It is the 4th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1964.
It was on this day in 1964 that a rarity occurred in the world of popular publishing. The covers of both “Time” and “Life” carried the same story. Not only did the cover story and photo match, but they concerned a missionary in the Congo. From this day in 64 for at least a week, the story was that of Dr. Paul Carlson, a medical missionary killed by Simba rebels as he ministered to the people in the civil-war-torn Congo.
Here at the Almanac, we read this 1964 copy of Time magazine to get more of today’s event context. The magazine advertisements include a pen that believes itself so advanced that it will even be preferable to whatever magic computing mail systems we use in the far-off year of 2004. Beechcraft, an aviation company, had a full-page ad pitching private jets to businesspeople as a cost-saving option.
The articles were quite long and covered domestic and international politics, sports, opera, art, and society. One story on the “New Elegants” read like a modern Boomers takedown of Millennials. The story bemoaned their “fanciful names like Chloe and Sabrina, Jared and Clive.”
But the real story was that of the martyr for his faith, Paul Carlson. The situation in the Congo had been dicey since at least 1960, when its independence from Belgium led to civil unrest and conflicts. Much of it was directed at the white man. Having been occupied and enslaved since the reign of King Leopold of Belgium, the Congolese were understandably hesitant about foreign interference.
Dr. Paul Carlson went to the Congo for the first time in 1961 on a missionary trip with the Evangelical Covenant Church. He was so moved by how much he could help he soon had designs to move there full time. Carlson told a colleague: “I’m going back. I can’t stand doing hernias and hemorrhoids anymore.” Carlson moved with his wife and two children, where he served a hospital with a capacity of 80. Unfortunately, it was the only hospital serving a population of over 100,000. Known as “Mangango Paulo,” Congolese for “Dr. Paul,” his high profile led to his kidnapping. His family could escape to the Central African Republic, but Paul refused to leave the sick in his care.
He wrote, “In this century more people have died for their witness to Christ then died in the early centuries, which we think of as the days of the martyrs.” This was before his arrest and charge of being a spy (anyone with a transistor radio was suspect). He was held as a high-profile pawn by the Simba rebels. But soon, Americans were dropping Belgian paratroopers from C-130s, and shots rang out. The hostages ran. An eyewitness who survived said that Paul helped a Belgian priest over a wall into safety, but when he attempted to climb the wall himself, he was shot in the back and killed.
Paul Carlson, a man who served God and the poor in his vocation as a doctor, was made a martyr for the world to see when he was featured on both “TIME” and “Life” magazine on this, the 4th of December in 1964.
The reading for today comes from Madeleine L’Engle, “First Coming.”
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie with an assist today from a few of his kids: Chloe and Sabrina, Jared and Clive. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.