Dr. Carl K. Becker is a man I highly respect, although I knew him only very casually. He was born in the Pennsylvania Dutch country near Lancaster. From an early age, he was a very bright, precocious young man. His father, though a very godly man, was never very successful in business and was a failure in a number of different areas. One area in which he was very successful was in founding a Sunday school that eventually grew into a church that was very missionary minded. It was there that young Carl had his first exposure to missionaries.
His father died at 40 years of age, when Carl was just 11. Carl had an older sister and a younger brother. In the local high school where he received his early education, he graduated as valedictorian. He desired to go on to further training, but because of finances and because his older sister was in preparation to be a school teacher, he took a job as a clerk in a foundry. The owner of the foundry was a very godly man who was very interested in missions and was very influential in Carl's early life. At this point in his life, he came in contact with two of the founders of the Africa Inland Mission and was greatly influenced by these godly men.
He had been out of school for about five years in order to support his widowed mother and siblings while the older sister was getting her training and getting established as a teacher. He then went back to his preparation. He had been challenged to be a medical missionary, although he really wasn't sure that was what the Lord had for him.
As he faced his medical training, he knew that it was going to be very difficult, not only academically but also from a financial standpoint. But he had committed his life to the Lord and prayed, "I haven't done much for You yet that has counted for anything, and maybe I never will. But, Lord, if you'll help me get my medical education and help me to become a doctor, I will give you everything."
During this five-year hiatus in his education, he took on the responsibility of teaching Sunday school. It's interesting to note that one of his students was John Kuhn, who later, with his wife Isobel, had a very outstanding career as a missionary with China Inland Mission among the Lisu tribes people in southeast China. Later, when Communism forced all of the missionaries out of China, John and Isabel pioneered a work among the tribes people in the far north of Thailand.
Eventually the young Carl was able to go back to school and graduated with the highest honors in his class. After his internship, he bought the practice of a retiring doctor in a small town in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area. He was very successful in his practice and became very prosperous. During this period of time, he married Maria, who was of the same background as he and shared his spiritual convictions. Two children were born to them--Mary and Carl Jr.
With the prospering medical practice, the idea of medical missions was pushed into the background; and he was encouraged to leave the small town and go into a large city where he could have an even more prestigious medical career.
Finally one night as Carl was praying, the Lord spoke to him about his commitment to do anything the Lord wanted him to do, and he felt that the Lord was calling him to be a missionary in Africa. He contacted the missionaries that had challenged him years before, and very soon he and Maria made their decision to go to Africa. When his decision became known to the town, there was quite an uproar, as he was highly regarded and the people did not want to release him for what they thought was certain death in the jungles of the Congo.
Very early on, after their arrival in Africa, they learned the power of the witchdoctor and also the difficulty of running a house and medical work on the small stipend of $60 a month—quite a step down from the earnings he had been getting as a very prosperous physician.
They were in the heart of the Ituri Jungle, living in a one-room, thatched-roof hut, virtually alone, and stranded. They fell on their knees and cried out, "Lord, you know both our needs and our doubts. Supply our needs and banish our doubts. They're all in your hands. Amen." During their first eight years on the field, they were shuttled around between seven different stations and finally settled on Oicha. This became their home for the remainder of their years in Africa.
Dr. Becker was a very down-to-earth man, not at all flamboyant; nor did he seek the praise of men. His concern was to minister to people both spiritually and physically to the very best of his ability. What started out as a rather small ministry eventually grew to a 250-bed hospital; and, as this area had a very high incidence of leprosy, he started a ministry among these so-afflicted people. The leprosarium eventually grew to over 7000 patients, making it the largest community, save one, in that province.
Dr. Becker was a man of prayer and a man who spent a good deal of time on his knees before the Bible and before the Lord. Those who knew him best said that there was always a light in his office at 5 o'clock in the morning, and for at least one hour he spent time in the Word and in prayer fellowship with the Lord. Even though he may have been up half the night doing emergency surgery, he never neglected the prayer time at five in the morning.
He put a great deal of faith in and reliance upon African helpers and trained many of them for very responsible positions. His hospital at Oicha oftentimes saw as many as 2000 outpatients a day. Consistently year after year, they did upwards of 3000 surgeries a year. In addition, Dr. Becker had 7000 leprosy patients and visited a number of outpatient clinics and small hospitals under his responsibility in the bush. One of his favorite sayings was "God cannot steer a parked car," and he always kept pushing forward in the work of the Lord.
His work was not all medical. A large church and many other churches were established as the outreach of the main station at Oicha.
In 1953, when my wife and I returned from our first furlough, I was delegated to represent the leprosy work that we were involved in at an international leprosy congress in Madrid, Spain, and shortly following that at a Christian leprosy congress in Lucknow, India. It was while in Lucknow that I had my first and only meeting with Dr. Becker. I had the good pleasure of being his roommate for that weeklong conference. He was a very humble man, and I learned much from him even though he was not at all boasting of the ministry that the Lord had placed upon him. I sensed he was a real man of God, and I was greatly impressed and blessed by the privilege of being with him.
I was a very young missionary at that time, in my early '30s. He, I believe at that time, would have been in his late 50s or early 60s. During the Simbu Revolution in the '60s and later again in '65, the whole missionary staff had to be evacuated from the Congo on a number of occasions, but he kept going back as soon as it was possible. During his times away, the hospital was carried on by the national staff to the best of their ability.
An interesting encounter relates that a visiting mission leader, while walking down the path with Dr. Becker, saw one of the African nurses approach them. The visitor said "I think I recognize that fellow. He had a bad reputation up north—insolent, surly. You couldn't trust him out of your sight." Dr. Becker responded, "Maybe so, but he's one of our most trusted staff members now." The nurse was called over and was asked by the visitor, "Why has your life changed since coming to Oicha?" The African looked at Dr. Becker and then to the visitor and replied, "Many missionaries have preached Jesus Christ to me, and many missionaries have taught Jesus Christ to me, but in the doctor, I have seen Jesus Christ." This seems to epitomize the life of Dr. Becker.
To read more about this very godly man, I recommend the book by William Peterson entitled Another Hand on Mine.
Dr. John A. Dreisbach