Charles Woodrow presents the latest news from Nampula, Mozambique. You can read this newsletter online here.

Health Update!

Read the two-minute version in red below.

Dear Friends:

Yesterday I returned home after an eleven-day hospitalization to bypass four obstructed coronary arteries using a three-vessel bypass graft. Recovery was delayed by intestinal paralysis due to a severely inflamed duodenum resulting from two large, penetrating, bleeding ulcers that almost covered the entire circumference of the intestine. Despite the presence of these dangerous ulcers, I had never had pain or other symptoms apart from decreased appetite the past several months. With the added stress of surgery, however, the ulcers made their presence obvious! For ten days, I was unable to eat, and I ended up losing a third of my blood volume from the bleeding. 

I am at home after triple bypass surgery on my heart and treatment of two bleeding ulcers!

With circulation to my heart restored and effective treatment of the ulcers well underway, I want to thank all of you for your prayers and concern! It seems unbelievable that so many people would stand beside us in this circumstance and help us in the thoughtful ways we have experienced! We thank you for your love for us and your love for the Lord! So often over the years our family has benefited greatly as the love God’s people have for their Savior has been poured out upon us, His servants.   

My sweetheart and I dining out soon after discharge from the hospital

I thank our supporters for their love and prayers.

The rest of this report will be devoted to sharing the interesting back story of the past two weeks. That story began forty years ago, in 1983, and culminates in what I hope is a marvelous answer to four decades of prayer. The story should be encouraging to people who have time to read it, but to appreciate the backstory, it is necessary first to have a brief chronology of the present illness.

Because of the timing, I believe the events of the past months are a response to a 40 year prayer request!

Chronology of Present Illness 

In November 2022, four months short of my 70th birthday, I began experiencing unusual fatigue and weariness after my daily 2000 yard workout in the mission’s lap pool. Instead of feeling invigorated and energetic afterwards, I felt drained, and that weariness persisted right through to the next workout. 

Heart symptoms began four months ago during swim workouts.

Our supporters have often seen photos of this lap pool because our church, along with many others, uses it for their baptistry. I am certain supporters wonder why a missionary should have such a luxurious and beautiful accessory at his disposal, and some may even wonder if that is how their contributions are being used!

Why does the Mission have a pool?

The only reason the pool exists is that in 2010, Mike Stolk, South African builder of hospitals and the man who almost single-handedly built our facility as his gift to the Lord, said we must have an additional 70,000 liters of reserve water as a backup for the 50,000 liters already on hand in our water tower and cistern. He was building our hospital to South African standards, and South African law required that all hospitals, before they could be licensed to operate, had to have a three-day reserve of water in the event of public water outages. This is in fact a regular occurrence in Nampula! 

By law the hospital is required to keep a three day supply of water in reserve.

When I did the calculations, I discovered that 70,000 liters was exactly the volume of a 25-yard lap pool two meters wide and 1.1 meters deep. I asked Mike if he could make the cistern in the form of a swimming pool, and he said yes, he had built swimming pools before, and by hand, just as we would have to do in Nampula!

Our builder assured me he could make the cistern a pool!

The cost was calculated by me to be $5000, so I told Mike I would like him to build the pool. I would pay for it from the family’s emergency health fund instead of having the hospital cover the tab as originally planned. 

The hole in the ground awaits its costly transformation

I agreed to cover the expense myself.

Unfortunately, after the hole was dug, Mike informed me that swimming pools had to use much stronger cement and much more rebar enforcement than a passive cistern because swimmers produce waves that beat against the walls, encouraging them to crack and then leak. That information suddenly bumped the cost to three times what I had budgeted, but with the hole dug, there was no turning back! Despite the big hit to our emergency health fund, I have never regretted the decision to pay for the pool, but rather thank God that He led me ignorantly and innocently into this costly undertaking!

Only after starting did I learn a pool requires more cement and rebar than a cistern. Cost tripled to $15,000! But I thank God for this

great mistake!

The reason I wanted a lap pool was to maximize my capacity to serve the Lord well into old age. Just as a good infantry soldier has to keep himself strong to serve in the field where the body must always be the slave of the heart, mind, and will even in impossible circumstances, I did not want to come to a point where my body began dictating to my heart, mind, and will what I could or could not do in my service to God.

I train regularly to stay fit for the physical work of missions.

To stay strong, I had been running for years on a track we had built on the mission compound, but my knees had begun to hurt, and I was wondering what I would do to stay fit when I could no longer run. I had swum competitively in college, so a lap pool seemed the perfect means to continue training indefinitely.  

Bad knees make jogging difficult, so swimming is vital.

Getting back to the story, four months short of my 70th birthday I experienced constant fatigue and weariness due to the swim workouts. Three months short of my 70th birthday I suffered an episode of atrial fibrillation in the water with profound weakness and breathlessness that compelled me to halt the workout immediately. I am thankful the arrhythmia never recurred, but it was a clear sign that something was wrong with my heart, and my capacity to exercise in the pool progressively decreased from that day forward.

Three months ago I suffered a severe arrhythmia in the pool.

Two months short of my 70th birthday I was in South Africa for our annual working vacation. Medical friends had arranged a consult with a cardiologist to evaluate the cause of the arrhythmia.

Two months ago I was evaluated in South Africa.

One month short of my 70th birthday the full heart workup had revealed that I had coronary artery disease with dangerous obstructions in all four arteries supplying my left ventricle. The vessel supplying the right ventricle was clean, as were my aorta, my distal peripheral vessels, and both carotid arteries supplying my brain.

One month ago we learned all four vessels to my left heart were compromised.

In the heart, the left ventricle is the chamber that pumps blood to the entire body apart from the lungs. The left ventricle pumps against much greater resistance than the right ventricle, so the muscular walls are thicker and require more oxygen and thus more blood. Therefore, while the right ventricle is supplied by a single artery, the large vessel supplying the left ventricle immediately bifurcates into two arteries to provide sufficient oxygen to all the muscle involved on that side. 

Sudden obstruction of the main left coronary artery is always a terminal event. When I was a surgical resident, before the advent of prompt treatment to lyse clots obstructing heart vessels and before the employment of devices that can quickly reopen atherosclerotic obstructions using balloons and stents, 50% of first heart attacks were fatal. These would include all heart attacks arising from occlusion of the main left coronary artery.  

The left heart normally has three named vessels supplying blood.

In Nampula, sudden obstruction of these vessels would be a terminal event!

As mentioned, today there are treatment modalities that go far beyond simply giving heart attack victims oxygen, and the survival rates for heart attacks are much better than 50%, provided one gets to a hospital quickly. But out in Mozambique, where we have nothing more than oxygen to offer victims, heart attacks arising from the main left coronary artery are going to be fatal.

In my case, my main left coronary artery has an anomaly – it trifurcates into three vessels, not two, so that I have three vessels providing blood to my left ventricle. You might think this would be an advantage, but it is not. It just means the three main vessels are smaller than they would be if there were only two supplying the ventricle. But negatively, studies indicate that the high turbulence inside the vessels where the main artery splits into three arteries produces damage to the lining of all the vessels at the trifurcation, predisposing them all to atherosclerotic plaque formation. 

I have an anomalous blood supply to the left heart with a total of four named vessels instead of three.

Thus, despite the fact that the rest of my atherosclerosis workup showed good vessels throughout my body with minimal plaque problems, there at the trifurcation of the main left coronary artery, all four vessels were dangerously obstructed by plaque, presumably due to the excess turbulence such a malformation produces. Because every one of my four left ventricular vessels was compromised, the day I finally progressed to an acute obstruction due to clot or plaque, it would certainly be fatal.

The arrangement is harmful - it produces turbulence that leads to early obstruction of all four vessels!

Truly, we are fearfully and wonderfully made! We cannot even imagine what God has done in forming us in our mother’s womb. Only God knows how He knit us together. Only God knows all the details involved as our bodies function day in and day out. Only God knows when we are going to die, and only God knows how that event is going to take place right down to the molecular level! Thankfully, though only God knows the intricacies we cannot even fathom about our bodies, He can reveal what we need to know about hidden threats when it suits His purposes to do so.

Only God knows how He knit us together in the womb, and thankfully He can alert us to dangers we do not know about!

Continuing with the chronology of the present illness, one month prior to my 70th birthday it was found by cardiac catheterization that I needed an urgent operation to bypass the four occlusions affecting the four arteries to my left ventricle at the trifurcation of the main vessel. Since our insurance only pays for care in the US, I was flown urgently to the States.  

I needed an urgent operation, but my insurance would only pay in the U.S.

To minimize the stress of the twenty-hour flight from Johannesburg, friends arranged for Julie and me to be sent business class to San Antonio where I was scheduled for immediate surgery two days after arrival. The first flight booking fell through, so the operation was re-scheduled for the first case on the first day that my heart surgeon returned from a short trip of his own.

Because of my "precarious" condition, I was flown to the States in business class!

Flying business class was a totally new experience for Julie and me! We were served steak on china with linen placemats and real cutlery, issued pajamas if we wanted to use them, and shown how to transform the seats of the pod into a bed so we could travel entirely supine as if sleeping at home while sailing 35,000 feet in the air over the Atlantic Ocean! It seemed surreal because on the one hand I felt as strong as ever on the outside, but those familiar with what existed on the inside were anxious for the flight to be handled as quickly as possible and with minimal stress.

Julie in her pod next to mine - not your typical

missionary experience!

Somehow, Julie and I suffered through it and arrived alive!

And so, three weeks short of my 70th birthday, the four obstructions in my left ventricular arteries were bypassed using three grafts, and then the two menacing peptic ulcers were discovered and addressed by endoscopy and by clamping off two bleeding arteries.

Three weeks before my 70th birthday, I was repaired.

Now, one week short of my 70th birthday, we are just waiting for the ulcers and the sternotomy to heal so I can return to Mozambique and resume ministry!

One week short of 70, I am back at work!

The Rest of the Story

With this information, the backstory that follows is intriguing to me. It may end up being meaningless, but I believe it represents a remarkable answer to a longstanding prayer, and that is why I am taking these pains to share it.  

I believe recent events are the answer to a 40 year-old prayer.

God called me to missions at 14h00 on 4 August 1974. It was such a clear and remarkable event that both the hour and the call were indisputable. The call was the culmination of an 18-month process that terminated in a surprising and sudden answer to prayer that could only have come from heaven. In view of my recent surgery, it is ironic that the answer to prayer in 1974 was another operation upon my heart, but this one was done by God Himself in a spiritual way, and the effect of the procedure has never since been undone or diminished for even a moment.

I was privileged to have an indisputable call to missions 49 years ago.

Though I received that day the call and the burden of missions, there was a great deal of patience entailed as, at that time, there remained between me and the mission field an extremely long and tedious interval of preparation: four years of medical school, five years of surgical training, four years of payback time to the Air Force for financing my training, and one year of language school.

But it took 16 years of arduous preparation to finally reach Mozambique.

Especially during surgical residency, I often lamented to God how this had to be the hardest and slowest route conceivable to the mission field. Even before that interval began, the hours required in medical school were so long that I took a vow of celibacy not to date or even look at a woman for nine years, until I was on the verge of completing residency. There was no point in entertaining thoughts of marriage, as there was no time to be a husband, let alone a father, until all that preparation was past. Like Jeremiah, I felt this call to celibacy was thrust upon me by God. It was not my choice!

Preparation was so demanding I could not even contemplate marriage or a family.

As the years ground on and my peers married, built up their families, and established flourishing careers, still there was for me no wife, no children, and no missionary career – just endless years of arduous preparation still looming far into the future. I thought often of Abraham who received a promise from God that went unfulfilled for 25 years. But though Abraham had to wait 25 years for the result, God granted him a long life. After the gift was finally given, he still ended up having 75 years to enjoy the fruit of his patience!

Abraham also had to suffer through long years of waiting, but he was granted many years to savor the results.

So, I began praying to Go for a long life, that I might see both my physical and spiritual children and grandchildren. Without a long life, it seemed to me that I was destined to die almost as soon as I finally got started. For many missionaries, this is exactly what has happened. They have been cut down even before seeing their first conversion. 

I prayed for the same opportunity - through being granted a long life.

Unsaved people look upon these pathetic results and think, “What a waste!” But in fact, one never wastes his life when he lays it down for Christ – because there is another response besides “What a waste!” on the part of those who do not yet have eyes of faith. That is the response of Faithful in Pilgrim’s Progress. It is the response that wells up in the minds of lost persons whom God is drawing to Himself. That response is: “There must be something exceedingly precious about Jesus Christ for someone to give up so much for Him!”

God does not promise this! Many missionaries have sacrificed life AND satisfying results.

The prosperity gospel gets the matter completely wrong when it comes to what brings the greatest glory to God. It is never pointing to all the blessings the Christian receives from God through Christ that shows most dramatically how much Christ is worth. Rather, it is how much His servants are willing to give up for Christ that captures the world’s attention, that shows to them the exceeding preciousness of His person! It is what we give up for Christ, not what we gain, that most effectively demonstrates His great worth before the watching world, the angels, and other Christians!

This is because the preciousness of Christ is most clearly displayed, not by what we receive from Him, but by what we willingly sacrifice for Him.

But I do want a long life of Christian service, and that is why I struggle to stay fit physically. I do not want this body to wear out while there is still work that could be done. In 1963, when I was ten years old, I read that the average lifespan of an American male was 70 years. So, since 1983, for 40 years I have been praying for many bonus years beyond the average 70, just as Abraham also enjoyed in his day.

But I want to serve a long while, not a short while. In 1963, 70 years was the typical lifespan of American men.

These bonus years are so important to me that, for the past 20 years, at my birthday I have been counting down the years, not up. When I turned 50, I celebrated 20 years left before the bonus years kicked in. At 60, it was 10 years left. Last March, I did not celebrate my 69th birthday. I celebrated my one-year anniversary, meaning one year remained until the bonus years started. In March 2024 I will not celebrate 71 years of age, but, Lord willing, I will celebrate completion of my first year of bonus time. Then I will be one year old again, in bonus years.

That is too short when it takes 35 years to prepare! So for 40 years I have prayed for many "bonus years" to be added.

My daughter Gracie chides me that I am tempting God in the way I count birthdays. To be sure, no one knows what God will do. We have to ask and then wait to see if He answers our prayers the way we are hoping. In my case, seventy may be the end – or it may be the beginning. We can only wait on God to show us which is the proper interpretation.

Prior to 70, I counted the years remaining, not the years lived, at each birthday.

In this regard, it is extraordinary that while I have felt strong, energetic, and healthy with no chest pain, no abdominal pain, and no thought of letting up in my work in Nampula, I have had these life-threatening processes inexorably developing in my body, without symptoms or warning. But God knew about them. In fact, God decreed the anomaly in my coronary vessels that produced this threat that would eventually have stopped my heart if the final event had evolved in Nampula where He has placed me, rather than in the shadow of a modern American hospital.

After 70, I will count the bonus years given so far.

Will God answer my 40-year prayer request?

And it is significant to me, in view of my regular petition to God for four decades now that He might grant many bonus years, that God brought all this to light just weeks before my 70th, or 0th birthday! I delight to think that God has ordained this 70-year “tune-up” to make sure this vessel of clay with its built-in obsolescence or 70-year expiry date may be given a new lease on life, even as He has power to renew our inner man day by day!

I believe He is doing so. His 70th year birthday gift to me is revealing and fixing these serious problems!

There is, to be sure, another quite opposite explanation for recent events. I remember hearing the administrator for a large mission board speak about the health of missionaries. One of his responsibilities was to make sure the mission had the financial means to take care of the medical needs of those under its charge. He mentioned that there seemed to be two types of missionaries where health was concerned. On the one hand, there were those who constantly suffered minor breakdowns that were a continuous but limited drain on financial resources. And on the other, there were seemingly indestructible missionaries who carried on in difficult fields with no medical expenses at all until reaching a pre-programmed “expiry” date, when suddenly it was one disastrous and costly health breakdown after another, culminating quickly, and very expensively, in death.

Or is this in fact "the beginning of the end"? Other stalwart missionaries have carried on strong, then suddenly collapsed at the end when their time was up.

I certainly could fit the second category! In a matter of weeks, as my expiration date approached, two health issues have surfaced, both life-threatening if they had arisen in Nampula, one of them costing well over $100,000 to fix and producing a much-prolonged hospitalization because of the second condition that was discovered hard on the heels of the first! But until four months ago, I had lived 34 years in Mozambique’s hostile health environment where malaria is endemic, where 50 percent of the population walk about with active bilharzia of the bladder, and where diarrhea and GI illness is ubiquitous, yet I had never been sick even a single day!

Like them, I have enjoyed perfect health for 34 years in a very unhealthy part of the world.

The good health granted to me was purely by the grace of God, and during the first eight years it was tied to a far greater manifestation of His faithfulness which He was demonstrating for His own glory. In those early days of ministry, God raised up a surgical service through Grace Missions that carried out 3,500 consecutive operations without ever having to cancel a single case due to lack of equipment, medications, or personnel. Except for one month when the whole hospital was shut down due to repeated raids by guerrilla troops that had resulted in kidnapped nurses, widespread destruction, and looting of all the hospital’s resources, we never cancelled a single elective operation. And during the aforementioned raids, the only entity spared was the surgical block and storeroom! Those areas were neve breached either in those or any of the other raids carried out by the guerrillas, though according to witnesses the bandits had made prodigious efforts to break down the doors and carry off our equipment.

In early days, this perfect health was part of God's testimony of faithfulness to our patients, providing everything they needed to obtain their surgical cures, including protecting our surgical block from guerrilla raids.

Those were the days when Mozambique was the poorest nation on earth and when the government surgical centers were chronically closed except for life-saving procedures because of a shortage of medications and supplies. Yet in our facility, we never ran out of anything needed to perform 3,500 procedures because God, in ways that at times bordered on the miraculous, kept us supplied with everything. As a result, people came to our health center seeking care from all over the province, and from the four surrounding provinces as well! We had a six-month waiting list for operations. The fact that God was the source of the special blessings enjoyed at our hospital was made known to all in that everyone who passed through the OR was prayed over, and all patients were evangelized on the wards.

Also providing, almost miraculously, the equipment and medications required.

But the most remarkable thing was that for those eight years, the OR never closed for a single day due to illness on the part of the surgical team. We had five team members, each one was indispensable, and we operated four days a week, yet never in over 400 weeks was a single team member ill on a surgical day – this in a land where people are often ill for several days in the month due to ubiquitous pathogens in the food, the water, the ground, the air, and the mosquitoes! God kept us healthy, because it was part of the testimony He was establishing of His faithfulness in providing everything our patients needed in treating their surgical problems.

Not only I, but our entire team of 5 workers, never missed a single day of work throughout the years of surgical ministry!

So yes, the events of the past month could be just the start of another “indestructible” missionary hitting his pre-determined, divinely ordained expiration date – but the timing of all this, just days before the onset of bonus years, and the reality of forty years of consistent prayer that God would grant me many such years for serving Him, lead me to believe otherwise. I think, rather, that God is acting in a conspicuous way to show that He has heard those prayers and is making up for the very slow start He decreed for me by granting ten or even twenty bonus years. Doing this has required that He bring to light these hidden, dangerous defects that He might resolve them by His grace. The bonus years to come are, I trust, His gift to me on this, my 70th, or 0th birthday observation!

So my 70th birthday next week could be the end of another "stalwart" missionary who has shot his bolt - but I believe God is affirming that it is only the beginning of the many bonus years I have prayed for!

May this story produce much praise and thanks to God for His kindness and encourage us all to persevere as we assail the heights of heaven through our humble, submissive prayers!

Let us praise the God who answers prayer!

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