The Last Innocent Year

bug_red_small Partners on the Journey: A Special 50th Anniversary Blog Series, Part 13, By Mike Hertenstein

Paul Carlson stayed non-stop busy caring for patients under battlefield conditions, with only a gas-powered World War II –surplus radio connection to his fellow missionaries, and very little connection beyond. The world Dr. Carlson and his family had left, meanwhile, was vanishing behind them. 1964, says journalist Jon Margolis, was America’s “last innocent year” – innocence being a feature mainly of self-identity lost in the experience of “The Sixties.”

The Carlsons were in the jungle when JFK was assassinated. While Beatlemania spread. As LBJ pressed his wars, on poverty and in Vietnam. 1964 brought Freedom Summer, Civil Rights activism and fatal resistance – but, finally, federal legislation against an American apartheid.

Indeed, among the peoples of the earth, America was founded on a particularly intimate connection with the continent of Africa, a people joined in blood and struggling for redemption.

Africa, too, struggled in the early Sixties. In Congo, hopes were high as the UN prepared to withdraw troops sent to calm the chaos after independence in 1960. Moise Tshombe, leader of the breakaway Katanga province had become prime minister of the country, aiming to unite all the Congolese people. After a period of turmoil, Congo might pull itself together after all.

In remote Wasolo, Paul Carlson mentored a medical student named Phil Littleford. Toward summer’s end, the company sponsoring Littleford’s fellowship sent a photographer to do a story on him. Thus did a Time-Life magazine staffer capture busy moments in the life of the Wasolo station – featuring Littleford, of course, but also Paul Carlson: with family and co-workers, giving vaccines, caring for patients, smiling broadly shaking outstretched Congolese hands.

Even in Wasolo, they’d heard about trouble brewing across the jungle, out in the world, in the Congo. But there was so much to do, staying busy with emergency surgeries, mission upkeep, hosting a church conference, not least the wedding of a team member.

Yet that world – and the whole world – was on the brink of radical change.

Posted in 50 Years of Serving Congo, 50th Blog.