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Violence on the Border

Dispatch India 2013:

After seven days of very productive work for World Hope Bible Institute (I serve as Associate Director), and basking in the pleasure of having accomplished all my objectives, I sat exhausted in my favorite chair at the home of my hostess, Amenla Jamir, and her extended family. Amenla (uh-men’-luh) serves as our full time Director of World Hope India. She and her two associates, Allem (as in “column”) and Achi (Archie minus the “r”) have been carrying me around, putting up with me, and generally looking after me since I arrived here nine days ago. They are super-fabulous.

Amenla is a single mother whose husband died six years ago of malaria, leaving her alone with two young boys. She lives with her sons, her elderly mother (whom we all call Mommy), and a young girl she has taken in who helps her care for the boys. Her home is made of concrete, is somewhat primitive by American standards, but nonetheless adequate. It sits atop a steep hill in the jungle on the edge of the 5,000+ populace village of Tuli (like Julie), in the farthest reaches of northeastern India. Allem is our Director of Missions in India. He is tall, stubborn, bossy, and drives too fast, is very impatient, has a heart of gold, loves Jesus, and reminds you of Mr. Spock. We fight like brothers. Achi is Amenla’s second cousin. He lives 4 hours away in Dimapur (rhymes with “feed the poor”), but helps her with the ministry as an ombudsman. He and his wife run a small Christian hostel for college boys back in Dimapur. His staccato version of English is hard to keep up with when he gets excited, which is only when his eyes are open. He looks like a young Japanese military officer, all detail oriented, on top of everything, and conscientious in the extreme. He grins a lot, wears cool aviator shades, and I call him FBI, which he just loves. We crack up.

I was spent from nearly two weeks of traveling, training, preaching, ministering, praying, meeting, touring, inspecting, fighting off biblical swarms of bugs, helping everyone with their Indian accent (mine is impeccable and much better than theirs), and trying to teach Allem to drive. As I swooned in the wilting and inescapable jungle heat (no a/c here, I think it’s illegal or something), trying hopelessly to cool off in front of the floor fan, which I had commandeered from the family on the first day I arrived and kept close by at all times, Amenla took a call on her cell. She sat nearby, and over the buzz of the fan, I could sense concern in her tone. Then, I heard the words “gunfire on the border.” I sat up. The border was only 15 minutes beyond the edge of our village. The border between Nagaland, the province I was staying in, and Assam, the neighboring province where I had done some work during the week, was “closed.” I had been told, ostensibly, that the border workers were “on strike.” What I did not know was that there had been a long running, and sometimes violent, dispute over the boundary between the two states. The disagreement began when Nagaland was carved out of Assam and declared a state in 1963. The issue arose over which of two British-era maps to use, one drawn in 1875 or the other in 1933. Assam preferred the latter.

Amenla hung up the call and looked at me gravely. “We must leave now.” She told me that tensions had erupted earlier that day when a tea plantation manager from Assam crossed the border into Nagaland, against public warnings, and was shot. It was 4:00pm. I was not scheduled to make the 4-hour drive from Tuli to Dimapur through Assam until the following morning to catch my 1:20pm flight to Calcutta and then connect to Bombay and head for the U.S. That wasn’t going to happen now. My entire entourage was Naga. If we ventured into Assam in open daylight, if we could even get through the “closed” border crossing, we could be captured and killed in retaliation by the hostile Hindu activists protesting at the border.

Our other option was an 8-hour drive over the treacherous mountain road from Tuli to Dimapur. This would avoid the border crossing. However, taking this route, and leaving now in a rush, had its own problems. We needed to get everyone packed and out the door, and the car fueled up and on the road as soon as possible. With a 4:30pm actual departure, we would not arrive in Dimapur until after midnight. The narrow, twisting road was heavily traveled and situated precariously above deep, lush valleys that dropped off sharply just inches from road’s edge to the remote and uninhabited jungle floor hundreds of feet below. No guard rails, no lights, and no 9-1-1. If something went amiss, we might not be found for months. Without hotel arrangements in Dimapur, or a food plan for the evening, it would be a long night. I called our crack jack-of-all-trades, Kitty Sandel, in Houston, rousing her from a deep sleep at about 5:50am her time. Groggy, she struggled to understand the situation, reassured me they would work out a hotel, and leapt into action. I hung up confident. “Let’s go!”

Something we had not counted on. The narrow mountain route was 275 kilometers long. It was worse than the shorter route through Assam. There were no straight-aways, none. We were constantly either leaning left as we rounded one curve or leaning right as we rounded the next. The road was so destroyed by the heavy trucks that lumbered daily along its course that they could scarcely be called potholes. They were more like mortar round blasts. You didn’t drive over them. You drove down into them and then up out of them. It was maddening. You were in a constant daze, staring ahead into the blackness, with nausea from the motion sickness. My supper was a cup of warm milk, a handful of corn flakes, and a moon pie, which we picked up at a tiny roadside shop about a third of the way into the trip. I had rejected a restaurant for several reasons, not the least of which was because we needed to keep moving.

Our 8-hour drive time estimate ballooned into 13 pitiful hours of hunger, sleeplessness, irritation, and anxiety. We did not arrive in Dimapur until 5:30am the next morning. We had averaged just 21 km (or 13 miles) per hour. Our driver, Allem, had only stopped us twice for about 10 minutes each to close his eyes and rest his dizzy head on the steering wheel. He had driven us straight through. He was fully committed to his work, including getting me safely to the airport and back to the U.S. Happily, I am finishing this post from my favorite armchair in my own home in Houston. A 13-hour overnight trek along the sorry mountain route, 4 aircraft totaling 23 hours in flight, another 16 hours of layovers in 4 airports, and I had traveled for 52 hours straight. When I landed in Houston my heart was full of praise. Chick-fil-A, shower, sleep.

Like it? Don’t like it? Leave me a comment!

The view from my room in the jungle hideaway. (click to enlarge)
The view from my room in the jungle hideaway.

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10 comments on “Violence on the Border

  1. I’m trying to picture you with no A/C.

  2. I love to read what you write. You do it so well. You describe Allem as tall, stubborn. DRIVES TOO FAST, has a heart of gold and loves Jesus. Sounds just like you.

  3. I like the ending on that one! Glad you are home safe.

  4. Love reading your stories. Make sure you keep your posts for the book your going to write!! May God be with you always Noel

    • Thanks for your encouragement. Someone else suggested a book today. Maybe I should really think about it. Anyway, thanks for your comment.

  5. That was one scary trip….,now it all make’s sense. You see, every day that I would pray for you and your fellow companion’s. GOD. Would lay on my heart to pray for your safety. I didn’t Get it at first. Until I read this post!
    I prayed that GOD would send your minestring angels to surround you and to keep you safe…GOD is so awesome!!!
    I Love you, Mom xoxo

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