Hospital Attacked!

News From The Woodrows – November 6, 1991

Dear Friends,

Fear not thou, for I am with thee:
Be not dismayed; for I am thy God:
I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee,
Yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand,
Saying unto thee, ‘Fear not, I will help thee.’
Isaiah 41:10,13

It was over ten years ago that one of our good friends, Betty Rich, first brought my attention to these verses. It was the Lord’s promise to Israel as they passed through difficult days. What an encouragement it must have been for Isaiah to hear the omnipotent God say, “Fear not, I will help thee.”

We don’t hear the voice of God as Isaiah did. But if actions speak louder than words, then surely there are times when God thunders this very truth in our own ears. For us, October 12, 1991, was one of those times.

That morning I headed out to Marrere as usual, stopping by the city health headquarters to pick up a truckload of nurses and technicians needing transportation to the hospital. The first indication that things were not right came as we headed out of town. We encountered the usual traffic on the way to Marrere, only today the vehicles were coming back at us still laden with workers. At the turnoff to the dirt road that winds up the hill to the hospital, local people were restlessly milling about. They stopped the car to warn us that there had been an attack at the hospital just two hours earlier. Renamo guerrillas had raided the hospital. Equipment had been destroyed. Patients had died.

We hurried on to the hospital. The risk involved in finding out quickly who and what had been hurt seemed more bearable than the suspense of not knowing. As we entered the hospital, signs of the attack were everywhere. Windows were shattered. Halls, offices, and wards were strewn with the debris of overturned and broken equipment. There wasn’t a locked door downstairs that had not been broken down as the guerrillas ransacked the building. The premises were still mostly abandoned. Few of the patients had returned after their early morning flight into the bush.

As I ran up the stairs to the surgical ward I was amazed and relieved to find the storeroom for the Grace Missions and COCAMO supplies had been untouched. After the raid last 29 December COCAMO had put a steel grate across the doorway, but it was incorrectly installed and couldn’t be locked. Behind the grate the original door didn’t even have a latch. It was held shut with a padlock and hasp attached by only three screws. Apparently the guerrillas didn’t notice this, since they left the door alone though the presence of the only burglar bars in the hospital clearly indicated it was a room of some importance. The medicine and other supplies within would have been worth far more than everything else they carried off combined.

The treatment room at the entrance to the surgical ward was a mess. The door had been broken in and the cabinets ransacked. Five feet away was the door to the surgical block – untouched. Patients cowering on a nearby veranda said they heard the soldiers shouting to each other about getting into the surgical suite to carry off the equipment and medicines there. According to the patients, they pounded the door again and again to no avail, though it is no stronger than other doors in the hospital. After examining the door later, I am somewhat incredulous. Either God “helped” it in a remarkable way, or the panic stricken patients were mistaken in their perceptions. In any event, our thanks and praise to God for His deliverance is undiminished. It is remarkable that the guerrillas carried out so much destruction yet completely missed the two most valuable areas of the hospital, and the two areas in which Grace Missions has heavily invested. Truly the Lord our God helps us!

After checking out the patients who had trickled back to the wards, I headed off in search of the ones still hiding in the countryside. There were rumors that at least two surgical patients had died during the confusion. Indeed, the stories of the patients were amazing. Anywhere from 30 to 300 guerrillas came marching out of the bush at the first light of dawn. A few had rifles and there was one bazooka. Most carried spears, machetes, bayonets, or bows and arrows. Upon reaching the hospital they began firing the rifles into the air. Pandemonium broke out as patients awoke to the fearful sounds of an attack. Everyone who could do so fled. One man who had just had an emergency operation three days before to remove gangrenous bowel pulled out all his tubes, catheters, and IV’s and dashed from the building. Though he was making an excellent recovery, he had hardly moved a muscle since the operation, somewhat frightened by all the contraptions hanging off his body. As he fled across a field near the hospital, adrenaline surging through his veins, people saw him suddenly keel over, dead. Most likely he was the victim of a pulmonary embolus, a rare postoperative complication that could easily have evolved under these circumstances.

Another patient, this one a frail old man, had undergone major abdominal surgery the day before. He arrived at the hospital significantly anemic. This was aggravated by a greatly prolonged operation with constant oozing of blood. He ended up with a hematocrit of 21, about half the blood cells a healthy American has supplying oxygen to his body. In this state, he scrambled from bed, ran down the second floor corridor, vaulted over a wall onto a roof below, then leapt another fifteen feet to the ground, ran across the courtyard, through the gate, and into the bush. When I found him later that morning he was still breathless, at least a mile from the hospital. Fear is a powerful stimulus. One wonders what might be accomplished for good if we only feared the right things. “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn ye whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him” Luke 12:4-5. “And by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil” Proverbs 16:6.

Patients who couldn’t flee sought hiding places wherever they could. One debilitated TB patient managed to conceal himself atop a wardrobe where he remained unnoticed, but from which vantage point he had a good view of the systematic ransacking of the hospital. The guerrillas snatched everything in their path, even the dishes, food, water pitchers, pajamas, and clothing of the patients. Thankfully Renamo has recently altered its strategy in carrying out such raids. A few years ago, as part of their terrorism campaign they wantonly massacred people who couldn’t flee. Now that Mozambique is moving to free, open elections, in which Renamo will be allowed to participate, they can’t afford to continue such tactics. In this attack, many of the soldiers were scrupulously polite and reassuring to the patients as they robbed them and the hospital, telling them they wished them no harm. Indeed, when the dust settled, the only death was that of the one surgical patient.

Nevertheless, the experience was unnerving. All but two of my patients pleaded to be discharged, leaving the ward almost empty. As part of their propaganda to undermine use of the hospital, the soldiers left a photo of the Renamo leader with a message that they would be back to finish the job. Taking the hint, I returned later that night to transfer our most valuable items from the surgical block and to make repairs to the useless grates such that they could be securely locked. When I finally finished it was pitch dark. There was no electricity, due to other guerrilla attacks on the power lines bringing electricity to our district. The two young women left alone on the night shift didn’t even have a candle or kerosene lamp. They clung to each other in the darkness. No government soldiers had been stationed at the hospital to protect it even in the face of such an obvious threat. The two nurses dejectedly asked why they sat there waiting to be kidnapped.

I shared their frustration when I returned to the darkened city and saw, as usual, all the clubs and bars lit up. When external power is cut off, the city fires up its own small generator to furnish electricity to the “vital organs” of Nampula, which for some strange reason consists of all the local night spots but not the hospitals, schools, orphanages, or churches. The god of this world has his little day, does he not? But the God we serve is greater. We have seen that yet again in this gracious deliverance from Satan and his minions. Truly they can go no further than God permits. “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” I John 4:4.

Well, this was just the beginning of an eventful month. There is much more to report. The rest, however, would be anticlimactic so I will save it for the next letter. But these events alone were a sufficient reminder to us of how much we owe to you who pray for us, write, and support us in this work. Thank you for taking your part!

In His grace,

Charles& Julie

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