‘My Amazing Adventures with God: From Polio and Paralysis to Walking with the Pope,”
By Boaz Wadel
Back in 1975, during my early days as a reporter in London, England, I was surprised when I received an overseas phone call from a man called Dr. Lonnie Rex, who told me he ran the David Livingstone Missionary Society, which had an office Glasgow run by his son, Royce Rex.
Dan Wooding meeting with Mother Teresa in Calcutta
"Dan, you don't know me, but I've heard about your writing skills and I wondered if you would be free to take on an assignment to go to Calcutta to interview Mother Teresa, and then go onto Bangladesh, to report on a hospital that no one else would build," he said.
It just so happened that I had a couple of weeks of vacation coming up, so, after consulting with my wife, Norma, I agreed to go on this trip to South Asia and, during it, I began to realize that anytime you get involved with Lonnie Rex, there is never a dull moment.
When I arrived in Calcutta, I was shocked to see the terrible poverty of this Indian city, with about 250,000 people living on its festering streets. Soon, I hailed a taxi which took me to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity headquarters, and I was ushered into a simple room where the "Saint of the Gutters" lived.
It was bare, except for a whirring fan that was losing the battle to alleviate the unbearable sweltering heat, a small bed, on which she slept, and a picture of her with Pope Paul VI, the then leader of worldwide Catholic Church.
Within minutes, Mother Teresa swept into her tiny room, and began speaking, I soon realized that that, although she was small in stature -- 4-foot-11-inches tall - this lady of Albanian descent, was a giant to the have-nots of life that she ministered to on the subcontinent of India, as well as others around the world. Her friends were the starving, the dying, and the poor.
As a young reporter, I immediately warmed to this gentle woman who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for I discovered that she had seen more poverty than anyone I had ever met. And right at the start, I was surprised to hear her express pity for the "poverty-stricken West."
She fixed her eyes on me and said, "Young man, the spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people.
"You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don't know what it is.
"What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God."
Mother Teresa then declared that the teeming millions of the poor of the developing world have a lesson to teach us in the affluent West.
"They can teach us contentment," she said, her leathery face gently smiling. "That is something you don't have much of in the West. I'll give you an example of what happened to me recently. I went out with my sisters in Calcutta to seek out the sick and dying.
"We picked up about 40 people that day. One woman, covered in a dirty cloth, was very ill and I could see it. So I just held her thin hand and tried to comfort her. She smiled weakly at me and said, 'Thank you.' Then she died. She was more concerned to give to me than to receive from me. I put myself in her place and I thought what I would have done. I am sure I would have said, 'I am dying, I am hungry, call a doctor, call a Father, call somebody.' But what she did was so beautiful. I have never seen a smile like that. It was just perfect. It was just a heavenly gift. That woman was more concerned with me than I was with her."
I flushed when I asked Mother Teresa her age at that time, and she put me at ease and said, "There is no need to be embarrassed. I'm 64."
She added with a twinkle in her eye: "I'm getting old now aren't I? But it's a wonderful thing to be able to spend all those years doing something beautiful for God."
This incredible Catholic nun, revered for her tireless dedication to the world's most wretched, died on Friday, September 5, 1997 surrounded by grieving sisters of her order. She was 87 and she left this earth having done many "beautiful things" for God. What an example she was to all of us and that was the one interview I will never forget, and was Lonnie Rex who arranged it!
Muhammad Mansur Ali, who was assassinated shortly after Dan interviewed him
He then had asked me to fly to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and before going to report on the hospital he had built in a remote part of the country, I was able to secure an interview with the then Prime Minister, Muhammad Mansur Ali, and it turned out to rather surreal experience. When I arrived at his office, it was full of clucking chickens, and the staff had to chase them outside, and then in strode the Prime Minister, a former London attorney, with his entourage. When he saw my tape recorder, he said firmly, "No recorder. Just take notes."
I have to confess that my shorthand was not too good at that time (and still isn't), and I was having a tough time keeping up with him as he rattled on at great speed. Finally, after a most embarrassing half hour, he called the interview to a halt, and I left scratching my head and was greeted by the scratching chickens running around outside.
I then traveled quite a distance to report on the hospital that Lonnie had built, and returned to London, not quite knowing what to do with my "interview" with the Prime Minister.
Then, a few weeks later, I was working on a night shift at the Daily Express. It was August 15, 1975, and I suddenly noticed some other reporters gathering around the clattering Teleprinter, and so I joined them. It was then that I got the shock news that Muhammad Mansur Ali, along with his family, had been assassinated, by a group of military officers. At the same time, the President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was also murdered along with his whole family.
I was stunned, but then I quickly put together a story on the chickens in the Prime Minister's office, and my rather disastrous interview with him, and was later glad that I could write the other story called "The Hospital That No One Else Would Build," which was carried in several Christian newspapers.
My final "adventure" brought about by Lonnie Rex, ended up with me being locked up in a cell for a terrible night at Lagos Airport.
It was meant to be a joyful return for me to Nigeria, the land of my birth, but instead it turned into a nightmare. Some 36 years ago, I had stepped off the plane from Nairobi, Kenya, where I had been reporting on Lonnie's work in Kenya, and had just landed at Lagos International Airport. I approached the immigration official's desk. He began thumbing through my British passport and then summoned another official to come over to talk to me.
"Why are you here?" he snapped.
"I'm a journalist and I have come to write a story about an orphanage here in Nigeria," I replied.
Not realizing that, at the time you were supposed to offer a bribe to enter the country, he took me away and roughly shoved me into a nearby cell.
"Why are you doing this?" I protested as the door slammed shut. "I was born in this country! What a welcome home!"
Dan pictured with another prisoner
He ignored my protests and I found myself in that small cell with four Africans who all looked bemused at a white man being locked up with them. I noticed that there were only four beds and there were five of us and, thankfully, one of the prisoners kindly offered me his bed.
I had never been imprisoned before and I spent a terrible night, aware that the Nigerians were going through a period of executing prisoners by firing squad on a nearby beach and showing it live on television. I certainly didn't want to be featured in that way on Prime Time TV in Nigeria.
I prayed harder than I had ever done before and I told the other prisoners, who were all Muslims, that I was a Christian and we spent many hours sharing our beliefs with each other.
The next morning, I was summoned before the Lagos Airport chief immigration officer, who told me that I was "not welcome" in Nigeria and that I would be deported back to Britain on the "first available flight."
He stamped my passport with the words "Persona Non Grata" and, within a couple of hours, I said goodbye to my new-found friends, and was taken, a rifle butt pushed in my back, and frog-marched to the waiting plane that would take me back to Gatwick Airport, just outside of London.
I had only been locked up for one night, but I began to understand what it was like for my brothers and sisters around the world who were being imprisoned for their faith. I hadn't been singled out because I was a Christian, but because I didn't pay a bribe, but now, for the first time, I understood the horror of incarceration and what the writer to the Hebrews meant when he wrote in chapter 13, verse 3, "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."
There hasn't been a day since then that I haven't remembered in prayer those in prison in around the world for their faith and I thank Lonnie Rex, for making that possible, though it was something I would never recommend for anyone else.
So why I have I shared just some of the experiences that Lonnie Rex got me involved in? The reason is that I just received a copy of his new book, written with Richard Young, called "My Amazing Adventures with God: From Polio and Paralysis to Walking with the Pope," - Tate Publishers -- which chronicles Dr. Rex's own journey from the fields of rural Oklahoma to bring large-scale humanitarian aid around the world.
Stricken with polio at 13, Lonnie Rex prayed to be like the boy who gave Jesus his lunch of loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000. Doctors did not expect him to live past 20.
Today, he's 85 and still passionate to feed the multitudes and tell their stories. You'll be inspired to learn of all the people and history he has shaped along the way and his long marriage to Betty Sorrells Rex, continues today.
Lonnie with Mikhail Gorbachev
Many people dream of being used of God to touch people around the world. This life was not a dream for Lonnie Rex; it was reality. And during his travels he's connected with world leaders and some of the most influential religious leaders of the second half of the 20th century. They have included Oral Roberts, T.L. Osborn, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev, President George H.W. Bush, President Ronald Reagan, John Osteen, President Vladimir V. Putin, and Mohammed Ali. This is only a small portion of the total list of people Lonnie has known and worked with around the world.
Lonnie told me, "One interesting time of my life was when I worked for Muhammad Ali, the famed boxer. I organized his charity called 'World' and he placed half of his purse it in for humanitarian causes. I ran that for him for five years and attended all his fights with tickets on the front row. I would also visit him when he had his home in California, and his training camp in Michigan. By the way, his wife at the time, was named Lonnie."
Not surprisingly after my own experiences, I was interested to learn that Lonnie was arrested in Ghana for "attempting to overthrow the government," when in truth he was bringing a moped to a leper colony. He also brought two C-47 planes full of food for the nation of Armenia, and even traveled to North Korea at their invitation, three times! He became friends with the Cardinal of Warsaw who became Pope John Paul II while delivering milk to the children of Poland.
If that wasn't enough, Vladimir Putin was his personal KGB agent when he traveled to the Soviet Union at the end of the cold war. He visited refugee camps of Ethiopian Coptic Christians where babies were born too weak to cry. He promised them he would tell their story to the world. He kept his promise.
He received the highest honors South Korea could bestow on a non-Korean, and was he was also knighted by the Russian Orthodox Church.