The Jeep Ride That Changed Your Lives Before You Were Even Born


Dear Ezra and Lian,

Ezra, at the beginning of May, you went to the school program, “Racing Against Drugs.” Sadly, I realized then that you are now old enough to read this story, but your sister sure isn’t. Please keep this from her for at least a few more years. When she is old enough, she needs to read it. This is “The Jeep Ride That Changed Your Lives Before You Were Even Born.” Another title might be “Back in Champhai.” Either way, this story will explain why a lot things have happened in your life and will happen in the near future.

Until November, 2013, I had buried this story in my mind. I had no recollection of it at all. For almost twelve years, I never thought about it. Things happened in 2013 that dredged this back up to the surface. While having a massage for my aching neck and back and talking about Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto, I found myself telling this story.

I had a real good friend in Mizoram. I lived in his house for a couple of months. We ate his wife’s amazing cooking. I played with his young son. We talked for hours. I learned fascinating stories about Mizoram and his life. He was incredibly honest with me. I became like his priest to whom he confessed everything. He was smart. He knew a little bit of everything. His father had me edit his memoirs, which were very interesting since he drafted the Mizoram Peace Accord. I ended up “working” for them. They were a very powerful family in Mizoram, but they were my friends too. I loved them. His name was Fela. His father was the former Congress politician and Chief Secretary Pu Lalkhama.

Later that year, Fela and one of his Mizo friends were taking your mommy, Auntie Beth, our friend Sarah, and me from Champhai to the Burma border. We were driving in his big jeep called a Sumo. It was a beautiful day. We were travelling over rolling hills in the countryside. There were hardly any vehicles on the road.

Two things quickly changed this ride from a relaxing trip to one of stress and fear. First, Fela was drinking hard liquor and getting drunk fast. About halfway into the trip, I saw that he was also taking drugs. His mind was getting messed up. Second, he brought a loaded handgun.

When we stopped for a brief rest, Fela took some shots at the trees for target practice. Even as we were driving, he was shooting out the window. My friend had become a mad man with a gun. Since we were getting close to the border, this was very dangerous behaviour. We could get shot by the border guards. I knew I had to get the gun from my friend.

I asked to see the revolver. I was admiring it when I distracted my drunk and spaced-out friend. I hid the gun in my stuff so that neither of the Mizo guys would know where it was. Then my friend started talking about how we would be crossing the border illegally (for the non-Mizos). This situation was getting worse.

At this point, I will simply say this: as we were pulling into the border area, I whispered to your mom that it was extremely important to do as I said. (I was trying to keep the gun out of my friend’s hands.) Also, I needed to make sure we pacified my drunken, obstinate friend. We needed to walk to the river on the border and get out of this place As Soon As Possible. We parked the vehicle and got out. Your mom wouldn’t listen and started talking loudly about the gun. This made my friend realize that I now had the gun. To keep my friend and his friend quiet and avoid a scene near the border crossing, I had to quietly give the gun back. An Indian or Burmese soldier could have seen or heard this at any moment.

If it is possible to yell at someone while whispering, that is what I was doing to your mother. We were less than 100 yards from the Burma border and, potentially, soldiers of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. There was an active insurgency against the Myanmar dictatorship (junta) by the Chin (mega-tribe including Mizos). Those soldiers would be happy to blow the head off any Mizo walking around with a revolver in his hand regardless of which side of the border he stood. Just because their dads were important in India meant nothing to soldiers who routinely raped, killed, extorted, used slave labour, and beat up Chin people. Even now, a Chin is automatically accepted as a genuine refugee in Canada or the United States because of this persecution. Thankfully, the Burma (Myanmar) government has improved immensely since 2012. I was so fed up with the Mizos in that jeep being complete idiots. I was finished trying to keep them from getting killed.

Fortunately, at that time there was no bridge, just a crude, rowboat-sized ferry. Consequently, it was not an official border crossing or customs point. Unbelievably, there wasn’t a single soldier in sight on either side. Eventually, my friend’s friend gave me the gun when he realized what I was trying to do. We saw Burma from across the river. I got all of us out of there as soon as I could.

By the time we got to our hotel, my friend Fela was nearly a zombie. I practically dragged him to the toilet in his room. As he threw up, I had to hold his head so he didn’t drown in his own vomit. Then he had to take a pee. I had to pull his pants and underwear down. My left hand had his one arm wrapped around my shoulders. My right hand held his bare hip. I tried to steer the firehose of urine into the Indian-styled toilet. Half of it was on the floor or on my shoes. When he finished, I hauled his body to the bed. He was like a sack of potatoes. He was soaked with the hard liquor sweats, urine, and vomit. I pulled off his shoes, slung his arms and legs around, and wiped vomit from his face and clothes because he was completely passed out. I looked down on my mess of a friend and sat down on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands. I wanted to cry.

It became crystal clear to me at that moment; Fela was going to throw it all away. He could have become anything but he was going to destroy all that potential. Here was a man who could become a government minister in the state of Mizoram or a successful businessman or the leader of a charity or school, but he was in the process of losing it all. Eventually, he would lose his wife and son. He got out of business and stayed out of politics. I don’t know what he is doing now but I’m sure he is nowhere near where he could have been. Within a few months of this event, his father Pu Lalkhama was threatening to sue me for unjust reasons. My friend Fela never defended me. He was paralyzed or in a drunken stupor. Mommy and I left Mizoram to prevent a big quarrel between families.

Linus, a character from the Peanuts Gang, said, “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.” It weighed heavily on my friend. He had the intelligence, skills, money, and connections to do remarkable things. He wasted his life due to untreated depression, drunkenness, and drugs. He could hardly see the point of even being alive, which is why he did such dangerous things.

The pathway is there for all three of us to walk down. You probably won’t even have to choose it; forces and people are bringing it our way. It is so easy. I am doing my best to stop that from happening. All I can do is delay it. The final decision is up to you. You will have to choose to forgive. If not, this is your future, kids. Trust me, it IS true.

You are going to have to forgive the same things my friend didn’t forgive. Soon I will tell you what those things are, but first, you need to put on an attitude of forgiveness. You are going to have to trust God, something my friend never did. God can easily overcome this through you. Yet, if you decide to hold onto the bitterness and disappointment coming your way, you will end up in a pool of sweat, vomit, and urine. Only with the supernatural power of God’s Holy Spirit working in you can you hope to conquer this.

There are phenomenal things you can do with this one life God has given, or you could throw it all away like my good friend did. If you go to rock bottom, I will follow you down and clean you up. I’m not scared of messes. I am scared that you might try to fight this battle by yourselves. You need Jesus; lean on Him.

When I realized that the scene of my passed-out friend on the bed could be your future, my perspective changed. Everything that led this man to that spot is prepared for you. People, places, and events are all set up and waiting for you. The trail is blazed. Don’t worry, though; we’re not going there anymore. We got out of the jeep driven by a maniac. I’m sorry we didn’t get out sooner. The road is just as dangerous, but the driver is totally different. God opened the doors on His bus. Hold my hands. Hop on board. Enjoy the ride.



P.S. You are probably wondering, How did this change our lives? I will tell you soon.



Understanding Mizoram


tim71Dear Ezra and Lian,

“Uncle” Patea once told me this joke. Here’s my re-telling.

There was a Mizo man who decided that he was going to travel around the world. He packed his bags and got on a shared jeep to leave Mizoram for his year long trip.

Shortly after the jeep crossed over the Mizoram border and long before he reached Silchar even, he asked to be let down. He caught a ride going back home.

The next day, his friends back home were surprised to see him, already returned. They asked him, “What happened? I thought you were going to travel around the world?”

“Oh, yes” he said. Then he sighed, “But, I was missing the bai. (Mizo curry-soup, eaten with rice.)

The story tells so many truths about the Mizo people. I mean this in the best possible way, but Mizos are very much like Hobbits (very beautiful and handsome ones). Not only are they both short, but they are incredible homebodies. They know what they like and all that is found in Mizoram. There are very few Frodos or Bilbos amongst them.

The world all around them is filled with chaos and evil. For the most part, in Mizoram there is peace, tea and good food. No matter what interesting things lie beyond those hills, nothing calls them like the comforts of home. Having spent so much time there myself, it is very hard for even me to leave or stay away.

It is strange to say it, but of all the places in the world, we would be safer to walk the streets anywhere in Mizoram, then to even walk the streets of my hometown. Even though it is not as safe as it used to be, it is far better than here in Pickering and many other places in Canada. Violence happens within a block of us that doesn’t even make it into the paper. If it happened in Mizoram, it would be talked about in the Mizoram state assembly.

Almost every major city in India has a Mizoram House. Where there isn’t one, the home of the “senior” family is like an embassy for Mizo people. Mizos will seek out these places when they arrive. They are craving Mizo food, conversation, help and familiarity. It’s a safe place. Your grandparents place in Pune, Maharashtra was like that.

If the world were Middle Earth, then The Shire is Mizoram. No matter what adventures they experience in this wide world, a true Mizo/Hobbit always yearns to return. Tasting bai again is just an excuse. Your grandfather spent an entire eventful career outside of Mizoram. He retired as a Deputy General of Police. Now he lives on top of a hill in Aizawl. One day, when we have elevenses, you will see what I mean.






I love Mizoram


Dear Ezra and Lian,

I strongly believe every Mizo lives with the following tension in their lives; like Ezra, they have a remarkable ability to not show pain or weakness, no matter how severe. Yet, like Lian, they are very emotional people. When they love something, they love it with all their heart and want to express it. When they are sad, they want to cry rivers of tears. Mizos who can maintain a stiff upper lip whatever the circumstance are greatly admired. Mizos who can eloquently sing at the top of their voices about the love or pain in their hearts are greatly loved. They are the true leaders of Mizoram. Mizos will follow them with their hearts. So even if a Mizo is really reserved and “proper”, what they really want to see from you is a passion from the depth of your soul.

In 2000, Jonah Pachuau (sp?), the publisher of the magazine Vartian, asked me to write an article about Mizoram. I poured my soul into what I wrote. I wrote about how I had fallen in love with Mizoram at the same time I had fallen in love with Mommy. However, if you ever find a copy of that edition of the magazine, that’s not what you will read. You will read this boring article with my name attached to it as author.

What happened was that somehow your Grandma reviewed my essay. She cut out all the love and passion. What remained was unrecognizable from what I had written, but that is what got published. At the time, I thought, ok it’s a different culture. Maybe what I wrote would be embarrassing or shameful to the family. I let it go. Now I just think, it was an attempt to maintain family dignity. My public declaration of love for both your Mom and Mizoram went unheard to the readers of Vartian.

Let me say it now, loud and clear, unedited, I love Mizoram. I love your Mommy. Sure, we live apart, but I will always carry you in my heart. Yes, you have mistreated me and a normal person would hate you, but I don’t, never have and never will. I forgave you long ago. I will always care about you and your welfare. You can misunderstand me and my motivations, but I love you. Not in a fluffy, fleeting, tingly feeling way. No, it’s tough love. If I hated you, if I was only interested in a public perception of this family, we could be together. I love you and your children, so I will always call you up to be better. I won’t tolerate the gross injustices you blithely do. You need healing. I won’t drink your poison and call it honey.

You’re free to make your own choices. I’m free to tell you when they are horrible decisions that are soul destroying. I will protect our kids from the inevitable consequences of your actions. Don’t be mad, be grateful that I will fight to the death for them.

Confession is good for the soul, but real change comes with real repentance. No amount of outpouring of emotion can be a substitute for that. If you’re looking for a little redemption, I can’t help you. If you want total redemption, you need a Redeemer. You need someone who has loved you for your entire existence. Someone who has endured every shame and suffered every indignity to demonstrate to the whole world how much they have loved you. Someone not only willing to die for you, someone who did and has the power to live again and give new life.

Kids, know this to be true; whatever happens, I love Mizoram, I love Mommy.