“Cement After Dark”

I know. That is a poor heading – but I couldn’t think of anything else.

During past days in Tanzania, shortly after independence from Great Britain and the result of early political/financial policies, shortages of essential commodities were the order of the day. Flour, sugar, cooking gas, and oil and gasoline, construction cement – everything! We made do with what we had. Carol showed our house help how to make cooking salt from bulk rock salt by boiling it down; sometimes I was able to get a couple pints of milk by standing in line from 8 to about 11 in the morning – sometimes having it become unavailable by the time it was my turn to be waited on. Of course, much of what was in short supply could be had if you “paid a little(?) extra” but I wasn’t going to be caught up in that.

During those days, we established the “Missionary Services” function. Since we lived in town at that time and was the Mission administrative officer, I was given the additional job of “Missionary Services Director” and had the work of trying to purchase available supplies when they showed up on the market, buy in bulk (which made it more attractive to the seller), store them and then portion them out to missionary/church leaders as requested – and hope I could balance the financial output/input monthly!

The home in which we lived was small and I decided to add an additional room on the left end of the house. Foundation, walls, floor and roof were pretty well finished but by that time I had run out of my cement supply. None was available in supply stores in town; nothing was expected in the near future; in fact, we heard the cement factory had collapsed – the roof fallen in because no one had thought to sweep the cement dust off the tin roof and the weight was too much for the trusses.

A man in town knew I needed several bags in order to finish the wall plastering. He knew I couldn’t find any but he knew a supply had just come into town and he knew where some of it was. He came and told me he could get me what I needed at “just a little” (about 25%) over the official price. I agreed – I needed to get the job done.

But, he had 4 stipulations:
1. He couldn’t provide me a receipt for my purchase.
2. I was to come to a certain place to pick up the bags of cement.
3. I was to come at night, after dark.
4. I was not to come in my Land Rover (it was too well known in town) but find another vehicle or hire a taxi.

By this time I knew something fishy was taking place. I turned down the purchase (much to his disappointment!). And I knew my job completion would have to wait for another day.

What happened? Somehow, a new town supply came in and I was able to purchase what I needed at the approved price. I saved that 25% increase! I was able to finish the job before the children came home for vacation from boarding school in Kenya.

That man who was selling? I heard he had been arrested for stealing cement.

So, in spite of my initial purchase agreement, I didn’t complete the purchase when the “conditions” were voiced. The Lord protected and provided – and kept me from being part of another man’s evil deeds (and maybe from being swept up in the crowd of accomplices [those who had purchased from him]).

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