Jumbo Jets to Colombia

(Bogota, Montería, Colombia: June, 1997:) Project C.U.R.E. is experiencing growing pains. It is so exciting to try to obediently walk through all the opening doors as quickly as they open. Just a few brief years ago, entrance into most of the countries into which I am now traveling would have been very difficult. However, I have always subscribed to the notion that there is no such thing as a closed country if one is willing to go in and not necessarily come back out. And yet the process of going into these countries and coming back out again safely has been miraculously smooth. I have envisioned the hand of God moving in situations, providentially opening the appropriate doors and dramatically shutting the doors through which I should not pass.

Almost every day I feel the pressure of increasing our efficiency in gathering the lifesaving medical materials. I also know that I must discover new supply sources. It really has become a delicate balancing act of keeping three major areas of the Project C.U.R.E. operation moving ahead at the same time. Whenever I go to a performance of the Moscow Circus in Russia, I readily identify with the crafty fellow trying to keep all the dinner plates successfully spinning on top of the spindly poles. In Project C.U.R.E.’s case, I, of necessity, have to spend about one-third of my time performing Needs Assessment Studies outside the US, one-third of my time trying to secure donations of medical supplies and equipment, and the other third of my time raising money to cover all the costs involved in the operation. The problem seems to come when another third of my time is needed for shipping and details of logistics … and another third of my time is needed for recruiting and developing necessary volunteers around the country … and another third of my time is needed to cultivate partnerships with other missions groups involved … and another third of my time is needed to establish strategic political contacts in New York and Washington, D.C. … and a full half of my time is needed for me to be a good, well‑read Christian, husband, dad, grandfather, and friend.

In order to keep it all in focus and ranked according to priority, I have simply confessed to God that I need to give back to him all the tasks, all the time slots, all the expectations, and all the results and depend totally upon him to give sufficient wisdom to adequately fulfill all those things possible in his view, and then ask him to send to Project C.U.R.E. the dedicated people necessary to help accomplish the rest.

I have to continuously recall the night I was lying in bed in a cold sweat, staring at the ceiling, fretting about all the places I had visited and promised to send medical goods. “What if I cannot gather enough goods to send to all the places I’ve committed to?” I wondered. Then in the panic of the night hour, God’s assurance came into the bedroom along with his announcement, “I will always give you just a little bit more than you can ever give away.” I rejoiced and took courage in the darkness of that night … and I do so now on almost a daily basis.

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The involvement of Project C.U.R.E. in Montería, Colombia, has a very interesting twist. Following Project C.U.R.E.’s trip to Old Saigon, Vietnam, Colonel Benjamin Pieczynski from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and I were introduced, and we began planning a strategy for using US Air Force C-130 cargo-transport planes, based in Colorado Springs, to take our humanitarian medical supplies to our targeted areas. After much negotiation and red tape, it was ultimately concluded that the colonel would fly our goods free of charge into any areas of accessibility, as long as he and his crews could fly out of Colorado Springs, deliver the cargo at the designated location, and fly back to Colorado Springs all in one weekend. So we drew a little circle on a map designating the circumference of the area to be serviced within the weekend time frame. It basically included the area in the Caribbean and the northern tier of countries of South America.

At one of our meetings with the colonel and his staff in Colorado Springs, I was introduced to Andrew Pisini, a mission director for the Catholic archdiocese in Denver. Almost as a favor to the colonel, I was asked if Project C.U.R.E. could include one of Mr. Pisini’s missions projects in Columbia, South America, in our plans. I told the colonel I would be more than happy to work closely with Andrew, especially since the colonel would be flying our medical supplies to South America via US Air Force C-130 cargo planes. That willingness on our part seemed to cinch the deal between the colonel and me. Thus began the relationship between the archdiocese and Project C.U.R.E.

Another interesting factor went into the mix for the Colombia trip. Earlier I had agreed to take with me on my Jamaica trip in June a young man by the name of Justin Mouttet. Justin will be a senior at Colorado Christian University this fall and has been elected student body president for the coming year. He had heard me speak at a CCU chapel once and determined to not only get involved with Project C.U.R.E. himself but to also help get CCU students and staff involved. Justin was aware that I had taken David Sattler from the CCU administration with me to China and was very anxious to be a part of a Project C.U.R.E. trip. I decided to take Justin Mouttet with me on the Colombia trip. I also invited Khanh (pronounced “Con”) Hoang, a young Vietnamese Catholic priest to travel with us.

Saturday, June 28

The flight to Bogota was, as my friends in jolly old England would say, “delightfully lovely.” Colombia is so very green and lush, and Bogota lies nestled up against the high, tree-covered mountains. Especially from the air on our approach to the landing strip, Colombia looked like a beautiful green emerald with sculptured city and rural scenes on each sparkling facet of the gem.

We traveled from Bogota to Monteria where we met Father Bernie, who has now been in Montería for about six years. It didn’t take long for all of us to get acquainted and begin working together very smoothly. I really did not sleep well last night. I was sleeping under a flimsy, yellow mosquito net that Justin helped me rig up with ropes and clothespins. The beds they had set up for us were canvas stretchers that kept collapsing. Justin and I stayed in the same small room, which had no provision for hanging up any of our clothes and hardly any room at all to unfold a suitcase.

Mosquitoes and bugs were everywhere. Father Bernie gave us an atomizer hand pump filled with some kind of terrible-smelling spray and showed us how to hand-pump the mechanism to fog the bedroom with mist in an attempt to clear out the mosquitoes. We had to stay out of the room for at least ten minutes so the spray would not harm our lungs.

The parish water well had been condemned earlier, and they had tried to hook on to the terribly unsatisfactory town water system. Sometimes there was water; sometimes there wasn’t. Father Bernie informed us that if we decided to shower, we shouldn’t let any of the water into our mouths, and he also requested that we use only a very small amount of water to rinse ourselves off.

Morning finally came, and I climbed out of my mosquito net and off my canvas stretcher and got my feet on the floor. I must admit, the places we visited all day today made me feel ashamed for feeling disadvantaged by my parish amenities. Things sort of went primitive from there. Father Bernie, Andrew, Justin, and I left the parish house in our little white Daihatsu “jeep” and stopped by a convent to pick up Sister Corina and Sister Maria Teresa.

Next Week: A Kitchen of Chickens, Goats, and Cookies