Greetings to friends of Grace Missions, Grace Medical Mozambique, Charles and Julie Woodrow.
Here is the latest news from Nampula, Mozambique, written by Dr. Charles.
I want to thank all who prayed for my meetings with the Ministry of Health last December and January. The subject of those discussions was our plan to open the surgical centre this year. Original authorisation to pursue this project was obtained nearly twenty years ago, and it was necessary to inform the Ministry that the project was nearing completion. Those meetings were the subject of our last prayer letter, and this report will give the results.
But first, almost all of our friends will be aware of the major cyclone that struck Mozambique in the midsection of the country early last month. One report from the U.K. said the cyclone was the worst of this decade (without specifying the frame of reference for the statement). Nampula is several hundred miles north of the disaster and was not affected, but the storm has been a devastating blow for the nation to absorb. The port city directly in the path of the hurricane was the fourth largest city in Mozambique with a population of over 500,000. Its port was the second most important in the country. Material damage was extensive. Sixty percent of the permanent concrete and steel buildings suffered structural damage, not including damage from the flooding that produced an inland lake sixty miles long and fifteen miles wide. Perhaps most people lived in mud huts, and those would have all been destroyed and swept away in the winds and raging waters. These statistics reveal the furious power of the storm, but the great tragedy is in the hundreds of people drowned in the flood waters and hundreds more who died from other injuries. We hear there were ninety thousand left homeless.
Though the people in the north have meagre resources themselves, efforts were made by believers to send relief to the victims further south. Our hospital building was requested as a temporary warehouse for stockpiling aid once a way could be found to get it to the affected areas. Unfortunately, even under ideal weather conditions travel to Beira is difficult. With the extensive flooding the dirt roads became impassable. Even the main asphalt highway leading into the city was severed because of downed bridges and whole sections that had washed away. Sending aid by air has not been possible as large planes have already been pressed into service further south and the remaining small planes do not carry sufficient weight to make the expense worthwhile. So Christians in the north have thus far been able to help only with their prayers.
Please pray with us for comfort for the grieving families and wisdom and integrity for the government and relief workers as they confront so daunting a situation.
Despite this tragic setback to development in Mozambique, here at Grace Missions much progress is taking place, as the photos dispersed through this report will illustrate.
Returning to the meetings with the Ministry of Health, Grace Missions needed to organise the importation of the medical equipment to stock our hospital. The first shipment is a forty-foot container that had been waiting in San Antonio for months. Cooperation from the government was essential in order to import this load of closely regulated supplies. Getting that cooperation was a complicated process involving seven offices in the Ministry of Health. Those offices can be labelled A through G for the sake of convenience, with the understanding that one cannot receive the blessing of Office G without first obtaining the support of the preceding six offices!
We were thanking God in the last report that by pure serendipity (i.e. the providence of God) Mozambique’s last Vice Minister of Health, Dr Mouzinho Saíde (Office A) paid an unexpected visit to the mission a short while before my trip to Maputo. He and I worked closely together twenty years ago obtaining the original authorisation for the hospital project, and I was surprised and delighted that our friendship was still important to him, which says much about his kindness and humility after rising so high in the Ministry of Health. When he learned that I would soon be in Maputo where he was currently the director of the largest hospital in the country, he promised to arrange the necessary meetings with the new health authorities, all close associates of his.
Faithful to his word, the day I arrived he received me and called all the offices I needed to visit, in each case speaking to the head of the department, with the exception of two crucial contacts he was unable to reach. Those exceptions were Office B which had to start the process, and Office G, the department that finally had to help us with the importation of our container.
Getting into Office B required another providential act. The day after arriving in the capital I submitted a request for an interview to update all our authorisations and to start the process of getting through to Office G, but though the secretary promised to contact me about the appointment, nothing happened.
I also tried daily to penetrate Office G directly, hoping to at least start up a friendship with the director, but this important person resisted all attempts to be seen or even contacted, so much so that I wondered if perhaps the Wizard of Oz was now occupying the post! This director works in the most impregnable building I have ever encountered in my simple, unsophisticated existence. Guards with machine guns block the path to the waiting room, and one can only get that far by surrendering his identity documents and obtaining a special pass worn around the neck. That is not unusual, but past the reception was something I had never before seen in Mozambique. The entrance to the building was controlled by biometric monitoring devices that granted access only to select persons whose fingerprints were on file in the computer. Such a building in the Mozambique I know further north was as unexpected as a helicopter hitched alongside horses outside an old west saloon. More frustrating was the fact that the receptionist was not authorised to give out any information regarding names, phone numbers, or email addresses of the people one needed to see, so there was no hope of contacting them directly. I began to understand why even the former Vice Minister of Health could not reach this person by phone. After two weeks seeking in vain to meet with him, I surmised it would be safer to sneak into the throne room of King Artaxerxes, yet this was the person whose help was vital for our hospital to be able to continually stock itself with drugs and medical supplies—because the occupant of this fortress was the Director of Drugs for the nation of Mozambique.
While getting nowhere with Office G, and despite hearing nothing from office B, I decided at the end of day three to make a return trip to Office B even without an appointment. It was shooting an arrow at random, but by God’s grace it hit the bull’s eye. When I entered the office I was surprised to find the receptionist excited to see me. She said that the second-in-command had seen my request for a meeting and had asked to be given charge of our case. “By coincidence,” this director now working in the Ministry of Health had been the chief medical officer of Nampula during the days when our hospital was under construction. She had long been curious to know about the nice building being erected at the edge of town, and in minutes I was ushered into her office. As we discussed the project, the Lord gave this woman an enthusiastic and excited attitude about everything I presented. She quickly scanned all our documents and said all was in order, nothing remained for us to accomplish with the Ministry, and her office would authorize the opening of the hospital upon passing inspection. She also offered to short circuit the bureaucratic maze related to importing our container of medical supplies. She assured me that within a couple of days I would be inside Office G, the drug citadel of Mozambique, speaking with the director and presenting a letter from the Health Ministry requesting his full cooperation.
I left thinking that God must have scoured the whole earth to find a bureaucrat with her positive attitude and then placed her in just the right location to help us! But unfortunately, this woman was not the top bureaucrat in the department, and repeatedly her efforts to expedite our project were thwarted by people above her.
First the superiors wanted us to renew our authorisations at the provincial level, Office C. I was thankful that I had already broached this matter with the Provincial Health Director before traveling to the capital. She had promised her support and kept her word, but getting the approval in writing took three weeks. After a week in the capital, I returned to South Africa to carry on with the mission’s business there while waiting for the next steps to be accomplished.
Unfortunately, after the approval from Office C came through, the superiors said I next needed the approval of Office D, another branch of the Health Ministry. Our efficient friend in Office B immediately sent the required letter to Office D requesting his help. The former Vice Minister had already put me in contact with this man, who was a general surgeon and a friend of the Vice Minister, but unfortunately by the time we reached his stage of the process he was away on a month-long vacation!
Six weeks after beginning my meetings with the Ministry, I was passing through the capital again, this time en route to Nampula with our truckload of supplies. Even though the surgeon at the Ministry was still away on vacation, I decided I would stay in the capital while our driver made the long trip home. I hoped God would yet get me inside the drug citadel even without the required authorisations, but after trying four days with no results, I was beginning to lose hope. Work was piling up in Nampula, and I had already purchased a plane ticket to fly home the next night since offices at the Ministry would be closed for the weekend. It looked like it had been another week lost.
But suddenly, on Friday morning, the logjam broke loose. The authorizations from Offices D and E came through despite the director being away, and I was handed the important letter requesting Office G to render its full assistance with our medical importation.
With that letter, I was finally ushered past the biometrically controlled doors and met with the officials in the department of drugs who explained everything the mission needed to do to import all manner of medicines and medical equipment into Mozambique in the future. Their protocol necessitated a detour through Office F, but thankfully that director was in the building next door and had already been contacted weeks ago by my friend, the former Vice Minister. He saw me at once and promised his full assistance once the paperwork begun at Office E was completed.
After these meetings, I had just enough time Friday afternoon to submit the full packing list of our container goods to the Department of Drugs. They forwarded it to the inspectors who a few weeks later gave us a letter to present to customs stating that our container could come into the country without the special formalities normally required of medical importations.
Unfortunately, to get this letter we had to remove 89 boxes of restricted medical supplies from the already packed container. For the third time, our long-suffering special operations coordinator, Don Dickey, unpacked and repacked the container, removing items that cannot be shipped until a long term agreement with Office E has been formalised. This is an agreement whereby the Ministry of Health will handle all the bureaucracy related to future medical importations which will be done in the name of the Ministry itself, thus exempting them from restrictions, while we pay the suppliers and shippers for everything we order. Other sensitive matters must be dealt with in this agreement, so we covet your prayers for God’s continued help in the coming months as this accord is written out.
Apart from the battle to penetrate the Citadel of Drugs, Mozambique’s watchdog for medical importations, I was thankful that at every step along the way God gave us much favour with the health officials. This is how it was at the outset of our ministry in the 1990s, but later we faced repeated efforts to close down the work. Those efforts eventually boomeranged into permission from the Minister of Health to build and operate our own hospital. We never sought that permission, but our adversaries took the matter all the way to the Minister, with the unexpected result that he sided with us rather than with them. When the Minister asked what he could do to relieve me of the harassment I was experiencing at the time, I suggested he allow the mission to own and operate its own hospital, something rare in those days. In short order he prepared the authorization, and now it looks like the suggestion will finally become a reality.
Ironically in view of this last-minute success and several gratifying manifestations of God’s help along the way, I learned that the adversary who caused the most harm twenty years ago and carried his campaign to shut down our program all the way to the Minister of Health, a general practice doctor who performed surgery at the downtown hospital and wanted it to be the only surgical centre in the city, has since become the head surgeon of Mozambique. I learned that, though the health ministry may approve the opening of the hospital, I personally will not be allowed to practice surgery in it without this man’s express authorisation! Since I have not operated in twenty years, he would have ample excuse to withhold that permission.
So despite all that God has done in the past, we must continue to look to him to accomplish the improbable. Either I must be granted this authorisation by the very man who made such strenuous efforts to close down our OR years ago, or God must raise up some other surgeon to do the work. It will be interesting to see what the Lord will do in response to our prayers.
This has been the latest chapter in the long story of Grace Mission’s medical-evangelistic ministry in Mozambique, but much is happening in other areas too, as the preceding photographs in this report have illustrated:
- The guest cottage is getting its roof now that the needed building supplies have arrived from South Africa.
- A functioning borehole and running water has been installed at Quinta Graça, the residential compound ten minutes from the hospital. The repaired transformer has been reinstalled, and the property is now illumined by public lighting at sixty locations.
- Our daughter Grace has returned to Mozambique, is living with us, and enjoys a productive position as Manager of Community Development at an agro-industrial social enterprise run by believers. Her department is headed by the founders of Mission Ekklesia with whom she works every day helping the employees unlock their full potential, which at this business includes coming into a right relationship with their Creator.
- The young people of our church, who founded an organisation for the promotion of evangelism and meaningful indigenous Christian music, sponsored a conference on revival and repentance one week ago attended by 140 young people from various churches around Nampula. The preachers were leaders of Ekklesia and other young men who studied in my systematic theology course.
- Ekklesia’s church plant, the Gospel of Grace Church, a daughter church of our own congregation, opened across town and conducted its first baptism last weekend at the mission compound. Ekklesia is an indigenous movement to promote the doctrines of salvation by grace through faith among the Evangelical churches of Mozambique and is supported by Grace Missions and HeartCry missionary society.
- Our forty-foot container of medical equipment, the object of this report, left the U.S. on March 27 and is now on its way across the ocean.
- The fully equipped dental chair and operating suite arrived from Asia and was installed for Aquiles Júnior, son of my former surgical assistant and co-founder of our church. Aquiles has his office in what will become the minor surgery room of the hospital clinic.
- Work has begun on the built-in cupboards, counters, and cabinets for the hospital, necessary for installing and storing the equipment soon to arrive.
- Extensive preparations are underway as we re-invent the Fiel Conference. This national conference will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2019 and move to the Grace Missions compound.
- We are presently completing our annual book order for the conference and book store.
Please continue to pray for these projects, particularly the bookstore and conference ministries. This is the time of year when the mission must bear heavy expenses related to those two works which we expect to reach $40,000 this year. So far we are not facing the financial crisis that God delivered us from last year through the generous help of several supporters, but we are still vulnerable to running out of money before paying all the bills associated with these projects. Please remember our needs during this time as you plan your giving to missions!
Finally, we are urgently seeking someone familiar with WordPress website design who can correct a problem with our website that has impaired its function for over a year now. We are unable to resolve it ourselves. If you know WordPress and have time to help us past this obstacle, please contact us!