Partners on the Journey: A Special 50th Anniversary Blog Series, Part 7, By Mike Hertenstein
The first ECC Congo mission was led by Dr. Wallace “Wally” Thornbloom. Right out of medical school, Dr. Thornbloom joined the Swedish Mission in Lower Congo in 1935 with his fiancée Sarah Westerfield, an ECC nurse. Their first child, Beverly, was born in Kibunzi in January 1937. Later that year, the Thornbloom family moved to the far north as the ECC took charge of a mission hospital in Karawa, in the remote Équateur Province. Thornbloom stayed busy as one of the only doctors in the Ubangi. Dr. Thornbloom was a pastor and evangelist, working with indigenous leaders and churches, and training Congolese nurses. In 1939, the Thornblooms went on furlough back to the States.
Now arriving in Karawa, weeks after the German invasion of Poland, was Dr. Theodora Johnson. “Dr. Teddy” was just 28 years old, and spoke no Lingala (local nurses translated). She took charge of the hospital through the war – despite difficulties that included no antibiotics, refrigeration, electricity and plumbing. In 1943, the doctor moved to the Gbado station and after the war, with Nurse Gerda Wahrgren, cared for orphaned children. Dr. Johnson also opened clinics for children and pregnant women and expanded the Bokada clinic into a full hospital. Twenty years later, Dr. Teddy was still working in the Congo. In 1963 , she consulted over the mission radio network with a young ECC doctor recently arrived from the States, who sought advice on treating a sick patient.
The new doctor was Paul Carlson. He’d answered the missionary call not long after medical school, arriving with his wife Lois in the Ubangi amid the crisis surrounding Congolese independence. Westerners were fleeing, including doctors and missionaries, and the medical system was collapsing. Dr. Carlson took over the remote Wasolo station, and thrived under the challenging conditions, lack of resources, and overwhelming workload. As the crisis intensified, Paul sent his family to safety, and ended up being the last doctor left in the Ubangi.
The heritage of ECC medical missionaries became the foundation of the Ubangi’s health-care system and an example of creative fidelity amid endless challenges over the long haul.