by Jacqueline Sandoval
photography by Vicky Martinez
His wristwatch alarm beeps at 4 a.m., local time. He opens his eyes, and it’s pitch black. Where the hell am I? He wonders. Then the details begin to surface: 12,000 feet up, and 200 miles south of La Paz, Bolivia, freezing, despite long underwear and 20 pounds of blankets, in a sagging bed in a $2-a-night hotel in which there is one toilet for four rooms, but no shower and no light, and several bugs that don’t speak the language, and you have to use a bucket to flush the toilet, which the last person apparently forgot to do, so let’s just go back to the room and get dressed.
This is the life of Randy Miller. An unassuming man with liquid blue eyes, wire frame glasses, wavy brown hair, and an easy-going demeanor, dressed just as casually in a denim button up shirt from the Hard Rock Café in Bangkok, who wears his travels proudly, like a badge.
Randy Miller is the editor of World Vision’s magazine, “Global Future” and a part-time professor at the University of La Verne. Miller has a tremendous passion for travel, which has ultimately led him to his current position at World Vision International. Working for World Vision, a humanitarian relief and development organization, ensures that Miller will journey on business to the far corners of the world-places most people never think about, let alone visit. He travels to impoverished countries looking for noteworthy writers to contribute stories to Global Future. The quarterly magazine serves as a vehicle for World Vision International to position itself among policy makers, such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
As Miller sits relaxed and confident, he explains, “Global Future attempts to be a voice for those who may not have a voice in the developing world.” Global Future is used to some degree to change existing policies and to help shape and to get the perspective of the poor into the discussion about policies that will affect the developing world. Miller’s work for Global Future sends him to various exotic locales up to three times a year. The editor says with compassion, “I find it a privilege to get to go to those places, to travel, to see the people and to talk to them.”
His office at World Vision conveys the sense of how much Miller enjoys and appreciates his opportunities to travel the world. There are gifts and souvenirs from Bangkok-a toy three-wheeled motorized taxi called a “tuk tuk,” a bronze miniature gong from Indonesia, and a stone carving of the national bird of Zimbabwe. A shelf full of National Geographic magazines, his favorite magazine, reveal his desire to go on these sorts of assignments. There is also an array of travelogues detailing facts about the corners of the world, where he has traveled. Photographs adorn his office wall. A mother and child from Ecuador. An old woman from Thailand. An endearing photo of a tiny Thai baby swaddled in a white blanket on a hammock. Published in the various publications of World Vision, the photographs are memories of Miller’s extensive travels.
“The wise man travels to discover himself.” – James Lowell
Miller found this quote by Lowell useful in explaining his love of travel. “When a person gets out and sees the world, he is learning and experiencing life to its fullest, just by witnessing how another culture lives.” Miller has journeyed to many exotic locales, such as the busy streets of Vietnam, the indigenous villages in Brazil, the heavenly high plains of Bolivia, the rural towns of Guatemala, and his favorite place, Thailand, for his work at World Vision. International travel intrigues Miller to such an extent that he rarely gets out to venture areas in his own backyard. Miller says, “I’ve been to Bangkok more times than Los Angeles in the last 10 years.”
The editor proudly reminisces about his time spent in Brazil. He recalls traveling with the “floating clinic,” a former tour boat filled with generous health care workers, such as doctors, interns, dentists, on their weekly trek up the Rio Negro. He marvels at the amazing site where the dark iced tea looking waters of the Rio Negro and the milk chocolate waters of the Amazon River march side-by-side for several miles before joining in a turbulent maelstrom in forming the largest river in the world. On Friday, when the work week ends for most, the health care workers visit the riverside villages bursting with people who have no access to medical services. Miller was able to spend the weekend on the boat cruising down the Amazon.
This trip and others like it, help keep Miller informed about international issues to which most people, especially in the United States, are oblivious. Miller says half jokingly, “We watch a half hour of Entertainment Tonight and think we’ve got the news; there is so much going on out there in the world.”
It is apparent that ignorance regarding global issues irritates him. It is because of Miller’s job with World Vision, that he is enlightened about the plight of impoverished countries throughout the world. He has been witness to the hardships of many countries, which is why his travels are so unique. “What bothers me the most is seeing poverty brought about by thoughtless acts of humanity, seeing victims of war, especially children,” says Miller, with a look of sorrow in his eyes.
He travels to enlighten and to be enlightened about the world outside the United States. The tone in his voice as he speaks, reveals his genuine sympathy for the children who do not have a voice. “The nature of my travels is what takes me to places most people wouldn’t go. I go to Uganda to visit AIDS orphans; these are 12-year-olds who are looking after entire families because both parents died of AIDS.” Although he has been a witness to hardship, he tends to remember the positive outcomes of his journeys. He is able to explore the far reaches of the world, and he also educates the policy makers who receive Global Future.
Miller has worked for World Vision since July 1982, when he started as associate editor of World Vision Magazine. Following, in 1990, he worked in the World Vision International office, in the Information and Communications Department. In 1993, he began editing Together, a journal similar to Global Future, which was discontinued in 1999. Miller started editing the latest journal, Global Future, in the winter of 2000. Global Future features notable guest writers such as Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, and includes such stories as the battle against AIDS in African villages.
Miller’s latest journey was a four-week venture around the world in November 2000. He traveled to Entebbe, Uganda, then to London, Brussels, and finally Bangkok. Although he has been to other parts of Africa in the past, it was his first time in Uganda. As part of his job, he is required to attend conferences that serve as a vehicle to promote the magazine and to learn about the issues in various underprivileged countries. Miller heads a staff to generate story ideas and produce photographs for publication in Global Future. He modestly explains, “I do not feel that I personally make a difference, but I hope that the magazine does.”
Travel has always been a part of Randy Miller’s life. He spent his childhood moving from place to place. “I don’t really have any roots; when someone asks me where I’m from, I just say the United States.” He was born in Chicago, and lived there the first five years of his life. Miller grew up the son of a trained plumber, who worked his way through seminary to receive his doctorate. The Miller family also lived in Northern California and Washington. Despite the numerous moves, Miller remembers when he was 5 years old, living on the family’s 40-acre prune orchard in Gridley, Calif. He was having dinner at his grandparents’ house when the phone rang, and the Miller family found out that a fire had destroyed their house. They lost everything. Miller says, “The best thing about the fire is it blew up the TV.” It was in Gridley where his love of reading began. The loss of the television left him with plenty of time to read and to appreciate the art of writing.
Miller began his experience as a published writer for Messenger Magazine, the Church of the Brethren’s monthly magazine, while he was with Brethren Volunteer Service. Brethren Volunteer Service is a program where young people volunteer for one or two years and spend their time helping in hospitals, retirement homes or soup kitchens. “I believe I was one of Messenger Magazines first interns,” Miller claims. For about one year, his project consisted of working as a journalist, writing stories for the magazine. On occasion, he still works on projects for Messenger Magazine, as a writer or a photographer.
Miller’s writing influences are as diverse as his travels. He attended high school at Du Page Community School in Oak Brook, Ill. While attending Du Page, Miller was able to meet Craig Vetter, a writer for Playboy Magazine, on a trip to Playboy Headquarters in Chicago for an English composition class. There, he received his best writing advice from Vetter. He told Miller, “Take a lot of notes.” Miller believes that a good writer must use all of his senses. “Pay attention to detail, because it is the detail that brings things to life,” he advises. In his own writing, Miller aspires to emulate writers such as Pico Iyer, P.J. O’Rourke and John Steinbeck. He admires Steinbeck’s ability to bring to life real people and situations through his writings.
Miller is also a great fan of narrative travel writer Pico Iyer for his ability to make the reader feel as though he is beside Iyer in his observation of places and events. Miller exclaims, “Iyer is one of the best writers I’ve ever encountered.” Miller and Iyer’s lives are parallel in many ways. Both travel to see how people in the world live their lives. They both find it more humbling to go to the poorest parts of the world. Finally, both have trouble telling people exactly where it is they come from. Iyer believes that “home is something inside you.” Miller first became aware of Iyer in 1988, while preparing for his first international trip to Thailand representing World Vision. He happened to find an essay, written by Iyer, about Thailand that appeared in Time Magazine. Miller says, with enthusiasm about Iyer, that he “encountered a writer who knows what he’s doing.” Iyer writes with great detail about his travels and laces it with his non-assuming, open-minded perspective on culture. Miller has established a friendship via e-mail with Iyer and was instrumental in arranging for him to speak at the University of La Verne April 2001.
Miller also enjoys the humor and satire of O’Rourke. He recently read O’Rourke’s book, “Eat the Rich,” which focuses on economics and takes a disdainful view of the subject. He appreciates O’Rourke’s ability to take a complex subject, such as economics, and present it in a way that is both entertaining and educational. “I had to go to an economics conference in Uganda in November, and so I read that [book] and it helped me understand a little bit more of what was going on,” laughs Miller.
Bangkok, the city once known as the “Venice of the East,” now suffers from urbanization, and the canals have virtually disappeared. Nevertheless, this is where Randy Miller feels the most comfortable, internationally. He beams while admitting, “The last time I was in Bangkok, it felt like coming home; I just love it there, and it’s great to see old friends.” Indeed, Miller has made many friends in Bangkok and has many great memories in a city where one can have a lunch of duck and a Coca-Cola for 50 cents and stay in a four star hotel for just $35 a night. “Where else can people be eating lunch and have a snake drop on your table, and slither away,” he laughs. Even though Bangkok has pressed ahead with the use of cell phones, the sky train, and the other effects of modernization, Miller still has a place in his heart for the place he calls his home away from home. “It’s fun to see the differences and notice the changes that have occurred in the last 11 years,” he notes.
One of the biggest contradictions in Miller’s life is that since becoming a husband and a father, he has remained in the same community for 27 years.
Because his childhood was spent moving from place to place, he and his wife Sheri, a kindergarten teacher in Upland, feel it is their mission to give their children Kayla, 14, and Tyler, 8, the roots that he never had growing up. “I feel that to have a sense of belonging brings about stability, and that it is important for children growing up,” he says with concern.
Miller met his wife Sheri while attending the University of La Verne in 1976, while she was conducting an experiment passing out chewing gum for her sociology class. They became good friends, and eventually their relationship turned more romantic in nature. “We used to spend late nights drinking coffee and talking all night at Michael J’s,” Miller says with a smile. Randy Miller is a 1978 graduate of ULV. He also served as the second editor in chief of La Verne Magazine.
Miller finds time in his schedule to contribute to the community. He is an active member of the Church of the Brethren. He recently participated in a church performance with his son Tyler, playing the drums while his son performed in a play with the other children. Music is not just a passion but a method of relaxation for Miller, whether he is playing his guitar by the warm glow of his fireplace or listening to the eclectic folk music by his cousin Tom Waits.
Miller also teaches a course in public relations at the University of La Verne. He has taught this course since 1995. Even though Miller is a part of the public relations machine, the public relations he practices serves to help disadvantaged people around the world. Miller does not believe he is involved in the spin that others in the field perform, and he avows, “Although I have a disdain for public relations, I think teaching it keeps you up on things going on in the media.” He feels it is crucial that his students are educated in public relations campaigns that occur in the mass media. He wants his students to see through the media message.
Like most loving fathers, Miller wants to teach his children to be caring, responsible and learn to respect others. He has hopes that one day he can help to enrich the lives of his children by taking them on an international journey. His blue eyes light up, as he exclaims, “I would love to take my children to a place like Bolivia or Brazil, so they can see how other cultures live. He wants them to see and understand how most of the world lives, without electricity, running water and telephones. Miller also wants to give them some perspective on how privileged they are to live without worrying about where their next meal is coming from, or about their safety. Of all the things Miller can teach his children about the world, he says it all comes down to being kind and respecting others, for “these are the important life lessons.”