It’s imperative that integrity be the cornerstone of any endeavor where everyone is expected to be better off. Napoleon Hill declared, “I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure, unless built upon truth and justice; therefore, I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects.”

I agree with Warren Buffett’s curt advice about employing people:    In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence,  and energy.  But the most important is integrity, because if they don’t have that the other two . . . will kill you.

Integrity is a precious commodity, and when it is compromised or put up for sale in the marketplace of life, the result is always moral and cultural bankruptcy.

Integrity has to do with consistent behavior stemming from a core group of values or virtues. When we speak of someone’s integrity, we often use descriptors like honesty, principles, truthfulness, strength of character, or incorruptibility. Probably the most common descriptor used for the lack of integrity is hypocrisy, because there is an observable disconnect between the projected expectation and the actual behavior.

While working in Somalia in 2001, I was shocked by two glaring examples of the lack of integrity that impacted the culture of that historic nation. The first had to do with the presumption of the citizens that the new president possessed “integrity, intelligence, and energy.” In the early days of his regime, Siad Barre had dreams of unifying the twelve major tribes of Somalia and developing a strong economy by emphasizing national loyalty and pride instead of clan individualities.

He realized he needed outside help and readily fell into the trap of accepting that “help” from the Soviet Union. He swallowed the Marxist-Leninist ideals of Communism and took control of the markets. Those concepts and practices were an irritant to the independent and more entrepreneurial tribal clans of Somalia.

The Soviets came creeping in, wrapping their tentacles around every life-giving artery of Somalia. But when Barre invaded Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviets cut off aid to Somalia and began to channel their military support and supplies to the Ethiopian government. They also brought in thousands of Cuban troops to drive the Somali military out of the country.

At that point, Siad Barre began endearing himself to the United States. He played the Soviets against the US to get his best deal. The US wanted to stop the Soviet expansion throughout Africa, as well as Soviet aggression in Ethiopia, so they agreed to pump millions of dollars of economic aid into Somalia and arm Barre with the latest and most sophisticated military weaponry to protect himself from the Soviets.

After the Soviets pulled out of Somalia in the late seventies, economic growth began taking place. However, Siad Barre became enamored with his own greatness and power, and his regime assumed a cultish personality intolerant of any challenge or criticism. The different Somalian clans resented the regime’s elitist cruelty, but Barre abandoned all thought of unity and resorted to control by pitting the twelve clans against each other. The clan warlords, in turn, began plotting Barre’s assassination. All of that chaos eventually became the setting for the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993.

In the years leading up to this incident, when Siad Barre still wielded power, life in Somalia continued to deteriorate. Wherever there were pockets of discontent, Barre would send his trusted troops to machine-gun down all the livestock herds and throw into prison anyone who might speak out against him. He even sent his men into the northern areas of Somalia to poison the water wells of his own people. Eventually he utilized his military arsenal of bombs, tanks, airplanes, rifles, mortars, and other weapons that the US and Soviet governments had supplied to him and employed them to murder his own people.

In 1988, during a visit to the northern seaport city of Hargeisa (with a population of half a million people), Barre declared that he would punish the people for their disloyalty. He loaded the bombers he had received from the Soviets and the US and deployed them from Hargeisa’s international airport to destroy the buildings, water systems, industries, and homes in an ethnic-cleansing effort.6 Very seldom in history can you find anything as sinister or evil as what President Barre perpetrated upon Somalia. He also strafed and bombed other Somali cities, like Berbera and Burao, and eventually Mogadishu. The entire country of Somalia was left in shambles. 

After twenty-one years of murder, deceit, and skullduggery, Siad Barre foiled an assassination plot and escaped with his money to Kenya and then to Zimbabwe. Finally he died in Nigeria in 1995. Siad Barre had possessed intelligence and energy, but he lacked integrity.

A second glaring example of perfidy and treachery in Somalia included the United Nations. During the genocide, Somali citizens were desperately trying to escape the country as refugees and appealed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for help. Somehow the rampant lack of integrity engulfing Somalia washed over the UN as well. The incident took place while I was in Somalia, and it became a textbook case of “mess up” and disgrace.

The United Nations’ employees who were in charge of filling certain refugee quotas to countries such as Great Britain, Canada, and the United States were charging refugees up to $5,000, or more, in US currency to process their applications and place them in the host countries.8 That money went straight into the pockets of the UN employees. They would make the penniless refugees pay fifty shillings just to get inside the waiting room to talk to a UN individual. It was discovered that UN employees would actually sell false documentation, phony identification papers, and bogus case histories to enable people who weren’t even refugees to “resettle” in the United States. The UN admitted that four staff members were suspected of soliciting money from the displaced persons they were paid handsomely to assist.

UN officials came to the defense of their workers by insisting that they were really the victims in the situation. The UN had been informed for the previous two years of the employees’ scam but claimed that the employees had been placed in very difficult and stressful positions. Outsiders just couldn’t understand the unbearable pressures the employees had been under, or the temptations they had been subjected to when there were thousands of refugees seeking asylum in developed countries, and limited openings in those countries.

Finally, the United Nations directors reassigned the UN workers to locations where the pressure wouldn’t be so “unbearable,” but they made that decision only when some refugees, who had paid $5,000 but were never selected to go to the United States, threatened to kill the extortionists. The UN had to then protect their poor, victimized representatives. No one was held accountable or punished for the bribery scam. The UN employees had intelligence and energy but did not possess integrity.

It really wasn’t safe to go to Somalia when I did. There was no central government, no rule of law, no infrastructure, no civilized politics or security. But the Somali community of Denver had literally begged Project C.U.R.E. to go there with one of their members and assess the medical needs of Somaliland, since the entire healthcare delivery system of the country was broken, and all of the medical facilities had been ransacked, leaving the people without access to medical supplies. We felt that Project C.U.R.E. could significantly improve the healthcare delivery system and greatly influence the everyday lives of Somalia’s people for many years to come.

I was astounded at the absence of integrity I witnessed in Somalia and was reminded of an old Rwandan proverb I had learned in Kigali: You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.

I believe that sometimes we are commissioned to go into dark situations with the match of goodness to rekindle the fire and fan the flame of compromised integrity.


The very fact that you’re alive tells me that you are encountering risks. It’s been said that “the person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”

We usually describe risk as “a state of uncertainty where some of the possibilities involve a loss, catastrophe, or other undesirable outcome.” Of course, the other side of risk includes the possibility of gaining something of value.

When I was young and starting out in business, I always felt that I could well afford to run the risks of failure, because in failure I really didn’t have that much to lose. I could take the lumps, count the cost, pick up the pieces, and start over again. I didn’t mind going out on a limb because that was where the fruit was growing. My attitude was that if I pushed to the very brink, I would be shown a way to proceed on the ground, or else I would be taught how to fly. After all, how was I to know how far I could go in a venture if I hadn’t run the risk of going too far?

But the more I accumulated, the more the idea of risk became an issue.The more I had to lose, the more seriously I considered my options, choices, and consequences. I learned several times that I was very vulnerable and had a lot to lose. That prompted me to start developing some skills of risk assessment and some practices of risk aversion. I was discovering that in my business dealings, I was developing a risk attitude, and I began measuring my decisions against a rather clumsy gauge of rate of gain versus rate of ruin. Somewhere in the adventure, I was being exposed to concepts like regret and fear of loss.

When I became involved in international business and traveling with Project C.U.R.E., I was glad I had learned some things about risk taking.There were situations in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Palestine, Russia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and even Kenya where the risks involved my very life and safety. God’s protection, some carefully made decisions, and the help of many friends in more than 150 countries averted the serious consequences of some of those perilous risks.

In one of my Project C.U.R.E. offices, I had a map of the world affixed to the wall. One day I made a statement to the people visiting me: “If you were to stand on this side of the room and throw a dart at the map, provided the dart didn’t land on water or snow, within a three-inch radius of the dart, I would have a friend who would be willing to risk his or her life to help me out of danger.”

That was a rather audacious statement, I know. But it was based on the fact that I had worked in nearly every corner of the world, and the unusually positive influence of Project C.U.R.E. had enabled me to develop many deep-rooted relationships with people who would have put themselves in harm’s way to come to my rescue.

Taking a risk is an interesting concept. It includes the possibility of loss or injury, or at least the inconvenience of an imposing circumstance.And there is a notion that choice has something to do with whether or not the outcome is altered. Risk taking can get complicated. The consequences of my risks can splash over onto other people around me and affect their lives and well-being. We’re hardly ever isolated, stand-alone objects in situations that include risks.The events set into motion by our choices, as well as the eventual consequences, will usually invade the lifestyles of our families and friends.

As I’ve reflected on my statement regarding the map in my office, I realize that there would be no need for someone to come and help me were I not involved in a high-risk circumstance. The willingness of my friends to come to my rescue would imply that they would be placing themselves in a risk-taking situation because I was already in trouble. 

Our culture teaches us to seek safety and security, but as Mark Twain used to say, “Necessity is the mother of taking chances.”  And I am in theologian Paul Tillich’s corner when he observed, “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”

I personally believe that no noble thing can be accomplished without taking risks, and ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they’re encouraged to be confident, to stand tall, and to fully engage those calculated risks.  


Steven R. Covey offered some of the best advice available when he said that “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

As a cultural economist, I deal continuously with the economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost. Everything that exists is a scarce commodity. That isn’t to say that there is an immediate shortage of something or that something is “as scarce as hen’s teeth”—because there aren’t any hen’s teeth. But something is deemed scarce because everything that exists has alternative uses. People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources. Scarcity is called the “basic economic problem,” meaning that the problem always exists.

Ultimately, a choice has to be made to determine how a resource will be used. We have to choose the alternative we most highly desire. Sometimes we may think that cost deals only with dollars and cents. But in a truer sense, the cost of the alternative we choose is the loss of the value of the next highest alternative we forgo in making our choice. In other words, the real cost is the value of the alternative we could have had but decided to do without.

When we say that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” we’re dealing with the subject of priorities, which is the arrangement of precedence and preference regarding certain resources, supplies, or services. We first have to decide what the main thing is?  Then we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.

Consistent priority ranking is a difficult assignment on a personal basis. It’s an even tougher assignment on an international and cultural basis. Let me illustrate this from my travel journals: 

      Shortly after the tragic genocide situation in Rwanda, I traveled in a Volkswagen van from Kampala, Uganda, to Kigali, Rwanda. There had been nearly one million people murdered in the short span of one hundred days during the Hutu-Tutsi slaughter. It was one of the most heart-breaking incidents I had experienced in over thirty years of international travel. Limbs of dead bodies still protruded out of shallow graves. The economy was in shambles, and all was chaos. For the most part, the world totally ignored the tragedy and even the UN and the US refused to use the word “genocide” and chose not to send help. Project C.U.R.E. went there to help. 

    Upon my arrival in Kigali, I met with a lady named Christine. She was in her thirties, very knowledgeable and articulate, and was in charge of administering the offices of the cabinet members. She was openly supportive and appreciative of Project C.U.R.E., and I presented to her the inventory list of the cargo container from Project C.U.R.E. that had just arrived. She took the time to brief me on the genocide situation and I asked her if she had stayed in the country or fled to another country.  She said that she had stayed in Kigali, and had witnessed the bloody attacks on the innocent citizens.  

    Christine also acted as the minister of rehabilitation and social in­tegration.  She asked about crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetic equipment for those who had been left disabled by the war. They were in desperate need, and no one else was coming to their aid. Almost a million people had been murdered, and there were hundreds of thousands of other suffering human victims.
     I expressed my surprise that others were not quickly coming to their aid: “While I have been in Kigali, I’ve seen scores of new, white Toyota Land Cruisers and new Land Rovers driving the streets of the city with the fanciest and newest of optional equipment added on. I’ve seen many NGO (nongovernmental organization) personnel sitting and conversing in the restaurants of Kigali. I just presumed that all those resources had arrived in Rwanda to aid in the horrible genocide crisis.” 
     Christine hesitated, then turned and looked out the window. “I’m sorry you saw that. No, those new resources and personnel are not here to bring help to the victims of the genocide. They’ve come as a result of a new grant of over fifty million dollars to further the ongoing study of the eating, mating, and sleeping habits of the gorillas in our forests. I wish there were some way to get our priorities straight.” 

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Keeping the main thing the main thing sometimes becomes a knotty problem. As I mentioned earlier, we’re the ones that ultimately have to make the decisions regarding the arrangement of precedence and preference of all resources, supplies, or services.

People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources can supply. But the old economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost can help us remember this advice: We first have to decide what the main thing is and then, we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.




(Nigeria, Africa Journal: November, 2000): Featuring Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, a couple of years ago turned out to be a great hit, and I knew the emphasis on Ethiopia and Project C.U.R.E.’s work there would likewise be a winner.

But no one from Ethiopia could break away to travel to Denver to speak at the banquet. Their political situation with Eritrea is tenuous enough that the leadership has been forced to stay very close to home. So the banquet committee volunteered me to speak for the event. I protested the prospect of speaking for a couple of reasons. First, I preferred continuing the tradition of having an international speaker for the event to give the occasion a little global importance and credibility. Second, we’ve been trying to broaden the leadership base of Project C.U.R.E. so that the identity and emphasis of the organization aren’t tied too closely to Jim Jackson.

The more I’m featured or put up front, the less effective we are at portraying the truth that the Project C.U.R.E. phenomenon has very little to do with me and everything to do with the people who have come together to carry out the mission of saving lives around the world through medical donations. To feature me as speaker, in my opinion, would mean taking some steps backward in our efforts to legitimately display the new levels and personalities of Project C.U.R.E. leadership. Project C.U.R.E. is healthy and strong and has long since grown past me in leadership procedures and position.

In order for Project C.U.R.E. to expand toward excellence in the future, the image and leadership base needs to move forward with lots of new blood.

But I was outvoted, and as I thought and prayed about an approach to take for my speech, it dawned on me that nearly everyone knows by now what Project C.U.R.E. is, what we do, where we do it, and under what circumstances we get involved in humanitarian activities in countries around the world. However, I couldn’t remember a time when I had articulated precisely why Project C.U.R.E. does what it does.

So at the banquet, I disclosed that, in my opinion, there is a true and positive correlation between the success of Project C.U.R.E. and the degree of relinquishment our volunteers and staff members bring to the organization. To explain this concept of relinquishment, I shared with our guests the story of Johnny Appleseed, who trudged across the countryside in the frontier territories of early America. In his grubby leather pouch, he carried apple seeds, knowing full well that one can count the number of seeds in an apple, but one cannot count the number of apples in a seed.

As the legendary frontiersman walked the land, he would take from his pouch the apple seeds, stoop to scoop out some soil, and drop the apple seeds into the earth. He relinquished his rights to his seeds in an on-purpose effort to grow apple trees, which would produce an abundant harvest of apples. Obviously he wouldn’t be there to claim the harvested apples, but he rested in the knowledge that pioneers and pilgrims who would follow him would benefit greatly as they reaped the fruits of his efforts of relinquishment.

I believe that same attitude of relinquishment, with no determined thought of personal return, is the key element in the extraordinary success of Project C.U.R.E.

I went on to explain that the true measure of greatness will always be determined by how well we care for others, not how much we accumulate for ourselves. Our culture places great importance on how high we can heap up wealth to fill the grocery carts of our lives in the shortest amount of time. Those who have the fullest carts at the checkout counter will win the prize. But even though we are programmed to grab things for ourselves, we can never get enough. Therefore, we almost have to go counterculture when we embrace the idea that success comes through giving and not through getting. In that respect, Project C.U.R.E. is counterculture.

The motivation behind our accumulation, I believe, should be the recognized opportunities for distribution, and we need organizations like Project C.U.R.E. as vehicles to allow us to experience such expressions. I challenged our guests to spend at least as much time in their lives on distribution as they do on accumulation. That would be a good place to start.

I expressed that more than likely, our greatest fulfillment in life is achieved through giving. Because what I hoard I can lose, and what I try to keep will be left behind and fought over by others. But what I give will continue to multiply and will forever generate a return—just like the trees Johnny Appleseed planted.

My final challenge to our dinner guests was for all of us to assume a posture of standing on our tiptoes in eager expectation of opportunities to give ourselves away and learn from personal experience in the years we have left the true thrill and satisfaction and joy of relinquishment.

The banquet took place on Saturday, November 18. That day, I experienced another rare thrill and opportunity. My grandson, Jace, is nine years old. He just finished his very first season of playing in an organized football league. Serendipitously, I was invited to bring a guest with me to a Denver Broncos open house and junior training camp at their Dove Valley headquarters. Of course, my chosen guest was Jace. At the open house, the Broncos staff showed us highlight films, fed us lunch, and gave us a complete tour of the Broncos’ workout rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms, classrooms, and practice fields. We even went to the artificial-turf field enclosed in a gigantic fabric air bubble, where the Bronco players and trainers put the fifty or so of us through fundamental drills and patterns.

Jace was absolutely beside himself with excitement. To complete his football dream day, he collected autographs from some of the players and even had his number-30 Broncos jersey personally signed by his football hero Terrell Davis, who wears a number-30 jersey in real life.

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Out in the lobby, a professional photographer took a picture of Jace and his “papa” standing in front of the sterling-silver Vince Lombardi trophies presented to the Denver Broncos when they won their two world-championship Super Bowl victories. Recalling the following Vince Lombardi’s memorable quote really put me in the mood to stand in front of the Project C.U.R.E. crowd at the banquet and talk about relinquishment and changing our world:

After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your own room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.

Maybe it was okay that I had to speak that night.       


(Nigeria, Africa Journal: November, 2000): Just why would I ever agree to go back to Nigeria? I’ve come closer to physical harm and danger in Nigeria than perhaps any other country in my twenty years of international travel. I’ll always hear ringing in my ears the sincere voice of the lady customs official at the airport in Lagos. When the people assigned to pick me up had failed to show, she sternly advised me, “Do not trust anyone here at the Lagos airport—not even me. Those people who are so aggressively soliciting you know you are American. You have what they want, and they will kill you to get it. Do not talk to any of them. Do not give them your name or the names of any of your contacts in Nigeria. Do not exchange money with them, and above all, do not get in a car with them or go any place with them.

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They are here to kidnap and hold you for ransom or, more easily, put you in their car and rob you, and should you try to resist, they will drive out a short distance and kill you, and no one will ever know what happened to you. Back up against that wall with your luggage in front of you and silently wait for your people to come and retrieve you.”

But no one came to pick me up, and I couldn’t buy a plane ticket at the Lagos airport. The customs lady had my full attention. She was the only official at the airport, but she was only an immigration and customs agent. There were plenty of individuals in ragtag, mishmash police or military uniforms. But none were legitimate. They were only scam artists, and their uniforms were merely props to get people to place their confidence in them. In Lagos there is only lawlessness, and everyone has to fend for themselves.

The current travel warnings are the same for this trip as they were for previous trips. The US State Department has warned in effect that violent crimes are perpetrated by ordinary criminals, as well as persons in police and military uniforms.

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 Kidnapping for ransom remains common, especially in the Niger Delta area. The use of public transportation throughout Nigeria is dangerous and should be avoided. Taxis pose risks because of fraudulent or criminal operators and poorly maintained vehicles. Most Nigerian airlines have aging fleets, and there are valid concerns that maintenance and operational procedures may be inadequate to ensure passenger safety.

Just thirty days before this trip, news-wire services reported outbreaks of violence between Nigeria’s two largest tribes. People died in the fighting, and bodies were strewn in the streets of Lagos. I learned that thousands have been killed in ethnic and religious violence since President Olusegun Obasanjo took office last year, ending fifteen years of military rule. The recent clashes broke out between the Hausa tribe from northern Nigeria, who are predominantly Muslims, and the Yoruba tribe from southern Nigeria, who are mostly Christians.

As you may recall from a previous journal entry, God sent an angel named Vera and her husband, Innocent, to rescue me from the dangerous Lagos-airport episode. They made me promise I would return to Nigeria someday and visit them. They are wonderful Christians, and Vera confided to me that God had told her to go to the lobby of the airport and meet a Christian American man who desperately needed help. She was obedient, and I was rescued.

I received perhaps a half-dozen official Request for Assistance forms from needy medical organizations in Nigeria begging Project C.U.R.E. to travel there and perform Needs Assessment Studies at their facilities so they could qualify for help.

I had conveniently filed those requests in my file drawer. Then in June of this year, a letter from Vera and Innocent landed on my desk. At the same time, an urgent plea came to me from the Cecilia Memorial Hospital and Clinic in Imo State, Nigeria. Pastor Leo Emenaha said he had been waiting since February 1998 for Project C.U.R.E. to travel to his hospital and complete the assessment. How much longer would I delay?

I rearranged some other commitments and decided to sandwich the trip between my trip to northeast India, our big Project C.U.R.E. annual fund-raising banquet in Denver, and our annual Christmas brunch on December 9, when Anna Marie and I will host about sixty Project C.U.R.E. guests in our Evergreen home.

I had a strong sense that I should make the trip but approached the travel preparations with the simple conviction that if God really wanted me to travel back to Nigeria before the end of the year, he would have to intervene in working out the details. Pastor Emenaha would have to come up with the funds for the Needs Assessment Study, invitation letters would have to be secured for the Nigerian embassy in Washington, D.C., and the proper visa would have to be obtained for my passport.

Strangely enough, the details of the trip came together over the following weeks. I was scheduled to depart Denver the day after Thanksgiving and return home late at night on December 3. The deadlines were tight, with Doug picking up my returned passport from the Washington, D.C., embassy at the FedEx office in Littleton, Colorado, five minutes before they closed for the Thanksgiving holiday on Wednesday night.

My trip to India just a couple of weeks ago left me pretty exhausted. I think the emotional strain of India itself, plus the nerve-wracking episodes with the military and insurgency fighters in Manipur State, and our efforts to get out of the mess back to Calcutta “wore me slick,” as my friend Jim Claunch used to say. I was very grateful to exit India without serious harm.

Our Project C.U.R.E. banquet at the big Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Denver on November 18 turned out to be a great success and inspiration. Many people expended a lot of time and effort to make the event such a memorable occasion.

We had desperately tried to get the prime minister of Ethiopia or Seeye Abraha, the former commander and chief of the Ethiopia armed forces, to speak at the event. I personally felt that Ethiopia needed a bully pulpit from which to present their survival story to the press and their friends in America. The Project C.U.R.E. venue would have been perfect for such a speech. Furthermore, our medical team just returned from Ethiopia and had some great experiences that would have tied in nicely. Also, we’re currently preparing to send eleven more forty-foot cargo containers of donated medical goods to Ethiopia at a value of about $4.5 to $5 million.

Featuring Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, a couple of years ago turned out to be a great hit, and I knew the emphasis on Ethiopia and Project C.U.R.E.’s work there would likewise be a winner.

But no one from Ethiopia could break away to travel to Denver to speak at the banquet. Their political situation with Eritrea is tenuous enough that the leadership has been forced to stay very close to home.
Next Week: SO, WHO IS TO SPEAK?                 


               REALLY GOOD NEWS: Winston Crown Publishing House is excitedly working on a total compilation of all of Dr. James W. Jackson’s actual field journals and transition journals 83 – 2008, under the titles of  “ROADS I’VE TRAVELED DELIVERING HEALTH AND HOPE.” This epic undertaking will include twelve separate books containing all the stories, international incidents, colorful individuals, step-by-step growth and progress of Project C.U.R.E., and venues of over 150 countries. . . plus his personal photos. We will keep you updated and informed.

(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): The Needs Assessment Study at the Oking Hospital in Kohima, Nagaland, had to be one of the high points of Project C.U.R.E.’s history. Our hosts told me that Project C.U.R.E. is the first organization from the outside to ever come and help them. As soon as we finished our study at the hospital, Puii and Dr. Thongu asked if we would like a tour of their mountaintop city.

It was about 12:30 p.m. when we arrived at the marketplace. I think if I could just stroll through the Kohima market about noon each day of my life, I would be able to save lots of money otherwise spent for lunches. As we entered the market, Puii reminded me that the Naga people have been highly regarded historically as hunters. That fact was underscored immediately as I spotted dead monkeys offered there for butchering and cooking. Just a few yards away were squirrels hanging by their hind legs, and below them were ordinary small birds for the picking.

On the market table to my left were quarters of small deer cut up but with the hair and hides still on. Then I saw what I didn’t necessarily want to see: short-haired, tan dogs split open from their nostrils to their tails and cleaned and ready for sale. As we moved on through the open market, other exotic scenes jumped out at us. Two older women were kneeling behind their sales table working on a meat product. While I was trying to determine what they were so diligently working on, I almost missed the huge, hairy object lying quite limply on top of the table. It was the entire forearm of a very large black bear. I had Drew hold the heavy arm up so I could take a picture of the prize. One old woman had just managed to sever it from the rest of the huge body, and they were now on the ground skinning out the bear’s body with careful precision so as to perfectly preserve the hide, which would be sold separately.

Having spent a considerable bit of time in Asia, I realized what a prize possession the woman had brought to market. Bear meat is valuable, and except for being a bit greasy, it tastes like pork. But the value of the bear is really in the bones and organs and such things as its paws, claws, and skull. The Asians hold in high respect the medicinal value of spare bear parts as much as they desire deer horns.

Toward the end of the first set of market tables were stacked the displays of nutritious and protein-laden worms. Several different kinds of larvae and worms were available. There were some quite small in size; these worms were taken from the tender part of the bamboo stalks. Then there was another selection of red, caterpillar-type worms about three inches long. Those were very lively. Next to the red worms were several varieties of plump, ivory-colored worms. But the prize objects were the huge insect nests harboring the black-bee larvae. The bees were black only after they had hatched and formed tough shells. The larvae were white, with little yellow mouths. The combs or nests were two to three feet in diameter and were brought to market intact so as not to disturb the wiggling larvae. People buy the nests and take them home quite quickly, because the longer the nests stay at the market, the more the larvae hatch, and then the product has a way of crawling away. Once in the purchaser’s kitchen, the larvae are coaxed out of the nests with prods and tweezers to be prepared for the meal.

As I viewed the huge black-bee nests, my heart and sympathy went out to the poor hunter who had to sneak into the insects’ habitation to steal and carry away the large hives. There had to be some unhappy hornets or war-waging wasps somewhere looking for their offspring.

We walked on past a display of wild boars and snails, big and small. But at the table where they were peddling huge spiders, we stopped and gawked. The vendors fold newspapers into envelopes, then corral about thirty to fifty very large, long-legged spiders, and herd them into the envelope. The spiders were black with yellowish stripes along their bodies. Puii told us how very good and nutritious they are and bought a package of them to take home.

Drew was overjoyed at the thought of eating large spiders for dinner. But as Providence would have it, we were invited to the home of Dr. Thongu’s brother for dinner. He is a high government official in Nagaland, and we thoroughly enjoyed the dinner and hospitality, as well as the opportunity to get acquainted with the official.

Tuesday, November 7–Wednesday, November 8
I woke up Tuesday morning with a smile on my face. Drew and I will be starting our long journey home. Puii wanted to take me out into her lovely greenhouse and show me one more miracle before we left India. “During the dry part of the year, our town of Kohima has problems with fresh-water supplies. But we must have fresh water for our hospital. So, I began to pray for a source of fresh water that would not dry up during the hot, dry months. God showed me a place in my garden where I should dig for a well of fresh water. I dug a hole about twelve feet deep with a shovel, and I suddenly hit a water supply here on the side of our hill.”

Puii showed me the well and the pump and pipes. “The level of water in my well never goes down, even when it gets hot and dry here in Kohima. We pump the water from this well up to large storage tanks. Then we draw water from the storage tanks to take the fresh water to our hospital. I have been doing that for about three years, and we have plenty of fresh water for our hospital.”

Then she added a remarkable twist to the story: “All of our neighbors dug wells when they saw the amount of water we discovered. But even though they’ve gone down to a depth of fifty feet by hand digging, no one else has found water. I believe God put that well in my backyard so we could always have fresh water at our hospital.”

I left the doctor’s home with so much admiration and respect for this Christian couple. Their hard work, discipline, frugality, and absolute confidence and obedience certainly must make God smile everyday! 



(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): Indian Airlines flight 7256 departed Calcutta and headed northeast to Nagaland’s capital. Dimapur. I really didn’t think John and Evelyn would be there to meet us. Yet I still had peace about making the decision to go on to Nagaland, and I was confident some local contact would pick us up at the airport. But to my great surprise and delight, standing just outside the security door were John and Evelyn waiting for us, along with Dr. Vike Thongu. I breathed a prayer of true thanks.

The capital city of Dimapur wasn’t our destination city today. We planned to travel on to the city of Kohima, which serves a population of about three hundred thousand. After a bit of lunch at a Dimapur restaurant, we set out in Dr. Thongu’s Mitsubishi four-by-four for the two-hour ride to Kohima. Dimapur is down in a broad river valley, so we began to climb almost immediately as we left the city. We were headed back up into the lower Himalayan Mountains, where the inhabitants build their villages and cities on the steep mountainsides and ridgetops. The foliage and terrain were much like that of eastern Mizoram and Manipur but not quite as tropical. Being farther north meant more eucalyptus trees and fewer banana trees, but there was still a lot of thick underbrush, indicating some pretty heavy annual rainfall.                           
After being jostled for two hours, we arrived in Kohima. The people definitely looked more Mongol, like those you would see in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Cambodia; Thailand; Vietnam; or even southern China, and not at all like the Punjabi or Sikh Indians of Delhi, Bombay, or Calcutta.

Dr. Thongu is a gracious man. He said he wished to take us to his home to meet his wife and family and to see his house. After we met his family and viewed his home, we could then decide if we wanted to stay with them or at the hotel where they had made reservations for us. I thought that to be a pretty classy approach.

To our delight, the doctor’s home was very comfortable and probably one of the finest residences in the city. Drew and I took one look inside and agreed that the doctor’s home would be just right for the next two nights. Most homes are built on pillars embedded in the steep hillsides, but all four corners of Dr. Thongu’s home were actually on mother earth.

The doctor’s wife, Puii, was very hospitable and efficient and welcomed us graciously into their home. She even had a cozy fire going in the dining room, with hot tea and breads waiting for us. John and Evelyn also stayed at the doctor’s home.

From the fireplace, I could see into the kitchen, where the hired help was preparing the dinner on open fires beneath vented hoods. It was all like a photo in a National Geographic magazine. Nearly everyone we met in Nagaland was Christian. As I mentioned earlier, Nagaland’s population is about 80 percent Christian as the result of the early missionary influence. The doctor and Puii are very strong believers and said they had prayed earnestly for some group to come to Kohima to help them.

The inhabitants of Nagaland are great hunters. Before Christianity came to the area, they were a warring people and were quite vicious headhunters. Now they pride themselves in hunting wild game, such as certain species of deer, elk, and wild boar, and many birds.
The dinner entrées were nearly exotic. We had pig and goat (I think) and lovely dishes of squash, rice, potatoes, and vegetables (I couldn’t tell for sure because the electricity had gone out in the city and we were eating by candlelight). There was one specialty dish that I had never had before. When I first looked in the bowl, it appeared to contain an ivory-colored pasta. But on second look, the “pasta” took on a little stranger texture and shape. The doctor said it is the most delicate and desired dish of their culture and is very expensive. They are only able to afford to serve it when special guests come to visit. The whole bowl was filled with a generous serving of young bamboo sprouts cooked with wasp larvae in varying stages of development--wasp larvae--nice big, plump worms. Some worms had developed heads and front legs, and some had actually sprouted small gossamer wings. A few others had hatched early and resembled adult wasps. The most mature insects were black in color and about two inches long. Most of the larvae were still one inch to one and a half inches in length. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the exotic dish was that the larvae actually tasted quite delicious, and the doctor assured us that they are a great source of protein.

Monday, November 6
Today, Drew, the Pudaites, and I spent the entire day in Kohima. A generous breakfast was served for us at the doctor’s residence to get us off to a great start. The doctor and his wife had heard Drew and I like french toast and had gone to a lot of trouble to prepare it for us, along with eggs, pork, and rice, and a cereal made of tapioca. To my great relief, no leftover larvae were served for breakfast.                               

Following breakfast, we proceeded through the narrow, winding hillside streets of Kohima to Dr. Thongu’s Oking Hospital, located in the heart of the busy commercial district. Across the front of the building were sprawled-out, painted signs that read CT Scan Service, Ultrasound Machine Diagnosis, Pharmacy, and Endoscope Surgery. I soon found out that Puii and Dr. Thongu are running the most technologically advanced hospital in the whole northeast section of India. Their story of insight, discipline, hard work, and entrepreneurial risk taking is unparalleled. Dr. Thongu’s specialty is surgery, and he is good at it. He performs every kind of surgery you can imagine, from orthopedics to skin grafting to delicate brain surgery, and everything in between. Their hospital is the only institution to possess such modern technology for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

The couple started out years ago with a God-given dream. They established a start-up clinic with a pharmacy attached. They set aside 10 percent of all their pharmaceutical products to give to people who couldn’t afford medicine. They also made sure that at least 10 percent of all medical procedures they performed would benefit desperate people who were too poor to pay. Additionally, they disciplined themselves to set aside in savings another 10 percent of everything they earned to build for the future. Eventually, they had enough money saved to purchase the property on this busy street. Since it was almost impossible to borrow money for construction or other investments, they began to build their forty-bed hospital as they put the money into savings. It was strictly a pay-as-you-go endeavor. Their discipline and hard work paid off handsomely.

Puii told me they began putting away another 10 percent of their income to eventually purchase high-tech equipment, knowing that if they could offer such services, they could exclusively capture the medical market. Personally, they refused to take even needed medicine for their own children out of the pharmacy unless they paid the full price. Puii built a greenhouse by hand on their residential property and began growing their own vegetables in order to save money normally spent on food so it could be applied to building the hospital.
They had no money to buy beds or other furniture for the hospital, so they made their own beds and sewed their own mattresses and sheets. When the hospital opened, they needed divider partitions between the beds, so Puii took the drapes out of their own house and sewed them into usable panels.

As the forty-bed hospital on the busy little street began to function, the patients started coming from all over. Soon Dr. Thongu and Puii realized that forty beds weren’t enough to take care of patients, other than their surgery patients. The property owners to the rear of the hospital agreed to sell their land and small buildings to Dr. Thongu and Puii. Dr. Thongu and his wife didn’t have money to pay for the land, so they began to rent out rooms in their house to raise the needed capital.

As an economist and businessman, I was in awe of the entrepreneurial example of this wonderfully dedicated Christian couple. Their eyes sparkled as their story unfolded. They never acquired MBA degrees from Harvard or Yale, but they are outperforming classic business planners by leaps and bounds and making sure all the time that their charity work is never cut short. In fact, a couple of years ago, they started bringing village people from across the border in Burma to their hospital and training them to perform simple medical procedures. Then they send them back to their villages in Burma with knowledge, experience, and boxes of free medications.

Next Week: Yummy India Marketplace & Miracles of Hidden Water 


(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): The curfew was lifted for a couple of hours last night so the townspeople could leave their homes and purchase food for their families. Poor northeast Indians don’t own refrigerators, nor are they affluent enough to store non-refrigerated foodstuffs in their homes.

Even our hotel ran out of food and needed to buy eggs and rice at the bazaar. As quickly as the curfew was relaxed, it was reimposed as large military trucks with loudspeakers demanded that civilians return to their homes and stay inside.

This morning the streets were strangely silent again. Soldiers in military uniform were the only people moving around the city. I really wanted to get some photos of the military situation but knew that would be a real fast way for me to get into big trouble. But I did try to take some outside shots from inside my hotel room.

Under siege or not, the people of Imphal are getting their efforts organized to counter the military action. The families of the shooting victims refused to claim the bodies from the bus station area, which puts the military in an awkward position.

One of the plans to get us out of Manipur and back into some neutral place like Calcutta was to arrange for a helicopter to pick us up and fly us out. Some other businessmen who were caught at the Imphal hotel were eager to share the helicopter if one could be made available. None of those rescue efforts materialized.

Just as we were all accepting the fact that we would be stuck at the hotel for some time, we received word that Indian Airlines was flying an airplane to Imphal. The military had granted permission to the airport support people to go under escort to the airport to open it. As we found out later, the military needed the airport open so they could take advantage of the commercial flights to get their top people in and out of Imphal. At any rate, the news was wonderful.

We all packed and carried our bags to the entry of the hotel. The situation in Imphal doesn’t look like it will just mend itself but will probably end up in civil war. The local and rural insurgent movement is strong and determined. The Indian military position is equally determined.

As our group loaded into vehicles with our luggage, we were all hoping that a window had been afforded us and would remain open until we could get out. People watched our little escorted motorcade on its way through the stark, empty streets to the airport. I could see them watching us from behind windows, open doors, and porches. We passed machine-gun nests, miniarmored tanks, truckloads of patrolling soldiers, and occasional pieces of heavy artillery stationed at strategic intersections and bridges.

Presuming Drew and I were able to get out of Imphal and make it safely to Calcutta, we were faced with another interesting decision. Would we opt to cut short our India plans, grab the next international flight out of Calcutta, and scoot as quickly as possible back home, or would we follow through on our commitment and travel on up to the northern state of Nagaland to complete the Needs Assessment Studies at the hospitals there? I had a few more hours to make that decision, but the present emphasis was to get to Calcutta.

You can only imagine how tight the military security was at the airport. It wasn’t a time to haul out my camera and start snapping pictures. I just wanted to grease myself and slide right on through the situation. Drew and I received confirmed boarding passes for the flight out of Imphal, as did another three members of the group. The rest of our group was denied boarding passes. They had to return to the Imphal hotel for one more night and will hopefully fly out to Calcutta tomorrow.

Among those not getting boarding passes were John and Evelyn Pudaite, our hosts and guides for the trip to Nagaland should we opt to continue our assessments. John and Evelyn said they would try to secure a vehicle and drive north from Manipur into Nagaland. The capital city of Nagaland is Dimapur, and the New Delhi restrictions under which we are living specify that we can’t travel by road from Manipur into Nagaland. The only entrance into Dimapur is by flight from Calcutta.

But John thought that since he and his wife look “native” and have local paperwork from living in the area the past few years, they could make it by driving the steep mountain roads. And if they start out quite soon, they could drive directly north and get there about the same time we do, since we’ll have to overnight in Calcutta. John asked if we would be willing to finish the assessments, since we’re already halfway around the world. He promised that he and Evelyn will try to meet us at the airport in Dimapur, but if they don’t make it, he will have people there to meet us.

As he wrote out the names of the contacts in Nagaland, John began to explain that Nagaland is under restriction as well, because they likewise are experiencing Indian government military repression and abuses, as well as active resistance from underground insurgence groups.

I felt I had to make my decision about going on to Nagaland based on the very real possibility that John and Evelyn won’t make it by road to meet us. I felt very peaceful about the decision to fly from Calcutta to Dimapur as originally planned. I tucked all my contact information for Nagaland into my documents, and Drew and I boarded the Indian Airlines flight to Calcutta. We have no reservations in Calcutta. We will have to wing it.

But it actually feels good to be in dirty, awful, terrible Calcutta. The civil violence and volatile situation in Imphal and Manipur are now behind us. I keep hoping and praying that John and Evelyn will find a way to successfully make it over the treacherous mountain roads and meet us in Dimapur.

Sunday, November 5

Early this morning, Drew and I woke up, ate some breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and checked out of the hotel. As we got into a junky little shuttle car and headed toward the airport, I took a deep breath of polluted Calcutta air and thanked God for the opportunity to start a new chapter of Project C.U.R.E.’s efforts to help needy people around the world. We are being afforded unprecedented opportunities to make a difference in tens of thousands of lives otherwise not touched by health-care support and love. I’m a happy man for the unique privilege.

Drew Dixon is proving to be a great traveling partner. We’ve had lots of time to discuss principles involved in what we’re doing. His educational background, spiritual motivation, and familiarity with Scripture make him a great discussion partner. I had prayed that God would give us a trip that would be a life-changing experience for Drew, drawing him closer to God as well as giving him a better understanding of what Project C.U.R.E. does around the world. I’m certain the events of the past few days will prove unforgettable for him, and I imagine that he has drawn a lot closer to God as result of the siege of Imphal. Those kinds of situations have a way of helping you catch up on any delinquencies in your prayer life.

Next Week: Decision: Head for home . . . or Finish our Assignment?


(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): What had been an insurrection power play had now escalated into a military nightmare. We now had dead soldiers. We now had dead civilians. Nightfall was coming and we were supposed to be in our hotel in Imphal. But the roads were blocked and we couldn’t get out of Sielmat. We were in trouble. There was no such thing as safety on the roads, especially for out-of-compliance- foreigners.

Our people fanned out to try to glean as much valid information as possible. We all waited at the main house of the mission compound in Sielmat. After dark, we decided to load up into different cars and cautiously proceed along the back road we had taken earlier in the day. Everything was very quiet as we motored through the villages.

Our first stop was at a military checkpoint, where we could talk directly to the soldiers and try to determine whether we could make it all the way back to Imphal. With the insurgents out in the fields and along the roads, it wouldn't be a safe trip. It would have to be a calculated risk. The civil unrest had been brewing, and now it could easily escalate into even more violence.

The spirits of everyone in our group were staying high as we tried to grasp what was happening. Then one member of the group, whom I’ll call Fred, contracted a case of verbal diarrhea. He began telling everyone else how important it was for him to get back to Imphal to rest up. He had to be physically and mentally fit to meet a project contractor on a job he had in Colorado, and how the pressure on his wife was already unfair. He unwisely began to verbalize to the other group members all the terrifying possibilities of what could happen in such a volatile situation. As he spewed out his own selfish insecurities, I could just feel the confidence and stability of the group slowly ebb away and fear seep in.

At the first military roadblock we talked the officials into letting us proceed down the road to the next military checkpoint. It was getting quite late, and there was talk that roving bands of gypsies were taking advantage of people who were caught out on the road at night by the strike. More military guards were being dispatched regularly as the night wore on. No one, not even the military, could give us advice or clearance. By that time, we were about one-third the distance back to Imphal, but the closer we got to the city, the more dangerous the situation became.

At one stop we were informed that a curfew had been imposed on Imphal, and the airport had been indefinitely closed. Flights were being diverted around the airport. At that point we made the decision to turn around and go back to Sielmat and stay the night at the compound. It wasn’t legal, but we’d tried the other options, and the choice was defensible.

On our return trip to Sielmat over very dark roads through dark villages, the military stopped us several times. At one point our group was surrounded by soldiers with guns aimed into our car. As the officer in charge yelled out his commands, a soldier jumped back into the machine-gun crow’s nest of his armored minitank, buckled up his helmet, and sighted down his machine gun right at us. It wasn’t a game for them. They were all very serious. After searching the women’s bags, the soldiers returned them, and we proceeded back to Sielmat.

Back at the mission compound, we were assigned beds, ate a little snack as quickly as possible, and went to our rooms to sleep. Our clothes and toiletries are still back at the Imphal hotel, but we’re all safe and together.

Friday, November 3

To add to our excitement, this morning we heard the news that a Singapore Airlines flight had crashed at the Taipei airport in Taiwan, killing an undetermined number of passengers. The 757 Boeing aircraft was on its way to Los Angeles. That was the same type of airplane and the reverse route we had taken to India ten days ago.

I continued to quietly watch and evaluate the interesting dynamics of our team. By morning “Fred” had several of the group pretty scared about their safety and the anxiety our situation here might be causing for their families back home. He seemed to enjoy using the situation to direct attention to himself and, through fear, make those around him dependent on him. I was real happy that it wasn’t my problem or Project C.U.R.E.’s problem. But it was a great case study to observe “action manipulation,” as I think it’s called.

Our group got up at 4:30 a.m. and was soon on the road. We figured we’d take advantage of the insurgents and the military being up all night. Early morning would be the best time to get back to Imphal. We didn’t know which of the two roads would be open, if either one. We just had to go and try. We employed the same strategy as last night: Go to one military post, talk to them, and try to get permission to go on to the next military post. We kept moving forward and finally passed the spot where our bus had broken down. It certainly seemed as though a lot more than a day had passed since we crowded into the heave-green-colored jeep.

At the military post, just past where our bus had broken down, we were stopped, and it didn’t look like we would be allowed to go on. We were told that Imphal was virtually under military siege. Everyone was forced to go to their homes and stay inside. No one was allowed to be on the streets—no buses, no cars, no taxis, no rickshaws, and no pedestrians, just military-enforcement patrols.

But a strange thing happened at the checkpoint. Instead of detaining us, they put an officer in the backseat of our car and gave us a three-car escort all the way back to Imphal. We sailed back to the city! If the soldiers at a checkpoint tried to stop us, our escort would pull up, shout an order, and wave us through.

As we entered the city of Imphal, we experienced another strange phenomenon. It was as if the plague had hit or the second coming had occurred. Nothing was moving. People peered at us through the shaded windows of their houses. I couldn’t imagine a busy, crowded city in India with no one moving.

We were escorted right up to the front door of our hotel. The city was under siege, but we were safely back inside the concrete hotel compound, with military guards out at the gates and foot platoons marching in front of the hotel periodically.

Imphal certainly is a city under lockdown. But the lockdown works both ways. We’re protected from any random violence in our guarded shelter. But likewise, we aren’t going anywhere. The streets are under military control, and no airplanes are flying out of Manipur. I don’t like to think of it that way, but we’re also under siege because we aren’t going anywhere.

The government and the military are so preoccupied with their own problems that no one even thought to hassle us about staying in a restricted area without proper paperwork. The military is worried about a grassroots uprising in reprisal against the blatant shooting of civilians at a bus stop. The military strategy is to clamp down on everybody so no adverse momentum can get started. There is enough movement for independence in the hearts of the people of the northeast border states of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, and there have been enough human-rights violations not only on the part of the Assam Rifles group but also by the Indian National Army and the different police forces that the shootings may well have pushed the emotions of the people over the threshold.

Next Week: Some taken, Some Left


(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): On our return bus trip from Sielmat to Imphal, we bumped into some surprises. The military had expanded and greatly intensified its presence. Tomorrow the governor of the area will be speaking at a cultural event in Churachandpur. He will be traveling the same road we’ve traveled, and the speaking platform and performance stage were built not too far from the Christian hospital where we are working.

Apparently, the military had been alerted to the possibility of the local underground insurgents making a protest somewhere during the event. Soldiers of the Indian National Army lined the roads, manned machine-gun roadblocks, and could be seen at every intersection, along the edges of the rice fields, and in armor-plated minitanks. Truckloads of the regional Assam Rifles military forces could also be seen wearing full combat gear, with old M-16 rifles over their shoulders or AK-47 automatic rifles in their laps. They certainly were expecting something.

Our bus was stopped several times, and on a couple of occasions, armed soldiers boarded our bus with guns drawn to find out who we were. It’s comforting to know they’re in the area to keep things under control.

It was about an hour after dark by the time we unloaded from the bus at the Imphal hotel. Some of the group said they had heard gunshots during the night quite close to the hotel. But since the Assam Rifles headquarters is on the other side of a water moat not far from our hotel, any importance ascribed to the alleged gunfire was quickly dismissed.

Wednesday, November 1

Drew ate some mutton curry on rice last night, and by this morning he was regretting it and swearing to never look at mutton curry again as long as he lives. We decided it would be the better part of wisdom for him to just stay close to the bathroom for the day. The rest of us piled into the bus and headed to Sielmat to work. The military presence had been heightened even more overnight, but our group took all the pressure in stride and accomplished our respective agendas.

This evening we visited the Imphal Christian school and enjoyed dinner there. As we drove back to the hotel property, we saw military vehicles and armed soldiers stationed outside the hotel gates. Even other hotel guests were talking about the increased military presence.

Thursday, November 2

This morning Drew was feeling well enough to join the rest of the group. We decided to leave the hotel half an hour earlier just to give us sufficient time on the road. Before we pulled out of the hotel driveway, we had determined that we would travel a circuitous route to Sielmat and stay off the main road to save time and the inconvenience of stopping at military checkpoints. The alternate route took us along inferior roads that at times crossed over the tops of the rice-paddy dikes.

But everyone agreed there was no sense in traveling the main road, where the military presence was so strong. We didn’t want to experience any unnecessary delays.

One of the local church leaders with us had heard that a dissident group of university students had blocked and closed the main road and the entry to the airport, which we passed every day. The insurgent group was demanding some specific concessions from the government before they would call off the strike and road closure.

Our group agenda for today included participating in the dedication ceremonies of a newly built church at Lamka, which is situated quite close to the Sielmat hospital. Our alternate route turned out to be very rough and pocked with deep washout spots from the rainy season. I was riding at the front of the bus in the seat adjacent to the driver. We had just made a sweeping curve and started down a long hill. I watched the driver put his foot on the clutch to shift the transmission. The clutch pedal went to the floor, but instead of springing back up and engaging the transmission, the pedal just stayed on the floorboard. The driver kicked at the pedal several times with no result. The road leveled out, and the bus slowly came to a halt, stopping in the middle of a bad stretch of washed-out road.

The driver became a little more animated as he reached down and pulled the pedal off the floor by hand. Nothing happened. The transmission seemed to be shifting fine, but the clutch mechanism was broken and wouldn’t engage. We were stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Mobile phones were nonexistent, and towing companies were a distant figment of past recollections.

We all disembarked from our immobile dinosaur and laid hands on its tail long enough to push it out of the center of the road. After we had brainstormed several impractical possibilities, a man who had passed us earlier in a bus returned with a small, heave-green-colored army jeep that sported a blue plastic tarp over the back, suspended by split-bamboo sticks. He suggested that he could take a few of us at a time to some town about thirty-six kilometers away, where we could catch a local death-trap bus that would likely be able to take us on the back roads to Sielmat. We bought into his plan except for the part where our group would get split up, with some of us waiting and some of us traveling for several hours. That wouldn’t have been safe.

It seemed the only viable option was for all twelve of us to try to squeeze into the jeep with all our belongings. We ended up with five adults in the front two seats and seven squeezed into the back under the flapping blue tarp. The ride certainly became a close bonding situation as we joined hips Siamese style. About an hour and fifteen minutes later, the jeep delivered us to the dusty intersection of a small village. There, the driver of one of the famous, intimidating Tata buses waited impatiently for us to board his bus, which was already loaded with suitcases and other pieces of unnecessary stuff.

By the time we pulled into the town bus barn in Churachandpur, we had stretched the usual two -hour trip into a full six-hour ordeal. The real miracle was that we even made it to Sielmat at all. Because of our untimely delays, the church dedication was rolled back to later in the afternoon.

The dedication, once started, went off without a hitch, and everyone was so proud of the new brick sanctuary building. Visiting church choirs had come to share in the ceremony, and at the close of the regular service, we all filed out into the churchyard, where we were served sweet juice and gummy bread while the youth groups put on a cultural program of ancient dancing in their colorful tribal outfits. At one point, the dancers came over and pulled us white folks into the circle and had us do some kind of a chicken-mating dance with them.

While we were engaged in the festivities, the rest of the world was in chaos. The military situation had taken a turn for the worse and had erupted into tragic violence. At about 3:30 p.m., some of the striking insurgents allegedly detonated a bomb in the ranks of the Assam Rifles military organization. The blast killed one soldier outright and wounded others. It was reported to us and later in the newspapers that when the Assam Rifles group realized that one of their men had been murdered, they retaliated with lightning speed by opening fire on civilians at a bus stop not far from the airport, killing ten on the spot and injuring some thirty others.

It didn’t take long for us to size up the situation and realize we were in a pickle. Now, all the roads back to Imphal were blocked. We couldn’t return to the capital city, but we couldn’t legally stay where we were. Either way we were in trouble. The military was moving with vengeance, and the strikers would try to take advantage of the high-profile incident and the momentum it ignited.

Next Week: Wrong Place at the Wrong Time