You could hear a pin drop. For 45 minutes on Tuesday, May 9, 72 Y’s Men of Meriden listened with rapt attention to the riveting account of a young man murdered in Africa. The story was told by authors Rindy Higgins and husband Bill Armstrong, assisted by a PowerPoint program, a tale of volunteerism at its finest.
Nineteen-year-old Mark Higgins forsook attending Yale and a promising career in the family steel business, opting instead in 1959 to volunteer for a year in Lambaréné, Gabon (on the west coast of Africa) at a jungle clinic run by the famous medical missionary and Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. Quickly being tagged by the locals as “Dr. Long Long” due to his 6’3” stature, Higgins worked in a Leprosy village, tended a 15-acre vegetable garden, worked in the medical clinic giving about 300 injections daily, and doing cardiology studies in remote villages.
But after the one year term, he set out eastward in 1960 toward the Belgian Congo (then embroiled in a brutal war to oust the colonists) on his way to a kibbutz in Israel, eventually traveling upstream on the Congo River aboard a steamer (with Belgian refugees streaming the other way) and entering the Congo itself, never to be heard from again. Back in America, his resolute 11-year-old cousin Rindy quickly developed a lifelong passion to learn the details of his life and his death at age 20. After years of research, she and her husband set out in 2014 with their two adult children on a voyage of discovery, seeking answers.
She was able to revisit many of the volunteer sites previously used by her cousin, and indeed one 90-year-old local named Joseph excitedly recognized Mark after more than 50 years from a photo she carried. Communication required translation from the native Fang into French, then another translation into English. They then proceeded to retrace Mark’s eastward journey toward the Congolese village of Kasongo where he died, only to be blocked by a stern warning from the US State Dept. not to enter this dangerous country.
But the story didn’t end upon their return to America. Further research eventually revealed details of Mark’s final moments; a dozen machete-wielding natives, high on drugs, rampaged through the village, found him in a hut and murdered him. His life of service has been honored in many ways, including a new school built in Africa in his memory. For additional details, consult the Clarinda Higgins 2014 book “Against the Current; How Albert Schweitzer Inspired a Young Man’s Journey”.
Retired or semi-retired men from Meriden or surrounding communities, interested in attending a Y’s Men of Meriden meeting, are invited to call 203-238-7784 or visit the www.ysmenofmeriden.com website.
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