Ben, the World Traveling Risk Taking Journalist
Ben is the probably the biggest risk taker I have ever met. It’s nothing for him to hop on a plane and go to a place deemed unsafe by the U.S. Department of State. Twice he has been to North Korea and the first time he got a bad case of dysentery and almost died in a hospital in the country.
I first met Ben at Friday night Bible study. Soon thereafter he invited me to hang out with he and his mates, at a former Nazi military base. So there we all were, traversing around a place of darkness where the air was tight and uncomfortable. The experience brought every one of my history classes and every History Channel documentary that I’ve seen to life.
Sometimes God puts people in your life and you realize what a blessing they are- genuine friends that have shown their loyalty in challenging situations. Ben is one of those kinds of friends. From a guy that lost his mother to cancer at the age of eight, to guy that has a big heart to do what he can for people (he’s even tried to personally help out the homeless), to a guy that is growing in his faith, to now a guy that has just been blessed to get his dream job in New Zealand- I’m sure that the world will be seeing a lot more of Ben.
AP: You’re from the Pacific Northwest part of the U.S. What’s Portland like?
BM: Keep Portland weird! And if you really need to spruce something up, put a bird on it!
In all seriousness, though, Portland (or Stumptown, or Bridgetown, or PDX, or many, many other nicknames) is a great place. It’s a big city with over half a million people, but the -people are very laid-back, creative and open-minded. It’s not always exactly like the TV series “Portlandia,” but that show does a pretty good job showing what the culture is usually like. It can be a little wet for some weather-wise, but the coffee is to die for. Powell’s Books is a definite must-see for anyone visiting. Ditto Voodoo Doughnut.
AP: You’ve lived in the U.S. Sweden, Germany, and now New Zealand. And you’ve traveled to so many countries that I’ve lost count. How has traveling affected your faith in God?
BM: It’s taught me to put my faith in Him, to appreciate the wonder of His creation, and brought me closer to Him. A lot of the time I travel to a destination without any prearranged plans, and I simply see where God leads me when I’m in a place. The world is an amazing place – and it was all created by Him. Whether it’s the deserts of Oman, the steppes of Kyrgyzstan or the wilds of Iceland, it was all created by God in a beautiful, perfect way.
When I’m traveling, I also try to treat every day as a gift. None of us know what will happen tomorrow exactly. Traveling helps teach a person to live in the moment – and sometimes really puts the “treat your neighbours the way you would like to be treated” ethos to the test.
AP: You’ve been to North Korea twice + Afghanistan. Describe those experiences in a few words.
BM: One could write a whole book about such experiences – and many people have.
Both North Korea and Afghanistan were filled with their own unique challenges and rewards. One (North Korea) is a tightly controlled society beyond almost anything we can imagine, while the other (Afghanistan) is a chaotic country in transition that is at a crossroads of where its future might lead. Getting into North Korea was certainly harder, and the first time I nearly died from a serious illness I contracted in the rugged northern part of the country. But it renewed my faith in God in a way I could never have expected, cliché as it sounds. Afghanistan was easier to get into (the embassy in Germany I went to for my visa was incredibly relaxed), but like North Korea it made me realise just how fortunate I have been in my life. There’s real hurt in those places, both economically and spiritually.
AP: What’s the most memorable story that you’ve ever covered?
BM: That’s a tough one because there has been so many I’ve covered. There’s a few stories that stand out because they were unique, but whether or not they have news value is a question of personal judgement. I’ll never forget the time I found myself in a castle in Germany one cold autumn night surrounded by actual vampires (or at least members of the very real vampire culture).
I do feel like I’ve done some good though when I write stories that can make a difference in people’s lives. Recently here in New Zealand I wrote a series of stories how damp, cold and mouldy homes are hazardous to one’s health, and how it’s a particular issue in the southernmost region of the country, Southland. They seemed to spark a real discussion about the safety of homes, and I was honoured to be able to tell the stories of people who were brave enough to come forward and share their experiences.
AP: What would you tell a room full of children that, like you, lost their mothers to cancer?
BM: It’s tough, but it gets better over time. My mother died when I was eight years old. It’s hard on any kid, and it certainly was on me. I try to live each day to be the best person I can be to make her proud, and that’s exactly what I’d tell others. Always remember them and do your best to honour their memory.
AP: When you hear the name Jesus what comes to mind?
BM: Freedom. Jesus is the Way, and the key to eternal life. Without Him our lives would be meaningless. If we truly believe in Him and give ourselves to Him, we will live forever.