Farmington Hills pastor rides to raise funds for Congo medical facilities

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published August 9, 2017

 Dennis Carlson stands at Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, at the start of a ride July 26.

Dennis Carlson stands at Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, at the start of a ride July 26.

Photo provided by Dennis Carlson

FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington Hills resident Dennis Carlson recently face-planted while riding his bike along the Mississippi River Trail in Minnesota. His injuries were evident on the bridge of his nose, his elbow and even his teeth. The pastor of Faith Covenant Church continued riding, however, with partially broken front teeth. He finished his over 300-mile journey with his brother to raise money for the 108 medical clinics in the Ubangi region of northwest Congo July 26-31.

The irony and severity of the situation were not lost on him — that he could easily go to a doctor and a dentist to take care of his injuries, while so many in the Congo either do without medical facilities or walk for days to find them — sometimes with a child in their arms.

“I did go to the doctor to make sure it was normal pain for such an accident, but there you go — I just go to the doctor. I went to the dentist this afternoon (Aug. 3). They will be fixing me up. In the Congo there are hardly such resources.”

Dennis Carlson described the country where he and his wife and his in-laws were missionaries and where his two children were born.

The region of the country that he is raising funds for is about the size of lower Michigan — there are three to four hospitals and only 108 clinics, which he described as modest.  

“Can you imagine all of lower Michigan only having these three to four hospitals and 108 rural clinics for the whole population? It is unbelievable,” he said.

“We know it intimately,” Carlson said of the Congo. “My wife grew up out there. Our stories and family stories intertwine a lot.”

Dennis Carlson’s story is also a story about community. He and his brother, Rod Carlson, of San Jose, California, rode their bikes with their friend Larry Babb, of New Brighton, Michigan — who helped navigate — along with the Carlsons’ sister and brother-in-law, Sheryl Carlson Peterson and Ron Peterson. Sheryl drove in a support vehicle. 

The bike ride was to raise $10,000 in the Brothers Biking for Congo fundraiser. This was the third fundraiser for the Congo Clinic Initiative, a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Paul Carlson Partnership. Last year, the brothers rode 420 miles across Iowa and raised $10,000 — this year, as of July 31, $7,870 had been raised by the church and local community. Paul Carlson was a Covenant medical missionary killed in 1964 during a rebellion in the Congo. 

The Rev. Dennis Carlson is not related to Paul Carlson.

Since the inception of the Congo clinic initiative, a five-year project to assist the 108 clinics, the clinics have received electricity or solar panels, refrigeration for medicine, medical equipment, transportation, clean water, renovations and more.

“A couple million people are served by the 108 rural health care clinics,” Dennis Carlson said.

Dennis Carlson said that three years ago, his church signed on to sponsor a clinic.

He added that since he is a pastor and “not a fundraiser,” he thought of the easiest way to garner funds — by doing what he already loves: riding his bike.

“After I graduated from college over 40 years ago, in 1975, that fall a friend and I rode our bicycles from Minneapolis … to Miami, Florida,” he said. “We did start in September and finished in November,” he said.

Dennis Carlson’s brother, Rod Carlson, said that he started getting into biking about a year and a half ago because that was when his brother asked him if he wanted to ride across Iowa in 2016.

“I had to buy a new bike and start riding ... across Iowa with 10,000 riders. … (I) had a really great time on that,” Rod Carlson said, adding that the following year, Dennis Carlson asked him if they could ride for a cause and be a team. “I said, ‘OK, sounds good.’”

Dennis Carlson added that 13 years ago, he participated in another fundraiser that gave bicycles to people in the Congo.

“It is almost impossible for people in that region to own a private car,” he said, adding that public transportation is not an option.

“It is always wonderful, gratifying, knowing that you’re doing it for a cause,” he said.

Faith Covenant Church parishioner and Missions Chair Sue Ormond said it is an exciting opportunity to be able to participate in helping the medical clinics of the Congo.

“It has been a passion of our Evangelical Covenant Church to help out in this way,” she said, adding that every year, donations differ. “Some years might be medical equipment or cots or different things. We are constantly updating so that the medical clinic becomes more viable to the people of that area of the Congo.”

She said Dennis Carlson “puts the pedal down” and drives the whole thing forward.

“We need him to rouse the troops to get us all excited. It’s wonderful, because the whole church gets behind him,” she said of the roughly 300 congregants.

“We’re already dreaming about what it might look like next year, because we want to see this work continue,” Dennis Carlson said. 

For more information or to donate, go to www.paulcarlson.org/donate-now.