Provision on Petroleum Row

News from the Woodrows – March 1992

Dear Friends:

It seems life in Mozambique is never routine. The erratic course of recent weeks has led us through troughs of discouragement and peaks of exhilaration. If we could navigate such uneven waters while maintaining a sense of equilibrium, that would indeed be a spiritual accomplishment. The secret of course is realizing everything comes from the hand of a wise, loving, and mighty God, and learning to trust Him. In the words of a favorite hymn:

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

First, the bad news. Shortages in electricity, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, and water have worsened still further. Even the back-up systems which have enabled us to carry on work at home are beginning to fail. After five months of little to no city power, we have hit the rainy season which renders our solar panels nearly useless. Periodically we wrestle our storage batteries over to the home of friends who recharge them using their power supply. We ration our limited store of power by using it only for the office equipment and to keep a fan going during the hot sticky nights we are now experiencing.

Next our high speed modem went out, the device that enables our computer to talk with David Thornton’s computer back in the States. This happened just as I was about to send a lengthy report for the semi-annual advisory committee meeting held in January. Even using “express” mail, the report didn’t reach their hands until after the meetings were over.

Soon after the modem failed, both the computer and printer ceased functioning. Trial and error revealed the defect was in our inventor, the device that converts power from DC to AC. Thankfully, our supplies person, Stan Coss, had sent a complete back-up system for our back-up system, and after replacing the defective part the computer and printer began functioning normally, but the modem, alas, was down for the count. And so we are constrained to correspond by “snail mail.” For this reason, the report in your hands is actually a recap of the month of January.

Within the same week, the city electricity put in a rare appearance at our apartment building. Before we had time to dance a little jig, or even to clap our hands, it went off again, accompanied by a sizzling sound from the charger that replenishes our storage batteries when city power is flowing. The charger had shorted out, ruining it and tripping our master switch. Stan to the rescue again – I pulled the spare charger out of storage and we were soon back in business. However, we felt uneasy, wondering what was going to happen next.

Nothing else broke, but inevitably, we ran out of fuel for our gas stove which Julie uses when there is no electricity. Bottled gas has to come by sea all the way from Maputo. When it arrives, it is sold out within a few hours and then you have to wait at times over a year for the next shipment. By the grace of God we had been able to stock up when it came through nearly a year ago, but the dealer tells us he has no expectation for more. With no electricity and no gas, Julie is now cooking all our meals on the verandah over a charcoal fire.

Next, the city ran out of kerosene, most likely because the demand has been so great during the months without electricity. We use kerosene lamps to light the house and keep the refrigerator working, but for nearly a month none of our regular suppliers have had any. So that the refrigerator may function as long as possible we use only one kerosene lamp to light the house after dark.

Concurrent with all this, diesel also has dried up, again because of the increased demand I suppose. There are two petroleum distributors in Nampula, who in former days only sold to secondary distributors like service stations. Today the fuel never even makes it that far. As quickly as it arrives in town, it is drunk dry by the railroad, the military, government agencies, trucking firms, and farmers. Even the hospital, which has priority status, is sometimes unable to buy fuel. For want of diesel, workers cannot be transported to work. One Sunday morning a woman bled to death in the delivery room because of a retained placenta for want of fuel in the ambulance to carry her to the city hospital just six miles away.

One might say that “miraculously” we have been able to carry on both the spiritual ministries and medical work unabated, despite so many threatening problems. In fact, the month of January saw our greatest output on the surgical service so far, with forty-five major cases performed.

God continues to prop us up materially and emotionally. Though there are shortages of everything, we always have at least enough to get by. Recently we had exhausted all but the last “untouchable” five gallons of our reserve diesel supply. For weeks there had been no diesel and now we had only about two gallons left in the Land Rover. At morning devotions Julie and I prayed that God would somehow provide diesel, and I loaded an empty fifty-five gallon drum into the back of the Land Rover before heading off to work. On the way I turned down the road that leads to the two petroleum distributors and saw it was clogged with trucks – tank trucks from the military and government agencies, commercial trucks piled with empty fuel drums, farm trucks with underground storage tanks dug up and chained to their vehicles.

I walked into the first office where the secretary confirmed the obvious. A shipment of fuel had come in, but they couldn’t sell any yet. There was no electricity to pump it from the railroad car into their own storage tank. When electricity appeared, they would start to sell, but only to those who had written authorization from the manager. If I wanted to join the crowd waiting for the manager to arrive I could, but no one knew when that would be, nor if the electricity would even be turned on that day.

The second dealer also had received fuel on the same train, but there were probably fifty men crowding around the counter. Just to work up to the counter would likely take an hour. Meanwhile the Land Rover was packed with hospital workers and patients needing to get to Marrere, and I had a full clinic scheduled. It seemed the only alternative was to go on to work.

That afternoon as I headed home, I again turned into “Petroleum Row.” It was still clogged with waiting trucks, but when I went into the office of the second distributor it was empty except for the secretary. To my surprise, before I could even introduce myself, she said the manager wanted to see me upstairs in his office, as if I already had an appointment. I began to detect an answered prayer. When I walked in the manager was on the phone explaining to a customer that there was no more diesel to be had, that they had sold out that morning within fifteen minutes of accepting orders. With that out of the way he told me he had a medical problem that greatly worried him and he feared it was even jeopardizing his job. In the course of explaining it to me he was interrupted twice more with phone calls from friends looking for fuel, and they had no more success than the first caller. In the end, his problem was easy to treat, though I didn’t tell him that, and it so happened we had the necessary medication at Marrere which I promised to get for him, which I did tell him. He was greatly relieved. Then he asked what brought me to see him, as if he didn’t know. I told him I wasn’t sure I had enough diesel for even two more trips to Marrere. No problem. Immediately he arranged for the fellows at the pump to fill my drum, and I didn’t even have to wait in line!

We thank God He has provided a way to His throne of grace through Jesus Christ. And we thank you for using that means to keep us going here in Mozambique!

By His grace,

Charles and Julie