To The Thomas Pages homepage Episode of Gratitude - 5
Moçambique 1984
It was a situation in which everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong!
A crisis, that had no answer by any rational means, was turned around by a series of unforeseen events that, again, are an illustration that faith in God simply means never to despair but always to press forward.
I was in Moçambique's capital city, Maputo, to facilitate the transport of the next team of Christian volunteers from Cape Town, plus medical supplies, to the Changanine refugee camp, north of Chibutu, in drought stricken civil-war-torn Gaza Province.
The team, assembled in Nelspruit, South Africa, were to enter Moçambique via Swaziland en route to Maputo. This route was longer and more difficult, but safer from continual ambushes by Renamo rebels along the main entry route from South Africa. However, five of these brave volunteers still awaited visas from the Moçambique government.
I needed to collect the outstanding visas from a contact in the Moçambique department of Justice of its Frelimo (Marxist) government, as well as transport for the team and its supplies. Yet, in spite of marvellous co-operation in the past, this time nothing worked.
Of the visas: with great embarrassment I was told that, although the visas had been approved, they had not been signed and the director was "away".
Of the transport: I was told very bluntly that there was no fuel available in Maputo and therefore no transport.
In spite of great co-operation in the past, negotiations went nowhere. It was now Friday evening and the team was due to cross the border on Sunday morning, the best time to avoid a possible ambush.
I desperately tried to phone Nelspruit to hold back the visa-less members of the team, with the unhappy thought of having to send them all the way back to Cape Town. But the telephone lines were down! What more could go wrong!
I tried in vain to get through during Friday night and throughout Saturday. My host in Maputo knew the head of the city's telephone exchange. He kindly phoned the manager at his home, to be told: 'Sorry, nothing can be done!'.
I had a borrowed mini-bus at my disposal, but it only had enough fuel for one trip to the Swaziland border and back. So, all I could do was to meet the volunteers at the border and break the bad news. The medical supplies and some of the brave team would have to be sent back. Rather than sit and despair through the Saturday, I went off to buy cooking oil for my hosts from the only store in the city that had it (due to the country's foreign exchange crisis), and where only foreign passport holders were allowed to purchase.
At the store cashier ahead of me, a young German man was buying a crate of beer. I made a joking comment about the size of his purchase and we talked. His first question was what was I doing in Mozambique. My answer brought a derisive response, and he shared his fear of a Renamo attack on their company's camp (Siemens) outside the city limits, arising from a telephone threat he had received that they would be raided for food. After telling me what he thought of the 'bandidos' (Renamo), he left, and I went back to keep on trying the telephone to Nelspruit.
Sunday morning dawned. Crunch time!
Resigned to making the best of a bad situation, I headed out of the city. Approaching a road turn-off, I recognized the name of the area where my young Siemens friend had said his company's camp was located. I turned off towards it, and after a while spotted some prefabricated buildings on my left behind a security fence .
I pulled up at the gate and was confronted by a security guard with a .303 rifle. I asked for my friend as a matter of urgency (I really didn't know what I was there for, except perhaps to beg some fuel). The guard was plainly not interested in waking anyone on a Sunday morning and when I persisted he simply walked off. I still waited hopefully outside the barbed wire, watching the time anxiously.
Eventually, realizing the guard was not coming back, I decided to scale the gate.
The rolls of barbed wire on the top were difficult, but I dropped down on the inside in one piece and jogged quickly between the buildings. Seeing an open door, I looked in and saw my young friend, sound asleep. Stepping into his room, I shouted: "Bandidos! Bandidos!". He rolled himself against the wall pulling the pillow over his head. My laughter brought him upright in anger, and his response was not in any dictionary. Wanting to know how I had got in, he was adamant that the guard should have shot me. The noise brought his manager and explanations followed.
"Get up, we are going to help these people", his manager instructed.
A few minutes later, we were underway in convoy - two large 4x4 vehicles, plus the mini-bus. But, although this would bring the medical supplies through, it would not help with the volunteers' missing visas.
At the Swaziland border, the team of volunteers had just arrived.
I went into Passport Control to explain the illegal status of the team members without visas. I recognized the officer on duty. When coming through that post previously, I had noticed scabies on his face and had given him a bottle of medication. He greeted me with joy and showed how the medication had taken his problem away. I explained that the visas had been approved but needed to be collected in Maputo. With a smile, the whole team were processed, and were soon stacking boxes and bodies into every available space in the three vehicles.
Our crisis had also created a friendship which Siemens' staff celebrated with a party for the team at their encampment. The sight of so many young dedicated volunteers (including nurses and medical students) risking their lives, to bring medical aid and relief supplies to refugees in a civil war battle-zone during a drought, had made a deep impression.
My last contact with my friendly Germans was a phone call to Cape Town to wish me well for Christmas, and words of sympathy for my bout of malaria.
Truly, God turns the tables on difficult situations, and problems can become opportunities for newness and growth.
God really did synchronize chance encounters.
He touched hearts and opened doors.
Blessed be His lovely name!