Partners on the Journey: A Special 50th Anniversary Blog Series, Part 15, By Mike Hertenstein
A reporter wrote: “The Congo is a mess.” Violent militias overran the country, spreading chaos and fears similar to that fifty years later spreading across war-torn Iraq. By August of 1964, the wave had reached the edge of the Ubangi Region. The US State Department urged Americans to flee. Dr. Paul Carlson made plans to evacuate his family to the Central African Republic.
Yet the rainy season had begun. At first they couldn’t get out, and nobody else could get in. Finally, Lois and the children made it to safety across the river, thanks to Paul, who returned to Wasolo. He was the last doctor in the area. Don’t worry, he told Lois. If he missed a radio-check, chances were it was because he was operating on a patient. But for the only doctor in the Ubangi, chances were that would be all the time – and for anybody he could help.
Indeed, after government troops battled rebels nearby, the doctor found himself ordered by a rebel leader to tend his wounded. Carlson radioed Lois that things were getting complicated. She reluctantly agreed to continue on to the capital so the children could start school.
Now Paul’s status became less clear. At one point, he was treating the rebels, who allowed him and his Congolese nurse to wear Red Cross armbands and move freely. But by mid-September the Wasolo transmissions ended. It was learned later that rebels arrived and shot up the hospital, killing two Congolese nurses. Paul was forced to drive Catholic priests who’d been beaten by rebels to Yakoma, where he cared for their injuries. Yet the prisoners, including Paul, suffered continued abuse, relieved by random pauses like at a long stop at a Catholic mission.
Finally, the rebel leader ordered Paul transferred to Stanleyville to join a thousand other Europeans – including many missionaries – who were being held hostage. Paul wrote Lois that he was praying good would come of whatever came next. What came next was a dramatic announcement by rebels: that a captured “Major Carlson” was about to stand trial as a spy.