Dear Ezra and Lian,

I’m not a weapons smuggler, but I AM a bit of a smuggler. Telling you that, publically or otherwise, means I have sworn off smuggling. Those days are behind me. I promise you, I won’t be smuggling things and risking big fines or jail time. You really have no idea how difficult that is for me to say. The fact is sometimes evil governments forbid good things for their citizens. For instance, they would rather let tens of thousands of people starve to death just because they are on the other side of a border. If there is a ban on exporting food to them, I’m the type of guy who is going to ignore that unjust law. I’m not going to say too much because I would be endangering the lives and welfare of friends and those I’ve helped. That particular government is in the process of being replaced by a democratic one so I feel partially confident in telling you this.

It all started when I was 16. Remember that trip to East Germany? The trip changed my life. It also taught me, if you can deal with the fear, smuggling isn’t that difficult (if successful). Our group of teenagers took Christian books and music that was illegal in East Germany. That night before we got on the train to enter East Germany, I couldn’t even go to bed.

On the train, border guards came through our train. They never looked through our stuff. One pass. Ticket collector (working for the government) never saw our stuff. Two passes. At some point, dozens of Russian soldiers (probably only 3, but it seemed like a train-full to a nervous teenager) got on our train. A couple got in our cabin. They never opened our bags to see a keyboard (extremely rare in East Germany and worth a lot of money there). The Russians instead tried to make friendly conversation in very limited English. Three passes. We got picked up at the train station by the East German pastor (Rolf Heidel) and neither there or on the way to the church, no police officers stopped us. 4 passes and success. I was hooked on the adrenaline rush. The look of joy when someone gets the impossible brings a sense of satisfaction that few other things ever can.

Once when I was taking used microscopes to India, I got stopped in the Delhi airport. The custom officers pulled me aside for an inspection. The one time I’m not smuggling anything across a border and they try to squeeze a $1000 bribe out of me. I asked to speak to their commanding officer. I sat there for a couple hours. They refused to let me go or talk to their boss. I refused to pay. I told them it was for charity and helping poor villagers suffering from malaria. A senior custom official asked which charity. I told him and he said, “All the churches in the North East work for the CIA.” Finally, I pulled out my trump card. “Here’s my father-in-law’s cell phone number. He’s an Inspector General of Police in Maharashtra. You tell him what law I’m breaking. Until then, I’m not paying you 1 rupee or leaving these microscopes behind.” I could see the little boss go talk to the big boss through the glass in their office. After a few minutes, they came out and let me and the microscopes go.

It was my own fault. I was carrying a full hockey bag in the middle of business men carrying small, smart suitcases on wheels. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was dressed like a backpacker. The custom guys probably just pulled me aside just because they were bored and I looked like an easy victim.

Remember when we’re travelling, you won’t find anything interesting in our luggage. It’s like a wasted opportunity, but I will play it safe. I promise.

Love, Dad

A Witness to history – Berlin Wall


Dear Ezra and Lian,

When I was 16, about the 3rd week of July, 1989, I stood on the East German side of the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie. A man, a stranger to me, from The Netherlands, leaned over and said to me; “You know, someday soon, this wall is going to come down.” I laughed out loud. “Maybe in 20 or 30 years, yeah, but not soon” I said. He said, “Wait and you’ll see.”

By November 9, 1989, the government of East Germany had announced that its own citizens could freely visit West Germany. Spontaneously, East and West Germans began to meet at the Berlin Wall. They climbed on top of it, sang songs, hugged and cried on top of it. They began to chip chunks of the wall off for souvenirs. During the summer of 1990 the official demolition of the wall began with actual construction equipment. Effectively though, the Wall had ceased to exist months before.

This time period was a life-changing moment for me in so many ways. You could never understand your Dad unless you consider the impact of this on me. The songs “Right here, right now” by Jesus Jones and “Wind of Change” by Scorpions are soundtracks to this era. When I hear those songs, I’m always transported back to 1989.

You will learn about this in History, probably in grade 9. The teacher may tell you that the Berlin Wall coming down was inevitable. I want you to know, that I was staying with East Germans for 3 weeks in July 1989. I was at a small youth conference. I met hundreds of East Germans. Not one of them gave me any indication that they were expecting their freedom any time soon. To a certain degree, they all were resigned to living in the giant prison of the Eastern Bloc. The spying would continue. They would be blocked from schools and jobs of their choice because they weren’t Communist Party members. They had no hope in East Germany’s future, especially for 1989.

Euphoria broke out in the fall of 1989 because it was so unexpected. The Berlin Wall had been up for decades. Communism ruled over Eastern Europe for over 40 years. In 1989, only a few saw its pending downfall. It caught the world by surprise. Saying otherwise is revising history to make us look smarter than we actually were. I was there. I was a witness to history. The totalitarian government had immense control over its citizens almost right up until the day the Wall came down.

I will only tell you one way it changed me. It gave me the inspiration to believe the impossible, possible. I can have hope in hopeless situations. It’s why I can take on problems with little chance of success. Whatever the circumstance, if that big, ugly, evil Wall can fall, then anything can happen.

Don’t let this short letter fool you. I could write 10,000 words about this. Any time you want to send your Dad on a trip down memory lane, ask me about East Germany in 1989. I could forget about whatever it is we will be doing at the time, to remember all the joy and sorrow of those days. It truly was a time of hope and new beginnings. I will always be looking for the spirit of ’89. If I can’t have that, I will happily talk about it.



All Fired Up!


tim39Dear Ezra and Lian,

In 2008, I was talking in person to Petra, one of the most famous Christian rock bands of all time. Are we talking about their music, their tour, or India? No. They are asking me for help. Someone is holding all their equipment for ransom. They can’t leave Aizawl, Mizoram, India until they pay all the money one of the suppliers for their concert is owed. The thing is, it’s not their responsibility. The concert promoter who was organizing this tour through NorthEast India owed all kinds of money. Petra was caught in the middle. They were getting more serious threats than just having all their equipment stolen.

(Sigh) It’s the night before I’m supposed to fly to Calcutta and start negotiating and organizing for a big shipment of food to be sent from Canada to Mizoram. This is for the starving people of south Mizoram villages. They are in the middle of a famine. The last thing I need to be worried about, is guitars and amps. Okay. Let me make a phone call. After a couple hours, a small payment gets made and the potential thieves get convinced they have no legal right to Petra’s guitars, drums, etc. So the trucks leave and head up the road. I go to bed.

When I wake up, I start getting ready to go to the airport. I find out that overnight, that these yahoos contacted their “uncle” in the police. He impounded everything up in Kolasib. Now the Petra band members don’t know what to do. They’re probably going to miss their flights because they just happen to be flying the same time as me. They can’t leave all this behind. Now, I’m mad. I’m embarrassed as a Mizo makpa. The thieves are making my favourite place on Earth look terrible. I’m just imagining Petra going on their fan website and telling the whole world, “Don’t ever visit Mizoram!”

One thing was not going to happen that day. No one was going to steal tens of thousands of dollars of instruments and equipment from Petra. Somebody’s police officer uncle in Kolasib isn’t going to keep you out of trouble. I just spent the last few days visiting the chief secretary, government ministers, YMA general secretary, church leaders and oh yeah, my father-in-law is a retired Deputy General of Police. Who do you want to put you in jail? I make a point of never using my “big connections” to benefit me, my family or my friends (sorry, my friends who have visited Mizoram with me). I don’t waste that on frivolous things. It better be REAL important. I figured the reputation of Mizoram was on the line, so I made phone calls to two people not on the list above. I told Petra to load their things for the airport.

Since I had to spend my time working the phones, all I had time to do was give handshakes to all the band members at the airport. I asked them to please don’t think badly about Mizoram. They were totally gracious and in a good humour (much better than me, but they never saw what I did down in the south). They thanked me for liberating their stuff out of Mizoram and we waved goodbye. They flew north. I flew west.

I will be totally honest with you. If I had missed my flight I would have had 24 hours to do nothing but press charges for theft, ride shotgun in police jeeps and watch people get marched off to jail. As it was, if Petra could forgive them, I guess I could forget about them. Besides, I had way bigger things to worry about.

For some fun, watch this classic Petra video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noRd58N-sic&index=37&list=PLE50C3533DAA0475B