By Stan Friedman
MERCER ISLAND, WA (November 26, 2014) — The martyrdom of Paul Carlson played a key role in Kathy Holmgren becoming a missionary to Congo she told a capacity crowd at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Monday night, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the Covenant missionary and physician.
The audience also watched Monganga, the documentary by Covenanter Rick Carlson that was produced for the fortieth anniversary. Chaplain Greg Asimakoupoulos interviewed Holmgren.
She is one of several Covenant nurses and physicians who say that the story of Paul Carlson inspired them to medical missions and whose children also have gone on to do mission work.
Holmgren, who is the wife of former football coach and executive Mike Holmgren, already had become interested in missions while growing up attending First Covenant Church in San Jose and Mission Springs Bible Camp. Her interest in missions, especially to Africa, was sparked by hearing stories from visiting missionaries.
Holmgren was a senior in high school when her family learned of Carlson’s death and said her mother emphasized how he had given so much to serve the Lord. That made her consider missions even more seriously.
While studying nursing at North Park University, she heard how medical care in Africa often was provided by someone who had very little education and preparation due to lack of staffing but large need. She was determined to get as much education as possible.
Following graduation she spent a year in Congo working as a nurse at a clinic with Dr. Teddy (Theodora) Johnson.
Holmgren returned to Congo in January 2006 when her daughter, Calla Holmgren, who is a physician, encouraged her to participate in a trip with Medical Teams International and Paul Carlson Partnership to the hospital in Karawa. The trip attracted international attention because it turned out to be during the same time the Seattle Seahawks, the team her husband coached, played the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.
Holmgren said she had no regrets because the media coverage heightened awareness of the great needs in Congo. She added, “It thrilled my heart to know my daughter wanted to go and use her skills as a physician in a place I had told her about since she was a little girl. From the time they were little all of my children heard me use Lingala words and talk about my experiences as a nurse in Congo.”
Holmgren is not the only Covenanter who was inspired by Carlson to serve as medical missionaries in Congo.
Dr. Jim Walker, a member of Cedarbrook Covenant Church in Menomoniee, Wisconsin, was a junior in high school and planned to become an electrical engineer when Carlson was killed by rebels who had kidnapped him. “Profoundly impacted by his story, I wrote my senior English paper about him,” Walker said in a Covenant News Service story published earlier this year. “I sent a letter to his brother, Dwight, which he graciously answered. After these events, I never wavered in my desire to be a physician and to consider a career in medical missions.”
He went on to serve three months in Cameroon and participate in short-term mission trips as well as open a free clinic in Menomoniee. He was surprised when his daughter, a member of First Covenant Church in Red Wing, Minnesota, returned from the Women Ministries Triennial and said she had become acquainted with PCP. Julie Malyon is a nurse and director of a free medical clinic and said that after learning about PCP, she was going to go on a mission trip to Congo.
She had never heard the story of how Carlson had so influenced her father, and the two wound up participating in the trip together and now serve as medical ambassadors for PCP.
Philip Fischer, a physician from Rolling Hills Covenant Church, also was inspired by Carlson’s story and served in Congo. Fischer is the father of James Fischer, who joined the PCP staff earlier this year as its director of economic development.
Below is an edited email by Philip Fischer in which he describes how the story of Paul Carlson changed his life and the life of his family.
“As a nine-year-old, I was involved with my family at Rolling Hills Covenant Church in southern California. One Sunday evening, we attended a special presentation—Lois Carlson was just back from Zaire/Congo. With her was a man who spoke powerfully and issued a forceful call to involvement with missions. He told of being with Paul Carlson and helping each other over a ledge as shots were fired and how Carlson went limp at the time of his death. He held up the blood-spattered identification card that had been on Carlson at the time of the death.
As a fourth grader, I figured I’d become a missionary pilot. That evening stuck with me, though, and the powerful call to service—even medical service in Africa—resonated deeply.
Years later, as I neared the end of my pediatric training, my wife and I joined Africa Inland Mission and went to orientation school. There, I heard AIMer Chuck Davis talk about his experiences—and realized that Chuck was the man who had accompanied Lois Carlson and spoken so powerfully two decades earlier.
Chuck was touched as he realized that I was part of the answer to his prayer that God would call others to follow Carlson into medical work in Congo. So 20 years after Paul Carlson’s death, my wife and I, along with our newborn son, James, headed to Africa. We were overseas for seven years. After an evacuation, God surprised us by directing us to settle in the United States and to stay involved with educational visits in Congo and other parts of the planet.
Three of our five children were born in Congo, and all have subsequently been back for visits. In addition to James, my son Jon has worked in Congo and is now preparing for a career in medicine. My other son, Peter, spent several months in northeast Congo flying with Missionary Aviation Fellowship and recently finished his Moody (Bible Institute) Aviation Technology training and seeking placement overseas. My two daughters are in ministry stateside.