Ninety-one years ago, on the shores of Lake Bangweolo, not far from the Congo, the heart of David Livingstone was “laid beneath the soil of Africa and there, dust unto dust, it mingles with the mould of the land he loved and gave his life for” (David Livingstone, by George Seaver, New York, 1957, p. 628).
Not many days ago, Dr. Paul Carlson, the Rev. Joseph Tucker, and other missionaries of the cross mingled their blood with the soil of the Congo as martyrs. Their great ambition was not to advance national interests, nor to press the sale of corporate commodities, but to spread the knowledge of the Lord whose kingdom is not of this world. As the facts began to pour over the news desks of the secular press, it was not difficult to draw certain conclusions. First and foremost, the United States had blundered again in international relations. Just a few years ago, when the Congo became an independent state, the United States in concert with the United Nations sided against Tshombe of Katanga and delivered the new nation into the hands of rulers whose Communist affiliations were well known.
Mao’s Chinese Reds poured in money, men, and materiel to gain a foothold in Africa and to foment trouble. They succeeded so well that the Congo became a Communist wilderness of hatred, strife, rapine, and murder. Well-ordered cities like Stanleyville were practically split in pieces. Missionary work came to a virtual standstill. The climax was reached when hundreds of foreigners were seized, imprisoned, beaten, and held as hostages to guarantee the survival of the iniquitous regime.
At a tardy moment American planes flew Belgian troops to the Congo to support Tshombe’s efforts to regain control of his country from the murderous forces of the rebel chief Christophe Gbenye and the other leaders of the Communist-backed “Congolese People’s Republic.” The hour was late and the forces far smaller than needed. The Americans moved in no battalion of their own to restore law and order in the key centers. They used no helicopters in the remote areas. Instead they flew Belgian paratroopers who, though familiar with the terrain and its problems, fanned rebel resentments. Strategic areas were recaptured, an explanation was delivered to the United Nations to offset the expected protests of the Communist nations, and some prisoners were rescued. But others died. Some were shot to death after cruel beatings; others were hacked to pieces by glass from broken bottles before death overtook them. There were even evidences of cannibalism. Overseas personnel of the United States government were humiliated and subjected to indecencies. In retrospect, the Congo operation was another commentary on the well-worn adage, “Too little and too late.” It was indeed a dark hour.
But there were bright lights amid the darkness. And none was greater than the light that sprang from the life and witness of the medical missionary, Dr. Paul Carlson. He had served the peoples of the Congo irrespective of their political affiliations. Communist and non-Communist alike had known his ministry of mercy. Night and day he had tramped city and country roads to bring healing to the sick and wounded. He had remained after his family had been evacuated. Conscious only of a mission that sprang from his call and commitment, he had allowed neither terror nor physical suffering to deter him from humble service. Held as a hostage and accused as a spy, he had looked to God for deliverance. His deliverance came by martyrdom, not, as millions of Americans had hoped and prayed, by his safe return to American shores.
Dr. Carlson did not deviate from his commitment; he never lowered his banner from the high sky of faith. Steadfast to the end, he rallied hope and encouragement in the hearts of his fellow sufferers. When he fell, it was not in defeat but in victory. The seed of his death will ultimately bring forth abundant harvest.
We mourn with the families of those unfortunate victims, but we rejoice with them in the heroism of those they have lost. Although some have escaped “the edge of the sword” and others have “received their dead by resurrection,” there are those who were “killed with the sword.” The Christian community can take heart that the “followers of the Lamb” today are no less heroic than those who were torn by lions in the Roman Colosseum. The day of martyrdom is not over. Nor has the missionary task ceased. If ever there was a clarion call to service, events in the Congo are such a call. Let the Church be true to its Lord. If it is, it will send out a hundred new warriors for each one who has given his life.
It is easy to look for scapegoats. Yet if men can learn from their errors and keep from repeating them, even such tragic happenings as those in the Congo will serve the cause of freedom. Already it is clear that the salvage operation was a half-effort; many hostages were forsaken and possibly left to die. The control points were barely restored to law and order but remained exposed to terrorist tactics. Recent Communist history in Asia and Europe should leave no doubt where such a pattern, if continued, will lead. It is precisely such a pattern that led to a divided Korea, a divided Germany, a divided Laos, and a divided Viet Nam, and that, if persisted in, may lead also to a divided Congo.
Bright Star In The Night
Claimed by Britons and Americans alike because of his parental heritage from both lands, Winston Churchill has etched his ineffaceable mark upon modern history. At ninety his frame is bent, his ears are dull of hearing, and death cannot forever be put off. But Churchill’s gift of analyzing world currents, his sound counsels, and his courage to act with vigor remain a rare legacy. These bequests, and his majestic prose as well, will survive into the long future.
After Chamberlain’s regime had collapsed and Churchill had formed a new government, he wrote: “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all of my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.” In the fateful hour when France had capitulated to Nazi hordes and Britain was left to fight alone, Churchill told the House of Commons: “If we can stand up to him [Hitler], all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties.…”
In our time new monsters of tyranny stand at the frontiers of freedom. New threats abound everywhere. Where speaks a Churchill who recognizes and confronts them?
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more