Hospital Attacked!

News From The Woodrows – November 6, 1991

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In His grace,

Charles& Julie

Container Filled

Spring 1990 – Vol.6 – No.1

“And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”

Recently brethren from Believers Fellowship emptied out the three mini-storehouses and one garage that stored our personal and medical supplies to complete the loading of the big sea container. Once again we had cause for praising the God who knows the end from the beginning and who sovereignly rules over the affairs of all His creatures. When the job was done just enough space was left for the items still on order.

It reminded me of the manna provided the Israelites in the wilderness. Whether they gathered much or gathered little, when they measured it out by the omer the one who gathered much did not have too much and the one who gathered little did not have too little.

Until the container was packed, we had no way of knowing just how much “manna” we had gathered. But when it came time to measure it by the container full, like the Israelites we had neither too much nor too little!

Our prayer now is that God would conduct it safely across the ocean, through the docks where theft is such a problem, and into Nampula over rail lines periodically ambushed by guerrilla soldiers.

Helping the Lost

Autumn 1990 – Vol.6 – No.3

One encounters serious problems delivering material relief to a people who have turned their backs on God at some point in the past and have since been given over to the gods of their choosing, to serve them in the fear and futility that attends such service, and to be shut off from the moral and temporal relief that true believers receive from God’s hand.

We have been in Mozambique barely four months, but the Lord already has opened our eyes to realities we would scarcely have understood before. Those who follow our monthly reports are aware of the difficulties we have had trying to help the orphan, Jacinto, whose parents were murdered by banditos seven years ago. In this newsletter we record the sad details of a much larger relief effort, together with our conclusions. I have little doubt that some will disagree with the following interpretation of the events described in the African journal, but I have no interest in concealing our philosophy, thoughts, and motives from those who are joining themselves to us in this ministry.

Material relief provided without preaching the Gospel is limited in its impact. The very moral deficiency of the culture through which one is working significantly blunts the effect the aid could have. We make no apology for using physical help primarily as a means of drawing people to hear the Gospel. Even if physical well being were our principal aim, in a society devoid of Christian influence the delivery of material aid alone is greatly hindered and its effect reduced. In order to make good use of mammon, one must at least be influenced by Christian principles. If our god is money, we will never have enough of it. We will earn it only to store it in a purse with holes (Haggai 4:6). God has plainly stated this principle in His word. It is woven into the fabric of His creation.

The Lord Jesus Christ said that preoccupation with such basic necessities as food and clothing instead of righteousness and serving Him is putting the cart before the horse. It is when we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that “all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). If we believe this, our philosophy of relief work will reflect a fact that has already become obvious in our short time here: The Gospel must be preeminent. It must be the focus. Until it changes lives, there will be little to show for all the money and material help pumped in from outside.

This is not to say we abandon relief efforts. How can we? The love of Christ constrains us (II Corinthians 5:14). A Christian cannot grow calloused to the physical needs of others. God has said, “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).

An enlightened Christian, however, will not respond after the manner of the world. The solution is not money, food, factories, roads, education, or physical health. The solution is repentance. Men must abandon the broken cisterns they have hewn for themselves, cisterns that can hold no water, and return to the true God who alone can alter lastingly the moral problems of our race (Jeremiah 2:13).

Post Office Prayers

Autumn 1990 – Vol.6 – No.3

As in many developing countries, when it comes to getting things done it isn’t so much what you know as who you know. “Contacts” are very important here. In that regard, we are thankful to be in “contact” with the One seated high above all human authorities.

Time and again God has propelled us past looming obstacles by granting us the right friends here below. It was several such contacts that enabled us to get our second container through customs in record time without paying the charges they initially planned to extract.

In a quite extraordinary way, God recently granted us even more useful allies. Though we have little to complain about, other expatriates have noted a disturbing problem with mail theft. Magazines and packages are especially targeted. People have tried various ways of dealing with the matter, but without success.

Julie and I began praying that God would show us something we could do to insure our mail was not diverted, especially the more tempting parcels. On one of my frequent visits to the post office, I asked why the building was so dark thinking I could buy them some light bulbs and begin cultivating friendships with the workers.

You may not believe that a post office could be too poor to buy light bulbs, but that is typical for life here in the poorest nation of the world. I was amazed to learn that in fact, the entire lower floor of the central post office for the entire state, where the mail is handled and where the Chief of Distribution has his office, had been without power since February! The workers moaned that by 3:30 in the afternoon nearly everyone was operating in darkness.

Upon talking to the Director, I found out they had already spent relatively large sums of money trying to repair the problem without success, and had just about given up all hope of ever having electricity again. Julie and I began specifically praying that, if it pleased God, we would be able to gain the cooperation of the people who handle our mail by providing the solution to their difficulties, though this seemed like a rather far fetched request.

The very day we began praying, a fellow I didn’t even recognize approached me in the hospital. He had done some electrical work at our apartment and remembered me though I had forgotten him. He was a Christian and wanted to know if I could get him a Bible. I asked him if he would be willing to help me solve the problem at the post office.

Twenty minutes later I was talking to the Director who was incredulous when I asked permission to bring the electrician and my electrical equipment to see if we could find and fix the problem, free of charge. It was a pretty outlandish offer to make after the “experts” had failed, but the way things were unfolding, I sensed the Lord’s hand at work. He was nonplused, but since we could hardly make things worse than they were already, he gave us his permission.

We met for prayer, asking God to lead us to the problem and the solution, and just a few hours and $27.00 later the lights and fans came on for the first time in five months. The people at the post office were ecstatic. I didn’t hesitate to tell the Director it was God’s answer to our prayers. Now we have a lot of new friends who already have begun personally handing me our letters.

Refugee Relief – Not!

Autumn 1990 – Vol.6 – No.3

It is 10:00 A.M. on June 21st, a typically pleasant African morning. Despite the fleet of clouds sailing past overhead, the air is dry, as usual at this time of year. Seated in the passenger compartment of a truck loaded with 20 tons of corn and peas, I am mentally rehearsing a message in Portuguese as we careen down one of Mozambique’s narrow country roads.

To either side, eight foot high blades of grass crowd against the pavement like people massing at a parade, waving at us as we speed past and at times reaching out to touch us. Above the grass, boulder-like mountains thrust themselves out of the earth, towering like silent sentinels standing guard over the narrow ribbon of asphalt.

Inside, the cabin of the vehicle is worn and haggard, bearing all the signs of premature aging from rough use in a hard land. The windshield is cracked in several places, only jagged fragments remain of the two side mirrors, and broken springs protrude through blanket-covered seat cushions. Even without a speedometer, our velocity can be monitored through a substantial hole in the floor by watching the potholes streaking past below.

Behind us, in the bed of the truck, are 100 pound bags of relief food sacked and shipped by the U.S. and Canadian governments. The vegetables are garnished with 20 or so Mozambican soldiers clad in fatigues and brandishing machine guns which protrude menacingly in every direction from the cargo area.

We look dangerous, and need to, for we are heading 60 miles into the bush on our way to territory just recently regained from the guerrillas.

Behind us is a second truck carrying more soldiers and 60 burlap bags stuffed with relief clothing that has been collected by Christians in England and shipped in the container that carried our new Land Rover.

The first 40 miles of the trip are familiar. I traveled this road twice before en route to the port city of Nacala, 120 miles from our home in Nampula. Those trips were made to receive the containers of medical and personal supplies shipped to us from overseas.

On those journeys I traveled with an armed convoy. A convoy typically consists of 20 to 30 trucks loaded with cargo and soldiers, and as many cars. Though it has been many months since the road was last attacked, unpleasant stories still circulate of guerrilla ambushes.

When active, the guerrillas, or “armed bandits,” attempt to destroy one of the lead trucks using a bazooka. If they succeed, the wreckage of the truck blocks the narrow road jamming up cars and vehicles behind. From their hiding places in the grass alongside the road, the bandits then begin strafing the cars with machine gun fire, intending to wreak maximum destruction to life and property. Drivers and passengers pour from their vehicles, diving into the bush, hopefully running away from the guerrillas. Sometimes the government soldiers fire back from their positions on the trucks, but at other times they are the first to flee, leaving the civilians defenseless.

On this day, thoughts of guerrilla ambushes are far from mind as all my attention is bent on composing the message I hope to give upon reaching our destination, a refugee camp near Muecate (Mwee KAH tee). The people there have been recently liberated from the guerrillas and are in desperate need of food and clothing. Foreign governments are providing the food and Unimatco, working through Grace Missions, is furnishing the clothing.

I intend to use this as an opportunity to bear witness of Jesus Christ, but as the village of Muecate draws nearer, I have misgivings. Will unsympathetic government workers try to silence the gospel? Have the people even been told we are coming? How will they know when and where to congregate?

Yesterday the clothing had been carefully sorted and the large burlap bags arranged according to contents. However, the men who loaded the truck, with typical African disregard for organization and careful planning, have mixed up everything. Under their direction will the distribution as well succumb to a morass of disorder and confusion?

As we turn off the highway and begin the last stretch of our journey over rough, dusty roads, I commit these things to the God of order and design. I beseech the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort to cast Satan from his domain long enough to let the gospel go forth and to permit a little material relief for the suffering people in this afflicted land.

Twenty miles later, the truck with the clothing comes to a stop in an open area sheltered by a great tree. Suspended from one of the massive branches hangs a rusty old wheel. There are no huts, no villagers, not a soul to be seen.

The government worker climbs down from the truck and begins beating the wheel with a piece of iron rod. One can almost see the exclamation marks springing from the metal, filling the empty afternoon solitude and then drifting off to the far corners of the horizon.

For several minutes nothing happens, but then by one’s and two’s the refugees warily come forth from their grass huts hidden in the bush. The trickle turns into a stream, and soon there are 200 people standing silently round the truck. The government worker announces it is time to start the distribution. Wanting to keep first things first, I ask to say a few words in behalf of the donors.

I explain the clothing has been sent by Christians from a land far away. Of course then I have to explain that a Christian is one who serves Jesus Christ. Then I have to tell them who Jesus Christ is and how He came from God to save men from the suffering caused by sin in this life and in the life to come; how He sets men free not only from the penalty but also from the power of sin when they put their trust in Him, asking Him to come into their hearts and rule their lives; how the love of God constrains a Christian to do those things pleasing to God and beneficial to those around him, as the Christians in England were doing and how the people of Mozambique as well needed to have this God ruling their hearts and their land.

The people listen attentively to the Makua translation furnished by the government worker. By the time we are done there are perhaps 1000 refugees gathered round the truck.

Praising God from within for letting His message go forth, I turn things over to the church representatives and government worker who have come to supervise the distribution. Contrary to my expectations, everything is carried out in an orderly and efficient manner, though planning is done only on the spur of the moment.

The women and infants are formed into lines radiating out from the truck like spokes of a wheel, the men in other lines, and the children in still others. Then the workers station themselves at the head of each line with bags containing appropriate articles of clothing. All the women receive a dress as they file past, and the men get pants. The workers planned to pass out skirts and blouses as well, shirts to the men, and a coat and blanket to everyone, but a disturbance has arisen among the children. The smaller children who wait in line are being pushed aside by larger ones breaking through. Many mothers leave their positions to help their children wrangle for clothes. Disorder spreads rapidly, and soon it is impossible to continue because of tussling going on at the head of every line by people who refuse to wait their turn.

Some of the workers slip around to the far end of the lines and begin distributing clothes to the people waiting disconsolately from their places afar off. I also take a bag and begin handing out children’s clothes from the back of a line.

This works well for a while, but when the pushers and shovers discover what has happened they run to the new distribution points, bringing havoc and confusion with them.

Even as I write this more than two months later, several images from that day remain indelibly fixed in my mind. One is of a young mother, baby tied to her back, looking at me from two feet away, patiently waiting at the end of the line, eyes pleading for something with which to clothe her little daughter. I pull out a tiny dress. Someone snatches it away before I can pass it from the bag to her hand. I reach inside for another. Immediately it vanishes. A third and a fourth are ripped from my grasp by unruly women who fight over who gets the garment, tearing it in the process. After five unsuccessful attempts I close the sack and reluctantly make my way back to the truck.

The next image I recall is of the soldiers standing in the back of the truck, making whips from vines and lashing the people as they clamber over the sides. Next we are looking down at a desperate throng chasing after us, hands outstretched, some even hanging from the accelerating truck as it hastens toward the road, still over half full of undistributed clothing. Even as they shrink in the distance, the majority of refugees remain standing dejectedly in their lines, as if by doing so they can somehow make the clothing they so much needed reappear.

By this time, the exhilaration of sharing the gospel with such a vast crowd of people has already been swallowed up in the disappointment of seeing all given so quickly back into the hands of Satan. But my disappointment has not yet reached its nadir.

On the way out, the truck stops at the house of the local government official. He has killed some chickens and invites us to share a meal before we leave. Eagerly my church friends jump from the truck and follow him to the table. Now I am a bit bewildered, as just hours before they had vigorously declared the one thing they would not allow was for the clothing to fall into the hands of the government. Abandoning it now to the soldiers protection seems like asking foxes to guard the hen house. But the smell of roasting chicken has affected their judgment, for they assure me there is no cause for concern.

When we return from our meal of rice and chicken, things do not appear to have changed. The tarpaulin is pulled tightly down over the clothes, with the soldiers draping themselves bodily across that. But as we journey toward home, the night air turns cool and one by one the men begin donning their coats and jackets. But unlike the rest of their equipment, these are civilian coats they are wearing, some of them quite nice and unusually heavy for Mozambique.

Upon reaching the edge of the city, the driver stops while the soldiers drop from the truck to make their way through the darkness to their homes in the cane hut districts surrounding Nampula. As they leave, I notice their rucksacks, which have come out from nowhere, are fairly bursting at the seams. This is quite unusual since soldiers here typically have only a uniform, weapon, a few shells, and occasionally a canteen.

Finally we reach the warehouse where wearily we begin unloading the truck. As we pull back the tarpaulin, I am disappointed but not at all surprised at what I see. The bags have been bayoneted, the clothing ransacked, and the remaining jumble of material doesn’t warrant another attempt at distribution. There isn’t enough left to insure everyone would receive an acceptable piece of clothing.

Later that night, climbing the steps to our apartment, the question keeps echoing in my mind, “Why?” “Why does God let Satan have his way with these unfortunate souls? Why does He close His ear to the prayers of His own people made in their behalf and motivated for His glory?”

I am confident the scriptures hold the answer, but for now the only light that comes to my tired mind is the solemn warning of Christ in Luke 8:18 to take care how we respond to that light which we have already received, “For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” It is a hard concept to accept, especially when one sees it carried out before his very eyes. But like all of God’s word, it is irrefutably accurate.

Descent into Mozambique

Spring 1990 – Vol.6 – No.1

The South African Airways 737 touches down on the tarmac and coasts to a stop in front of a large, attractive concrete building that is the Maputo International Airport. Stepping through the door of the plane and down the jetway passengers are embraced by hot tropical air rushing up to greet them. By the time they have walked their carry-on bags to the terminal some 50 yards distant, moisture blown in from the Indian Ocean just a mile or so away has turned skin and hair into sticky fly paper that seems to trap every grain of sand and fleck of dirt wafting by.

Inside the building it is drier but still warm. Air conditioners hanging out many of the windows are like clouds without rain in a desert land. Only the metal cages are left. The inside parts have been removed.

Once through passport control and customs, a menagerie of battered cars wait to transport foreign guests to their destinations in the city nearby. The drivers are dressed to match their vehicles – in clothing old and worn. And these are the relatively well-to-do etrepreneurs of Maputo. After all, they own cars and earn real money from foreigners who pay in convertible currency.

My driver is friendly and helpful, like everyone I have met here. He loads the baggage and then secures the trunk lid with a piece of rope. The latch ceased functioning long ago, and like most things in Maputo, it cannot be replaced.

In the city the driver dodges his way down concrete streets, avoiding potholes while pedestrians avoid him. Like an old Mississippi riverboat pilot he knows exactly which side of every block is most navigable.

The scarred buildings to right and left are like the tree lined streets. Vestiges of colonial elegance are still discernible, but 15 years of crowding and hard use without the means of maintenance have converted them into dirty slums. Garbage service and trash cans are rare these days, so litter is everywhere.

Darkness settles on us as we make the rounds of hotels. Apparently none of them operate at full capacity due to the scarcity of linens, light bulbs, functioning sinks and toilets. In fact, there are so few rooms in the city that it is nearly two hours before we find a hotel with a bed to let, and Maputo is hardly a tourist center any more, though it once was. The desk wants ten dollars per night, paid in South African rand, in advance. The posted rates are closer to $4.50. But it’s easy to see they are desperate for real money, so I give him the rand and return to the taxi for my belongings.

The driver helps me haul the luggage through the narrow entrance way. It is crowded with people listening to African music coming from someone’s radio. Though they are friendly enough, I still feel distinctly out of place, being clean, white, and neatly dressed. Judging from the odor hanging in the air, it has been a long time since many of my fellow boarders have enjoyed the luxury of soap, daily baths, or clean clothes.

My room is on the fifth floor, so the driver and I begin the long climb up zig-zagging flights of stairs. Beyond the first landing I discover why so many of the guests were huddled down below. There are no more lights. Bulbs are too precious a commodity here to expend on halls and stairways.

On one landing I spy an elevator and ask the driver if he thinks it works. He laughs, but there is sadness in it.

Puffing and sweating in the darkness we count the flights and agree to rest on the fourth floor. Broken plumbing has converted a communal bathroom into an open sewer and I am glad to be moving on after exchanging loads with my friend.

On the fifth floor he leaves his bags on the landing and walks up to each door, his face only inches away, looking in the darkness for the one with my number. After finding it we manhandle the luggage the remaining few yards and I open the door, wondering if the inside will be any better than what I have seen on the outside.

I flip the light switch and a ten watt bulb comes on. It dangles over a bed. Like a neon sign, I can look directly at the orange filament without even squinting.

The walls are very dark. Either there are no windows, or they have been boarded over because of broken panes. More detailed information will have to wait till morning, when perhaps there will be enough light to see by.

The only furniture is the bed. There are linens on it, but the mattress sinks trough-like in the center. In view of this I wonder if I have found one of the better hotels. Certainly it has been much used.

I am almost surprised to see a private bathroom to my right. The door is gone, so I simply reach inside to turn on another light. In all my trips to Mozambique I have not seen a clean bathroom, but what I am looking at now is more than can be remedied by the sponge and Lysol carried in my bag. Something black is growing over the tub and toilet. For the first time I think of turning back.

Feeling hot and sticky like the people I left on the first floor, I try the faucets to check the water pressure. Nothing happens. Then I note the pail of water sitting in the tub and everything makes sense. How can these poor people clean the bathroom when there is no running water? For that matter, how will I clean it? Or clean myself?

My thoughts drift back to three hours earlier. I am seated comfortably aboard a modern, clean, air conditioned jetliner. A well groomed flight attendant serves complimentary snacks while passengers peruse the pages of the in-flight magazine. The luxuries of life in scenic South African resorts are carefully captured in photos and advertisements.

But now I am hot, sticky, and perspiring, standing in a dark, dirty room where I would likely spend the night without the prospect of either a bath or shower, or even flushing the toilet. The contrast is overwhelming, and only two hours into Mozambique I am wondering if that world left on the plane really exists, the world of comfort, air conditioning, elevators, cleanliness, and light.

For a moment I consider my options. Then slowly I turn off the switch, close the door, and pick up my bags. Behind me the driver does the same, reluctantly. But as we struggle down the steps, baggage in tow, the somber notes of an old hymn begin to echo in my mind. Slowly a question comes swirling out of the misty depths of those minor chords emerging into the light of consciousness.

Is this even close to what Christ experienced when He left the eternal throne in heaven to lie in a feed trough, to hang on a cross, to become sin for men that they might be made the righteousness of God in Him?

I’m thankful He didn’t consider His options.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly – minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

Rank on rank, the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.