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North Park Alumni Receive Paul Carlson Award

Roger Thorpe

GREEN LAKE, WI (June 26, 2008) – Harold Spooner, board chair of the Paul Carlson Partnership, presented Roger C'51 and Eileen C'52 Thorpe, with the Dr. Paul Carlson Award during the 123rd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

The award honors the life of Dr. Paul Carlson, a Covenant medical missionary in Congo who was killed by rebel soldiers in 1964. It is presented to individuals who share many of the same qualities that characterized Carlson in his life and ministry, including a profound commitment to Christ and his work, a living discipleship that follows where Christ calls, a servant's heart and clear respect for the people one seeks to serve, and the grace of faith in difficult circumstances.

The Thorpes began serving in Congo in 1966 to continue Carlson’s work. The Department of World Mission (CWM) commissioned the couple in 1965.

The ceremony was especially poignant because Curt Peterson, North Park Professor and CWM executive minister, and Thorpe were nearly killed in Congo in March 2006. While in the capital of Kinshasa, preparing to return home to the United States from a conference, the two men were unexpectedly swept up when conflict erupted. They were robbed, shot at, taken captive, and spent the better part of a day caught in crossfire between police officers and armed militia following a disputed election.

Peterson recalled those interminable hours when he introduced the Thorpes. With tears welling in his eyes, Peterson said, “I owe my life to this dear brother.”

Roger’s familiarity with the language and customs proved invaluable, Peterson said. “We knew we were in the hands of God, and I knew I was in the hands of Roger.”

Peterson told the delegates he heard two words as they escaped their captivity. “It was Roger who said to me, ‘You first.’ ” Roger was wanting to make sure Peterson escaped while the retired missionary made sure they remained safe.

Roger served as doctor, surgeon, and medical director at Karawa Hospital. He was medical counselor to the president of the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM) and advisor to the African medical director over all CEUM medical work. He also was the field representative, Karawa station chairman, and instrumental in the initial French worship services at Karawa. Roger also taught in the Nursing School and assisted in the residency program for newly graduated African doctors.

Eileen’s work has included teaching piano lessons, elementary school and high school music, as well as band and orchestra. She directed two major concerts per year in addition to musicals and recitals. Eileen also worked as a station hostess, bookkeeper, short-term coordinator, and sewed scrub gowns and suits. She also processed visa applications.

Prior to the Annual Meeting, the Thorpes expressed their hope for the future of the African nation.

“We are pleased with the capable Congolese leadership in the church and with vigorous church growth despite very difficult conditions,” Roger said. “Many years of missionary mentorship have been put to the test since missionaries were evacuated in 1997 due to civil war.”

He added that educated leaders, including pastors, are still needed. “More than 800 churches are served by lay pastors, some with almost no training. Urgent medical needs continue, and children often do not receive medical care due to the lack of money. Providing education for children is challenging due to scarcity of schools, many of which are without benches and blackboards and school supplies. The economy struggles, and recent elections brought more violence, which has since quieted.

Roger said he knew by eighth grade that he wanted to be a missionary or serve in some other ministry. “It was not until the summer before college that I considered a medical career.” Covenant medical missionary Dr. Wallace Thornbloom was a major influence on Roger. “It was, therefore, with much joy that I found him at Karawa upon beginning my work in Congo.”

Eileen, whose passion for missions has always been evident, said, “In realizing how great God’s love and sacrifice for me is, I am glad to serve him with my life.”

Although they retired from active missionary service in 1997, they continue to serve. Roger has taken medical mission trips to various countries from Vietnam to Ethiopia. Eileen works in the office of World Mission.

Roger graduated from North Park Junior College in 1951. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan in 1953 and an M.D. from the university’s medical school in 1956.

Eileen graduated from North Park Junior College in 1952 and earned her B.S.N. from the University of Michigan. Both have studied at North Park Theological Seminary.

Covenant News Service, Copyright 2008, Evangelical Covenant Church