God’s Hardware Supply

Dick Duerksen
God’s Hardware Supply

The foundations were in, and the volunteers were on their way. In Mkhosana, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, more than 1,000 children would soon have a new school.

The precut steel for the school buildings had been shipped from Minnesota. Containers, packed to the ceiling with 27 different sizes of steel and all the necessary nuts, bolts, and drivers, traveled by land to Baltimore, Maryland, then by sea to Durban, South Africa.

There weren’t enough school openings for the kids in Victoria Falls, and though they might be able to go to school through third grade, planning for anything beyond that was pure folly.

Until now.

Twelve trucks dropped 12 containers at Mkhosana, and workers immediately began stacking everything under the mango trees. The steel pieces, bolts, nuts, and tools needed to be where volunteers could get to them quickly when they assembled the buildings.

Everything was there.

Except 1,000 steel nuts.

The architect had designed the buildings to have windows with steel frames. Each window was to be bolted into the walls with four bolts—two nuts on each bolt. It’s a simple design, one that inexperienced volunteers can assemble quickly. The window materials were all there, including the necessary 500 bolts. But no nuts.

Victoria Falls has one very small hardware store where you may be able to find a hammer or two. But not 1,000 nuts.

The construction superintendent checked every other nearby town.

No nuts.

That’s when Bob, one of the volunteer supervisors, turned to Moses, a tall Zimbabwean who had been hired to work with the team, and asked for help.

“Moses, you speak the ‘Ndebele language, so I am going to ask you to help us fix the window problem. Please go down to the hardware in Victoria Falls and purchase 1,000 nuts to fit this bolt.”

Both men knew the problem, so they prayed fervently before Moses set off on his impossible errand.

The bolt hung heavy in his pocket as Moses walked into the small store.

“Please, may I speak to the oldest man here?”

An ancient African shuffled to the dusty counter.

“How may I help you?”

“I am working for the volunteers who are building the new school in Mkhosana, out toward the airport—you know, the big Adventist school where we’ve had to chase the elephants away.”

“I know the place,” the man answered. “I don’t think they can get the school built in two weeks like they say.”

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it can be done,” Moses responded. “But we have a problem.”

Moses reached deep into his pocket and pulled out the bright steel bolt.

“To hold the windows in the school walls we need 1,000 nuts that fit this bolt. Can we buy them from you?”

Moses handed the bolt to the old man who looked at it closely, then handed it to one of the younger men in his store.

“Americans are crazy,” the man said. “The British use the metric system, so Americans made up their own system of standard-sized bolts. This is a standard bolt, and I have not seen anything standard for years! I cannot sell you any nuts for your bolt. I don’t even have any metric bolts or nuts that would do the job. Sorry.”

That started a hurricane of conversation. Everyone wanted to talk about the nuts, the bolts, standard versus metric, American and British, and if the Adventists were going to finish the new school in two weeks.

“Sir,” Moses interrupted. “would you please do a very big favor for me? Please go into your storage room and see if just maybe you have 1,000 standard nuts that would fit this bolt. Please?”

The request brought raucous laughter, along with a condescending agreement from the store owner.

“I will look,” he said, laughed again, and walked toward the back of the store.

Much later the man walked back to the counter, looked Moses in the eye, and said, “I have a story for you.”

“Sixty years ago a Rhodesian farmer came to this store and asked me to order 1,000 #12 bolts, standard size. Exactly the bolt you gave me. We agreed, and I sent a letter to an American supplier. The supplier agreed, but required that we purchase both the bolts andnuts. The farmer said that was OK, and we placed the order.”

“When the box finally came, I contacted the farmer. He came to town a couple weeks later and told me he only wanted the bolts! “Here, keep the nuts,” he said.

Everyone crowded around as the man placed several small white cardboard boxes on the counter, took two nuts, and screwed them onto the original bolt.

“These nuts have been on a shelf in my back room for more than 60 years. They have only collected dust. I have never even thought about them. Until today.”

The store was silent as Moses paid for the nuts.

Back at Mkhosana, Bob the supervisor was still praying.

“One thousand standard nuts, Sir,” Moses smiled as he handed the nuts to the supervisor. “Imagine how much work the angels from Heavenly Supply had to do to make sure we had 1,000 standard nuts in Mkhosana today!”

Everyone started talking at once.

“Imagine,” one volunteer said. “The angels knew the bolts would be missing, so 60 years ago they convinced a farmer to need—and buy—1,000 standard #12 bolts. Bolts only. No Nuts.”

“Even harder,” another added, “they had to get an American supplier to sell onlybolts withnuts!”

“And a farmer who agreed to pay for both.”

“And leave the nuts for the kids!”

“I wonder how the angels kept the store people from seeing the boxes on that shelf?”

“I wonder how many angels were watching today as they swept off the cobwebs and pointed a light at the boxes?”

The room filled with silence, as everyone thought about nuts and bolts and angels.

“If angels watched over these nuts for 60 years,” Moses said, “I think it’s safe to trust Him with my troubles. Even the ones I don’t know about!”

Dick Duerksen, a pastor and storyteller living in Portland, Oregon, United States, is known around the world as “an itinerant pollinator of grace.”


PULLQUOTE (space permitting)

Everyone crowded around as the man placed several small white cardboard boxes on the counter.

Dick Duerksen