In 1961, Paul Carlson spent three months in the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) with the Evangelical Covenant Mission. Though he returned to the U.S. to begin a medical practice, he could not get Africa—and its overwhelming medical needs—off his mind, once telling a colleague over lunch, “If you could only see, you wouldn’t be able to swallow your sandwich.”

Carlson became a full-time medical missionary in 1963, returning to the Congo along with his wife and two children. It was a move that would eventually cost him his life.

The following year, when armed rebel soldiers made advances into the area where Carlson was based, foreign embassies advised all missionaries to evacuate. Carlson accompanied his family and his nurse to safety, across the Ubangi River and into the Central African Republic. But unable to forget his patients, he returned, only to become one of 250 people taken hostage by the rebels.

According to firsthand accounts of the events of November 24, 1964, the soldiers marched the hostages into the streets. Upon noticing Belgian paratroopers attempting a rescue, rebel leaders called for the deaths of all hostages, including women and children. As the Belgians arrived, the hostages fled amid a barrage of gunfire. Some 220 survived the massacre; Carlson was not among them.

The story of the tragedy was widely reported. Time magazine made it a cover story for its December 4, 1964, issue; Life ran gruesome photos of slain bodies, including Carlson’s.

But on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the tragedy, those who remember Carlson are thinking more about life than death. And they like to think that the Loko, Zaire-based ministry established in Carlson’s memory is everything he would have worked toward.

Soon after Carlson’s death, ...

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