The Container SagaApril 15, 2022
Dear friends and family,
THE SHORT VERSION!
Satan tried many things, most recently the angry man, sickness, bridge needing repair, road needing repair, a dump truck dumping a load of dirt on the road just before the bridge that the truck carrying the container needed to go over. In spite of all the roadblocks which Satan thought to stop the container full of printing equipment from reaching the printshop at Desert Tree Ministry, THE CONTAINER ARRIVED Tuesday night this week!!! Everything was unloaded off the container that night and nothing seems to be broken or damaged. The materials to finish the new printshop were on this container along with printers, folders, paper cutter, book binder, stitcher, etc. We are very thankful to God for watching over this container, which has been on its way since December 15, 2021. Thank you for your prayers!
THE LONG VERSION!
While our family was on furlough last summer, I spent much time researching printing equipment and supplies. I was able to help my dad build a few of the wooden crates before we returned to Africa. My dad was the chief crate engineer and packer. My dad and mom spent considerable time on this project. There was the search to find a 20' container which proved difficult due to covid. Finally our shipper found one in Atlanta, 5 hours from us! But one was enough, and I said, "Buy it!"
My dad needed space in a warehouse and I think he checked out every warehouse in Greeneville. Finally, God showed my dad one warehouse with a very helpful manager and forklift driver. God knew exactly what we needed. Then my parents both got covid a few weeks before packing the container. Finally the container was ready to be shipped.
The first trucker didn't show up. Or the second. But the third one did on December 15, and my dad and the forklift driver and several helpers were able to load the container brim-full bottom to top, left to right. They had to push the door shut. But thanks to my dad's expert packing capabilities, things fit perfectly. God is good.
After our container traveled on a container ship from Savannah, GA, up the coast to New York then across the ocean, it meandered in and out of the ports in Europe. A few days before arrival in Europe, the temperature was well below freezing. If printer ink is frozen, the ingredients irreversibly separate, causing the ink to be unusable. We had thousands of dollars of ink on the container. We prayed to God to keep the temperature above freezing. As far as I saw, the temperature never dipped below freezing the whole time it was in Europe. Praise God! The container changed ships 3 times, I think. One of those ships had been attacked by pirates last fall!
Charles made three trips to Cameroon the beginning of March in which he brought back the books we had ordered from Springs of Life Publishing in Poland. After hundreds of hours of work and years of patience, my fingers finally got to touch the books! They are beautiful! I can hardly wait to start distributing them.
Boxes of books in our storage room.
Once the container arrived in Douala, Cameroon, in mid-March, we had 11 days to get the container out of the port before penalties started. We thought everything was going OK until day 11. Then we hear, "Um, your paperwork isn't straight. You need to fix it." Upon further investigation, it was the the sea-shipping company who had made the error in their office. Our paperwork was double checked and found to be in perfect order. It took at least another 10 days to resolve that paperwork glitch. Every day, we were to be charged $200 late storage fees. In the end, nothing was said about our over $2,000 of storage fees! We were going to petition for a refund anyway, since it was totally out of our control, but God saved us out of that trouble, and the container started to progress inland on a truck!
During this time, an angry man falsely accused me of cheating him and took me to criminal court. However, the judge, who was supposed to hear the case, did not show up and another judge came. That judge is apparently a Christian, and after he heard both sides, sent everyone back to church to solve it there as this was not a criminal case. A long meeting was held the next day at the church with the result that the charge was dropped.
Meanwhile, we realized that the earth bridge about 9 miles from here was badly washed out. About a third of the road had fallen into the water, leaving a sheer drop off of at least 25 feet. The other side of the earth bridge was degraded, leaving a very narrow, single lane passage. We watched one big truck pass his tires within 1 foot of the edge of the drop off. The dirt underneath is cracked and ready to cave in at any moment. In fact, five people have died at this spot so far when they missed the road and ended up in the river below. They will probably never fix the bridge until it caves in completely or many more people die. "Wouldn't it be unfortunate if our container of precious printing equipment landed upside down in the water?" I wondered to myself. We decided to see the authorities. (We discarded the idea of using another bridge in the area since it was a palm-stick bridge....)
The degraded bridge
We saw the locally elected mayor of the nearest town. We saw the other regional leader named by the president, the prefet. "Would it be OK if we tried to fix up the bridge a little?" At first they were skeptical, but they finally accepted. The pathfinder club and a couple of elders from church joined us, and with a handful of people from the village, we had a team of about 60 people. No dump truck. No pickup truck. Just picks, shovels, and sand bags. And the temperature hovered around 110F. So we started digging up the old bridge crossing from decades ago. It was 'just' a few hundred feet away. Bag by bag, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, we carried dirt up to the bridge and began building it up. We worked all day, taking a break to eat a few mangoes. As a bonus, we also got to watch the village upstream from the bridge cut up a dead hippopotamus that had been floating in the river where it had died in a fight the night before. By the end of the day, we had made the passage much safer, and put some rocks by the hole to prevent people from driving too near it.
People helping to fix the bridge
People helping to fix the bridge
The next day I get a call from the mayor. "Come to my office. I need to see you. I have all 21 village chiefs in Bere gathered in a meeting right now. We want to talk about the road." I hurry up there and arrive to see, indeed, all the men in a circle waiting for me. "How may we help you with the road repairs?" they want to know. I replied, "The essential part is already done. But the road is really bad in the eastern approach to the bridge." Each village chief agrees to provide 10 volunteers for the day. The mayor arranges for the local dump-truck owner to use his truck, and we agree to pay for the diesel used. Next Monday at 8am is chosen as the meeting time. All seems well.
Then Eliora gets sick. Then Liliana and Melody get sick. Then I get sick. Fever. Nausea. Aches and pains. Diarrhea. My strength quickly leaves me. Perone agrees to drive for me on Monday. They try to convince her to pay for truck oil, driver, helpers, and everything. She said, "No, we will contribute the diesel as we agreed. You need to contribute something, too. This is a community project. We aren't going to take back the dirt we put in the road. It will improve the road for everybody." Well, dozens of people finally gather at the road and begin waiting for the dump truck that never did arrive. We had prepaid the diesel for three loads of dirt to start the day, but they never showed up. While waiting, the people decided to use their time wisely and carried more dirt in sacks and built up the other side of the road a bit.
Meanwhile, there is a struggle going on at customs to free our container. They want us to pay a much higher commercial tax rather than the church tax rate. On Tuesday, after hours of intense debate and struggle and phone calls, Charles finally calls me, "Quickly, please send the money so we can pull it out before evening closing hours."
Then Charles discovers that he doesn't have his passport with him. Kind people at the money transfer office understood our plight and helped us make sure Charles got the money promptly. Finally by 7pm, after dark, the container is on its way!
I feel a sense of relief. "Nothing much can go wrong now," I think to myself. Then I get another phone call from Charles. He is driving ahead of the truck. He arrived at the bridge. The broken bridge that we have spent many hours and much sweat and energy to fix up so that our container (and other vehicles) can safely pass over. He says, "Somebody dumped a load of dirt on the road!" Immediately after the bridge is a big pile of dirt, dumped in the middle of the road, with not enough space to drive around. This is so inconceivable and illogical, we don't even know what to think of it.
"I'll come as soon as I can with some shovels," I tell Charles. I'm not sure whether to laugh or to cry at this point. I'm hot. I'm tired. I'm still sore in my back from digging the road over a week ago. And I'm weak from diarrhea. It seems every step of the way, there pops up another obstacle. I thought everything was good once we arranged the road and the container was freed from customs. And now this!
Melody texted about this time, "I am not crying! In fact I think it's a little funny to see how many obstacles come. God is in control and He will get His container here according to His will and I believe that will be very soon!"
Our faithful team at Desert Tree Ministry all hop in to the Land Cruiser and we rush off with our shovels. Then we see lights in the distance. Truck lights. What? How can that be? We meet Charles. "The truck driver said he would just plow through the pile of dirt with his truck and he would go right over. So he did. And the dirt parted under him and he went over and didn't get stuck." Wow!
We guide the truck to the new print shop. It is now about 9pm. The truck backs up to the portable unloading dock I had built. The customs officer offers to let us unload at night. That will be much cooler than unloading in the daytime. We hired a crew of ten guys and had the huge crates offloaded by around 1am. Promise and Thierry and Beni and Perone and we all worked hard to organize and keep things moving smoothly. My dad did such a good job at packing that there was debate at times "is that one pallet or two? I can't get anything between there. Give me a wedge and a hammer. Oh yes, it's actually two pallets..." There was no wasted space. Thank God, nobody got seriously injured and our ramp worked perfectly.
And the grand finale? Now, we just have to lower the container to the ground. But we don't have a crane. Or a winch. So we jack up the container on the bed of the truck and put friction-reducer pipes under it. We back up to the tree, tie the container to the tree with steel cables, and the truck driver drove away, Chadian style. Unfortunately, he drove away at an angle and the empty container slipped off the side of the truck and landed on its side. What a finale to all of our trials! We'll have fun getting it back upright somehow, but that is a story to be continued another day.
The container on its side
(Later... on Friday, a team of guys put the container in an upright position and moved it into position.)
It seems that at every turn we hit a wall of dirt. Often there seemed no way around. But God has ordained this publishing work. We know we are doing His will when we print gospel literature, especially literature that prepares people for our Lord's soon return. We also know that Satan is angry and wished to do everything he can to discourage us. But we will not be discouraged. We will not stop. We will persevere, and God's truth will shine. The darker the night, the brighter His truth will shine. That literal wall of dirt in our story was the last straw for me. I rarely break down and cry. But I thought about it for a few moments... Then I thought, "No, even if somebody is wickedly trying to discourage us, we will not be discouraged in God's work."
I hope you are encouraged to surmount difficulties in your life rather than flee from them. Each difficulty you surmount gives you strength to surmount the next difficulty, which very likely will be larger and more difficult. God is gracious to us to give us trials. That way we can learn a little at a time to refine our characters to be more and more like His character. Don't flee from difficulties. As long as you are in God's will, face them head-on and He will give you strength to conquer and wisdom to succeed.
Many of you have been praying for this container and we thank you for your prayers. Now you know "the rest of the story..."
In His service,
Jonathan, Melody, Gideon, Liliana, and Eliora Dietrich