First FIEL Conference

August 2000 – Vol.16 – No.3

Dear Friends:

The high point for me in over ten years of ministry here took place last May, at the first annual “Conferência Fiel” meeting for pastors and church workers held in Nampula.

The conference takes its name from a Brazilian publishing house established by veteran missionary Richard Denham, together with his wife Pearl. After serving several years as a missionary to Brazil, Richard became acquainted with the literature still cherished today from the fathers of the Reformation. He was profoundly influenced by their devotedness to Christ, their commitment to holy living, their lofty view of the majesty and glory of God, and the doctrines they re-discovered from scripture, doctrines which gave rise to the courageous lives they led and the mighty renewal God wrought within His church through their labor and sacrifice.

As a result of Richard’s ministry, several Brazilian pastors were similarly affected. Richard became burdened to see these books translated into Portuguese and widely disseminated through all Brazil. In time God raised up Brazilian translators who shared our brother’s vision, and they began translating and publishing under the name “Editora Fiel”. Today they have translated over 130 titles, all of them books of exceptional quality. In the last two years they have produced a magazine specifically oriented to pastors, excellent in content and attractiveness, that is distributed not only throughout Brazil but also in Mozambique and Portugal. They also organize annual pastors’conferences that have drawn hundreds of Brazilian pastors. Many have written stirring testimonies of how their ministries and their personal lives were transformed by the knowledge imparted through these books and conferences.

The conferences and periodicals are free to pastors, expenses being covered by donors who esteem the literature being disseminated. The books must be purchased, but in recent years God granted Richard the faith and boldness to begin offering even the books free of charge to pastors who enroll in a special book distribution program. Knowing I appreciated Editora Fiel’s books and had sought to distribute them in Nampula, Richard asked me to head up the distribution program for Mozambique. It was hard to pass up that opportunity, but I recommended a brother in Maputo, Karl Peterson, who could serve both Editora Fiel and the Mozambican pastors far more faithfully than I could.

And Karl has done that, making the Editora Fiel project the most satisfying of his various ministries to Mozambican pastors. Paradoxically, the highest concentration of pastors participating in the book distribution program come from the Nampula area, while Karl lives over 1000 miles away in the capital. Several months ago I was discouraged with the frequent disappointments in our local church. Many of our folk are uneducated and their spiritual growth is hindered by inability to read the Bible and reluctance to part with traditions that are contrary to scripture. I suggested to Karl that we sponsor a conference here in Nampula for the pastors registered in his book program and volunteered to handle the logistics for the meeting since I lived in the area. I hoped it would be a means of contributing to men who were on a faster track spiritually than many of the people I deal with in our local church. For his part, Karl was already hoping to meet personally with the men he only knew by correspondence. We anticipated having a small meeting for 10 or 15 pastors, but hoped it might lead to bigger things in the future. Enthusiastically we set to work on the preparations.

From the first, God’s hand in the conference was often apparent. How encouraging it is when you sense something you are doing is not merely a project dreamed up on your own. In retrospect, the first indication this might be more than we envisioned came when Martin Holdt accepted our invitation to address the men on the program. Martin is a gifted pastor and international preacher who is regularly invited to speak at church conferences throughout the English speaking world. I knew him through our family’s association with his church in Johannesburg. He had often expressed an interest to visit Nampula so I had the boldness to ask him to come now, when he could also speak to the handful of pastors we hoped to assemble for the conference. We were delighted when he accepted our invitation.

Next, when we informed “Editora Fiel” in Brazil of what we were doing, they voted to fly the founder and director, Richard Denham, to the meeting as well. His participation turned out to be a great animating force. The obvious affection he had for Portuguese speaking pastors and his delight in furnishing fine books for their use greatly motivated the men at the conference. When Karl and I heard of their desire to send Richard, we had some second thoughts. I felt his visit might be somewhat wasted at such an early stage. We expected minimal participation from the pastors and a lot of blunders on our part as we learned how to host a conference under Mozambique’s difficult conditions. However, the Lord led us to promote the plan, and it proved to be the right decision. Besides the force of his own presence, Richard brought four thousand dollars worth (retail value) of books, study Bibles, and reference works which were sold at the conference for one tenth their listed price. You can imagine the excitement that produced in Nampula where no one has ever seen a Christian book store, where even Bibles and hymnals are hard to come by! Four thousand dollars’ worth of books divided amongst ten to fifteen men would be quite a windfall.

Only there weren’t ten to fifteen men. As it turned out, the quality of Editora Fiel’s publications had impressed some of the more educated and influential pastors in the program even more than we realized. Scholarship does not run deep yet in the Mozambican church. That is constantly improving as the national education system finds its legs and as Bible schools gear up and organizations like Editora Fiel provide opportunities like their book program. But despite the current limitations, at least a few men were reading the materials, some of them voraciously, and were grateful for what they were discovering. When we told them an Editora Fiel conference would be hosted in the area, they enthusiastically recruited all their associates.

And so to our amazement, and some dread on my part, 137 pastors and church workers from various parts of the country mailed in registration forms to attend the conference. Not all of them followed through with their plans, but when the first meeting took place 85 men were in attendance from 24 different denominations! That they appreciated the conference was borne out by the fact that all of them continued straight through all of the 19 sessions during the next two and a half days. We registered no drop-outs! One of our requests before the Almighty was that He would send only those leaders who would benefit from the meetings, and apparently that is what happened.

The purpose of the conference was threefold: 1) to encourage and spiritually refresh pastors as they face the task of ministering to a desperately needy church out of their own spiritually meager resources, 2) to introduce them to the rich legacy left to us by the fathers of the Reformation, and 3) to promote the doctrines of grace amongst Mozambican believers. I was a bit surprised when Martin selected themes majoring almost exclusively on the first objective, but as a pastor of pastors, his heart was for the men to advance in their personal walk with God, in holiness, in prayer, and in their warfare against the evil one. Here again God was leading, and the men responded warmly as he discharged his burden in seven stirring messages.

God’s blessing was again manifested in the translation of the messages. Tyler Hopkins, our other Grace Missions’ missionary, leads a pastor’s seminary in South Africa. He has a promising Mozambican student named Baptista Boa now in his third year at the school. Baptista is praying about a place to minister when he completes his coursework and Tyler has encouraged him to come to Nampula. To promote this, he gave him time off to attend the conference. I had not met Baptista before, but it was soon apparent that he loved the Lord and had been well taught at the seminary. The translator we brought in from Maputo had great difficulty translating for the first session, though he came highly recommended. We knew we had to make some changes. Thankfully, Baptista was available and translated well throughout the rest of the conference. He had not been on our list of potential translators since none of us had met him before, but he turned out to be the most capable of all. We were grateful God sent him and averted a disaster that would have ruined the whole conference!

My part in the conference was setting up the meeting hall, the meals, and the lodging. I had an urgent trip to South Africa to squeeze in before the meetings and because of arriving home four days behind schedule, the conference preparations were in great jeopardy. I had only six days to do what I expected would take ten days. We built a large kitchen at the meeting site with bamboo walls and frame and a huge tarp for the roof. Electric lights were strung from the nearby meeting hall. For only fifty dollars we had a most satisfactory kitchen. The inside of the hall we decorated with curtains and banners purchased in South Africa. Then we set out to find food for all the men. Advice from local pastors, missionaries, and cooks who had hosted conferences before got us past most of the obstacles.

The hand of God was often evident in the mundane preparations for eating and lodging. While in South Africa I had purchased all the stainless steel table settings I could find, enough to serve 86 men. When I left Nampula for South Africa we had 20 men registered for the meeting. That was in keeping with what we expected. As I prepared to return to Nampula a month later, Karl told me there were 54 men registered. That was still fine. But by the time I got home, to my great dismay Karl announced there were now 137 men registered! It seemed impossible to accommodate so many. In the end, “only” 85 made it, just one less than the 86 table settings God had provided! Surely no one would call that coincidence.

When the men arrived for the meetings, 18 needed lodging. I had reserved rooms for 20, a wild guess at the time arrangements were made. Again, God’s ability to lead even as we walk in darkness was apparent. When I learned there were potentially 137 participants, I wondered how we would find chairs and tables in Nampula for so many. But when we showed up to decorate the meeting hall two days before the conference, we discovered a wealthy family had just hosted a wedding party there. They had brought in chairs and tables for 100 people as well as many potted plants, just what I needed! We asked them to let us rent their chairs, tables and plants for the three days of our conference and they accepted! What a provision from the Lord, to find everything already at hand when we were so pressed for time!

The meals were good and on time, thanks to a hard-working kitchen staff. Our two cooks slaved over wood fires day and night till their eyes were so burned from smoke that they could not keep them open. They had agreed to fix 600 meals for five dollars; ten dollars if the meals were good; and 15 dollars if they were good and on time. Of course I expected to pay them more if they truly did a good job, but that is how one starts bargaining here. With so much at stake, the men made sure the food was ready on time, probably a first for Africa. They even indulged me by following such rules as washing their hands and disinfecting raw food with bleach, things that probably seem as superstitious to them as sprinkling with fairy dust would be to us. In the end, I paid them $90 for their diligence and hard work. They were kings wages, as it represented a month’s salary for three days’ work.

Unexpectedly, the kitchen required my constant attention throughout the conference. One of Satan’s thunderbolts was to take both the Land Rover and Toyota out of commission just days before the meeting when there was so much work to be done. Thankfully we still had the big Bedford truck, but I was the only one on our work crew who had a license to drive a truck. That meant it was I who had to be at the farmer’s market at 5:00 each morning to purchase the fresh vegetables and fruits. Throughout the day it was I who brought all the meat in live on the hoof (no refrigeration available for so much food – the animals were slaughtered, butchered, cooked, and eaten right on the site). Contrary to plan, it was I who before each meal fetched the bread fresh from the bakery and brought in the appetizers and desserts prepared by Julie and a neighbor lady in their respective homes. The kitchen work went on without let up until 11:00 each evening when I was finally able to shut off the lights after the last pots and pans and knives and forks were washed, counted, and secured.

The 600 meals cost almost $1000, plus we purchased two thousand dollars’ worth of flatware, kettles, trays, mugs, etc. in order to serve all the food. I am grateful we have those supplies as now we can host more conferences and one day they will be needed for the hospital.

I had three personal ambitions for the conference. One was to enjoy seven messages from Pastor Holdt, a real treat on the mission field where average speakers are what we have on hand. The second ambition was the opportunity of preaching to 85 pastors and church leaders on the topic of my choice. The third was to disseminate a small primer on theology I have prepared in Portuguese that follows closely the 1689 Baptist confession. You have already heard how the first hope was dashed when the kitchen work required my constant involvement. Then, because of time pressure beginning a month earlier when we left for South Africa to buy material for the conference and send two containers of building supplies to Nampula, I had no opportunity to prepare my talk or assemble the primer. What a disappointment that was, to be shut out on all three of my personal aspirations.

However, after midnight before the last day of the conference I printed up the mock-up for the primer and sent it to the photocopiers the next morning. To my surprise, they not only copied the book, but colated and bound all the pages as well without my asking. That made the remaining work much easier, and in the end I was able to distribute the booklet as the last event of the conference Friday night. The pastors, who had already given a warm response to my message earlier in the day, received the primers with enthusiasm. Since then I have been heartened by visits from several men saying the primer was so helpful they wanted copies for their fellow pastors. How gracious of God to salvage that project after all hope for it had been abandoned!

I was similarly disappointed to have to speak on so important an occasion without writing out the message in advance or rehearsing the presentation. Though I wanted to prepare carefully, kitchen duties rendered that impossible. It was not until an hour before the message that I could put an outline together. Yet the unction of the Holy Spirit made up for all the deficiencies and the message was better than my most carefully prepared sermons.

My topic was true salvation, the means and the manifestations. I emphasized personal experiential knowledge of God as true salvation (John 17:3), with faith alone as the means (Ephesians 2:8-9), and the necessity of a transformed life in order to have any assurance of the genuineness of our salvation or that of any one else (I John 3:10). A common mistake here is to accept religious ritual and submission to the church’s moral code as the essence of Christianity when that is only the husk. “That I may know Him,” was Paul’s aspiration and we also must settle for nothing less as the goal for ourselves and those to whom we minister.

Another common mistake here is to preach the proof of salvation, good works, as if it were the means to it. The corollary that almost always accompanies this error is to let the means of salvation, faith, stand as evidence that one must be saved. That is, a superficial profession of faith with nothing else backing it up is accepted as proof that someone is “one of us”, often with disastrous results in marriage and in church leadership. It was easy to illustrate the confusion that comes into the church and our personal lives when we aren’t clear on these fundamental issues, as types and examples abound both here and in the western church.

The final point was the supreme importance of preaching Christ, not works or church rules or even religious activity, in order to produce the faith that alone leads to genuine conversion.

Each point in the message was an area of confusion in the churches I am familiar with. The opportunity to strike those nails hard on the head at a conference attended by so many church workers was one of the great motivating factors for me in the whole undertaking.

In the end, the men seemed pleased and encouraged by the conference. Pastor Holdt’s messages were stirring and well directed to the spiritual needs of the pastors. Richard Denham and his books and talks animated the men. The practical details I was responsible for passed without a hitch, far from what I expected for our first attempt. Baptista’s participation was an invaluable and unexpected asset. Karl’s organization and leadership was excellent. The pastors responded with enthusiasm. We thank God for His blessings on the conference and anticipate more men in the next one. We pray that these conferences and the book distribution program will grow to national proportions, significantly strengthening the pastors and local churches.

After ten years of struggling nearly alone in our church work, it was satisfying to be part of a team and to see things happening that one man alone could never accomplish

Which reminds us of those who labor with us from home. As always in our letters, we must end by thanking you for your help. The fact that many people remember us before the Almighty has been especially evident during this time.

By His grace:

Charles and Julie Woodrow

Winning the Minister’s Approval

Fall 1996 – Vol.12. – No.4

“Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings. He shall not stand before mean men.” Proverbs 22:29

Dear friends:

This is a verse I have more than once shared with the surgical team during the past term. They are a hard working crew and their productivity is enormous compared to their peers. Arnaldo and Jeremias, for example, recently churned out ten hernia repairs and eight hydrocele operations in only nine hours. In six years Arnaldo has never missed a day of work. All eight members of the team labor diligently. Yet our three nurses are each paid less than $30.00 a month (plus $60.00 from money earned through patient contributions), and the four orderlies receive between $20.00 and $25.00. For the orderlies, such as Jeremias who has eight mouths to feed on his pittance, the paycheck is gone by the third week, and by the fourth week there is no food to feed the little ones. When I say “food” I mean manioc root and dehydrated minnows, not rice, potatoes, or meat of any sort. When it seems hard work isn’t paying off and discouragement sets in, this is one of several verses from Proverbs I use in urging the team to remain diligent in their business. “God will stand behind His word,” I tell them, “if for our part we read it and be­lieve it. Your good work will not always go unrecognized. One day you will stand before kings if you just keep serving faithfully.” Then we pray and do not hesitate to remind God of reality as He has stated it in scripture.

Well, in the past month, God fulfilled that verse for the surgical team, and especially Arnaldo, in a literal and amazing fashion. I said in concluding our last report that “it will take a whole succession of extraordinary events for Grace Missions to establish its own health center.” Prepare yourself for the tale of extraordinary event number one. It will leave you overwhelmed at God’s power to order the events of men’s lives, great and small.

As usual this term, it all began in the furnace of affliction – actually, a few days before that, on July 24 when all appeared to be normal. Julie and I were reading the scripture portions for that day in “Daily Light on the Daily Path”. They dealt with being “patient in tribulation”. The last verse was John 16:33 which for reasons I did not then understand seized my heart and continued to inject itself into my thoughts for the next several days. This preoccupation must surely have come from the Spirit of God, which indwells every believer, for it was perfect preparation for what was about to take place in the ensuing weeks. The verse was this: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

The bombshell dropped on 6 August. For several days Marrere had been getting ready for a special visit from the Vice Minister of Health. Perhaps I should have had an inkling of foreboding when he appeared at the hospital with our arch nemesis Dr. Simon in tow. The visit was uneventful until the delegation reached the surgical block. Once the Vice Minister, Dr. Simon, the Provincial Director, city director, hospital director, and all the other chiefs and dignitaries were inside, Dr. Simon confronted the Vice Minister with the fact that Arnaldo was still openly and unabashedly performing operations at Marrere in complete disregard for the written directive from the Ministry of Health forbidding even his presence in the operating room. I immediately reminded Dr. Simon that the written directive was dated before the visit of Dr. Vaz, the head of surgery for the entire country. The Vice Minister rejoined that Dr. Vaz had nothing to do with the matter and that I was obliged to follow the directives of the Ministry of Health, not the opinions of other surgeons. The Provincial Director was right beside me and he was the one who had returned from the Ministry of Health with the information that the issue had been discussed at the Ministry and that Dr. Simon’s edict forbidding Arnaldo’s presence in the O.R. had been overturned. So I waited for him to untangle the situation, as he alone knew all the pertinent information, but he remained studiously silent. Dr. Simon seized the opportunity to resume his diatribe against the egregious practice he had discovered at Marrere that was now compounded by an utter disregard for the directives “from the Minister himself” (hyperbole on his part). I could not defend myself without deflecting Dr. Simon’s attack onto the Provincial Director, who has been our strong ally since January. Finally I interrupted with the comment that I could answer all of his accusations but preferred to discuss the matter in private and not in front of the surgical team and all the visiting dignitaries. The Vice Minister said it would be unnecessary to discuss the matter further as he would let the Minister of Health deal with me personally.

That ended the discussion and also the tour of the surgical block, which had only gotten underway. However, the Vice Minister walked out with the warning that the Minister would be unhappy with the report he would get upon their return to Maputo.

That evening I called the Provincial Director to find out how the tables had turned and to set up a private audience with the Vice Minister. He said it would not be possible to speak with the Vice Minister. Dr. Simon had been actively campaigning against Marrere at the Ministry of Health. He had turned the Vice Minister against us and apparently had convinced the Minister to support his position as well. Immediately I called Dr. Vaz to find out what exactly had taken place several months ago to get Arnaldo released from Dr. Simon’s restrictions. He was amazed when he heard of Dr. Simon’s attack that day. He said that after he spoke to Dr. Simon last November, the latter had promised not to raise the issue again. Apparently, that was the extent of the “fix” that Dr. Vaz had arranged at the Ministry. In reality, the verbal promise Dr. Simon offered Dr. Vaz with no written repeal of his former edict simply cast the surgical program at Marrere into an even more vulnerable position should Dr. Simon desire to terminate it, as he now seemed bent upon doing.

At this point it is important to repeat what regular readers of these chronicles already know, that because of the scarcity of surgeons in Mozambique, many nurses are authorized to do surgery (after completing an extensive training program) and they operate miles from any surgeon who could bail them out of difficulties should they arise. Arnaldo, on the other hand, only operates when I am present in the hospital. Moreover, the Ministry of Health has regularly received reports of Arnaldo’s surgical experience since 1992 and many people, such as Dr. Vaz, chief surgeon of Mozambique and former Minister of Health, the former Vice Minister, the former National Director of Health, and the former chief of Human Resources at the Ministry, all have known of Arnaldo’s work and given their approval, sometimes tacitly, sometimes enthusiastically. However, Dr. Simon was a general practitioner doing surgery in Nampula when I arrived in 1990 and opposed the creation of a second surgical center so near the city. He was later promoted to a high office at the Ministry of Health and has used his position to our detriment.

In a visit last year he insisted we cut our productivity by over 50%, saying that all operations had to be done by me. His written directive, which followed later, forbade Arnaldo from even scrubbing on cases. That meant I would have to do all my operations working entirely alone in the operating room, which essentially eliminated the other 50% of our output!

Once again, Dr. Vaz promised to campaign in our behalf to get the matter overturned. I assured him that I could not attend to the huge surgical case load at Marrere while working under Dr. Simon’s restrictions and would sooner relinquish my contract than cut our productivity, increase our working hours, or turn away patients with significant surgical illnesses. I needed the Minister to state in writing that Arnaldo was authorized to continue his duties in the operating room as formerly. Nothing less than that would be sufficient to allow our work to continue.

It was a tense time, since everything was now on the line and there were no encouraging reports regardless of whom I spoke with. For a week, things only got worse. Dr. Vaz was unable to secure an audience with the Minister, so he tried talking with the Vice Minister. The Vice Minister rebuffed him and repeated his ominous warning that he too was waiting to speak with the Minister and that what he had to say did not bode well for Dr. Vaz or me. My nightly phone calls to Dr. Vaz furthered our friendship but painted an increasingly desperate picture.

For the surgical team, the situation was even more grim. I at least could fall back on the church work for satisfaction. It always needs more attention than I can give it, as does the family. As I braced myself for becoming medically unemployed, I could still rejoice at the prospect of fulfilling many long delayed projects on those two fronts. For the rest of the team, there was nothing to look forward to if the program folded. For the orderlies, there wouldn’t even be employment.

Perhaps the most poignant moment for me came the Sunday after the Vice Minister’s visit. I was preparing for the evangelistic service at the hospital, attended by nearly a hundred patients and family members when I was pierced by the realization that these opportunities might soon end. Never had the hospital at Marrere with its foul latrines and roach infested rooms seemed like such a lovely place to work as during that moment when I saw the rich evangelistic opportunities it afforded slipping away.

My favorite words of scripture are the two that begin Ephesians 2:4. They are the words that form the hinge upon which our eternal destiny turns. After describing the situation every one of us is in until coming to saving faith in Christ – a circumstance infinitely more hopeless than the one we were now in with the Ministry – Paul begins to describe the unbelievable change in the believer’s condition with the words, “But God…”

The account that follows is truly a “But God…” event! The human agent God used in orchestrating it all was Dr. Geelhoed, a specialist in surgical endocrinology and professor of surgery at George Washington University medical school in Washington, D.C. Dr. Geelhoed has been touring southern Africa throughout 1996 as a Fulbright scholar and had come to Mozambique on a visit earlier in the year. During that visit he passed through Nampula with Mozambique’s own surgical endocrinologist, Dr. Ivo Garrido. Since Marrere is the only surgical center in the province that does endocrine surgery, the Provincial Director made sure these two specialists paid us a visit. I presented a comprehensive report of all our thyroid cases, and the visit came off very well. This was in part because Dr. Geelhoed’s interest in southern Africa, like mine, is not purely surgical. He is a Christian from the States and had done short term missionary work in Africa before embarking on his career in academic medicine. He never lost his interest in Africa though, and applied for the Fulbright scholarship in part because it afforded the opportunity to re-live his experiences as a missionary doctor.

Dr. Geelhoed returned for a second brief visit to Mozambique just when our problems arose. As he tells it, he was sitting in the Ministry of Health awaiting an audience with the Minister who wished to thank him officially for services rendered on his first visit when he saw a letter from Dr. Simon suggesting that the surgical program at Marrere be abolished. Having become a personal friend of ours and an enthusiastic promoter of Marrere both in the States and Africa, he was appalled. He postponed his meeting with the Minister in order to draft a strong letter praising the “outstanding program” he had encountered at Marrere, especially extolling the high quality of training evidenced by the excellent work done by Arnaldo. Dr. Vaz was only too happy to translate it all into Portuguese and when his audience with the Minister was re-scheduled several days later he surprised him with a eulogy of our ministry that would bring color to the cheeks of any corpse. His glowing report coupled with his lofty stature amongst officials at the Ministry completely won the day for us. The Minister said Dr. Simon was but a child who did not know what he was about, and that he would be sure to visit our surgical center on his upcoming trip to Nampula.

Following his visit, Dr. Geelhoed immediately called me at home in Nampula. I was amazed to hear from someone I thought had returned to the States months ago, and then dumbfounded as he described God’s providence in our behalf. Dr. Geelhoed’s first words to me were, “You must have some powerful prayers behind you. You’re not going to believe what has just happened.” We do, and I scarcely can!

However, God had only begun to turn the tables. When we received word that the Minister would be in Nampula for one day, 27 August, and that Marrere was to be his first stop, I immediately thought of a patient I had seen in clinic a couple of weeks earlier. How I would have loved to present her to the Minister as an example of why the surgical program at Marrere was vital to northern Mozambique! She had undergone a hysterectomy at the Central Hospital over two years ago and healed with a fistula connecting her bladder directly to her vagina. Urine flowed continuously onto her clothing and bedding and made life miserable for her. She was from one of Nampula’s upper class families so had the means to contract at great expense with the most respected local surgeon to perform corrective surgery. Vessico-vaginal fistulas are among the toughest cases we do here, and not surprisingly, after two more operations the defect persisted. Having given up on getting her problem corrected in Nampula, she flew to Maputo and scheduled a consultation with the leading gynecologist in the country. He treated her with medications and refused to offer her an operation. After a lengthy trial of medical treat­ment which was doomed to failure since the problem can only be corrected surgically, he sent her back to Nampula. For two years she had to wear foul smelling diapers until learning that we corrected fistulas at Marrere. She had been seen by me on 7 August, before we knew of the Minister’s upcoming visit, and I scheduled her operation for next October.

Now I just wished there were some way to call her in, do her operation, and present her to the Minister of Health. However, we didn’t have a clue how to get hold of her. But God knows all things, and exactly eight days before the Minister’s visit who should I find waiting for me on the hospital steps but my fistula patient! For reasons no one can explain, she had decided she did not want to wait until October to have her operation. She packed her bags, came to the hospital, and wanted to be operated on at once. She had even skipped breakfast so she could be done that very day!

This was clearly a turn from God. We immediately escorted her into the operating room, and shortly discovered why the Maputo gynecologist had deemed her an unsuitable surgical candidate. She was terrified of anything surgical, though perhaps she had good reason to be in view of her history. The first item of business was to repeat the exam with a special instrument that would give us a clear view of the fistula. It is an entirely painless procedure but the way the whole team had to pin down each of her limbs to allow me even a brief look at the fistula, you would have thought we were playing rugby on the operating table rather than treating a patient. Then she had to be catheterized, which again necessitated everyone piling on the patient and was carried out amid screams of supposed pain and terror. The spinal injec­tion was no different, and even after anesthesia set in she pleaded to be put to sleep for the operation. She was short but very heavy, and we could not risk sedating her too much as her respirations would already be hampered by her partial paralysis and the great weight of her chest and abdomen that had to be moved with each breath. In the face of such utter terror, I marveled that she came in for her operation at all, let alone two months ahead of schedule. However, while it was hard to explain on a human level, I was sure of the ultimate explanation for why she was now lying on our operating table.

For the same reason, I knew everything was going to turn out perfectly, even if we had the laundry men come in and do the operation. And just as we expected, the procedure went flawlessly. We opened her abdomen, dissected out the inside end of the vagina, then opened her bladder and identified the fistula and ureters. Working from inside and outside the bladder we divided the fistula, closed the defects in three layers, and then put a patch of fatty tissue (of which there was an abundance) between the bladder and the vagina. Now all she had to do was heal.

And heal she did. She did not loose even a drop of urine in the post-op period. The seventh day after surgery we removed her urinary catheter and she began voiding normally for the first time in over two years. The next day the Minister arrived. We could not have timed it better, but that is one of the hallmarks of God’s providence, isn’t it?

His visit was much different from the one earlier in the month with the Vice Minister. The Minister was accompanied by an even larger and more dignified entourage. The surgical team had carefully prepared a thirty minute presentation we hoped would impress the visitors. We covered a bulletin board with pictures of our most remarkable cases. There were pages of handouts, reams of statistics, and live demonstrations. Some of the statistics regarding the team’s productivity were:

  • Over 13,000 surgical consultations in five years.
  • 3002 operations.
  • 120 consultations in one day, on 10 September 1992.
  • 58 operations scheduled in one day, on 14 September 1994.
  • 95 operations performed in one month, in August 1994.
  • 13 operations performed on one day, on 7 August 1996.

This was not the work of a single individual. There are seven others on the team and each functions well beyond the capacity expected of orderlies or nurses. The orderlies assist on operations and handle sterilization of material, while the nurses operate (in the case of Arnaldo), administer anesthesia, make rounds, work up patients, and perform consultations. I had the opportunity to present each of them to the Minister of Health and praise their excellent service.

Which is where the verse at the head of this letter comes in. For these fel­lows, who live in mud huts with dirt floors and grass roofs, being recognized for their diligent, tireless, and invaluable work in the presence of the very Minister himself was the fulfillment of an impossible dream, but one which we have often referred to in daily devotions with a boldness which could only be justified because God Himself speaks of it in His word.

We concluded the report by presenting our fistula patient. By God’s grace, and certainly that is no empty cliche in this instance, it had taken our team only one consultation, one operation, and 12 days to solve a problem that two regional referral hospitals had been unable to resolve after much pain, expense, and lost time. The effect on the Minister was just what we had hoped it would be. After the presentation he invited me to join him and several other guests for dinner that night so we could discuss the surgical center Grace Missions would like to build, and talk more about Arnaldo (another fulfillment of Proverbs 22:29 – thanks to Dr. Simon he is now known not only throughout Nampula but also in the halls of the very Ministry of Health!).

At dinner that night the minister said that he had decided to prepare a document authorizing Arnaldo to operate as long as I accepted full responsibility for his work. He further said he would not only grant Grace Mission’s request to build a private surgical center in Nampula, but would give it his full support at the Ministry level and wanted it to function as a training center not only for surgical technicians but for doctors who wish to become licensed as full-fledged surgeons in Mozambique.

So now we have the support of the Minister of Health, the Provincial Director, Dr. Vaz (chief of surgery in Mozambique and director of the nation’s surgical training program), and the Nampula businessman’s association. Of all the people whose support is needed for Grace Missions to go ahead with this project, the only one we have yet to win over is the governor of Nampula. The businessmen say that will be a mere formality once they speak to him. They have even suggested they would get the President’s endorsement if that were needed.

What a dramatic demonstration this month has been of the sovereign grace of God in directing the affairs of men! From Doctor Simon to the Minister of Health to Dr. Geelhoed from George Washington University school of medicine to Arnaldo and Jeremias and Julia, our fistula patient, God orchestrates every­thing and everyone to the end that His purposes should be accomplished. And for us, that is a wonderful consolation in the hour of trial, especially since it now appears certain that His purpose is to build a Christian surgical center in Nampula that will serve as a witness to the whole of northern Mozambique. If that happens, it will exceed my most far-fetched dreams, but Ephesians 3:20 speaks of a God who is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” And as the next verse says, “Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen!”

Ministry at Marrere

September 1993 – Vol.9 – No.4

In some of our visits this furlough, people have asked for a better description of the hospital work in Mozambique. Marrere is a 100 bed general hospital though it has the capacity for an additional 20 beds. It has a staff of one doctor; one administrator; 35 nurses, midwives, and technicians; as well as 30 servants. After seeing the picture of it in the last Mozambique Evangel, nearly everyone is amazed to discover it is a large, well built facility. Apparently I have understated its “grandeur” in these letters by calling it a rural hospital. Before independence, it was in fact the “hospital deluxe” for all of north Mozambique and the preferred medical facility for those who could afford it. Its pleasant, rural location five miles outside Nampula gives it a quiet, restful, almost resort-like atmosphere.

When the Africans gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the government confiscated it from the Catholic church who originally intended to use it as a boarding school for ministerial students. That explains why the center of the building is a huge, 4,800 square­ foot chapel with a forty-foot ceiling.

Jutting out from either side of the chapel are the north and south wings. On the ground floor of the south wing is the outpatient clinic. The nurses, midwives, medical technician, and I see about 1,600 patients each month. Patients who wish to be seen on a given day must be present by 8:30 AM. After signing in they wait in the chapel area where several of the pediatric clinics are held. Because these patients are usually accompanied by family members who help them walk to and from the hospital, there is always a crowd waiting for us when we arrive. My heart longs to see an evangelistic message preached every day, applying life-giving medicine to the souls of the people assembled there as we tend to their physical afflictions.

The most common medical malady is malaria, followed by ancylostomiasis – infestations of tiny worms that live by the thousands in the intestines draining the blood of their unwilling hosts. Next is bilharzia, another infestation of worms that invade the skin during their microscopic larval stage. These worms migrate to the bladder and urinary tract where they grow to an inch in size and wreak all kinds of havoc within the suffering patient. These three diseases are practically universal in Mozambique. Added to these maladies are sexually transmitted diseases of every type, including AIDS. Unfortunately, there is no information on the incidence of AIDS in Mozambique. However, in some highly infested areas of neighboring Zimbabwe, tests have been positive for nearly half the population. In Mozambique’s Nampula province there is an unusually high incidence of tuberculosis, along with the usual urinary tract infections, pneumonia, abscesses, and malnutrition.

There is also a tragic paralysis that is the direct result of eating improperly prepared cassava or manioc root, the food staple here. This disease is common and had me and other western doctors stumped until a Canadian farmer (actually an agricultural engineer) working for World Vision diagnosed it for us. To date, everything I know about it I learned from reading one of his agricultural journals. Sadly, the paralysis is irreversible and untreatable.

All the clinics, except one, are done by noon every day, if not earlier. The exception is the surgical clinic which is held only one day each week. Since, as many as 120 patients may show up, we run non-stop till all have been seen. My assistant and I are often still there late at night, working by flashlight, hours after the rest of the hospital (and the electricity) has shut down.

Our patients suffer along with us, since they arrive early and must get through the day without meals, faced with a long trek back home in the dark if they are among the last to be seen. At the end of each day I fill the Land Rover with as many patients as possible since it is unwise to walk through the bush at night. My assistant in the clinic always gets the next day off.

It isn’t necessary to make my clinic so demanding, but by doing it this way, I keep my work week down to four days, or about 35 hours. That leaves time for the spiritual ministry which must have priority. No surgeon operating in the US could see 100 outpatients, do 25 major operations, make regular rounds on 30 to 35 inpatients, maintain reasonable medical records, and still work just 35 hours per week. That is the efficiency of missionary medicine! Of course part of that is because Arnaldo has been trained to stand in for me on most of the simple operations. This is accomplished by scheduling only hernia and hydrocele repairs on my clinic day. By the time I am done with the clinic downstairs, Arnaldo and the OR team have finished eight to ten operations upstairs!

Besides hernias and hydroceles (fluid accumulations in the scrotum that reach the size of small melons), the most common surgical problems include: benign tumors of the uterus and ovaries; bowel obstructions and gangrene; elephantiasis; burns; snakebites; tumors and overgrowth of the thyroid gland; damage to the urinary tract from the bilharzia worm that makes it’s home there; and complications from child birth (where the rectum, bladder, and reproductive tract are so damaged that they all form one large incontinent opening). On top of all that, when compared to illnesses here, everything in Mozambique presents itself on a grand scale. Many patients have suffered for decades without access to surgical care, so when they show up their problems have reached gargantuan proportions. Huge hernias are the rule, for example, and it is not unusual to operate on men whose scrotums hang to their knees and have to be carried in slings because the entire large bowel and most of the small bowel resides there, along with two or three hefty hydroceles. Of course from the waist up they look great – no belly!

Thyroid, uterine, and ovarian tumors are almost never small and neat either. A wise old surgeon once told me his daily prayer was, “Lord, spare me from the interesting case.” It is always the unusual case that bites back, so to avoid problems it is best to handle as few “interesting cases” as possible. You can imagine my chagrin when, during the first months in Mozambique, almost every case that came to me proved to be “interesting.” Of course over time these cases have become routine. The sad consequence of this is that some of the more common cases performed in the US would now be difficult since I never encounter them in Mozambique.

Directly above the clinic in the south wing is a twenty bed maternity ward served by a staff of seven midwives. They attend about 140 deliveries each month. At the onset of labor, a pregnant woman must endure a long walk to the hospital. If the distance is too great, she might not make it at all. On several occasions I have been called to help women who had delivered their baby in the street or in the bush while trying to get to a health post. To avoid such an outcome, the more fortunate women arrange temporary lodging near a clinic as their due date approaches. Thankfully, improving the conditions for childbirth is one of the major goals of the government health program, since the national infant mortality rate is 15%.

Down the hall from the maternity ward, on the second floor of the north wing, is the medical-surgical­-pediatric ward with our surgical suite at the far end. Forty beds are available in this wing, which are increasingly filled by our surgical patients. Hoping to relieve this situation, the U.S. Ambassador has provided a grant to convert a building behind the hospital into a ward for ambulatory patients. When this project is completed, the capacity of the hospital will increase to 160 beds.

Back on the ground floor under the surgical ward is the TB sanitarium. Forty beds are devoted to these patients. Mozambique has one of the highest TB and leprosy rates in the world, and Nampula in turn has the highest incidence of both in the nation.

Tuberculosis is a difficult disease to treat because of the resistance of the organism. Patients must remain in the hospital for two months receiving three drugs daily. Then they are discharged with the proviso that they will walk to the hospital every week for the next six months to continue their treatments. Even for people living nearby this is not easy, but imagine what it’s like for those who have to hike twenty miles each way. Not surprisingly, there is a high drop-out rate in the outpatient program resulting in many relapses. The second time around the disease is more difficult to conquer than before, requiring more expensive medications and an even longer course of treatment. If there were time, a weekly Bible study for the TB patients would be invaluable. Those who participate could be taught much during their long stay in the sanitarium. Hopefully this will become a reality with additional missionary workers.

The hospital has a medical technician who is assigned to care for the non-surgical patients. In reality, little is done to ease their suffering or treat the complications of their disease. This is because Mozambican health workers generally succumb to a spirit of discouragement and apathy after their first few months in practice. The problems they face are over­whelming and the resources at their disposal are grossly inadequate. It is not hard to see why so many give up any hope of helping people. They soon begin to look at their job as merely a means of making their own life a little less difficult through the small salary they receive and their direct access to medications. Several times I have been called to see patients in extremis who had been in the hospital over two months without once being seen after admission by anyone other than the ward personnel. (This happened while a Mozambique-trained doctor was in charge of the ward.) The explanation for this negligent behavior is neither lack of time nor a heavy workload; the health care providers are always done for the day by noon and leave soon thereafter. Sadly, it is the result of a “minimum effort” mentally that arises from seldom seeing satisfying results when they do try.

One of the reasons we are seeking another missionary doctor to work at the hospital is because it is very unlikely we could find a local person who has not already been conditioned to function in this defeated, “minimal effort” mode. Grace Missions would scarcely want to accept responsibility for managing the hospital if the care provided there brought reproach to the name of Christ! Doctors trained in the West are accustomed to standards far higher than anything Mozambican health workers have ever seen or imagined. By God’s grace, a missionary doctor would have far greater ability to ward off the devastating effects of hopelessness when confronted with the extreme circumstances so common in Mozambique. It is because of God’s gracious provision that we have channels to supply what we need which the typical Mozambican health worker never enjoys. I hope to return next January with all the medications I could desire. Grace Missions plans to ship over equipment to give us full X-ray capabilities. We plan to set up the diagnostic lab which was donated three years ago. Given such a stark contrast, the apathy and hopelessness of the local health care worker is understandable.

Of course, the other reason we need another doctor is the great opportunity for using the hospital as a means of evangelism. The weekly evangelistic services, praying with the patients in the OR, evangelistic rounds on the surgical ward, and scripture distribution are but the tip of an iceberg compared to what could be developed in time. In addition, the spiritual needs of the Christians in the new church are great enough to keep two or three missionaries’ hands full.

So please continue praying for the families God may be preparing already for this mission field. If you know of individuals who would be interested, pass this letter on to them and invite them to give us a call! Grace Missions can be reached at (210) 657-6570.

Next month I’ll focus on the church ministry and the need for a full time pastor-teacher missionary. Until then, thank you for your continued prayers, support, and interest. We hope to contact you personally before leaving the States and look forward to visiting with you even if it is only by phone. We do appreciate your participation with us.

By His grace,

Charles & Julie

Answers to Little Pray-ers

News from the Woodrows – August 31, 1992

Dear Friends:

The past month has seen a lot of changes here in Nampula. One Friday night three weeks ago I mentioned to Julie how different life was this year compared to last. We marveled how the availability of electricity and running water could produce such a change in lifestyle. Ironically, it was that very night that Renamo attacked the power lines supplying electricity to northern Mozambique. When we woke up the next morning we were back in the 19th century again. This time, besides blowing up the power stanchions near the hydroelectric plant hundreds of miles from here, Renamo sent a separate band of guerrillas to cut off the flow of emergency power that trickles in from the port city of Nacala during such crises. Thus in one night the city was completely cut off from external power. Without electricity, not a drop of water was pumped for days. Clearly the guerrillas are perfecting their ability to strangle Nampula and northern Mozambique.

So we braced ourselves for another long siege without regular electricity or running water. At first we were depressed. Under the best of circumstances we strain to keep up with all our commitments. It did not seem possible to carry on with this difficulty added in too. We tried to buoy our spirits by remembering how God had used these same obstacles to reveal His presence to us so often last year. However, any optimism this created evaporated after my first attempt to find kerosene for our lamps and refrigerator. It was the same old story – no kerosene anywhere in town, no electricity to pump it anyway, even if there were I couldn’t buy it without the manager’s approval, and he wasn’t in and no one knew when he would return.

However, once again God has brought such spiritual blessing from the present hardship we can identify with Paul’s words in II Cor. 12:10, “I take pleasure in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then am I strong.” It is when our own resources run out that we begin to see the mighty arm of the Lord taking over.

We did receive three months supply of kerosene within the next week. However, the greater excitement this time is what Kent, our three-year-old, has been learning as current difficulties have “driven” him to his little knees.

At his birth a retired couple enrolled Kent in the Bible Memory Association program. It has been a wonderful gift. For over a year we have been reading the first book to him, an acrostic of 26 short Bible verses, each beginning with a different letter in the alphabet. As little children do, Kent has practically memorized the book from hearing it read so often. Recently we happened to focus on the “L” and “I” verses. “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else. Isaiah 45:22.” The picture that went with it was a little girl looking upwards. Kent said she was looking at God. I told him we couldn’t see God with our eyes but we knew He was there by the way He heard and answered our prayers. Then we read the “I” verse, “If ye shall ask anything in my name I will do it. John 14:14.” Even a little three-year-old is keenly aware of the difference electricity makes in life. As we read the verse, something must have clicked in Kent’s head because he suddenly burst forth with his first spontaneous prayer request. “I want to ask God for electricity so Mommy can cook tomorrow.”

At that point we were already nine days into the outage and there hadn’t been even one flicker of electricity. For a moment I thought we ought to back away from the developing showdown. After all, though Julie doesn’t bake when there isn’t electricity, she can still cook on the gas stove since God has granted that we enter this shortage with four full tanks of gas. I thought about cautioning against frivolous requests or explaining the nuances of the expression “in My name.” However, I knew none of that would be understood by a three-year-old and decided we would just have to let Kent pray for electricity and then leave it to God to back His promise in a way a three-year-old would understand. So Kent prayed then and there that God would give Mommy electricity so she could cook the next day. As you can imagine, Mommy and Daddy did some praying as well.

And God was faithful. The next day, at 6:00 in the evening, pitch dark for us, the building suddenly lit up. For the first time since the outage began, we had power. Everyone was shouting and chanting, “Energia, energia, energia!” Kent was out on the verandah with the rest of them dancing and singing. We called him inside and reminded him how he had prayed for electricity and how God had been present and heard, even though Kent could not see Him. The effect was dramatic. The thought that all this excitement and celebration was the result of his prayer was overwhelming. What awesome power he had discovered! It was as if he personally had produced all the electricity we were now enjoying.

After that, there was no stopping Kent from praying. When a problem arose his first suggestion was to pray. A short time later he lost Mommy’s measuring tape. After searching for it to no avail, he decided, “We need to ask God for another measuring tape.” He was appropriately impressed as God gave the same one back again when Julie found it a few moments later.

Later the same week we gave Kent a broken flashlight. Mommy and Daddy each have their own flashlight which they use in order to maneuver around the darkened house. It made Kent feel very important to have his own flashlight too. However, he promptly lost it. It seems we are always searching for things he misplaces. Often he leaves items on the common verandah where they are promptly carried off and never seen again by us. This does not make us happy.

This was another occasion where Kent had been playing with his toy on the verandah. When the flashlight didn’t turn up anywhere, Julie was sure it too had disappeared in the black hole outside our front door. After a while, Kent suggested they ask God to help them find it. Julie grumbled that God wasn’t going to help him this time. Kent came to me and I said he could pray if he wanted to but God probably wouldn’t answer his prayer because He wanted Kent to learn to be responsible. Kent bowed his head and prayed out loud, but Julie and I were through looking. Not getting any support from us, Kent headed dejectedly to the sofa and flopped himself down. When lying on the sofa he likes to slip his hand down between the cushions, and doing so this time, what should he hit upon but his flashlight! He leaped up, waving the flashlight overhead, but the glow on his face would have rendered any flashlight superfluous. His excitement was far beyond what is normal when he finds some lost object. What lit his face was the thrill that never ceases to excite us, the joy and amazement of realizing God is there and has heard our prayers!

Like many a Christian parent before us, Julie and I were moved that God would manifest Himself to our child in so personal a way. It is hard to believe the Creator of heaven and earth would concern Himself with the prayers of a three-year-old. But then, why should God hear the prayers of any man? The greatest ruler to walk this planet with all his pomp and show still falls infinitely short of the glory of God. He is like the grass which sprouts today and withers tomorrow. At his zenith, the difference between him and a helpless baby becomes insignificant when compared to the gulf that separates them both from the majesty of God. In his conceit Pharaoh said, “Who is God that I should listen to Him?” As is so often true of the natural man, he had it turned completely around. The real question is, who is man that God should listen to us? Yet He hears the voice of His children. It is a reality we can never get over. And when we behold Him stooping even lower, hearkening to the artless prayers of His children’s children, our wonder and gratitude grows ever greater.

How wonderful it is to serve such a God here in Mozambique. And how blessed we are to have many occasions to see His faithfulness in response to prayer. Thank you for your part in keeping us here through your own prayers in our behalf.

By His Grace:

Charles and Julie

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

Convoy Catastrophe!

Spring 1992 – Vol.7 – No.2

The day was clear and sunny, unusual for March which comes in the middle of Mozambique’s rainy season. A mixture of excitement and foreboding hung in the dry air as I pulled up to join the menagerie of trucks and cars waiting at the rendezvous site just a few miles out from Nampula’s city limits. Shortly the soldiers would arrive and our convoy would start its way to the port city of Nacala 125 miles to the east.

This was my fifth trip with an armed convoy, the safest way to travel overland in this country, but I looked forward to it with more concern than usual. Until 18 months ago, very few expatriates would even think of driving to Nacala because of danger from guerrilla ambushes. RENAMO, an opposition movement fighting against the government, had made the road one of their prime targets in an attempt to limit the usefulness of the port to northern Mozambique.

Apparently they had been effective in their campaign of terror. When we arrived here one year ago the road had been relatively safe for months. Only occasional motorists traveling alone, perhaps at night, perhaps stranded beside the road, were being attacked. But unpleasant stories still circulated from former days and lingering fear held many captive within the city.

From what we have learned, the guerrilla’s strategy was to destroy one of the lead trucks in a convoy using a bazooka. If they succeeded, the wreckage of the truck blocked the narrow road jamming up cars and vehicles behind. From their hiding places in the grass or trees alongside the road, the bandits would begin strafing the cars with machine gun fire, intending to wreak maximum destruction to life and property. Drivers and passengers would pour from their vehicles, diving into the bush, hopefully running away from the guerrillas. Sometimes the government soldiers fired back from their positions on the trucks. Other times they were the first to flee, leaving the civilians defenseless.

Because of a change in political strategy, RENAMO had called an end to such attacks not long before our arrival. So we had grown accustomed to traveling freely to and from the port as we arranged transport of two sea containers shipped via Nacala. Now our church in San Antonio had sent three barrels of food and more medical items which had just arrived and needed to be claimed.

But an unexpected turn of events made this trip quite different from previous ones. Peace talks between RENAMO and the Mozambique government had fallen apart. RENAMO responded by intensifying the war in the bush. In the two months since our barrels had left the States, the Nacala road had been ambushed five times. In one of the attacks a foreign relief worker was killed when the armed convoy she was traveling in was strafed by enemy fire.

Upon hearing this I met with one of the senior Canadian relief workers in Nampula. His trucks loaded with grain from donor nations were particular targets of RENAMO and had suffered in two of the attacks. More than anyone else, he knew what was happening in the “war zone.” He said that while the guerrillas were indeed ambushing small armed convoys, there had never been an attack on the large, heavily armed convoys organized four times a week. He was confidant that as long as I went with a large convoy there would be no problems, but traveling alone was out of the question. This advice, along with the fact that I was “providentially” able to round up an additional 20 gallons of diesel at a time when fuel was hard to get, persuaded me to make the trip.

So here I was, parked in the shade on the outskirts of a large clearing with twenty-five to thirty trucks and cars, awaiting the soldiers whose arrival would signal the start of our journey. With me in the Land Rover were nine passengers from all strata of Mozambique society. I had picked them up at various places beside the road in an attempt to fill every seat before reaching the rendez-vous point. In the past my car had been pressed into service as a troop carrier, something I later learned was particularly dangerous. The enemy aimed their biggest shells on vehicles carrying soldiers in order to decrease their ability to respond.

As we awaited the arrival of the soldiers I went over my checklist again: tool kit, spare parts, fan belt, fuel filter, tire repair kit, air pump, cans of fuel (unavailable in Nacala), extra water. The tires, oil, battery, radiator, and clutch fluid had all been checked and topped up before leaving home. Car problems en route had to be avoided at all costs. As I went down the list, however, I was mindful of Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord.”

Looking about at the vehicles parked in the African sun I was struck by what I saw. It could have been a scene from Alfred Hitchcock. If cars had personalities, this was a mean and sinister lot. Most were big, ponderous trucks. Some had heavy steel shipping containers strapped to their beds. Others were loaded down with grain or machinery. All were covered by dirty, dark tarpaulins carefully tied down to conceal whatever was beneath, as if they were part of a gigantic smuggling operation. Indeed the aim was to conceal – but from the guerrillas. No driver wanted his cargo to stand out as particularly tempting.

The trucks looked aggressive. Whether new or old, all bore the marks of hard use. Most were battered and lacking parts here and there, like the proverbial junk yard dog with the missing ear and torn muzzle. One could readily imagine the damage came from angry encounters with others of their own species. As usual, there were the two or three flat beds with rusty, aging gas tanks, dug up from underground, fastened to their chassis by chains and ropes. This is Mozambique’s version of the fuel truck and it looks particularly menacing, as if ready to explode over the slightest insult.

There is in fact good reason to fear these trucks. Their drivers travel foot to the floor over treacherous roads with their heavy cargoes, striving with each other as if the trip to Nacala were indeed a mad dash through enemy territory. Often they travel two abreast on the narrow asphalt, one attempting to overtake his grudging rival. They may continue this way for hundreds of yards, never heeding the great danger to potential oncoming traffic.

The truth is, the overwhelming risk in the journey to Nacala is from recklessness, not guerrillas. This was the other reason for deciding to make the trip despite the recent ambushes. No matter how active the guerrillas are, they have never on this particular road inflicted as much mortality as the drivers themselves, though perhaps the potential is there. So the danger of ambush does not add considerably to the risk one is already taking.

On my first trip, one of the soldiers draped across a tarpaulined flat bed fell asleep and rolled off the speeding vehicle. Miraculously he did not die, at least not at that moment. On my third trip a car only a few places ahead of us failed to hold the road on a curve. Bodies flew across the field as the canvas covered jeep swerved and rolled. The two adults riding in front died at the site. The two little bodies thrown from behind were rushed unconscious back to Nacala from whence they had just left. Then, in the midst of the confusion, as cars backed up along the road and people streamed from their vehicles, a big semi (rare in this country) with no side mirrors and apparently no brakes, came roaring through, horn blaring. That he sliced through the tangled mass of cars and people, averting disaster, must have been purely the grace of God.

Thinking on these things I once again ask for His protection as I have done often this day. Then, after a 45 minute wait as the convoy grows longer and longer, the soldiers come speeding up. Waving their weapons about, the men scramble down over the sides of their military vehicle and up onto the cargoes of various trucks in the lineup. A 35 millimeter cannon and shells are loaded onto an empty flat bed, and in a few moments we are moving out.

No sooner are we on the road than the dangerous jockeying and jostling for position begins. Everyone has his own theory as to which part of the convoy is safest. Some say near the front; in order to slip through before enemy fire takes out a truck. Some say near the back, so you can stop and turn around when trouble breaks out ahead. Some say near the soldiers and cannons since the guerrillas are afraid of them. Some say far from the soldiers and cannons, since those are the vehicles they’ll try to take out first.

I do not second guess the guerrillas. My strategy on these trips is prayer and cautious driving. And to avoid fretting over remote but potential risks, I sing hymns. Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” puts reality back in perspective. “Day by Day” is the one I find myself singing now. “The protection of His child and treasure is a charge that on Himself He laid,” provides welcome reassurance. The hymns, the beautiful African scenery, the warm sun, and a car full of animated passengers keep me relaxed. It does not seem like anything could go wrong.

But at the twenty mile mark the convoy slows to a crawl as it zig-zags serpentine-like through a long section of potholed pavement that continues on for many miles. A good bit of our time we travel with two wheels off the road dodging deep, gaping holes that extend clear across the narrow ribbon of asphalt.

It is during this Mozambican slalom that I first hear a rhythmic hissing that seems to synchronize with the revolution of the rear tire. I lean my head far out the window and am relieved that the sound stops. However, a few more collisions with tire mauling pot holes and does not stop. With sickening dismay my ears soon register the unmistakable slap-slap-slapping of flattened rubber on pavement.

There is nothing to do but pull off the road. Within moments, before I can even get the jack under the car, the convoy has passed. We are alone. Feverishly, like a rather uncoordinated pit crew, we set to work getting the tire changed. Even the women run into the bush to find large rocks for blocking the tires.

I lose 30 seconds trying to remember where I hid the key to the spare tire which is kept bolted to the hood by a large padlock. For a few agonizing moments I think I may have lost it. Finally it turns up in the tool kit.

Next I am chagrined to remember that the jack furnished with the Land Rover is the screw type. You literally screw the car up with a wrench. It seems to rise only a fraction of a millimeter with each revolution. This, coupled with the fact that the Land Rover has to be jacked very high to clear the tire, makes the experience like one of those dreams where you are running as fast as you can while going nowhere. Meanwhile, in my mind at least, guns are poking out from behind every bush and every sound resembles the click of cartridges locking into place. Thanks to the jack, which was not designed for use at the Indianapolis 500 nor for changing tires in a war zone, it takes a full twenty minutes to complete the job. God graciously spares our lives, no doubt by striking the guerrillas with temporary blindness as He often did in Old Testament days! But unfortunately, by now the convoy is hopelessly out of reach.

Nevertheless, we decide to continue on in hopes of catching it at Namialo (Nah-mee-AH-loo), the 60 mile rest stop. This is a small community of about 2000. It is a huge cotton plantation actually, and perhaps differs from the plantations of the old south only in that towering Eucalyptus trees substitute for stately old oaks. It provides a convenient half-way point where the convoy to Nacala awaits its counterpart heading to Nampula. It is here that the soldiers change vehicles, riding back to the city they just left.

Happily, we catch up with the convoy at the rest stop. They are still awaiting the soldiers coming from Nacala. I am uneasy traveling without a spare tire over roads so full of dangerous pot holes. Another flat and we would be forced to abandon the car in the road. Next time I will bring both spares. Now I must leave the convoy parked on the shaded main street to search for someone with a tire tool. This is Mozambique however, and there are no service stations in so small a community. I try the train yard, but of course they know nothing about tires. I drive out to the general offices of the plantation and finally after speaking with some vice chiefs I am granted permission to have the work done at their maintenance shop.

Happily, they do have a tire tool. Unhappily, they have no patches or cement. Happily, I have patches and cement. Unhappily, after removing the inner tube, we discover it is ripped beyond repair and I have brought no spares. We have spent twenty minutes in vain. Then, driving back toward Main Street I discover the convoys have already met and left. Once more we are alone.

Having gone halfway into the “war zone” there is nothing to gain by turning back, so we continue on in hopes of catching the run away convoy by running even faster, though this is like planning to out jump Knievel.

God, however, hears our prayer, for we once again meet the convoy at Monapo (Moh-NAH-poo), the 95 mile rest stop where the vehicles are regrouped prior to heading into the jungle, the most dangerous section of the road. Though this territory does not quite fit our image of jungle, the descent from the inland plateau down to the coastline of the Indian Ocean is accompanied by marked changes in terrain. The flat bush country, pierced here and there on the horizon by huge shards of granite-like boulders thrusting themselves out of the earth, gives way to hot, hilly, dense forest which is completely unpopulated. The guerrillas move freely in this no man’s land and it is here that most of the attacks take place.

We are now nearly three hours into the journey, having covered all of 95 miles. The once menacing convoy has shriveled to only a third of its former size, some vehicles having peeled off for other destinations, but most having sped impatiently on to Nacala without waiting at the rest stops. The remaining soldiers massed into a single empty truck and the rest of us fall in behind.

However, this is a brand new, shiny blue truck and travels fast. I hold the accelerator to the floor and recklessly pass vehicles ahead of me in a vain attempt to keep up with the speeding soldiers. Eventually the blue truck and I have left the others far behind, though the soldiers are actually 600 to 800 yards ahead of me with the gap increasing steadily. This is typical of discipline and organization here. Soon I only catch glimpses of our military escort from the crests of hills. There is no one in front, no one behind, as we travel through no man’s land.

Thankfully the road in this section is well maintained. We move fast and after a suspenseful 45 minutes catch sight of the Indian Ocean far below and in front of us. Soon we reach the welcome outskirts of Nacala with its mud and grass huts lining the road. My first stop after discharging passengers is at the telecommunications center where I call Julie who is waiting anxiously at home.

It is hard to believe our lives could change so much in only a year. Some things of course never change. We are glad that relationship and trust in the immutable God is a reality for all His people no matter where they roam. Indeed, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in men. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”

This is a reality that never changes. It is a reality increasingly underscored by life in Mozambique.