Please find herewith the latest ministry news from Charles Woodrow in Nampula.
Result of the Land Case
Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not … search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me!” (Luke 15:8–9)
Friends, today, I am that woman—with the difference that Julie and I had lost much more than 10% of what we had to live on for retirement! And so, with even more justification than the woman in this parable, I ask all our friends to rejoice with us, giving praise and thanks to God for the following good news!
Last week, the Superior Court of Appeals here in Nampula restored to Julie and me the 50-acre plot of land that I had bought and developed for future missionary homes at a personal cost of $350,000, money which seven years ago represented the lion’s share of what Julie and I had to retire on.
In their verdict, the appeals court judges annulled the decision that 18 months ago gave that land to a man who had lost ownership of it five years before I purchased it. He had done nothing at all to the land when he had it. Then it was an undeveloped marsh, yet now it was given back to him highly developed with a subsoil drain diverting all the swamp water to a scenic reservoir, with roads and bridges, with electricity brought in from far away supplying over 60 points of public lighting distributed throughout the estate, with a deep well and a water distribution system extending hundreds of yards in different directions, and with 900 yards of boundary walls and a recreation pavilion.
But the basis the judges used for overturning the decision was more fundamental than my extensive development lawfully executed at each step along the way. The condition nullifying the decision was that the lower court had no jurisdiction to even hear land cases, let alone decide that my property should be handed over to my adversary. The whole affair was improper from beginning to end.
The two law firms I consulted along the way had immediately stated this fact, but they both warned me that the judge of that court was known for accepting any case and deciding it according to what brought benefit to her. My question was, what about the judges of the higher court? How did they make their decisions?
After a wait of 11 months, my appeal finally reached the superior court for consideration in December of last year. Since the decision was supposed to be clear-cut, I grew concerned when the verdict delayed six months in coming. My experience over 32 years in Africa is that when officials delay long in handling a straightforward matter, it is because they are waiting for an inducement under the table. I could not provide that, but I worried about what my adversary might do.
I am deeply thankful to God and his praying people that the final decision was in accordance with the legal code of the nation. I believe it could have been different. Delivery of the judgment was improperly held up for two months after it had been signed, and when it was finally delivered to my lawyer it came with the worrisome message that I owed the author of the judgment $1000. I explained to my lawyer that I could not do what was being suggested, and he agreed, though he said it may affect future decisions on cases he brings to the same court.
It is important to state clearly that this message was not conveyed directly from the judge who wrote the decision, but by low level intermediaries who may have been seizing an opportunity to use their job with the courts as a means of diverting money into their own pockets from gullible people ready to show their appreciation in ways that are not ethical.
When I consider all the deception and calumny and probable bribes used by my adversary during the eight cases he has now lost in this matter, I give thanks for the guidance provided God’s people in II Corinthians 10:4 which says, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”
Bribes and intrigues are the tools of the lost. Prayer, the word of God, and faith in what God commands are the weapons of a Christian. How I thank God for praying friends who know how to wield those mighty weapons in our behalf!
There is still the potential of trouble, unfortunately. As long as my adversary has an uncancelled deed for the same land that I own, he can go from court to court endlessly accusing me of occupying his land illegally. The municipal land office was supposed to nullify all prior deeds in both 2010 and 2015 when the land was re-sold by them twice to individuals who promised to develop it. However, through negligence, the land office has never done this vital step in the process. My lawyer and I have met repeatedly with them asking them to fulfil their responsibility, but they always dismiss our pleas with a wave of the hand saying, “The courts have already settled the matter for you—nothing more is needed,” whenever there is no case pending—or, whenever a case is ongoing, “We cannot interfere because the matter is before the courts!”
Next week we will approach the mayor of Nampula yet again asking him to direct the land office to take care of this matter properly once and for all. Please pray that this time they will obey their own regulations and do their job!
However, even if they do not, God has provided an amazing bit of information that should forever protect us from further charges brought by my adversary. Unbeknownst either to him or to us until December of last year, the GPS coordinates on his deed are 9 km off the mark! Due to calculation errors by the survey office back in the days before GPS existed in Nampula, his deed is actually for a plot of land 9 km distant from my land. Unfortunately for him, my lawyer says it is the stated coordinates on a deed that irrevocably determine the land being ceded to a citizen, so there is nothing my opponent can do to ever legally occupy my land without requesting that the city issue a new deed to him with different coordinates from what he has presently. This cannot happen, because when the land office goes to inspect the land under consideration, they will see that it already has a legal occupant who has developed it extensively! This prevents them from issuing a new deed for the same land, provided the occupant’s deed was legally obtained as in my case.
If only we had known at the beginning that my opponent’s coordinates were wrong, none of his legal challenges could have been accepted by the courts as a careful look at our two deeds shows there is no overlap whatsoever!
The way we finally learned this was that my opponent presumptuously sent a surveyor to our property months before the appeals court made their decision. He told the surveyor to put down markers claiming his ownership of my land as well as the surrounding land. To show precisely where the markers were to be placed, he gave his deed to the surveyor who soon discovered that the coordinates were 9 km off. To make things worse for my adversary, the surveyor was a friend of mine, and when he went to the land he was directed to claim for my opponent, he realised it was my land he was invading with no warrant according to the deed he held in his hand. Immediately he came to me and tipped me off to the fatal problem with my adversary’s deed!
For me, it was an exciting fulfilment of Proverbs 26:27, “He who digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him!” In seeking to lay claim to my land improperly, he has unwittingly revealed that he owns none of it, not even the larger piece of land around me which was uncontested.
Of course, my lawyer and I tried to take advantage of this devastating information, but by the time God made it known, there was no way to present new evidence in the case. It had just passed from the lower court into the hands of the appellate court one week earlier. Now we could only wait for the latter to decide based on the evidence set forth in the original trial. Though I was frustrated that God did not reveal this information a few days earlier when we could have used it, He did not need it to deliver me from the decision of the lower court. And from this point forward, I can squash all charges brought by my adversary, even if the city continues negligent in its duty, by merely pointing out there is no overlap in the land specified in the two deeds!
The many instances of carelessness, corruption, chicanery, and negligence I have reported in the last seven years testify to the fact that it takes much nerve to buy land in a place like my adopted country—either that, or foolhardiness, or in the case of Christians, clear guidance from God!
Regarding nerve, I normally would not have enough to risk buying land in these circumstances. The greatest relief I have experienced from having the land restored to me was not a sudden overwhelming rush of joy when the verdict was announced, as I wrongly expected, but the fact that I no longer grieve for a few moments several times every day as I bring the matter to God in prayer. Praying for God’s help in this case for at least 700 consecutive days was an unending reminder that in his sovereign will, I might have to suffer unjustly, just as Christ and so many Christians have done before us. As Peter says in I Peter 2:18–21, there is no glory to God when his people suffer for wrongs they actually commit. But when we conduct ourselves in ways that are above reproach and then suffer for it without complaining, that finds favour with God, because then we show we have partaken of the grace needed to walk in our Lord’s steps, following the example Christ set for us as He suffered unjustly.
So, I had no delusions that I would obtain a happy outcome just because I was praying so often for so long. Rather, the result of all this praying was that I had to give the property over to God hundreds of times even though I loved the land and longed to see it used in a way that would honor his . I also had to embrace the reality that God might be most honoured by Julie and me losing retirement income unjustly without complaining, and I had to pray that He would help us respond that way if such an event came to pass. After a long while, I made myself stop praying about the case when I lay down in the evening, because then I went to sleep grieved and sometimes tormented in spirit.
However, while I find I do not have the nerve to face these matters without flinching, I have made risky decisions quite readily when I was convinced God was directing me in the choice and would be with me in the consequences. When I was 20–21 years old, I agonised for 18 months over the call to missions because it was unsettling to contemplate what that could lead to if God were not actually calling me. I suspected He was calling me, but I feared I might be calling myself, or I was being manipulated by the many circumstances that all just happened to point in the direction of missions. I knew the challenges and situations would be far beyond what I could handle if I were left to myself. But the day God made it 100% certain missions was his will for me, which happened at 14h00 hours on 4 August 1974 through an extraordinary answer to prayer, I rejoiced to go, and I never again worried about the consequences, assured that missions was God’s purpose in my case.
Similarly, I would never have had the nerve to buy this land in Mozambique if I were not convinced it was God’s will. I am thankful that all along the way, God granted remarkable answers to prayers for guidance and gave assurance and direction from his word in striking ways, both to me directly and through a good friend who has that special gift of faith referred to in I Corinthians 12:9, that is, he sometimes knows what God will do before He does it, and anticipates the outcome with an assurance that does not disappoint in the end.
For those who want the rest of story, I include the following details. Without them, one will not see God’s hand as it manifests itself in the detailed warp and woof of the cloth. For those who need to pass quickly on to other news, please skip to the section, “More Answers to Prayer,” but know you will miss the most extraordinary answers that follow below.
The Rest of the Story
In February 2015 I began looking for land within ten minutes or six miles of the hospital that could be purchased as a place where future missionaries could build their homes. Developed land in our city of 800,000 persons was exorbitantly expensive, and if I did not buy land in the immediate countryside soon, I thought prices even there might soon exceed what missionaries could pay. The mission did not have money for buying land, but I reasoned that I could use my retirement income, and if things did not work out for the mission to eventually purchase the land from me and I needed to recoup the money to pay for retirement, I would get my investment back with good interest by selling the property.
In only five days, God led me to an excellent tract of land exactly six miles from our hospital, and the seller and I agreed on $90,000 for 50 acres with 200 meters of frontage on the main highway. I thought it was the best land available, and at a good price. But two days later, I learned from neighbours why the price was so reasonable. For five years the land had been the object of bitter fighting between two men who each claimed ownership.
Only a few days earlier I had sought advice from a wealthy Nampula businessman who had often bought and sold land in Nampula. He warned me there was great risk in buying land anywhere in the city because of corruption in the land office. He himself had just bought a parcel for $80,000 from an official of the land office, only to discover when he applied for a building permit that other parties held deeds to the same land! My friend was now embroiled in a lawsuit to get his money returned by the corrupt land officer.
Having just received this warning from a good friend I had trusted for years, I backed out of the deal at once when I learned of the litigation. But the mayor of the city at the time was a highly regarded and incorruptible man, and he was directly involved in the sale through his friendship with the seller. When he learned that the land was contested and had been the object of two lawsuits already, he offered for the sake of everyone concerned to find out once and for all who had the legal right to the land so that I could buy it from that individual, whoever he might be.
I was immensely grateful for a mayor of such integrity, who was not a member of either of the entrenched political parties that vied constantly for political control of the third largest city of Mozambique. He owned a local pharmacy and had run for mayor purely from a desire to see good governance of the city. Sadly, good men do not last long, and he was assassinated before he could finish his first term. From what I knew of him at his death, I thought his assassination surely was the personal cost of staunch efforts to rid the local government of corruption.
What the good mayor did for me in 2015 was to find the decisions of the previous two lawsuits that had been decided in favour of the man who was selling the land to me. Then, to be sure they were not the result of corruption, he sent them back to the courts asking the new judges to review the decisions and state if they were just or fraudulent. One month after I first saw the land, the judges issued their report. They upheld the decisions barring my future adversary from interfering in the land. If anyone wanted to buy it, he would have to buy it from the seller I was dealing with.
Still, at this point I was wary of intrigues by the city officials and especially the land office, and I was worried that all of this might be a setup to ensnare an inexperienced foreigner with more money than judgment.
So, I put three fleeces before the Lord. If He wanted me to buy the land, all of the following had to happen. First, my personal land agent had to agree that everything about the transaction was legitimate. I had been warned by my business friend to avoid the government land agents, but to rather use his private agent who had nothing to gain from corrupt land deals. Second, the city land office had to process the paperwork for the sale free from kickbacks and corrupt practices, something that seemed unlikely. Third, my own lawyer had to review the court documents and give his assurance that the decisions were legitimate with no evidence of fraud on anyone’s part.
The next four days were interesting to say the least. On day one, my lawyer agreed to meet with me on day four to look at the court decisions. On day two, my land agent said he thought the sale of the land by the city in 2010 smelled fraudulent, but he would check into it more carefully to know for sure. Also on day two the city council through its land office drew up the papers for the sale of the property, charging me nearly 60% in taxes! I did not know what the normal tax rate was, but I was sure 60% was a fraudulent sum meant to line the pockets of corrupt officials. Since all three fleeces could not possibly be fulfilled now, given the land office’s conduct, I called the seller and told him the deal was off. I went to bed that night sad that such good land had slipped away but satisfied that God had caused the land office to show its colours as a means of turning me away from the deal.
The morning of day three, my realtor came by to hear how the transaction was going. I told him I had called it off because of fraud by the land office. My realtor was shocked at the tax being charged and said he would address the matter with the fraud inspector whom the new mayor had appointed to stop this sort of thing in the land office. The correct tax should have been 30%, he said. But as far as I was concerned, the deal was off.
On day four everything suddenly turned inside out. In a matter of perhaps five hours, to my complete surprise, all three fleeces suddenly became positive! By pure coincidence I ran into the land agent in town who told me that, after investigating the matter carefully, he had verified that unusual circumstances made the sale of the property in 2010 legitimate. He reversed his earlier opinion and now assured me I could buy the land from the seller.
Next, when I arrived home, I found new documents had been dropped off by the land office, this time charging the correct 30% in taxes!
With these two fleeces suddenly turning positive, I decided to keep my appointment with the lawyer scheduled that afternoon. I gave the lawyer the judgments from the court cases in 2011 and 2012 as well as the review by the new judges just a week earlier. He read them over carefully and assured me the decisions were legally correct and no one had been defrauded of anything. My adversary had lost the land through his own negligence, only the seller had the authority to sell it, and he assured me I could buy the land with a clear conscience.
With all three fleeces so quickly converted to positive in the space of only a few hours, by mere coincidence in the first instance, and despite my having withdrawn completely from the deal two days earlier, doing nothing to produce these sudden changes apart from keeping the appointment with my lawyer, I called up the seller to find out if he still wanted to sell. I was just in time, because unbeknownst to me, he was only three hours away from boarding a plane to France and would be gone for a month. All I could give him at the moment was a check for $10,000 in our Nampula accounts, but he accepted it, and we rushed to the civil registry where he took the big risk of turning all control of the land over to me through a power of attorney drawn up in my name, done in only a few minutes. Suddenly, the land I had waited more than a month to purchase was mine, though just that morning I awoke still supposing the deal was off forever!
Twelve days later, however, all chaos broke out as my adversary hit me with an avalanche of lies and intrigues assisted by corrupt government officials far removed from the legitimate officials I had been dealing with. He enlisted the aid of a fraud inspector who for three months assured me that I had been caught in a fraudulent operation and had just lost $117,000, though he said he could reduce my losses to only around $40,000 and still get me the land if I let him handle the debacle personally. In fact, it was all a con operation by which the inspector hoped to gain several thousand dollars by selling the land to me all over again, but this time from my adversary. When I told the inspector I wanted to confirm his story of fraud with the mayor, my land agent, my realtor, and my lawyer, he told me they were all part of the fraud, even the judges in their decisions, and that the only person I could trust was himself. If I did not let him correct all their errors, I would surely lose the land in court. I naively believed that since he was the fraud inspector, he must be honest.
It turned out I was not the only person he was conning. Others were falling prey to him as he used his office not to do away with fraud, but to perpetrate it. I smelled deception during the last meeting three months later when I was about to pay my adversary by buying the land again. Only then did I learn the fraud inspector expected to receive a large commission for selling the property to me a second time. Previously he had insisted he only wanted to help me for the sake of our friendship, since I had known him from the days he worked for SIL, a branch of Wycliff Bible Translators, 15 years previously. When I found out he was going to profit from the operation, I walked out of his office and never returned. Soon after, before he could entrap any other victims, the good mayor fired him specifically because of his behaviour in my case as well as those of several others.
Five months after buying the property, I launched my extensive and expensive program of land development. I sold my home in the States and put all that income plus much other retirement income into the effort. I was frankly scared to risk any more money after being convinced once already that I had to forfeit the $117,000 invested at the outset. As I prayed daily for God to stop me from making a mistake, I hoped He was not growing displeased at my refusal to trust the original answer to prayer supplied so impressively through the three positive fleeces. While I considered my situation, praying constantly for guidance after God had already turned three fleeces positive, God brought Exodus 14:15 to my attention as part of my regular Bible reading. The circumstance was God deliberately leading the Israelites into a hopeless situation with the Red Sea in front and on both sides of them and Pharoah’s army sweeping down from the rear. Their situation was far bleaker than mine, but God did not have patience for their unbelief after all He had already done to assure them of his presence. He told Moses, “Why do you cry to me!? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward!”
I thought possibly this was God speaking to me from his word. Why was I paralysed with fear, refusing to go forward, still praying for guidance after all God had done to lead me through specific prayers specifically answered and then delivering me at the last moment from a confidence scheme. So, I memorised the short verse and must have repeated it to myself a thousand times in the years ahead as I kept putting more and more chips on the table while my adversary brought case after case against me in the courts, lambasted me publicly on television and radio, and hauled me before the Agency for Combating Corruption, until the ante on the table had grown to $350,000. Then I lost the last hand and the entire pot when the eighth case was decided by a corrupt judge.
The news of her decision came in January 2021 while Julie and I were in South Africa on mission business. My lawyer immediately appealed the decision, and I was anxious to get back to Nampula at once so I could pressure the City Council to annul my adversary’s deed and put an end to the dispute before my own deed got nullified by the courts. But Julie’s mother died suddenly. Julie flew to the States to help with arrangements for home medical care for her father. It turned out that was a daunting task and she needed me to take over. In South Africa we had been staying with our friends, Mike and Hilda Stolk, who built our hospital. The stakes were high in Nampula, and I did not want to be negligent about doing everything I could to avert a disaster there, but Julie and her dad needed help in the States. I asked Mike what I should do. Mike had accompanied the whole story as it unfolded in real time, and he told me that God kept impressing a verse upon his mind which he sincerely believed was his word to me.
I asked what it was. He said, “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
I said, “That would be a great verse in this situation if it were really meant for me and not just to whomever God said it to at the moment. When and where did God say that?”
Mike answered, “It’s Exodus 14:14.”
I was dumbstruck. The verse I thought God had directed me to as I hesitated to throw good money after bad was Exodus 14:15. And now God was placing Exodus 14:14 upon Mike’s heart as the proper response to the present situation. With over 31,000 verses in the Bible for God to choose from, this seemed far too extraordinary to be mere coincidence! So, I left my affairs in God’s hands and went to the States to help my father-in-law. We did not get back to Nampula until July, six months after our departure. As it turns out, when I finally returned home, I could get nowhere with the City Council in my own strength anyway. Nothing I said or did would budge them to take action.
The following February I was back in South Africa with the Stolks discussing our land situation and the worrisome delay of the appeals court in making their decision. Mike said he was no longer merely convinced that God was going to fight for us in this case and overturn it, but that He was also going to fix things so that I would never see my adversary in court again. He said this was in keeping with the rest of the passage in Exodus 14 which he then quoted. Specifically, in v. 13 Moses told the harried Israelites, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today—you will never see them again forever.”
Mike believed God was leading him to pray with expectation that He would somehow arrange things so these unending lawsuits would finally end once and for all and I would never hear from my adversary again. Once again I was dumbstruck. I told Mike I thought God had done exactly what he had been praying for in finally revealing to us one month previously that my opponent’s deed was fatally flawed by a surveyor’s error introduced into the document 22 years before I became the owner of the land. I am sticking my neck out in publishing this, but I believe God has done exactly what Mike had been praying for with faith, even though it meant setting up the answer to Mike’s prayer 29 years before he began praying it. I trust through revealing the error in my adversary’s deed, I will never have to see him in court again.
Regarding Mike Stolk’s prayers of faith, George Muller said that he made a distinction between the gift of faith in I Corinthians 12:9 and the faith God expects all believers to manifest.
The faith God expects all believers to manifest is accepting as true God’s commandments, his warnings, his declarations, and his promises and then acting accordingly. Whenever anyone does that, it is not a special gift granted only to a few who have been given that unction, but something we all are responsible for manifesting. George Muller would say that the faith he exercised in depending upon God to meet the daily needs of over 2000 orphans was no extraordinary gift, but the same faith we all should expect from ourselves and every Christian, because Muller’s faith was always based on things God had clearly stated in his word.
For Muller, the special gift of faith not granted to all Christians is when one can know in a specific circumstance the will of God even when it is not part of his revealed will in the Bible. The fact that God will provide for his people’s needs is part of his revealed will and we must all exercise faith in that matter. That God will heal someone of a serious illness rather than use it as a means of bringing him to glory requires the gift of faith—knowing that God plans to spare the person’s life even before that fact becomes obvious, believing it, and not being mistaken half the time.
In all cases, true faith involves believing a revelation from God. When it is revealed in his word, we must all exercise faith. When we somehow sense it apart from the word of God, yet the outcome regularly confirms what we sensed, that is the special gift of faith. Neither Muller nor I claim to have the gift of faith; perhaps Mike does. But Muller’s experiences and logic agree with my own thoughts on the matter. If I am wrong, I am happy to at least be wrong in very good company!
More Answers to Prayer
More information will be sent in the next letter, but one great answer to prayer is the successful trip to retrieve our 40-year-old Bedford, broken down in South Africa since November 2019, and the goods we have been trying to get back to Nampula with it since April 2019. Julie and I were delayed in South Africa two months longer than we expected because each time we got the Bedford out of the shop we encountered new problems with it. Thankfully, a good Reformed brother, a mechanic we have known for 25 years, took over the repair work and got everything sorted out. Though since 2019 the truck had never travelled more than a 100 km without some new breakdown, when we finally departed on the 2600 km trip, it took off and did not want to stop until we got home! There was not one hiccup from any of our three vehicles the whole way, though the trip was arduous due to deteriorating roads. One stretch of 420 miles was so filled with potholes we averaged less than 20 miles per hour for 22 hours taking up two full days. It was a lesson in patience and endurance for sure!
Annual Church Projects
The reason Julie and I are in South Africa every February is that good friends let us use their vacation home on the Indian Ocean for that month each year. We love this opportunity, but it is not a time of idleness. It is the only time and place where I can devote myself fully to spiritual work. In recent years while at this retreat I have written a 173-page book of fifteen chapters related to matters associated with covenant theology in the context of 197 passages in Scripture. I wrote the book with one person in mind, but it is being translated into Portuguese to help many brothers here in Mozambique.
I was glad this year to turn my attention to a Scripture memory catechism I started 15 years ago but which I could only resume this year while at the ocean. It consists of 800 questions covering all aspects of doctrine and Christian practice, with answers being short passages of Scripture that all our children and many people in our church have memorised. Passages are generally one to three verses long and are selected for memorisation because they are clear, pithy summarisations of important issues treated repeatedly through Scripture, issues which every Christians should have down pat. Some passages are used multiple times because they deal with multiple issues, so the total number of passages to memorise is only around 500, though the questions are 800. People in church have memorised 365 of the passages and our kids have memorised over 400. The work is the fruit of a lifetime of Scripture memory, and I hope to translate the questions into Portuguese so I can publish the booklet for the church in Mozambique and distribute it at our Fiel Conferences.
Whenever I am away from Mozambique, work still goes on in Nampula unabated. My part is done via the Internet, and the various indigenous Reformed movements springing up through our work are always pressing forward with conferences, seminars, WhatsApp groups, Facebook, YouTube channels, and more. At times I interrupt my stay in South Africa to fly back to speak at the conferences.
Our own 21st annual Fiel Conference for church leaders from seven of Mozambique’s ten conferences is starting to bear down on us. It is scheduled for 19–22 July. We have 200 registrants already, which indicates this will be our largest conference ever. We will have to close registration when we reach 400 church leaders. In preparation, we have submitted an order for $43,000 worth of books for the conference bookstore. Pray they would arrive in time!
Please pray also that God would continue to display his power and glorify his Son through these important ministries in Mozambique!
By his grace,
Charles and Julie Woodrow