An Assignment

Here's something for you to try and home. Go to your local public (or college( Library and look up the December 4, 1964 issues of Time and Life magazines.

Both covers picture Dr. Paul Carlson, a medical missionary to Congo, who was taken hostage in the summer of 1964, and murdered by soldiers of the Simba rebellion on November 24, 1964.

Like the hostages in the Middle East recently, Carlson was caught up in a global conflict--in his case, the Cold War conflict being played out in the newly independent nation of Congo. Carlson was falsely accused of being a spy and then, just as it seemed he would be rescued, he was shot by his captors.

His story captured world attention, with Life devoted 12 pages of coverage to him. Carlson had know the rebels were coming and took his wife and family out of the country. Then he went back to the hospital, where there were patients who would die without his care. All he needed was a little more time to make sure they would survive, then he could get away. But his escape route was cut off. So for two weeks, he continued to work at the hospital, till the rebels came for him. They killed two of the Congolese nurses, shot up the hospital, and took him hostage.

That’s not the whole story. In a way, he had been taken captive three years earlier, though as a different kind of hostage.

In 1961, Carlson was about to finish his surgical residency. He had just bought a house, and had a lucrative offer to join a local practice near Los Angeles. Then he got an urgent letter, asking him to come to Congo for 4 months to relieve missionary doctors there. When Congo became independent a year earlier, more than 500 doctors had fled, leaving the entire medical system for a nation of 14 million people in the hands of the few remaining missionary doctors.

Carlson went, and what he experienced changed his life. Overwhelmed by the need and knowing he could help, he turned down the job offer to instead become the only doctor in a community of 100,000 people in Wasolo, Congo.

He had become a "holy hostage" as Rev. Glenn Palmberg put it recently in a speech about Carlson, paraphrasing the words of Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

Levinas says that "when I look into the face of another human being, I immediately find myself responsible for them . . . He says this is not something I choose; rather, this is the trace of God in me. He uses an interesting word – he uses the word 'hostage.' I am made a hostage of the other person by my inability to turn away from my responsibility.

"Paul Carlson was a holy hostage long before he was taken . . .It happened when he was a short-term missionary and first looked into the face of his brothers and sisters in the Congo. That's when the trace of God in him connected to the trace of God in them. And he was a hostage – a holy hostage from that day on."

Carlson didn’t claim to be a hero--in fact, in letters he was allowed to send while in captivity, he agonized over his decision to stay, and the pain it caused his family and his wife, Lois. On September 24, he wrote , "[F]orgive me Lois, the worry. I was wrong to stay but I feel I put it all in God’s hands and must leave it here."

But he felt he had no choice. There were people who were sick and dying and he knew he could save them. So he did what he had to do.

There is no happy ending to this story, but there is a legacy. Four years after his death, a new hospital was opened in Congo, funded by money raised in Carlson's memory, which continues his work. His story still continues to call attention to the need in Congo, where most of the schools and hospitals are in disrepair after 10 years of Civil war.

It also reminds us, in a time when hostages are being taken and killed in the name of God, of the difference that a holy hostage can still have.


Powered by Blogger