I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.
– Psalm 118:17
“You know the way back,” said Aki Ra as we walked through the middle of a live land-mine field in extreme northern Cambodia. We were not far from the Thai border – in a place where the locals still pray to the genocidal maniac Pol Pot.
When I heard Aki Ra’s words I was filled with the strangest sense of déjà vu – that I had somehow foreseen and/or dreamed of this singular moment long before and was about to cross some kind of Rubicon regarding my own existence. The famous solar eclipse of July 2009 was coming, and this served only to heighten the backdrop of my latest journalism expedition.
Indiana Jones (aka LoBaido, Anthony C.) professor and adventurer, had come to Cambodia to interview Aki Ra – a former child soldier with the Khmer Rogue. Aki Ra saw his own parents murdered, tried to rescue a little girl from the Killing Fields, served in four separate armies and has dug up over 50,000 land mines.
I had been invited to live the life of Aki Ra’s elite land-mine clearance team. Of all my adventures in 40 plus countries, over 333 stories published on WND, read by untold millions of people to the four corners of planet Earth (my favorites being my work with the Hmong of Laos, Harry Wu, Lek Chailert’s Thai elephants and the Rhodesian/South African mercenary story behind the Leonard Dicaprio film “Blood Diamond”), this was my craziest and most dangerous adventure yet.
Author Anthony LoBaido and Aki Ra take a rest in the Daierv land-mine field. (Photo by Aki Ra’s demining crew)
Under the midday July sun, my heart was racing. I carried my camera, lenses, notebook and pen while wearing my land-mine protection gear. The sounds of strange insects in the nearby trees filled the air. Sweat trickled and then poured down my face as I walked. I knew with every step I took that each one could my last before being turned into the “pink mist” that’s created when one steps on a land mine.
Being Indiana Jones
What does it take to dare to be like Indiana Jones? I often tell my own university students that a real journalist doesn’t just sit in his office talking about the stories he tracked down years ago. A real journalist faces down danger in real time.
I’ve taught at some of the finest universities in the world – Baylor and Texas A&M to name two – but no university can prepare you for the sheer terror you’ll find while operationally deployed in a live land-mine field. Having 10 Ph.D.s can’t help or save you. It becomes crystal clear that any academic learning that takes you away from our holy God is both vain and worthless.
While walking through that land-mine field, many deep thoughts ran through my mind as I faced the siege of eternity.
Dr. Indiana Jones of erstwhile Hollywood fame is presented in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a university professor. I’ve taught 37 courses over the past eight semesters, including innovative selections I designed from scratch such as Advanced Globalization Studies and Advanced Global Journalism.
But as a professor, Harrison Ford didn’t let his audience know that in academia one will have to put up with ultra-leftists, Marxists, Christ-haters, anti-white fanatics, craven behavior, psychotic tantrums, jealousy, slander, envy, cliquishness, pay cuts, “negotiations” as though you’re an illegal foreign worker, cleaning your own dirty classrooms, no textbooks and being kept up almost every night by drunken students at the dorm. Yet ultimately, none of this matters. Invenium vian aut faciam – find a way or make one.
By fighting my way tooth and nail through those difficulties, all my dreams have come true. I’ve spent time teaching high-level Korean army officers at our local military installation – including only the third woman (leading the nursing corps) to be promoted to the rank of general in the South Korean Armed Forces.
This past June, the Korea Herald published a full page story on my work with our students. (My sister Carol-Donna said, “If mommy and daddy were still alive, they would be so proud of you. They are so proud of you!” That’s the only approval I’ll ever need as a human being.)
Additionally, last spring I broadcasted a weekly, rush-hour radio segment on the top government-run station in Seoul. I also was asked to appear in the definitive Korean documentary on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
It’s all about the students
Along with Yesuel, my favorite and most spiritual Korean student, I was able to debrief a North Korean refugee (a female) who had escaped from North Korea not once, but twice.
Yeseul once said to me, “Anthony, whenever I’m around you I feel the Holy Spirit so strongly.” She also noted the child-like, archetype Indiana Jones sense of adventure in me and said, “This is the part of you God loves the most!” It was Yesuel’s dream to work with North Korean refugees, and I was pleased to be a part of making her wish come true.
During my college teaching in St. Louis, Mo., I had some amazing students like Andrea Angel, (a beautiful young woman with bright blue eyes who cared for her mother for several years until she passed away from brain cancer), Robin (an African-American female who worked the graveyard shift at a major St. Louis hospital), Drew (who cared for a mother sick with breast cancer), Erin (a spunky blonde who would call me at midnight and ask, “Anthony, what month comes before November?”), Jenny (picture Claudia Schiffer as a talented photographer), Sarah (a stunning Iranian girl whose own parents totally disowned her when she became a Christian) and many others.
Yet, when I came to South Korea two years ago, I was able to meet even more incredible students. I was able to take Bitna-Da (which means “She is shining – as if a person has a special glow”) and her boyfriend, Jin Yeal, to Thailand with me to meet Lek Chailert and her abused elephants, as well as to explore the breathtaking island of Ko Tao.
Walk the line
While walking through Aki Ra’s land-mine field, I thought of one of Lek’s elephants, Jokia, who’d had her eyes stabbed out. While tracking our way through the jungle near the Burma border just before Christmas 2008, Jokia walked ahead of me in order to push down thick thorn brush that had cut up and bloodied my legs in a terrible way.
I thought of being all alone at sunrise with every single one of Lek Chailert’s 30-plus elephants at her park in Chiang Mai, Thailand – making my way through the protective aunties to photograph the baby elephants without a care in the world.
I thought of an orphanage I had visited in January of 2009 near the Laos border. It’s a place where Benedictine monks and ex-French Foreign Legion soldiers care for Hmong children. There I was taught that all forms of seeking purity, as well as purity itself, are precious gifts from God.
I thought of Erin, my favorite student in St. Louis, pointing at her eyes and saying, “Look, look, you gotta look now! My eyes, they’re like icy blue crystalline ice crystals!” as if I couldn’t see them. It’s amazing the random moments with your students that stay with you forever.
I thought of Andrea coming to my office and breaking down in tears: “Anthony, I heard you took care of your parents until they died. … I want to take care of my mother … but I just don’t know if I can go on.”
I thought of talking one of our Korean students out of committing suicide, and how I’d sent Jin and Yeseul to visit that girl when she was at her lowest point.
I thought of counseling another student through social-anxiety syndrome and how she’d run out of class in tears seemingly for no reason. One day I walked to the Home Plus superstore and bought her a stuffed Siberian wolf cub. She named it “Beanie.” I told her to focus on the angels. I told her that without God’s power we are like an Arctic wolf trapped on the city streets. The Northern Lights and Aurora Borealis replaced by neon. The frozen tundra replaced by the dirty pavement. The thrill and collective howl of the wolf pack replaced by fear and loneliness. After Beanie arrived, that student never ran out of class again. I thought that Dr. Indiana Jones might have approved.
I felt my own mother was there in that land-mine field as an angel watching right over me – along with Aki Ra’s mother, who had been summarily executed by the Khmer Rouge for smuggling food to elderly sick people suffering under their misrule. I saw my mother with her red Aunt Jemima “dew rag” cleaning the floor. “Anthony, if you can get down on your hands and knees and clean this floor, then you can accomplish anything in life!” I saw Aki Ra’s mother in her red krama, unafraid, a saint and a martyr entering God’s kingdom.
While walking through that land-mine field with (and without) Aki Ra, my body had been vibrating like the Ark containing the Ten Commandments in Indiana Jones’ possession when it was boarded up in that box with the Nazi swastika on it. The holiness of the Ark burned through that crate. (Army intel later stamped the crate with serial number “99006302.”) When we are fearful and surrounded by evil, be it directly by sight or through our own minds, my late mother Viola often said that such instances should drive us back into the loving arms of Jesus.
The true knowledge inside the lost Ark
The film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” depicted a military-style mission to discover the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the original Ten Commandments. In the movie those commandments radiated tremendous power as the physical manifestation of God’s holy, pure power on this planet.
The Holy Bible speaks of the Ark laying waste to vast armies and entire regions – that much is spelled out in the clearest terms. More esoteric is the true enigma of the cinematic Indiana Jones and any professor/adventurer who would dare follow him. He’s sexy. He’s smart. He’s strong. But is he truly a good man?
If Indiana Jones is so smart, what erudite knowledge will he bring back to his students? Can his students walk beyond the intrepid steps of Indiana Jones and blaze an ancient trail back to Cain, the first mason, the first builder of a city (hence the term “ruler” as the dualistic nomenclature for both a measuring device and a king/president/prime minister) and moreover the first murderer? Cain, who in his rage of jealousy over the greater holiness and purity of the farmer/garden dweller we know as Abel, killed his own brother in cold blood.
Can Indiana Jones’ students in turn be inspired to understand how Moses led the Hebrews out of the bondage of Egypt via a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and how the Ark of the Covenant came to play a role in all of that?
Will the students be taught how the ancients clamored for a king even while God was directly leading His people? God said, “No! A king will tax you and turn your sons into soldiers and your daughters into concubines.” Those ancient kings have turned into today’s transnational corporations, predator drones, robot soldiers, exotic financial derivatives manipulators, genetically engineered food gurus and the would-be patent owners of the human genome. We’re still building pyramids – only now the bricks of straw and mud are made out of fetal tissue as we traffic in the bodies and souls of men. Our students of today, armed with such knowledge, can change the shape of the future before it’s too late for mankind to turn back.
Whilst maneuvering in that land-mine field I was terrified almost as much as I had been while watching the character of “Sylar” in the episode “The Second Coming” on “Heroes” – an episode that let’s you know deep down the new order stalking our Earth is eventually going to knock on the front door of every single believer and non-believer alike. Yeats’ poem about the “rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem waiting to be born” becomes a de facto revelation.
Briefly overcome with fear, I thought, “I’m going die, right here, right now in this land-mine field. I will never see any of the people I love ever again.”
I thought of Yesuel and me debriefing the aforementioned North Korean woman – the only gal ever to have escaped from North Korea twice – and how her story filled us with such an unspeakable feeling of faith that we cried tears of joy.
(In Korean): “You see, Yeseul … when I left North Korea and fled to China the first time I got caught. And so I was sent back to North Korea. Back then I wasn’t a Christian. But I can see now that God made that happen so I could see my parents one last time. … And so I ran away again and I walked all the way from North Korea, through China and through Laos … and then finally we got to the river between Laos and Thailand – the final barrier to freedom.
“But the government in Laos is Stalinist and has an agreement with North Korea to send back the fleeing refugees … where they will be executed. But then as we crossed the Mekong River on this beautiful clear day … a perfect day really … well, out of the blue an incredible storm swept down into the river valley. It was raining so hard that I couldn’t even see my own hand right in front of my face. But that meant that neither could the soldiers and border guards on the Laos side of the Mekong see us. … You see, Yesuel, God was protecting me the whole time. …”
Walking by faith and not by sight
I thought of how I’d spent most of the spring of 2009 in the ER and/or at the dentist. How the stitches in my mouth ripped open and I’d wind up with a tuna sandwich literally drenched with blood. Still, I never missed one day of teaching in four years.
Perhaps most strikingly, I thought of a blind coed at my university back in St. Louis, Christine, who used to sit in the cafeteria with her friend Jules. How I took Christine’s lunch tray to the conveyor belt one day, and how an African-American woman working at the cafeteria smiled brightly – flashing her ivory-white teeth – because of that little ol’ tray.
I remembered that day – how it was snowing, how we were all outside and how Jules said to Christine, “Look at you. You didn’t wrap up your scarf properly! Why, you’ll catch pneumonia.”
And standing right there in that land-mine field I felt a chill from what seemed like actual flakes of snow, each different in its own minutia, falling on my face. The full eclipse was getting ever closer now. “It’s coming …” I smiled and a tear flowed down my cheek, because Jules was Christine’s angel, watching out for her, tying her muffler around her neck so perfectly.
I thought, “If I die now, I’m ready to stand before Jesus Christ.” For the first time since I was an 11-year-old boy, I was finally ready once again to die and meet God. Put my body, or what’s left of it, in a coffin marked “99006302.”
Strangely, I though of Patrick Swayze telling Keanu Reeves in “Point Break,” “It’s not tragic dying doing what you love …” for it was Lek Chailert who’d asked me to find Aki Ra and invite him to her elephant park. We’d hoped Aki Ra would assist Thailand’s proud elephants who sometimes tragically step on land mines.
For me, the ultimate psychological and emotional motivation for going into Aki Ra’s live land-mine field was that my late mother had wanted me to be a journalist and my late father had wanted me to be a professor. But more than that, both of them wanted me to fear the Holy God manifested in Indiana Jones’ prized possession. This is something George Lucas and Steven Spielberg couldn’t begin to capture in 1,000 sequels.
To know the power of Samson, who because of his sin had been cast down as a grinder in a prison in Gaza – the job of a mule. To know the peace of Daniel even while housed in the lion’s den. To know the goodness of Noah as he worked so hard to save all of those animals as well as his own family. To love the things God treasures and hate the things God despises.
To know the courage, kindness and goodness of Jesus Christ – as we must first share in His betrayal, slander, suffering and abandonment in our own lives before we can know His ultimate power, victory, miracles, resurrection and eternal life.
To understand that you have to “first seek the Kingdom and righteousness and then all of these other things shall be added unto you.” To know that it’s not about feeling good or about looking good but rather about being good. That there is more joy in heaven for one sinner who repents than 1,000 righteous. Did you know National Geographic reported that every single second, somewhere in the universe a star goes into supernova – perhaps in celebration of each singular sinner that’s repented?
As my mother, Viola, often said, “Being good is everything. It is the only thing.” For when you read “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God,” the Lord was not talking about “someday.” He meant “every day.”
Ultimately Indiana Jones’ search for the lost Ark housing the Ten Commandments is the search all of us must carry out … for a holy, righteous God who hates sin. As Yeseul taught me when she helped saved my soul, “I know that without Jesus Christ I am weak, wicked and unworthy.” I owe her more than my life.
Because God is good and He heard my prayers in that land-mine field, I did see the people I love once again. I made many promises to God in Aki Ra’s land-mine field, and I intend to keep them. Writing this column was one of those promises.
I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.