I knew exactly what he was going through. So, without saying a word, I took off my glasses, leaned across the chair, and laid the glasses on his table. It caught him so by surprise, he stumbled all over himself thanking me for noticing his plight. He admitted that he was about to randomly point to something on the menu and hope for the best. We began to chat, and after I had finished my dinner and was finishing my tea, he invited me over to his table.

My new friend lived in New Zealand and was a successful businessman, coming to Asia often in his line of business. He had been buying and selling umbrellas for more than twenty-seven years. He inquired about what I did, and I shared with him about Project C.U.R.E. He asked a million questions, and my answers kept getting more involved. He looked directly into my eyes and surmised, “You can’t do what you are doing without being a deeply religious man.” I told him that once I wasn’t, but several years before, everything changed. That opened the flood gates of emotion for him.

He told me that just three weeks prior, the diagnosis had been confirmed that he had cancer—the same kind that had taken his mother within a span of ten months after her diagnosis. They assured him that he would not have even the ten months to live. I went through two more cups of tea as I simply sat quietly and listened to him pour out his heart. He had pretty well figured out what he was going to do with his business, but he painfully struggled as we discussed the effects his death would have on his wife and his grown children. “My wife begged me to not take this business trip to Hong Kong. But I absolutely knew I had to travel from New Zealand to Hong Kong and check into the Kowloon Hotel. You reached over and loaned me your glasses, but you did more. You allowed me to use your vision and see through your eyes to discover hope and confidence and a future for my family.”

I left the restaurant that night very humbled just to think that God would bring one man from New Zealand and one man from Colorado all the way to Hong Kong in order to strike a match and kindle a flame of hope and encouragement in the heart of a needy traveler. “To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world.”
 

PROBLEM SOLVING (Part 2)

It seems to me that the true mark of wisdom is being able to see miracles in what everybody else sees as problems. That requires a new set of eyes. Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself—so always think positively.”

Problem solving is, in reality, only one part of a larger issue. Before you can arrive at the problem-solving function, it’s necessary to correctly identify the problem and then accurately define the problem. Without identifying and clearly defining the problem, you won’t be able to move from a given state to a desired goal. Most people would agree that problem solving, sometimes referred to as a higher-order cognitive skill, is one of the most complex processes of the intellectual function. Acquiring this skill usually requires concentration and hard work, because our normal tendency is to get so busy trying to mop the floor that we ignore simple acts like shutting off the running faucet.

An adage of the eighteenth-century philosopher Voltaire has been an encouragement to me: “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” Perhaps that philosophical approach inspired Albert Einstein to offer this observation about his problem solving abilities: “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

People sometimes ask me what I was doing in Brazil before I started Project C.U.R.E. I was engaged in the exciting adventure of economic problem solving. My prior economic commitments in the countries of Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela acquainted me with the concept of debt-for-equity exchanges, sometimes referred to as “debt swaps.”

When I went to Brazil, I began working directly with Brazil’s president, José Sarney, and his chief economist, Antonio Bacelar. Brazil was experiencing runaway inflation of nearly 3,000 percent. The country had borrowed millions of dollars from US banks and was incapable of repaying those loans. Brazil was in real trouble.

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Our first two steps in problem solving were to (1) identify the problem, and (2) clearly define the problem. Once we had accomplished that, we could start solving the problem. Identifying the problem was simple: Brazil had defaulted on its loan obligations. Defining the problem was a bit more complicated.

The US government, the World Bank, and the United Nations had coerced many US banks into making sizable loans to foreign countries for economic relief measures. Instead of our government simply handing over large sums of money to the United Nations, who in turn would hand out the monies to needy foreign countries, it pressured our banks to make the loans directly to these countries. That sounded like a great problemsolving strategy to bypass the inefficient United Nations and World Bank.

The banks, following prudent underwriting procedures, insisted that the sovereign countries sign promissory notes guaranteeing the repayment of the loans. Perhaps the United Nations or the World Bank could have allowed the foreign countries to default on the loans by just writing them off as “bad debts.” But individual banks in America were under the tight scrutiny of the US federal bank examiners and federal agencies like the FDIC and couldn’t just write off their bad loans.

Under the Nixon administration in the 1970s, when the US economy was cut loose from the gold standard, banks were allowed to use foreign sovereign debt instruments as credits toward their necessary fractional reserves. But it was considered high risk to make foreign sovereign loans, and it would spell utter disaster for US banks should those foreign loans ever go into default.

Not surprisingly, by the mid-1980s, many of the foreign countries were in default to the US banks. Some South American governments simply shrugged their shoulders and said, “Sorry, we can’t make good on our loan repayment commitments.” Once the foreign loan instruments were declared nonperforming loans, the US banks had to start writing them off. If they had counted the loans as part of their fractional reserves, the banks’ total lending ratios would have shrunk by approximately twenty times the amount of the nonperforming loans. Then the banks’ assets and lending powers would have begun to implode. The other part of the problem included the fact that the US banks couldn’t accept and hold foreign assets to satisfy the loans.

Now for solving the problem. Brazil’s chief economist and I poured our efforts into putting together the Libra Proposal for Brazil that utilized the concept of debt-for-equity swaps. An outside group of individuals, or an entity, would agree to purchase a bad loan at an attractive discount from a US bank, and the new note would heal the bank. Thereupon, the new holders of the foreign note would take the note to Brazil’s government, which owed the debt, and agree to swap the note for some of the country’s assets to settle the debt. Those assets could include governmentcontrolled exports; natural resources such as oil concessions, mineral rights, and raw land; real estate, government-owned buildings, fishing rights, rights to ports and harbors; or any other service or commodity of equally agreed-upon value. Simply put, the indebted country could use its own assets to settle the debt when it couldn’t come up with the cash to pay. And everyone was better off.

The key to problem solving is to focus on identifying and defining the problem with new eyes of creativity until the solution becomes apparent.


PROBLEM SOLVING

Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This rang true for the vast majority of countries in which I worked for more than three decades. Most of these countries were in dire financial straits. There were observable and definable reasons why those financial problems existed. Long-standing patterns of economic and cultural abuse impeded financial growth and failed to alleviate poverty. Nearly all the dictators promised free health care and rural electrical service for the masses, but none sufficiently delivered on those promises. As a rule, most constituents were confined to subsistence farming and lacked access to markets. To break the shackles of dictatorial bondage, a different kind of thinking was required.

In the past several decades, some very creative ideas have been applied to those age-old economic problems. The implementation of cottage industries and microlending programs made a significant impact not only by facilitating market access and individual involvement in enterprise but by alleviating poverty as well.

Prior to founding Project C.U.R.E., I was involved in the investment and real-estate-development business. My success in earlier business ventures had partly resulted from a childhood understanding and use of the basic, old-fashioned concepts of countertrade and barter. As I alluded to earlier, the fundamental principle at the heart of a successful barter transaction, and in fact, the basis for all successful free-market endeavors is that everybody in the deal must end up better off.

Based on the barter-and-trade concepts I included in my first book What’cha Gonna Do with What’cha Got?, I received an invitation to speak at an economic gathering at the Ambassador West Hotel in Chicago on April 17, 1984. The purpose for the closed meeting was to explore ways to increase market share into lesser developed countries through international countertrade and barter. We hoped that as a result of our deliberations, we could find a way to bypass the unfair manipulation and corruption of the dictators and their cohort governments, who were skimming revenues off the top of their countries’ economies through exorbitant inflation and phony currency exchange rates. In attendance were top US leaders of commerce and international business. I shared with the group what I knew about the subject and then listened very carefully as others discussed their experiences and needs.

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There was such a great need for what we were trying to accomplish in the global economy! We were endeavoring to use a different kind of thinking to solve economic problems that had been created with flawed thinking.

Many of the issues we were trying to resolve reminded me of what Armand Hammer, one of my entrepreneurial heroes, had encountered as an international businessman. Creativity and ingenuity would be the answer to working around the greed, corruption, and bureaucracies of markets and governments in the developing world.

About halfway through the guarded sessions, I began to realize that I wasn’t there so much because I had a lot of magic bullets to offer, but because I needed to hear what was being said and consider the concepts being proposed. My thinking began to change during and after that Chicago meeting.

Shortly after the gathering, I was invited to attend a special economic focus meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, sponsored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. During the welcoming speech, we were told, “You are all economists, and we have brought you together to brainstorm how to develop practical economic models for lesser-developed countries. You are asked to be as creative as possible, using such economic components as countertrade, barter, cottage industries, microlending, incentive credits, or anything else you can think of. There are no holds barred as you put your economic models together.”

The meeting leaders went on to explain that the people living in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) would remain in bondage as long as they were controlled by the economic practices of repressive and manipulated governments. Changes would need to take place to free people from the systems of closed and oppressive economies. In other words, we couldn’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that was used when they were created.

We were divided into teams; seated at large, round tables; and instructed to get to work. We began by reviewing such classical economic concepts as scarcity, choice, and cost; land, labor, capital, and the entrepreneur; supply and demand; methods of fiscal responsibility; and closed economies versus free markets. We discussed the need to have a responsible government that could guarantee the enforcement of contracts and agreements. We included the necessity of having exclusive rights of private property to hold or transfer, and free enterprise with the possibility of personal incentives and profits. At our table, we included anything else we could think of to work into the mix.

The result of that meeting in Indianapolis was extremely significant not only in its application to future programs in the LDCs but as one of the touchstones in the developing economic philosophy of an organization that eventually became known as Project C.U.R.E.

To this day, we at Project C.U.R.E. are realizing in even greater measure that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.


CAMBODIA JOURNAL - 1999 (Part 7)

Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Hong Kong: Monday, November 15, 1999: Sally and Pitou arrived at the hotel early to take me out to breakfast, far away from the hotel’s chicken-giblet porridge. Sardm Mey, a man with the ministry of transportation who is in charge of railroad safety in Cambodia, drove us in his car. He’s part of the CMC team but wasn’t available to join us yesterday on our thirteen-hour road trip. Yim Youdavann, the other ministry lady, also joined us.

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When we got to the restaurant, guess what they had for breakfast? That’s right, chicken-giblet porridge and deep-fried bread. I asked if I could just have a simple bowl of noodles.

I didn’t have to be at the airport until about 3:00 p.m., so the morning was quite relaxed. Pitou wanted me to look at some articles of metal and some carved wooden furniture and rattan items for possible export to the US. If a market for any of the items can be identified, then Pitou will take it on as a project to possibly get the rural people involved in cottage industries to make the items to sell in the US. I told him my time is really packed full with the medical demands of Project C.U.R.E., but I would be happy to keep an ear open for any obvious possibilities.

I had to admit that the sightseeing and shopping in Phnom Penh did get a little out of hand, because I found exactly what I’ve been looking for to give Anna Marie next summer for our fortieth wedding anniversary. But since this journal entry is in advance of our anniversary date, I won’t disclose what I purchased for her.

While we were riding along, I couldn’t help reviewing the subject of Pol Pot’s ruthlessness and the fact that the incredible crimes of his regime have been ignored and the criminals have never been brought to justice. As we rode, Pitou added more bits of information to the story that he hadn’t already shared with me.

It amazes me how quickly I’ve become close friends with Sally, Pitou, the CMC team, as well as Setan, Randa, and Dr. Yutheasa. At the airport, they hung on to me as if I had also escaped from Cambodia’s terrible nightmare. Perhaps the even stronger bond we have is that of mutual love as we share in God’s grace and love.

As I flew back to Bangkok, Thailand, and caught a taxi to the Rama Gardens Hotel, my mind drifted back to everything I’ve learned on this trip about the rise of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot’s bloody regime, and the horrors of the killing fields of Cambodia. I don’t want to run the risk of redundancy but I do want to review in my own mind and capsulate in simplicity what I have learned about the dark history of Cambodia. I want to remember what I have learned.

Setan explained to me that the Khmer Rouge flourished and controlled Southeast Asia from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. It was deeply rooted in the cultural and political soil of Southeast Asia and China. The Khmer Rouge built the Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest religious building, which is still Cambodia’s most cherished national symbol.

During my conversations with Dr. Yutheasa, I began to understand that the French colonization of Cambodia in the 1860s didn’t do away with the pure Khmer ideology. Maybe it only tainted the ideology, and the Khmer deemed it necessary to purge it from Cambodia.

It also makes sense to me that when Cambodia was granted independence from France in 1953, Prince Norodom Sihanouk devised an ambitious plan to reunite the Khmer empire. But Pol Pot and his radical Communists overpowered Prince Sihanouk’s monarchy. They terrorized and purged the Cambodian society from 1975 to 1979, until Vietnam invaded the country and cut short the Khmer Rouge’s aggressive plans to expand the old empire.

When Vietnam withdrew in 1989, they left an intact government, with Hun Sen as prime minister. Hun Sen was also a Khmer Rouge member, as was Prince Sihanouk. In 1990, Hun Sen, the Khmer Rouge, the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, and supporters of Prince Sihanouk agreed to adopt a United Nations plan that created a Supreme National Council as an interim government and arranged for free elections to be held in 1993. The elections would be fair, peaceful, and free and would decide the new leadership. Four and a half million voters turned out and elected Prince Sihanouk as their leader, and he wasn’t even running as a candidate.

In a compromise, a new constitution was drawn up that declared Prince Sihanouk king of the kingdom of Cambodia with no administrative powers and granted Hun Sen and Sihanouk’s son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, shared administrative power as joint prime ministers. Since then, Hun Sen has become the only prime minister, and the prince has become speaker of the legislature. All the confusion spurred Pol Pot to restart his purging machine through guerrilla warfare in five of the twenty-one provinces of Cambodia.

Eventually government troops quelled the guerrilla gangs, and Pol Pot was declared dead in 1997. But strange as it may seem, before he died, he threw his support in favor of the prince and the Khmer Rouge.

My curiosity about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge will keep me searching for answers in the future. It’s no wonder that when I asked Dr. Yutheasa or Pitou or Setan about those years, they just rolled their eyes and said, “From the outside, it’s hard to understand the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian people.”

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It’s as if everyone is still a cotton tree, seeing nothing, thinking nothing, and saying nothing. But it makes a lot of sense to me why nothing has ever been done about the torture and murder of three million Cambodians in the worst kind of terrorism. And it makes sense to me why no effort has been made, or ever will be made, to bring the criminals to justice. No one wants to start unraveling the mystery or opening up the past, because even today the king, the prime minister, and all the other power centers are Khmer Rouge and are still closely tied philosophically, if not personally, to the Khmer Rouge organization throughout Southeast Asia, including Thailand and China. Everyone seems to understand full well that an investigation would implicate not only Pol Pot but nearly everyone else who is currently in power. Every Cambodian leader in some way bears some responsibility for the killing fields, and no one wants to open it up and reveal the level of involvement or the guilt associated with the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979.

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As one person said to me, “There has been too much bloodshed, there has been too much violence, and there has been too much sorrow and grief. Now is the time to forget everything and move on. Trying to dig into the past would only start the process all over again. It’s time to move on and live life and just put the killing fields behind us.”

Monday, November 15–Tuesday, November 16

After spending the night in Bangkok, I caught United flight 2 at 8:05 a.m. to Hong Kong. We changed equipment and were scheduled to resume the flight to Los Angeles at 12:10. But lo and behold, our Boeing 747 sprang an oil leak, and our flight was delayed and rescheduled to leave for the US at 7:30 p.m. By the time we actually departed Hong Kong and arrived in Los Angeles, we were well over eight hours late.

I know it might seem narrow-minded and quite impossible to believe, but United Airlines didn’t volunteer to hold my connecting flight from Los Angeles to Denver for those eight hours. Therefore, I had to play the standby and wait-list games to make a Denver connection and work my way back home. I must admit I was quite exhausted by the time I reached home and my own bed.

Cambodia is an extremely needy country, but I have confidence that God is going to allow Project C.U.R.E. to do a significant work in that shattered land in Southeast Asia.


CAMBODIA JOURNAL - 1999 ( Part 6)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Saturday, November 13, 1999: I was up at 4:30 a.m. Pitou, Sally, and I were going to try to cram everything we’d planned for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday into one day. I grabbed a little breakfast at 5:30 a.m. My stomach just wouldn’t respond positively to the thought of chicken-giblet porridge, so I settled for a pot of hot green tea and some good french bread with jam. Pitou and Sally wanted me to meet their team, so we arranged to take a thirteen-hour road trip together.

On our way out of town, we picked up Yim Youdavann, the government ministry lady who went with us on Wednesday to Takeo and to Angkor Chey. Sally’s brother, Sam Victor Thong, from Long Beach, California, also joined us. He escaped to the US with Pitou and Sally in 1975 and returned to Cambodia for the first time a year ago. He decided to join Sally and Pitou to help improve the lives of his countrymen.

As was explained before, Sally and Pitou’s experience with the Khmer Rouge wasn’t quite as traumatic as Setan’s and Randa’s. They were both in Thailand when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over the country, so they traveled directly from Thailand to the United States, where they were given political asylum in California. They lost everything and were separated for many years from family members, but Pitou was able to find employment as a civil engineer in Long Beach right away and was employed with the same department for twenty-five years before he retired with honor. They both became US citizens and returned to Phnom Penh for a visit in 1989. Both agreed that one day they would return to help the rural people of Cambodia. They both accepted Christ at a church in Long Beach and are now wonderful Christians. It was interesting to see that now other members of their family, like Sam Thong, are joining them in their efforts to help the Cambodian people.

The doctor who is a friend of Pitou’s and went with us to assess the military hospital in Phnom Penh, accompanied us today. His name is Dr. Hai Loewy Kauv, and he is part of Pitou’s medical team. Rounding out the team are Sary Som from the ministry of interior; Bun Thoeun Sao, a safety officer with the police department; and Chhoeuy Meas, a teacher at a Phnom Penh high school. The team goes by the name CMC (Cambodian Methodist Council).

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Three other men, all of whom are Koreans, work with Pitou and Sally but aren’t part of the CMC team. Pitou and Sally refer to them as their Tapioca Team. Jay Shin is a professional tapioca buyer; Nam Pyo Hong lived in Hanoi, Vietnam, for fifteen years and is currently an overseer at a factory in Phnom Penh; and Se Ha Yoo represents a bulk-commodities shipping company in Phnom Penh, SK Shipping, where he works as the general manager.

One of Pitou’s projects is to coordinate contracts between tapioca farmers and buyers. He gets buyers to sign a purchase contract and then gets rural farmers who have already agreed to work together to sign a contract to grow the tapioca. In the past, after the farmers had grown the crop and harvested it, the buyers would either cut the price so drastically at harvest time that no money could be made from the sale, or sometimes the buyers didn’t even show up to take the crop, and the farmers were left with spoiled tapioca and no money for the year’s efforts. Pitou’s plan to coordinate the production and sale of the tapioca should benefit everyone in the deal.

The Tapioca Team was joining us today to get acquainted with Project C.U.R.E. and view some of the tapioca farms.

There were too many of us for one van, so Pitou hired another van and driver. Our route took us south and east out of Phnom Penh toward Vietnam through the province of Kandal. Once out of the heart of Phnom Penh, it didn’t take us long to run into more Grand Canyon roads. The motorcycles were actually traveling much faster than we were because they could more easily swerve around the washouts and huge potholes.

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About 11:00 a.m., one of the van’s engines threw off a fan belt from the water pump and generator. The diesel engine quickly overheated, and the driver was forced to pull to the side of the road. Spare parts aren’t readily available in rural Cambodia, so we were stuck. Sally had brought along some steamed rice and meat, and we had plenty of drinking water, so about fifteen of us sat alongside the country road and had an early lunch.

Then the team members fanned out and went in search of a properly fitting fan belt. Since I didn’t know how to say, “Fan belt for Mitsubishi van” in Cambodian, I stayed with the vehicle.

About two hours later, a belt was located, and all the male helpers managed to repair the problem. But when the driver tried to start the engine, he found that a couple of the valves were sticking because the engine had overheated, and the van wouldn’t even pull its own weight, let alone all the passengers.

From that point on in the journey, we all got real friendly and cozy and very well acquainted. All fourteen of us, plus the driver, piled into one van, and we proceeded on our thirteen-hour journey. I forgot to add that there was no air-conditioning in the van.

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When we arrived in the town of Neak Leung, we waited to cross by ferry over the Mekong River. We picked a national-holiday weekend for our trip, so hundreds of people were packed in the backs of trucks and trailers headed for other towns to visit family and friends. The ferryboats were crossing the wide river as fast as possible, and the town was crowded with vendors selling their steamed shrimp, roasted bananas, cooked chickens, fruits, cakes, fried breads, and Coca-Cola. The vendors carried big platters on their heads and sold to the hungry people in the trucks waiting to cross the river.

The three men from Korea all speak very good English. They asked some leading questions about Project C.U.R.E., and I, without blushing or shame, took outright advantage of their captivity inside the van. I told them all about the eighty countries into which we are shipping donated medical supplies and equipment, and how we procure and distribute the goods.

Then they asked the leading question. “Well, Dr. Jackson, if you don’t receive any salary for what you’re doing, why do you leave your home and travel all over the world to do it?”

Bingo!

I started telling my story from the very beginning about the change God brought about in my life, and the fact that I’m the happiest man in the world. They just sat in shock and said nothing. I decided to interrupt the quiet time and tell them that I needed them to help me. I needed Se Ha Yoo, the shipping man, to introduce me to people in the industry who could start shipping containers around the world at no cost for Project C.U.R.E.

I suggested that Mr. Shin and Mr. Hong find organizations, industrialists, and businessmen to get involved in helping us finance the operation of Project C.U.R.E. The slow, hot, crowded ride wasn’t turning out so badly after all.

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From the ferryboat crossing at Neak Leung, we headed almost straight north to the city of Prey Veng. About thirty minutes out of Prey Veng, a rural area with about four thousand families and no health-care facility, the Tapioca Team agreed that if Pitou can secure the supplies and equipment, they will build a nice clinic. The health ministry has already agreed to staff the venture if the facility is available.

After viewing two alternative sites for the new clinic in Prey Veng, we continued our trip northward to the province of Kampong Cham via the city of Chup. As we headed west at Chup, we traveled through miles of land where the jungle had been cleared years ago, and rubber trees were planted. The trees are very mature now and have probably been producing rubber for a long time.

Once again we ran into the giant Mekong River meandering its way through the country to the South China Sea. At the town of Tonlé Bet, we waited in line in the hot sun for a ferryboat to take us to the west side of the river.

During our time together, individual team members wanted to talk about Project C.U.R.E. and my strange story of giving away my accumulated wealth to follow God’s leading. I could tell that the story bothered them.

The shipping manager said, “How could you possibly do that? I spend every minute of my time trying to earn money for myself.”

My response was simple, “And just what do you plan to do with it all when that’s all you have and nothing else?”

By that time darkness had fallen in the jungle and over the rice paddies, but vivid memories were stuck in my head. In my mind as I closed my eyes, I could still see against the blue Cambodian sky, the silhouettes of thousands of simple thatched- and tin-roofed houses built on stilts. I could still see families sitting in their covered-table areas close to the road as they entertained family members and neighbors. Some rural family members hand-thrashed the stalks of rice by beating the rice heads against a slanted board, which caught the rice and directed it to the ground. I could still see the big black water buffalo wallowing in the harvested rice fields and munching on the stubble.

In my mind were pictures of old women spreading the rice on mats alongside the road so that the breeze from passing cars and trucks would blow away the chaff. I could see literally thousands of small Cambodian children swimming and diving in the muddy water in the rivers and ditches. And of course, I could still see countless motorcycles streaming past me, and the many miles of pothole-ridden roads built on top of the rice-field dikes.

To be able to be in Cambodia mingling with the people, not as a tourist, but as someone who has come to help them in their time of need, is an inexpressible privilege. For some reason, God has placed a deep love and concern way down inside of me for the hurting people in his universe. I never dreamed I would fall in love with the Asian people, who have so many needs and whose lives are so complex.

The cities of Vat Nokor and Skuon rushed by in the darkness, and off in the distance, I could see the lights of Phnom Penh. I’m happy and thankful that I followed through with the last-minute plans to travel to Cambodia. Maybe I will return someday, or maybe I will just live with vivid memories locked inside my head. But by being obedient and traveling to Cambodia, something has been set into action, and once Project C.U.R.E. containers start finding their way into this country, the health-care system and the lives of hurting, needy people will never be the same. On this dark Cambodian night, I wonder what the future will hold in this exciting, ongoing adventure.

Next Week: Trying to draw lines between the dots so that I will never forget Cambodia